I’m not really a horror movie person. Modern slasher flicks just don’t do it for me and classic horror movies don’t find their way to me nearly often enough.

But I AM a big fan of the culture of horror movies–that thrill of the macabre, the allure of the weird, the attraction of the odd and offbeat. Every October, I look forward to Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness with relish and anticipation.

ParaNorman, the new film from American-based LAIKA Studios, taps into that vein brilliantly. But beyond that, it’s a beautifully animated, astonishingly clever, massively entertaining, and surprisingly subversive film on its own. It’s the best animated film so far this year, probably the best all year. Heck, it’s better than Brave.

That;s right; a stop-motion animated film from an indie studio is better than a Pixar movie. I’m sorry, but I’ve seen Brave twice and while I liked it, it’s not a very deep or moving film. It feels like a standard princess film.

ParaNorman, on the other hand, is anything but standard. Based in a town very, VERY much modeled on Salem, Massachusetts, it concerns an 11-year old kid named Norman, who, we learn, has the ability to see and talk to ghosts. This, plus his rabid love of horror movies, makes him a pariah in both his school and town. He’s very much a film geek in training, and boy, could I relate to his social stigma. He’s a frustrated, alienated kid and Kodi Smit-McPhee pulls it off wonderfully.

The main plot of the film involves seven ancient victims of an ancient witch’s curse rising up from the dead and it’s up to Norman, his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), Neil, his only true friend (Tucker Abrazzi), Neil’s brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) and his bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to save the day.

There’s a lot of buzz about this movie from a technical standpoint as it was the first stop-motion film to use 3-D printing technology. Basically, instead of the characters being made of clay and having to have their faces manipulated every scene, the faces were each made individually digitally and printed on the same material as the rest of the puppets’ bodies. Something like that, anyway.

Whatever the technical stuff, it works. This film is jaw-dropping in its set design, lighting, effects and cinematography. It knows what it’s doing and it does it well. Like LAIKA’s first film, the Oscar-nominated, Annie-award winning Coraline, it has a sense of horror and creepiness, yet it’s gentle and playful.

More to the point, the film’s original story proves the studio doesn’t need heavyweights like Henry Selick or Neil Gaiman to help them make a good tale. Wikipedia says their next film comes out in 2014 and I can’t wait.

Even if you’re sick of zombies, do yourself a favor and check this out. Recommended.


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