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Monster House by Gil Kenan (Dir.)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Columbia/Amblin DVD  ISBN/ITEM#: B00005JP0O
Date: July 2006 / Show Official Info /

Starring: (the voices of) Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mitchel Musso, and Sam Lerner

In the prototypical suburban town of Mayville, D.J. (Musso) lives directly across the street from the haunted-looking house of local grouch Mr. Nebbercracker (Buscemi), who terrorizes the neighborhood children, and keeps any toys that happen to stray onto his lawn. The day before Halloween, D.J.'s friend Chowder's brand-new basketball rolls into Nebbercracker's yard; D.J. bravely tries to retrieve it, only to be caught and confronted by Nebbercracker. While screaming at D.J. and shaking him like a rag doll, Nebbercracker suffers some kind of attack, falls over and gets taken away in an ambulance. After Nebbercracker is gone, the house comes to life: whenever no one (no one but D.J.) is watching, and someone strays onto the lawn, the front of the house turns into a big evil face, with the open door a gaping mouth, and eats them up. It eats dogs, children, cops... until D.J. and Chowder and their friend Jenny (Spencer Locke) decide that it's up to them to destroy the house – before Halloween gives it the opportunity to eat every kid in the neighborhood.

First, it must be said, that for an adult audience, the main problem with Monster House, is – like Spielberg's War of the Worlds last year - that we've all heard this joke before. The "high concept" – the titular "monster house" – is pretty neat, but other than that, here's what you get:

Our hero is a suburban preteen everykid, who encounters some disruptive supernormal intrusion, which requires attention and resolution, but none of the grownups he knows will believe him, or they’re too stupid to help. He and his friends have to restore the natural order themselves, a process fraught with effects-driven action and peril, which also functions as rite-of-passage for the hero. The tone and content provide an even balance of humor, warmth, thrills, and spectacle.
Does this sound familiar? It should – or maybe you haven't seen E.T. (The impression that I have, that we all have, I believe, that Spielberg himself recycled this trick fifty or sixty times, was largely created by his endless imitators: like James Cameron's Aliens, E.T. was so influential in aesthetic terms, that it has been utterly digested by the machine; its every narrative element is now a mere cog in the infrastructure of our cinematic language, and no longer useful for anything more vital, in narrative terms, than background, at best.)

Other than the serious quibble that this flavor is "so eighty-seven" – and this "motion capture" animation process, which is kind of weird looking (in such a way that I bet it'll work a lot better on the small screen, not to mention the IMAX 3D screens the kids are telling me it's designed for) – there's not much bad to say about this rock-solid crowd pleaser. (Well, a crowd of children, anyway.) Very few filmmakers have the nerve to provide preteen and family audiences with thrillers and horror movies; it is a peculiar and difficult tightrope to walk, the trick of terrorizing eight year olds, in a friendly manner, and God bless Spielberg for caring enough, to return obsessively to the "family horrorshow" subgenre throughout his career (with good reason, as anyone with kids the right age, or anyone who works in a videostore, can tell you – there's a huge audience, that's starved for product). No, Monster House is no Poltergeist, or Lady in White; it does, however, belong on the same shelf, and there's plenty of empty space on the shelf, so I'm not going to complain. And at times the script (by the same writing team responsible for the legendary Heat Vision and Jack "show") is really, really funny – I laughed out loud heartily enough to feel weird about it afterwards, at regular intervals.

Nothing to say in conclusion, on the subject of Monster House – except to reassure those of you with kids in the target audience, that the picture they're trying to drag you to, won't give them nightmares, and it won't put you to sleep, either.

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