112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Frankenstein, Vampires, and Ghosts, Oh My!: Monster Types and Functions in Children’s Animated Horror Film

Megan Troutman, University of Arkansas

Children's animated horror films recycle Universal monster tropes, as well as re-appropriate domestic elements as horrific in order to create films that are not simple and/or didactic, but rather engage with mainstream horror elements and create terror within their films as well as in their audiences. 

Proposal: 

My presentation will explore the types of monsters present in children’s animated horror film. While each children’s animated horror film hosts a different cast of creatures, the most prevalent types of monsters are either recycled monsters from classic horror films or monsters who have roots in the domestic. Monsters that are recycled from previous movies specifically cater to both children and adult audiences. On the one hand, adult audiences not only recognize the monsters from various media depictions, but also may feel nostalgic toward them. On the other hand, classic monsters can be aesthetically appealing to children, especially in animated form. Moreover, the presence of the canon of Universal monsters teaches children important stock characters in order to be good consumers of horror films as adolescents and adults. Domestic monsters are derived from people and spaces of domestic familiarity and/or comfort, like houses and family. Because the domestic is generally comforting, these monsters can embody complex spaces for fear in children.  In this presentation, I will argue that children’s animated horror films contain monsters that teach generic conventions of horror through recycled monsters and stereotypes and create genuine sense of fear by unsettling the comforts of the domestic. Thus, instead of being simple or didactic, these films engage with mainstream horror elements and create terror in their audiences.

While I will explore the two different functions of monsters, I will focus specifically on domestic monsters in Monster House and Coraline. In examining domestic monsters, I will argue that children’s animated horror films transform the safety and comfort of domestic space and roles by inserting supernatural elements into them, thus making them monstrous and something that cannot exist in reality. These monsters can be especially fear inducing because of locating the monstrous not only near home, but also in the home.

Monster House (2006) transforms the traditional, Gothic, haunted house narrative into a monstrous house. While the film opens with DJ safely in his home under the supervision of his parents, it quickly removes parental and locational safety by sending the parents out of town and forcing DJ to leave the safety of his house. At first, Mr. Nebbercracker appears to be the villain of this film; however, DJ and his friends quickly realize that the monster is the house itself; it devours not only children’s toys, but also any child “foolish” enough to enter the property. DJ, his friends, and Mr. Nebbercracker join forces to stop the house, which is actually the spirit of Nebbercracker’s wife, Constance. The only way to defeat the monster is to literally demolish it.

Coraline, on the other hand, oscillates between traditional Gothic conventions and there reversals. Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern described Coraline as, “a children’s entertainment that’s much too scary for little kids,” and he is not alone in his assessment of the fright level for target audience.  What is so frightening about this film, I argue, is the re-appropriation of the domestic as monstrous. By transforming spaces of comfort into places of fear, Coraline removes safety and inserts the supernatural, which is a powerful fright factor for children. Unlike Monster House, Coraline does not use traditional Gothic conventions, but rather reverses them. Coraline’suse of domestic monsters is the key reason it achieves such a high level of horror compared to other children’s animated horror films.