A family-friendly horror movie seems like an oxymoron, but it’s exactly what 2006’s “Monster House” is. It has all the hallmarks and ingredients you’d expect from a really good haunted house movie, it’s structured exactly the way a ‘real’ horror movie would be, except you can watch it with your kids.
When DJ, his best friend Chowder and Girl Scout Jenny realise the house across the street hides a dark secret, they are determined to investigate, but the truth behind the Nebbercracker house is stranger than they could possibly have realised.
There’s a respect and affection for the traditions of horror that’s apparent in every frame of “Monster House”. Directed by Gil Kenan, the film makes use of the same motion-capture computer animation technology favoured by executive producer Robert Zemeckis although thankfully avoids the dead-eyed uncanny valley-ness that plagued both “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol”. Instead, the visuals and character design owe more to the John Carpenter/ Stephen King early eighties atmosphere which is so in vogue and, with “Stranger Things” and “It” generating buzz like they are, hopefully, “Monster House” will pick up a few new fans too. It’s easy to see, too, the influence of Steven Spielberg (collaborating with Zemeckis for the first time since the “Back To The Future” trilogy) on the film too, specifically the Spielberg who shepherded “Poltergeist” – the original, not the lamentable remake which was also directed by Gil Kenan – through the tricky waters of PG-friendly horror.
That’s not to say “Monster House” is without its chills and thrills, quite the opposite. There are jump scares, grisly reveals and a wealth of atmosphere, just always that one degree shy of being too much for younger children. The script is wildly imaginative, sharp and extremely witty, richly peppered with references to Stephen King novels and other classic horror movies, but what else would you expect from Dan Harmon, creator of “Community” and “Rick & Morty”?
It’s got a great voice cast, including Steve Buscemi as the quintessential cranky old man Nebbercracker and he’s joined by a cast of colourful characters brought to life by Kathleen Turner, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee and Kevin James amongst others.
Visually appealing, tightly scripted and satisfyingly action-packed, this is a real crowd pleaser and if it hasn’t already earned a place amongst your family’s Halloween traditions, it really deserves to be given a chance.