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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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.