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Monster House (Mark's Take)

01/08/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper

Buy Monster House in the USA - or Buy Monster House in the UK

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A house possessed by an angry spirit turns into a monster and is ready swallow all the kids in the neighbourhood when they come trick-or-treating one Halloween, says Mark. Three brave kids have to prevent the disaster. Most of the characters are clichés, but the horror shows some imagination.

One comes away at least having sympathy for or even liking most of the major players including the house itself. This is not a classic animation film, but it is a nice and sometime grizzly little horror story for kids.

Gil Kenan directs a story by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab.

Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

In the 1940s a series of cartoons were made by George Pal--yes, the same George Pal who in the next decade would be associated with some of the best science fiction films. Pal used wooden figures with replaceable parts. It gave the figures a three- dimensional effect making them seem more real and immediate in spite of their storybook look. He photographed them directly making them move using a pixilation process.

The technique did not catch on the way other stop motion animation at the same time. In the years to come it would be used for the occasional industrial film and a few other animated films, but nothing like a feature film. However, the technique caught on again with the advent of computer animation since rigid pieces were easier to simulate with a computer. Now it seems that most animated feature films have computer-generated 3-D animation. MONSTER HOUSE is the current descendent of the old Puppetoons.

It is October 30th. Halloween is coming to a pleasant suburban neighbourhood. DJ (voiced by Mitchel Musso) lives across from the one scary house on the street. That is the Nebbercracker House. Toys that land on the big front yard of the Nebbercracker House seem to stick there until Old Man Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) picks them up and takes them inside, never to be seen again. Everybody in the neighbourhood tries to keep his or her distance from the ugly old house with a front that looks like an angry face. Sam Lerner voices Chowder, DJ's best friend who has a lightweight mind and a heavyweight body. Chowder has a particular fear of the house.

DJ has been left for a day with a nasty and irresponsible teenage babysitter while his parents go to some dental health event. Then Chowder loses his basketball in the Nebbercracker front yard. DJ tries to retrieve it he ends in a fight with Old Man Nebbercracker who keels over dead. We soon realize that the crotchety old man was restraining the house and the house itself is the real evil.

The house is coming to life and will literally eat all who come near. That will be a lot of kids as Halloween approaches. DJ and Chowder are joined by a new friend, Jenny (Spencer Locke), a cute and bright but dishonest little sharpster. The three team us to slay the monster that the house has become.

The various story elements of MONSTER HOUSE are familiar. Monstrous houses appeared in such films as THE HAUNTING and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. There was an entire series of horror films called HOUSE. This film goes further than most to make the house a living and breathing organism with a nasty face and a worse personality. The main characters are something of a cliche. We have the good-looking kid, the little girl smarter than the boys, and the oafish overweight sidekick.

The idea that the evil that is only evident to kids who are not believed goes back at least to INVADERS FROM MARS and THE BLOB. But just when we expect the whole affair to be rather commonplace we get some decent writing. The house is not just there to make a story. Both the house and the nasty old man have their motivations for what they do. They nearly make it as sympathetic characters. I do not know if it was intentional, but there are also borrowings from DINOSAURUS! and (a personal favourite) QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (a.k.a. FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH).

The story is fun, especially in its more horrific moments. I would probably not recommend it for the under-ten set, but kids a little older should have a good time.

I rate MONSTER HOUSE a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2006 Mark R. Leeper

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