July 21, 2016 Monster House – A Spooky Adventure Ten Years Later
Back on July 21, 2006, the Columbia Pictures stylized computer animated film Monster House hit the silver screen. Promoted by movie theater lobby posters warning, “There goes the neighborhood,” instead of darkening the cinematic world, Monster House added to a vivid cinematic experience. Mixing humor, horror, and a poignant message of the dangers of bullying and needs for acceptance, the film also blended Gothic elements with a kids’ friendship caper. Its creepy animation and intense, scary nature earned the film a PG rating, though some experts in the field, including Michael Medved, argued it should have been assigned a PG-13 rating. Nonetheless, Monster House is still a fun move to reflect on as it celebrates its tenth anniversary.
It all centers around an imaginative twelve year old named Dustin “DJ” Walters who feared his kooky old neighbor, Mr. Nebbercracker, who confiscated balls and items he finds on his lawn. When DJ recovered his friend Charles “Chowder’s” ball from his neighbor’s lawn, Mr. Nebbercracker raged until he collapsed from an apparent heart attack. Although the police will not believe any reports, with Mr. Nebbercracker’s absence, the house begins “eating” kids who trespass. DJ and Chowder join forces with Jenny Bennett and discover the house is a monster made by merging a soul and an object. Since the only way such a creation can be destroyed is to destroy its heart, the heart of the house, they decide it must be the furnace. They stuff a dummy with stolen cold medicine to make the monster house sleep, but police interfered, and the house ate them, police car, drug-laced dummy, and all.
With the monster house snoozing, the kids searched and found years worth of confiscated toys and a cement memorial to Mr. Nebbercracker’s wife, Constance the Giantess. The house awakes, attacks, and the resourceful kids cause it to vomit them out. Mr. Nebbercracker returned from the hospital and disavowed the rumor circulating around town that he murdered his wife. Instead, he confessed he had loved Constance, a member of a circus side show known for her obesity. The couple ran away from the travelling life, married, and built their house. The neighborhood children had harassed Constance, and one Halloween, while chasing away some hateful kids, she fell to her death in the basement. As Mr. Nebbercracker finished building the house, he became aware Constance’s spirit possessed the house. He had feigned dislike of children to protect them from his wife’s increasingly vengeful spirit.
Constance the monster house broke free of its foundation and chased the plotting group to a construction site where they blow it up. They see Constance’s ghost and offer condolences to Mr. Nebbercracker. That Halloween, they returned all the lost toys to their owners, and the eaten kids emerge from the foundation of the destroyed monster house.
Mitchel Musso (Hannah Montana series, Pair of Kings series) as DJ, Sam Lerner (The Goldbergs series,Project Almanac 2015) as Chowder, and Spencer Locke (Resident Evil: Extinction 2007, The Vampire Diaries series) as Jenny do a excellent job of providing the voices of the sassy kids. In addition, Steve Buscemi (Fargo 1996, Boardwalk Empire series) as Mr. Horace Nebbercracker and Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone 1984, The War of the Roses 1989) as Constance add even more color to the entertaining film. Gil Kenan (City of Ember 2008, Poltergeist 2015) directed the film written and adapted by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab with screenplay assistance by Pamela Pettler. Released in 2 and 3-D, Monster House grossed about $140,175,006 and received generally positive reviews from critics. It inspired a video game released in July, 2006, released by THQ for PlayStation 2, Nintendo Game Cube, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS, wherein players explored the Monster House and battled creatures while portraying one of the three main characters.
Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke produced and Robert Zemeckis, Jason Clark, and Steven Spielberg acted as executive producers for the film which used revolutionary technology called Performance Capture where the actors performed their roles while linked to sensors. One of the first films to use this, tons of others have adopted the technology in films since including 2009’s Avatar and 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, among others. In addition, Monster House’s creator’s efforts earned them a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, four Annie Award nominations, a Golden Globe Award nomination, and several Saturn Award nominations.
The success of Monster House is in part due to its use of nostalgic elements. There is a “scary house” in every neighborhood, the kind that kids crossed the street to avoid. Every kid knows the terror of a feisty and ultimately misunderstood neighbor about whom people whisper wild rumors. Did he murder his wife? Eat her? Lush in the frightening imagery of a grand suburban adventure, the story invokes guilt, friendship, love, and madness in a believable way. Also, the characters ring authentic and remind many of people they knew or wish they knew in their childhood. And of course there is the house, which was “a living, breathing, nightmare of a house.”
For kids of the ’90s, the imagery and storytelling of Monster House provoke memories of summertime reads of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. There was even homage to many Stephen King stories including his Dark Tower series, The Wastelands. Amusing enough, while Chowder is in the basement of the house, his flashlight highlights a mechanical monkey similar to the one in King’s short story The Monkey. The film was also the first time Zemeckis and Spielberg had worked together since 1990’s Back to the Future Part III. Unfortunately, Screenplay Writer Harmon was not completely satisfied with the final edit of Monster House, because he felt Kenan and Spielberg made it scarier than initially intended. Too scary, too funny, or just right, that depends on the viewer, and perhaps their age. Nonetheless, a decade later, Monster House is still a spooky adventure worth watching again.