Sometimes cinema audiences badly misjudge a film based on its medium and the way the studios market that film: the recently released and excellent Paranorman was a case in point – a far more adult film than some parents might have expected promoted as a kiddies’ Halloween-fest with bumbling zombies and colourful characters. And of course, being a cartoon, how could it not be appropriate for kids?
Those very young children who came out of the film scarred by the ghouls and ghosts, and the astoundingly good final sequence (a definite high-point for the stop motion medium) won’t forget the film for a while, and though they might grow up with a perverse affection for it, that won’t quite displace the initially jarring feeling of the scares involved. We’re not talking The Shining here by any means, but there is a particular strength to a scare that comes from an unexpected place, and the idea of an animation – that most cherished of childhood mediums – packing in genuine fear is an oddly affecting one. Especially for kids.
So in this article, I’m celebrating the finest scary animations, which were for one reason or another marketed as appropriate for kids – whether by a conscious campaign by the film studio, or because of the fundamental error of judgement that removes adult concerns from supposedly childish mediums and techniques.
8. Monster House
An incredibly good film – seriously, if you haven’t yet seen it, finish reading this article and immediately go and find it – and one that combines the best haunted house on the street story elements with a silly but enjoyable monster movie pay-off that changes the tone of the film but not its success. Monster House is a joy for adults, but its particular brand of chills, and the way it explores that child-like fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar makes it one of the first horror films aimed squarely at a younger audience.
While more adult audiences can marvel at the horror references, the excellent character designs and development, the reason the film succeeds most is its uncanny ability to channel the nostalgic fear of youth – of strange neighbours, meddlesome baby-sitters and the pronounced fear of approaching spooky houses on Halloween. And that’s also precisely why the film packs a horror punch for the youngsters.
And like the best ghost stories, Monster House has a tragic backstory that further confirms that it’s not quite for kids.
This article was first posted on September 25, 2012