Monster House

Mitchel Musso

Sam Lerner

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Damn, I wish this movie was around when I was a kid. It is the perfect gateway drug to real horror with plenty of good humor for grownups and a surprising amount of shocking suspense for everyone. I watch it every Halloween while carving pumpkins and eating candy. It’s the perfect family Halloween film.

Everyone must have one of these creepy houses or apartment buildings near them. There was one smack next to my bus stop in Elementary School. A dark two story Southern Gothic monster. No one knew if anyone lived there or not. Sometimes there were lights on the second floor when we passed by in the evening. All the adults in our neighborhood cautioned we little ones not to go there or even play near it after dark. This made the wait for the bus rather suspenseful. Some idiot kid kept scaring me with tales of Bloody Mary and other urban legends. I hated that house.

Here in Monster House, which definitely isn’t idly named, we begin on a beautiful autumn afternoon where a snaggletoothed pigtailed tot is pedaling her tricycle among the leaves singing a tuneless song with plenty of la la la’s and greeting the trees and birds. We know this isn’t going to end well and the hilarity to which it is played amps up the anticipation for her fate.

The hilariously named Mr. Nebercracker (voiced by the great Steve Buscemi) seizes any non-living property on his lawn whether it be tricycle, basketball, kite, baseball, slinky, etc and confiscates it for unknown purposes. He exhibits this behavior here when the little girl is careless enough to ride her trike on the forbidden grassy lawn. It’s a miracle that parents haven’t complained about him. Perhaps they too are scared.

Across the street, DJ (Mitchel Musso) photographs the scene through his telescopic lens, which is to say, he takes a picture vis a vis his telescope and camera, a quite clever idea, I thought. It’s one thing to live near an eerie house and it’s quite another to live next to one like Charley in Fright Night or Tom Hanks in The Burbs or smack in front of one like DJ here. It’s the day before Halloween and his parents are off for a boring dentist’s conference. We see them loading giant teeth “Help me with the incisor!” and bickering the good natured way parents do when married forever “Tell your son you love him” “He knows I love him.” “He needs to hear it!” They are voiced by Catherine O’Hara and Fred Williard who add their own comic personalities to the limited but entertaining role.

Things pick up when Chowder (Sam Lerner), DJ’s chunky pal shows up. He’s sporting a red cape and a Creature from the Black Lagoon mask. He’s brought a basketball for DJ’s netless hoop. Events involving Nebercracker’s lawn ensue and things begin to get creepy. Apparently the house is…alive and taken to eating dogs and even people. This isn’t done in a vicious, bloody way but rather in a surprising creepy style. Two police officers come to investigate. Whatever I was expecting the eponymous residence to do, I certainly wasn’t expecting what it does and the extent of its, um, range, and abilities.

A lanky red headed girl Jenny (Spencer Locke)arrives on the scene to be an object of DJ’s and Chowder’s prepubescent affection. She’s the Hermione to their Harry and Ron without whom they’d all be doomed. Monster House  is so fun from beginning to end with such an engaging, funny, and exciting script. I particularly liked the side characters from the two cops, to the punk rocking babysitter and her sleazy boyfriend to the man-child the boys respect for his arcade game playing skills. All these characters and places seem so natural, so everyman, everywoman, everyboy, everygirl, and everyplace, that watching it every year at Halloween is a certain joy for me.

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