On the heels of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween, the 80s marked the beginning of a new golden age for the horror genre, giving us classics such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Evil Dead. These were all ideal films to watch when Halloween rolled around. Of course if your parents wouldn’t let you see an R rated movie, there were still plenty of creepy PG movies to pick out. From Gremlins to Ghostbusters, the 80s offered several movies that managed to be scary and funny simultaneously. There were also a few particular films that challenged the definition of family-friendly, most notably Poltergeist.
While these films were everywhere in the 80s, they started to die out in popularity throughout the 90s. With a few exceptions like The Witches and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hollywood just didn’t seem that interested in terrifying little children anymore. By the time we got to the early 2000s, the genre appeared to be dead and buried. Creepy kids movies made a comeback in the 2010s, however, with the likes of Coraline and ParaNorman. We’ve even gotten numerous nostalgic throwbacks to the 80s that are intended more for adults, such as Stephen King’s It and Stranger Things. So which project brought the creepy kids movie back from the grave? Interestingly enough, it might’ve been a film that hardly anymore talks about: Monster House.
Coming out at a time when most animated movies played it safe with bright colors and cute characters, Monster House was a surprisingly dark, edgy, and sophisticated movie that both kids and adults could enjoy. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing how it was executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, who both specialized in creepy movies for the family back in the day. The premise is pretty straightforward, centering on a trio of kids that discover an old house is alive. From this simple premise, though, the filmmakers create a genuinely chilling atmosphere full of sinister set pieces and shocking imagery that might prove too intense for younger views.
Of course the film wasn’t all gloom and doom. Much like The Goonies of The Monster Squad, Monster Squad came complete with a quirky cast of characters, an inventive sense of wonder, and kid actors that actually talk like kids. The writing in particular deserves praise for its mix of witty dialog and genuinely poignant moments. As a matter of fact, one of the screenwriters was none other than Dan Harmon, who went on to create shows like Community and Rick and Morty. So why doesn’t the film have a wider following? For the record, Monster House was by no means a dud upon release. It was a modest financial success, critics gave it mostly favorable reviews, and it even scored an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Over a decade later, though, nobody ever really talks about it.
Maybe this is because some of the creepy kids movies that followed overshadowed it. Maybe it’s because director Gil Kenan has been in a rut lately with projects like that Poltergeist remake. Maybe it was ahead of its time. Maybe I just have a personal attachment to Monster House, as it was the first film I ever reviewed that got published in a newspaper. In any case, the movie is a Halloween hoot that deserves to be revisited, especially with the recent recurrence of creepy kids movies and 80s nostalgia.