What’s Really Scary About Monster House
A PTP Commentary

Monster House scared me. No, really—I was profoundly disturbed by the film. While the production values are generally better than average, and I did laugh out loud on one occasion, the climax of the movie left me with a slight facial tic and a prominent question-bent head-tilt toward the right.

Before I spoil the movie, though, let me just say that there were a lot of things done right in this film. The animation is decent (though I still think that, in general, CGI tends to make human movement look like a strange hybrid of stop-motion photography and zero gravity). Probably the best aspect of the movie is how it captures the personalities of the pubescent boys—DJ and Chowder are both caught in that famous (often over-played) tug-of-war between enjoying childhood and embracing maturity, and Chowder, especially, captures the spirit of child-like obliviousness confronting “mature” restraint. While the humor here sometimes flirts with raunchy, I imagine (and my husband confirms) that it is fairly representative of the pre-adolescent male.

The plot of the movie centers around a grumpy old man and his ramshackle house. DJ, the boy across the street, has made it his mission to monitor the old man’s behavior, noting wild confrontations with innocent children whose toys mistakenly find themselves on his lawn and are subsequently confiscated and destroyed by the apparently deranged elder. When DJ dares to trespass in an effort to retrieve Chowder’s new basketball, the resulting confrontation leads to old man Nebbercracker’s apparent demise, and suddenly the house itself shows signs of life.

With Halloween only one night away, DJ and Chowder set out to protect the neighborhood from the monster house, before hundreds of unwitting children wander innocently down the walk to their doom.

Here’s where the movie gets a little dicey for me. At first, the tension revolves around the fact that the monster house only shows its teeth to DJ and Chowder. Adults and skeptics are not privy to the house’s evil antics. Soon, however, the house becomes less discriminating, attacking snobby prep-school girls, police officers, and drunken babysitters’ boyfriends alike. Clearly, the boys must do something before Halloween night.

Fortunately for them, Jenny (the prep-school girl) joins the two boys in their mission, and through a brief lesson in architectural anatomy and physiology, helps them devise a plan to kill the house by quenching its lifesource, the furnace.

Sounds good so far.

The problem is (and here’s the spoiler) that the kids discover that the house is actually “possessed” (for lack of a better term) by old man Nebbercracker’s dearly departed wife. The morbidly obese woman was once a circus sideshow—“Constance the Giantess”—who was the unwilling target of harsh words, rotten eggs, and rotten tomatoes before a gentle young Nebbercracker rescued her, married her, and promised her a new life. Unfortunately, while constructing their new home, Constance was still taunted by children, and in her rage against the offenders, she fell to her death and was entombed in spilled concrete. Nebbercracker finished building the house, which Constance then inhabited, still punishing anyone who dared trespass on her property by eating them and/or their belongings.

And here’s what disturbs me—once they determine that the house has a human’s soul, they set out to kill “her.” Not “it,” but “her.” And when Nebbercracker miraculously returns from the hospital (apparently the myocardium wasn’t really infarcted), he pulls out dynamite that apparently has been saved specifically for this purpose. He knows that killing Constance (whom he still talks to as his wife) is the “right” thing to do, but because he loves her so much he has not yet been able to bring himself to do it. So what does he do? He asks a boy to do it for him!

I know I’m in the minority here, and I’m more than willing to admit that my take on this is extreme, and not likely to be on many people’s radars. But the fact that Constance is treated and referred to as a human entity, and children are asked to rid the world of her, really disturbs me. I left the theater wondering, Is this a movie about assisted suicide? Commentary on methods of dealing with mental illness? Assisted homicide?

Again, I don’t imagine many people will take this to heart as deeply as I did, but to me, Monster House is not just a silly animated thriller. What it says about the soul and mental illness is not just disturbing… it’s really, really scary.

This commentary originally appeared at Looking Closer.