Monster House


The Nightmare Before Christmas



The Addams Family, V1


Content advisory:

Monster House: Menacing and frightening images and sequences; mild suggestive humor and innuendo. ’Tweens and up. The Nightmare Before Christmas: Macabre images and themes; recurring menace. Might be too scary for younger kids. The Addams Family: Mild macabre humor. Fine family viewing.

Friendly monsters are everywhere in kid culture, from “Sesame Street” to Monsters, Inc. Even in grown-up culture there are efforts to rehabilitate our monsters (as in the novel and Broadway musical Wicked).

Are we protesting too much? Perhaps there is nothing under the bed or in the closet, but I think it may be better and more wholesome to fear the monsters that aren’t there, at least sometimes, than to always try to befriend them.

Monster House (new on DVD) is a bracingly icy breath of fresh air, a ’tween-oriented family film unabashedly out to frighten. It’s an excursion into primal fears of haunted houses and graveyards — of places you don’t want to walk past at night, of dark forces that are not just spooky or macabre, but sinister and vengeful.

For all its menace and peril, though, the film’s sneaky denouement is remarkably good-hearted. Mortality, guilt, adolescence, tragedy and hope are all at work in a hair-raising tale about a point of no return waiting right across the street.

Alas, parents and authority figures generally don’t appear in a good light. Even so, compared to, say, Zathura — a similarly imaginative family thriller about a house full of uncanny goings-on — Monster House at least has a sense of wicked humor and perspective amid its cynicism.

Opening in theaters in a new 3-D edition, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is an entertainingly warped stop-motion holiday fable that’s among the best Halloween DVD rentals for families. One critic calls it “How the Grinch Stole Christmas thrown into reverse” since the protagonist, Jack Skellington, is a jolly spook who falls in love with Christmas and misguidedly tries to improve it, almost ruining it by accident.

Despite its macabre humor, there’s something touchingly innocent and naive about Halloweentown, Halloween’s answer to Santa’s North Pole workshop. Its inhabitants live for fear and thrills, but in general there’s no malice in them (except for Halloween outlaw Mr. Oogie Boogie and his three young protégés). Halloweentown is not about causing harm. It’s about having fun in happy and creepy ways.

Far from glorifying evil, Nightmare caricatures it in such a way as to pay oblique tribute to the straight and true. Think of the upside-down values of “The Addams Family”: Real evil is nothing like that. Of course real good is nothing like that either, but it’s real good — not real evil — that provides the point of contrast that makes the skewed caricature interesting.

“They’re creepy and they’re kooky/Mysterious and spooky …” The Addams Family comes at last to DVD in a three-disc set. The 22 first-season episodes include “Halloween and the Addams Family,” with robbers trying to rob the Addams household on Halloween. Forget the Hollywood remakes; the TV series is the real thing.

This edition is cheap (under $20 at Amazon), but if you’re a completist, rent, don’t buy: The double-sided discs have only four episodes per side, and 12 first-season episodes are missing.