Haunted house movies are probably one of the leading staples of horror stories and films outside of the masked killer. How many times has someone written about the dark and dreary old house that everyone avoids? Hundreds of times? Thousands? Heck, if we count all the variations (the deserted mansion, the abandoned hospital, the creaky old school, the ghost ship, the ghost train, the dark spaceship (yes Alien and Event Horizon are haunted house movies)) there might even be millions. Haunted buildings are versatile because there are several accepted and established rules for what a possessed or haunted place can do to the people who are hapless enough to wander inside. Perhaps too, that is why haunted houses are almost a constant in horror stories and films for children. It is very easy to write a scary (but not life-threatening) situation that features kids who are menaced by the ghosts of a building. Ghosts, beyond being able to knock things over and possess objects and people, are usually understood to to be dangerous. Indeed, stories where ghosts have the ability to rip people to shreds tend to be harder to believe and require greater explanation behind their power. There is one horror film for children, however, which finds a way to make a haunted house dangerous and life-threatening by giving the ghost possession of the house rather than simply the ability to appear inside. It mixes horror movie thrills with light and witty humor to create a tale that is sure to thrill and entertain older children who are looking for a meatier film than the usual Halloween fare for children. Now let's cross to the other side of the street and take a look inside the house that everyone tries to avoid...the Monster House.
DJ Walters has developed an unhealthy obsession with his elderly neighbor Mr. Nebbercracker. It seems that Nebbercracker is a mean old man who terrorizes the child population of DJ's street by taking any and all toys and belongings that happen to end up on his lawn. The day before Halloween, when DJ's parents take a trip out of town, his friend Chowder accidentally knocks his new basketball into Nebbercracker's lawn. When DJ tries to get it back for him, Nebbercracker comes rushing out of the house and shakes DJ screaming "Do you want to die?". Suddenly, Nebbercracker keels over from a heart attack and is taken away by an ambulance. After being put to bed by his babysitter, Zee, DJ begins recieving calls from Nebbercracker's house. He asks Chowder to help him investigate the house and, following a ding-dong-ditch, attempt by Chowder, the house springs to life and tries to eat them. Following that, Chowder and DJ stay up all night trying to catch the house in action and manage to save Jenny Bennett, a girl going door to door to sell candy. Together, the three kids decide that they must stop the house before Trick or Treat that evening or otherwise "It's going to be a bloodbath".
Monster House might very well be one of the best horror stories ever filmed for children. It has excellent suspense, a good cast of characters, and just enough action and humor to keep it from being too scary for anyone who isn't under 8. It might frighten younger viewers (who would probably be more comfortable with Ichabod and Mr. Toad or Casper) but it should have just enough of the macabre to keep those who are 'too old for that' interested. Make no mistake...this is a horror film. The comedy within is fairly light with the emphasis on the build of suspense and the attacks on the people who dare to approach the house. The film also has a decent mystery at it's core, as the children try to discover why the house is coming to life and terrorizing people now...and who it is that is making the house do what it does. This isn't going to scare anyone over the age of 12, but it will provide thrills and a good time for those post 'trick or treat' moments. Check it out, I think you'll enjoy it. And thus, we come to the end of Halloween week and my focus on "family friendly" Halloween films. Over the next few weeks you're likely to see more Fall-themed programing films here, focusing on those that take place around Thanksgiving. It's almost the holiday season folks? Are you ready? I know I'm not.