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Gateway to Horror: 10 Movies to Watch With Your Kids This Halloween

Gateway to Horror: 10 Movies to Watch With Your Kids This Halloween

Halloween is fast approaching, which means now is the perfect time to start building your Halloween watch lists. It’s also the time of year in which everyone binges on horror, even those who don’t pay much attention to the genre the rest of the year. This includes kids, who get specialized programming every year in the form of 13 Nights of Halloween on Freeform (formerly ABC Family). Except the programming is typically very similar every year, with few changes. Movies like The Addams Family, ParaNorman, and a variety of Tim Burton selections can be found year after year. As great as they are, by now your kids (and you, parents) might be ready to expand the selection. Whether you’re looking for something different or something scarier for your budding horror fan, here are new picks to add to your Halloween watch list this year:

The Monster Squad (PG-13)

The Monster Squad

A Goonies-esque horror movie featuring a group of pre-teens taking on the classic Universal movie monsters is a must for any budding horror fan. Memorable quotes, the best set production, memorable make-up effects, and nods to the genre that the grown-ups will appreciate, The Monster Squad is one for the ages. Phoebe’s friendship will Frankenstein’s monster will leave both kids and adults in tears, and lines like “Wolfman’s got nards!” will forever stick in your memory.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (PG)

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Based on Ray Bradbury’s novel, this is the essential Halloween film on the list. Set in late October, two young boys visit a traveling carnival, led by the mysterious and ominous Mr. Dark. This may be a Disney production, but by Disney’s standards, it’s rather dark and creepy. For one, it’s very Faustian with its theme; this carnival will offer whatever your heart desires in exchange for your soul. A haunting carousel, a blind witch, and more, there’s enough Halloween tricks and treats here to creep out the kids, but with the requisite feel-good Disney ending that keeps this from becoming too intense.

Invaders from Mars (PG)

Invaders From Mars

Written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien) and directed by the late Tobe Hooper, this pick is a timely one. Light on gore but heavy on fantastic alien and creature effects, this kids-aimed sci-fi horror sees young David Gardner as the hero to save the world from invasion. His team up with the school nurse (horror vet Karen Black) and the military to save the world gives a bigger scope to this kids horror than usual. In true Tobe Hooper style, he didn’t shy away from creating a haunting ambiguous ending either. Save for a few alien scenes and a creepy frog-eating teacher, there’s not much here to offend; just a well-done sci-fi flick with a young hero.

Arachnophobia (PG-13)


While Arachnophobia marks the lone holdout on this list to not feature a kid as its lead, it is a very family friendly horror film heavy on humor. It also managed to make spiders scary on film. It may instill a previously undeveloped case of arachnophobia, thanks to intense sequences of creepy crawling spiders. It also features deaths of likable characters, though with minimal gore thanks to hard to spot spider bites. Look for Hitchcock influences, a scene-stealing John Goodman as the hysterical exterminator, and a lot of heart. That it came from Steven Spielberg’s production company should explain all you need to know; it’s the perfect Halloween family movie.

Lady in White (PG-13)

Lady in White

Based on a legend of The Lady in White, in which a ghost searches for her daughter in Rochester, New York, the film begins on Halloween in 1962, where 9-year old Frankie (Lukas Haas) gets locked in the school room closet by bullies and witnesses the ghost of a young girl getting murdered. This event sets off a murder mystery full of ghosts that are spooky and entertaining enough for kids, yet layered with complex social themes for grown-ups. Paralleling Frankie’s journey, it’s the type of film that will teach budding horror fans that perhaps ghosts aren’t so scary after all.

The Gate (PG-13)

The Gate

What happens when kids are left at home alone for the weekend while parents travel out of town? If you’re teenaged older sister Al, you throw a party. If you’re twelve-year-old brother Glen (a young Stephen Dorff), you invite your best friend Terry over and accidentally unleash a horde of pint-sized demons from a gaping hole in your backyard. Death metal and a Dark Book that demands human sacrifice unleashes a lot of demonic trouble for Glen and Terry. Intense sequences and some light gore, including a character getting stabbed in the eye and hand, makes for a worthy horror introduction. Yet Glen’s bond with his sister, Al, keeps things from getting too scary and offers a nice counterbalance to the underlying satanic themes. As the title indicates, this one is a perfect gateway into horror.

The Willies (PG-13)

The Willies

Written and directed by Brian Peck (Scuz from The Return of the Living Dead), this 1990 horror comedy is the perfect introduction to horror anthologies. Two brothers and their cousin gather around a backyard campfire and tell each other scary stories in the wraparound, each trying to outdo the other in telling the grossest story imaginable. Which is why this kids-geared horror flick has a bit more bite than the usual movies of its ilk. Exploding dogs in microwaves, monsters that lurk in the boys’ bathroom, and rats in fried chicken, The Willies doesn’t shy away from scaring its demographic. The gross-out humor may be geared toward kids, but adults will find themselves chuckling along too.

The Hole (PG-13)

The Hole

This 2009 fantasy horror film has flown under the radar, but makes a great primer for horror master Joe Dante’s body of work. While this kid horror movie also happens to feature a mysterious hole that torments the lead characters, this hole happens to really hone in on the deepest, personal fears of its victims. For 10-year old Lucas, that means a fear of clowns. For older brother Dane and his love interest, Julie, that means a more profound fear stemming from their guilt-ridden past. This movie wins for taking on some deeper themes while delivering on jump scares and one very creepy clown doll. Also, look for Trick ‘r Treat’s Quinn Lord as a female ghost.

Critters (PG-13)


Surprisingly light on gore, this creature feature is a great pick to watch with the kids. When dangerous pint-sized Krites escape from their prison and crash land on Earth, it’s a pair of shape-shifting aliens and pre-teen Earthling Brad that must save the day. The practical effects combined with the humor makes this one so much fun. Look for a young Lin Shaye as local sheriff department dispatch, Billy Zane as an unfortunate Krite victim, and Dee Wallace as the charming, doting mom to Brad. For a pack of vicious fur balls with very pointy teeth, there’s minimal gore, save for a mutilated cow and a gruesome bounty hunter transformation. The worst offense, perhaps, is the profanity- even the Krites curse in their native language, though it’s humorously subtitled.

The Sixth Sense (PG-13)

The Sixth Sense

High on atmosphere, loaded up on jump scares, and heavy on tragic themes of life and death, this may only be PG-13, but it’s one of the riskier selections on this list. From a MPAA standpoint, this movie was marked PG-13 for intense thematic material and violent images, meaning this might be a little too intense for kids who scare easily. For those who don’t, though, will really feel for Haley Joel Osment’s sad yet brave Cole, the poor kid struggling with his ability to see ghosts. M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout hit may have induced chills, but it also brought on a ton of feels as Cole navigated bullying, his strained relationship with a single working mother, and the harsh lessons of life. As sweet as it is scary, The Sixth Sense also makes for a great lesson on a beloved cinematic trope; the twist ending.



  • Elizabeth

    My mom watched Lady In White with me as a kid and Critters was the first R rated movie I ever saw (at a friend’s house). Great list!

    • Trixxxster

      Critters was rated PG-13. Sorry if I ruined a fond childhood memory.

      • Elizabeth

        …why would that ruin anything for me? It doesn’t change that I had fun watching horror movies with friends growing up. Or that I still have friends and don’t live in my mom’s basement.

    • david

      Critters is rated PG-13.

    • Drakk_Mallor

      My first movie at a friends house like that was Return of the Living Dead. I think I was like 9. Despite how great I obviously turned out (jk) It should not be on this list.

      • Elizabeth

        I loved ROTL (still do) but I had to watch the TV version. My parents were super strict and the R rated horror at friends’ houses was usually limited to whatever was on HBO during a sleepover. That’s why I saw Alien 3 before the first two movies.

      • Adam Paquette

        I remember the first time I saw it….. I was 13. That slimy zombie bastard scared the shit out of me, I was terrified to leave my bedroom during the night.

    • Jaguar67

      Critters was PG-13

  • Drakk_Mallor

    I don’t know, I think watching Critters would need some explaining if someone had a daughter. She might ask “How come the younger brother is the one who gets to go outside and save the day when his sister’s in better shape than him and looks like she might even be an athlete? She’s got longer legs, she could outrun the Critters better, probably get help sooner. The brother is a creepy kid who spies on her and makes explosives…” It’s actually kinda fun to watch Critters and just poke fun at how the whole family so quickly just let’s the youngest member take the lead to get them out of the crisis they’re in.

    April: “Dad, why are you sending Brad? I can run faster and I can sneak on and off this property whenever I want, I can do this!”

    Dad in reply: “Shut up, girl, it was your sluttish ways in the barn that brought this on us! Brad’s the man of the family now! Brad’s the only one who can save us now!!”

    April meekly nods in shame and tends to her mother, hoping against hope her brave brave brother Brad can save her…

    • James

      Brad knew how to make bombs. Nuf said.

  • Nekrim

    Has the Monster Squad been remastered in 4k yet btw ?

  • Justin Graves

    The Midnight Hour, goddamn it.

  • Jonathan Larsson

    No Beetlejuice?

    • Creepshow

      That one “F-Bomb” with a nutsack grab, might just push it over the edge.

      • Jay Brezzy

        True…but doesn’t Dracula call the little 6-7 Year old girl a bitch in monster squad?

        • Creepshow

          This gonna sound awful, but a fuck always beats a bitch.

          • Jay Brezzy

            Creepshow, I have been in these forms for many years. I have ran into you a many many times. That was probably one of the funniest things I’ve read man LOL.

          • Creepshow

            It’s always been a pleasure, sir.

  • J Jett

    i absolutely love LADY IN WHITE but depending on how old the child you’re watching it with is it may be too intense at some parts of the film IMO. parts of the film are very wonderfully intense even for me! lol.
    i’d add the GOOSEBUMPS movie to this list.

    • CalUni

      So glad you loved it. Definitely the standout on the list and amazed it doesn’t get more love. Very dark underneath the nostalgia sheen too, which makes clear it even more memorable and compelling.

  • I love the Monster Squad and Arachnophobia!!

  • CalUni

    Great list Meagan. I must say your articles have been a real pleasure on this site and hope you keep contributing. I think we’d get on just dandy if we met (similar taste in all things Horror it seems)!

  • Creepshow

    “Something Wicked” always creeped me out as a kid. Disney or not, this movie is weirdly dark. The carousel scene at the end, never made me feel like it had a fluffy ending. That skeleton, got seared into my brain.

  • Joshua

    Troll and Ghoulies are good too.

  • Adam Paquette

    Anyone ever seen the movie Under Wraps? It used to play on the Disney channel I think back in the day. It’s about these kids who find a mummy and he comes alive and becomes their friend. It’s a cool little Halloween themed movie for the kids.

  • Kyle Cole

    I can’t believe that the childs play movies or the poltergeist films didn’t make it on this list??

  • diapers

    Good list. I have a six year old, we watched Revenge of the Sith last year which gets damn close to horror in the third act and probably was her first ankle deep foray into horror. Some other gateway material she’s toed the waters with: Ren and Stimpy, and, oddly, but hey it’s a 3 minute horror comedy video… Dead Saturday: Was thinking about Terminator and T2 fairly soon as well.

  • diapers

    Goodness, I forgot that both Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits were/are EXCELLENT horror gateway experiences, at least for my kiddo.

  • Batcat

    The original Invaders from Mars is by far the superior film. That one really captures the sense of a childhood nightmare so much more than Hooper’s poorly realized remake. That was DOA.

  • Blurrygirl13

    Oh man, Monster Squad, Critters & The Gate were staples of our childhood movie watching. Also the movie House & Troll, but great list!

    • baronterror

      Wow, exact same list. Throw in Fright Night & Lost boys.

      • ScaryLarryV

        Fright night has boobs in it. Probably not good for kids

        • baronterror

          It has been my experience that kids are not afraid of boobs. Nor should they be. I’m a big proponent of not making the body shameful and that technically I’d rather kids watch something with nudity in it than horribly graphic murder, push comes to shove. But mostly I was just saying those two movies were also big parts of my personal childhood staples of horror films.

          • Monkeymanbob

            The nudity thing seems to be a very American hang up. I have a 7 yr old and when ever she sees boobs she just says “boobies” and on a trip to the British Museum and confronted with ancient Greek tackle just giggled.

          • JoeInTheBox

            I remember my parents closing my eyes during nudity, not because they think I shouldn’t be seeing that, but later in life I realized they were uncomfortable with the topic of sex around me.

            They’re pretty hardcore Christians, and when I was an adult I realized that they never had “the talk” with me.

  • Jaguar67

    The original Salems Lot. Burnt Offerings. The Watcher in the Woods. The Haunting (original).

  • Munchie Strikes Back

    Or you could live a happy, child-free life and watch whatever the fuck you want, whenever you want! Heh heh heh.

  • El_Fez

    Or you could do what I did when I was a kid and sneak into an R Rated horror flick, as god intended.

  • oh_riginal

    My gateway into horror is either Aliens, which my sister took me to see when I was 5, or if you consider that sci-fi, then it was The Lost Boys the following year.

    Followed by probably every horror movie on the shelf at the local mom and pop video rental store.

  • Guaranteed

    Just wanted to say thanks for this article! My daughter is 12, and somewhat interested in horror, but also a little scared for anything too hardcore. We saw Happy Death Day Friday, and I was looking for more.

  • JoeInTheBox

    For really little kids the Universal classic monster movies are can’t misses. At least The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein. Also can’t go wrong with the Abbott and Costello crossovers. Same with episodes of The Twilight Zone.

    Summer camp during rainy days when I was a kid meant movie days and every kid was completely enthralled by the classics. Ironically when I got older the kids were less enthused, mainly because we were aware of the classic monsters in pop culture. Hard to take Frankenstein as seriously when you’re face deep in a bowl of Franken Berry cereal.

    • Stephen Dedalus

      Abbot and Costello is a great choice.

  • IWC-3PO

    The same Brian Peck that spent time in prison for sexual abuse of a child?

    • Nick Schwab

      That’s him. However, that film can still fit as a kiddie horror film, much like Victor Salva’s Clownhouse. I admit both films would be odd considering the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding them, but considering you aren’t inviting the director’s over for dinner and a movie, when taken alone they are still kiddie-horror films. And together with both director’s past they are still kiddie- horror films, just with more than a complicated backstory, to say the least.

  • turk

    Was “Gremlins” too obvious?

    • Leshiy 133

      “Gremlins” (and “Die Hard”) are CHRISTMASS movies ONLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111111

      • turk

        I think somebody got into the Halloween candy a little early. But seriously, I think “Gremlins” is a pretty perfect horror movie for kids, Christmas setting or not. My niece loved it, and that was when we saw it on TBS or TNT on some summer morning or other.

        • Richard

          Your right, Gremlins is a perfect movie, but probably too obvious to make the list, which is ok because its filled with movies I had not thought about.
          I guess Child’s Play is a Christmas movie too? LOL

          • turk

            I don’t know that I’d show a small child “Child’s Play”. That was pretty graphic.

          • Richard

            I wouldnt either, even though I saw it as a kid. I was just throwing it out there since gremlins and die hard are christmas movies according to Leshiy

    • Jeff

      Not if they still believe in Santa Claus *snerk*

  • Christopher Scott Stark

    The original HalloweeN is a perfect gateway movie for kids. I introduced my son to it at six years old. It took him until eight years old to sit through it from start to finish but it is now one of his favorite movies of all time. If your worried about nudity or the sex scene that is easily censored if your watching with your child. I have always maintained that if HalloweeN was made after 1984 it could have been PG-13 if they kept a bra or lingerie on Linda during her two topless scenes. The opening sequence and kill is the bloodiest of the film and has the briefest moment of nudity that would easily pass modern day PG-13 standards. Two or three swear words in the entire film and the drug/alcohol use by teens is very minor.

  • IhopeLinneaQuigleyisinit.

    The Willies was directed by Brian Peck a convicted paedophile for molesting two Nickelodeon child stars. Your definition of family friendly is way more Appalachian than mine.

    • HeteroFriendly

      Nobody molests more children then the rapists and pornographers who run hollywood and their casting couches. Thats been their tradition and privilege since the silver screen days.

      But they’ve got the media monopoly to point their fingers and accuse appalachia and statues and everybody else of commiting the crimes that they’re actually committing and guilty of themselves.

      • IhopeLinneaQuigleyisinit.

        I’m from WV. Let’s stay on point, this is inappropriate family fare.

        • HeteroFriendly

          I didn’t know that brian peck had done that.
          I had to google it.

          Heres a little article about what the people who run hollywood do:

          We’ve been hearing about it for years. But who’s in a better position to sweep it under the public awareness rug then the people who own the rug.

          • HeteroFriendly

            How about this for on point,
            theres A LOT of not friendly for family entertainment coming out of hollywood. Pretty much all of it.

            Known for years as the last family-ish entertainment entity in hollywood,
            and skewered mercilessly for it by the hollywood types around it to the brink of bankruptcy, AND THEN THEY BOUGHT IT.

            And now “disney”,
            the name brand that was built on family entertainment,
            has been repurpoused as the biggest corporate name in pushing filth on children.

            Nothing about hollywood is family friendly.
            The closest you’ll get to that is exploiting it for a profit.
            Like a Christmas movie despite Christianity being illegal in hollywood. Dont be a fool and think that it ever was.

          • IhopeLinneaQuigleyisinit.

            While all of that is true the point is this was a poorly researched article and that movie should be retracted by the author. Financially supporting Peck is unacceptable. Anyone with a sordid, nonconsensual past should not be advertised for.

    • The Phantasman

      Now THAT’S scary!!

    • Sean Robert Hart

      So in the movie a man molests children? If not whats the big deal that movie is not available tp rent or buy only torrent. Stealing from a pedo is fine in my book.

      • IhopeLinneaQuigleyisinit.

        Interesting logic. When I say logic, I mean nonsense. But if it means so little to BD and the author, what do I know? LMAO

        • Sean Robert Hart

          Nonsense indeed.

  • HeteroFriendly

    The Gate is such a one off classic.

    Tibor Tockacs never really did anything else, but its one of those examples of everything just falling int place.

    Lightening in a bottle.

  • The Phantasman

    No DOTD, Suspiria or The Beyond?
    Kids love gore!!

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