Horror’s a broad genre, but whether you’re making a slow burning ghost story or an intense slasher, one thing remains a constant; concept is everything. House of Monsters is a series of comedy horror shorts that operates from a simple and very solid premise— what if Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf-man et al shared a house together?
Cue a stop-motion tale of life in rural Transylvania and the uneasy co-existence of monsters and humans, narrated and starring Christopher Lloyd as the mad scientist, Dr. Gaulstone, who takes it upon himself to protect the monsters from the world and the world from the monsters.
Those spoiled by classics such as The Corpse Bride or Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit might find the stop-motion a little economic. However, redemption is found in the set-pieces and character models, which are delightful, sporting an intrinsic charm and personality that is vital to any work of cartoon.
The first episode concerns Dr. Gaulstone's efforts to make a recently combusted Dracula immune to daylight, and is narrated in rhyming verse by the extremely well cast Lloyd. Dracula being Dracula uses his new found freedom to torment the villagers and hi-jinx most certainly ensue, with a strong emphasis on physical comedy. The second episode changes gears, but not in a way that’s too jarring. Gone is the rhyming verse, and presented instead is a more heavily told tale of the Frankenstein monster’s doomed romance with a zombie girl. Here the series seems to be warming up, the characters coming into their own, the story telling evolved, and the wonderful environment of creepy castles and underground laboratories lovingly established.
Is House of Monsters just for kids? The writing definitely doesn’t talk down, with Lloyd monologuing some fairly weighty prose, but that’s well balanced by the more-or-less constant on-screen silliness. There’s flirtation with a macabre edge, such as a meticulously rendered zombie face-melt, but overall this is fun-for-all-the-family fare, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s tempting to think that Dracula and his cohorts— those horror totems of the silver-screen— have been done to death, but the truth is there’s a reason they’re still around and recognisable after all these years. Great horror monsters refuse to stay dead, and as films like Frankenweenie, Para-Norman and (shudder) Hotel Transylvania demonstrate, kids today are just as down for the Count as they always have been. House of Monsters puts a fresh coat of grease-paint on some familiar old faces.
All in all, House of Monsters is whimsical, funny and a compelling mix of cute and grim, definitely something to keep your eye on if A Nightmare Before Christmas tickles your funny bones.