A terrifyingly good roundup for Halloween! | EW.com

News

A terrifyingly good roundup for Halloween!

A terrifyingly good roundup for Halloween! ''Monster House'' on DVD, ''Casper'' on TV, and ''Scary Stories'' for your spooky little brood!

Monster House

A terrifyingly good roundup for Halloween!

DVD

Monster House
PG, 91 mins., 2006
Disney classics like The Little Mermaid seem positively archaic given the breathtaking advances in movie animation — and nowhere is it more evident than Monster House, Sony’s successful leap into the world of performance capture technology (for the unitiated, that’s geekspeak for taking digital pictures of real actors and transforming them into 3-D computer images that freakin’ rock, man). But only addressing the movie’s visual effects would do this gem a disservice. Based on a script by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab and featuring voiceovers from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, and the sidesplitting Fred Willard, House taps into our worst childhood nightmares about that creepy, neighborhood house that everyone thought was haunted. In this case, young DJ (voiced by newcomer Mitchel Musso) lives across the street from a two-story ramshackle occupied by the mysterious and spindly Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi). Together with his buddies Chowder (Sam Lerner) and Jenny (Spencer Locke), DJ learns that Casa de Nebbercracker is actually a living, breathing monster — one that will eagerly eat the babysitter’s boyfriend and suck up a few cops who dare approach her threshhold (notice I used the word her. Yes, friends — this shingled shack is a babe, and boy, is she ticked!) Like any good monster movie, House can get pretty scary; that PG rating seems kind of tame when the pimply-faced trio literally risk life and limb to conquer the demonic structure. But it’s also hilariously funny, like during the scene when Jenny figures out that Nebbercracker’s tumbledown actually has its own uvula, to which Chowder replies, ”Oh, then it’s a girl house!” While the story — and that technology! — are pretty legit, it’s the jokes that end up bringing down the house. ALynette Rice
Recommended ages: 6 and up

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
50 mins., 1966
I remember as a kid waiting with great anticipation to watch this show which, just like The Wizard of Oz, aired once a year. But now that it’s on DVD, one can savor its nuggets of wisdom, like Lucy’s: ”A person should always choose a costume which is in direct contrast to her own personality.” Makes total sense. This Charlie Brown is as sharp and insightful for 40-year-olds as it is for 4-year-olds. Isn’t life just like one giant pumpkin patch, and aren’t we always waiting for something to happen, and doesn’t someone always get the good candy while others get the rocks? Oh yes, back to reviewing here, more nuggets, this time from Linus and Sally. Linus: ”You don’t believe the story of the Great Pumpkin? I thought little girls always believed everything that was told to them. I thought little girls were innocent and trusting.” Sally, haughtily: ”Welcome to the 20th Century.” Just one word of caution about Sally and her friends, if you don’t remember: They use the ”s” word an awful lot, so have a preemptive chat with your impressionable viewers, otherwise, it’ll be ”stupid this” or ”stupid that.” B+Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 3 and up

Goosebumps: My Best Friend is Invisible
43 mins., 1997
The first of these two stories finds Sam and his friend Roxanne researching a paper on photosynthesis on ghosts in the scariest house in town, Hedge House. And when one ghost follows Sam back home, sending him into night sweats and getting him intro trouble at school, it’s any kid’s worst nightmare. But it ends in a twist that’ll leave children feeling sorry for the ”ghost.” The second tale, ”An Old Story,” is the better of the two (both are based on R.L. Stine’s books, which later became a television series); two brothers are being babysat by their crazy Aunt Dahlia, who proceeds to feed them every prune recipe in her book so they can rapidly age and date her senior-citizen girlfriends. Faster than you can say jarred bananas, the boys find a way to recapture their youth and send old Aunt Dahlia on her way. Fun, frightening, and absurd — a perfect Halloween mixture. B+EC
Recommended ages: 6 and up

TV

Casper’s Scare School
Cartoon Network, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. EST
Casper’s back, and he’s just too friendly for his elders, who send him away to sharpen his scare tactics (think of it as the educational wing of Monsters, Inc.). In this CG-animated feature, Casper encounters zombies, mummies, and skeletons as his fellow students, and his kind nature doesn’t fit in with the curriculum (his teacher, Mr. Thurdigree Burns, lectures about the scary juice of ”fleshies” — but human-friendly Casper knows it’s really just about sweat). When he uncovers a plot by the two-headed schoolmaster to take over the world, it gets him into even more trouble. With smart dialogue and voice work by the likes of Jim Belushi, Bob Saget, Phyllis Diller, and The Simpsons’ Dan Castellaneta (and warbling by none other than the Captain and Tenille, the headmasters’ two-headed aunt and uncle), this updated Casper is a perfect treat for little ones. A-EC
Recommended ages: 4 and up

BOOKS

Scary Stories
llustrated by Barry Moser
The cover captures the essence of a great scary story: It’s an engraving of a hand, in black and white, its nails dripping blood. And this collection includes twenty great scary stories, all of them classics in their own right — everything from ones older kids will definitely know, like ”The Tell-Tale Heart” and ”The Lottery” to plenty they probably haven’t seen before: Dean Koontz’s ”Kittens,” E.F. Benson’s ”The Bus-Collector,”and H.G. Well’s ”The Magic Shop.” I especially love ”Fingers on the Back of the Neck,” Margaret Mahy’s spooky tale of murder and revenge, and Truman Capote’s ”Miriam.” Even the dated stories transcend their old-fashioned language: Terror, I guess, works as well now as it did over 100 years ago. ATina Jordan
Recommended ages: Teens and up

For Your Collection

The Witches’ Supermarket
By Susan Meddaugh
Meddaugh is best known for her Martha the talking dog books (what? You don’t know about Martha, the mutt who chats after lapping a bowl of alphabet soup? I still have whole swatches of Martha Speaks embedded in my brain — and my children are teenagers). But this charming tale may be just my favorite Meddaugh book ever. It’s Halloween, and Helen, in a witch costume, accompanied by her dog, in a cat costume, accidentally ventures into what seems to be a regular grocery store. Except — well — there are lots and lots of brooms for sale. And no dog food, though there’s cat food galore. A child doesn’t need to be a reader to pick up on all the wonderful clues in the illustrations and figure out exactly what kind of store it is. ATJ
Recommended ages: 4-8

A Warning to the Curious
By M.R. James
A collection specifically for teens? No — it’s been in my own collection for years. I’m willing to bet most people haven’t heard of M.R. James, born in 1862. But in typically British fashion — that is, with deceptive quiet, since you almost never see the terror coming until it’s too late — these short stories will scare the pants off older kids. I especially love ”The Haunted Doll’s House,” in which unfortunate Mr. Dillet, having purchased a dollhouse, furniture and all, discovers that it comes alive — and that its tiny inhabitants have a chilling tale of murder, and worse, to tell. ATJ
Recommended ages: Teens and up