Article crafted by Bloody Disgusting contributor Sean Stewart:
With the much anticipated arrival of Laika’s stop-motion horror/adventure film, ParaNorman, we take a look back on some of the scariest, creepiest, piss your pull-ups movies to be produced and marketed for the under thirteen crowd.
As any true horror fan can readily admit, there’s something indelible about a film that has the bravery to seize upon childhood fears and remind both kid and parent alike of why they have the lasting power to frighten and enchant well into adulthood.
Inside you’ll find our list of the “8 Of The Scariest Horror Movies Made For Kids”!
8. LITTLE MONSTERS (1989)
We start things off on the lighter side with what pretty much amounts to a mostly juvenile “Beetlejuice” rip-off, featuring a truly obnoxious performance from an unbridled Howie Mandel (who figures into two films on this list). But then, towards the tail end, we are finally introduced to the movie’s much talked about but seldom seen villain: Boy. As portrayed by the gifted Frank Whaley (Brett in “Pulp Fiction”), Boy is revealed to be an astonishingly creepy humanoid in a world of monsters, whose pasty complexion and lilting mannerisms are really a smokescreen for…well, a kind of hand puppet, but that’s really not the point. When first introduced, wearing a little boy’s prep-school uniform; pale, thin-lipped mask ebbing at the edges of a scaly green cranium, Boy sets the precedent for a very palpable sense of childlike dread that is maintained throughout his most prominently featured scene, and secures this otherwise negligible offering a spot on the list.
Boy’s scene in question begins right around the three-minute mark:
7. MONSTER HOUSE (2006)
Utilizing Robert Zemeckis’ (then) still promising Imagemovers and their (then) state-of-the-art motion capture technology, Gil Kenan’s directorial debut hearkens back to the days when a children’s mainstream horror movie didn’t have to condescend, and could dabble in such weighty themes as death, sexual maturation, and the nature of fear. It doesn’t quite work on all levels, and certainly drags for stretches, but is also possessed of some incredible production values, a formidable monster design, and admirably confident direction the likes of which is in distressingly short supply. One just wishes the Spielberg produced effort also had the courage to leave the monster house’s assorted victims (spoiler alert) dead. I never remember Mrs. Deagle getting back up and dusting herself off in a last second contrivance of “Don’t worry kids, everyone was just fine!”
The best of Kenan’s amazingly disciplined directorial style:
6. THE WITCHES (1990)
Nicolas (“Don’t Look Now”) Roeg’s highly atmospheric film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s already nightmare inducing children’s book of the same name. Right from the start, the film chooses to take the high road, making no compromises in its deliriously stark depiction of Dahl’s secret society of child murdering witches that live amongst us (well, except at the very end where the film takes a marked detour from that of the book). But these aren’t just any witches: the tamest of the bunch are merely bald with scab covered scalps and feet that end in blunt stubs…the worst: a brilliant Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch, is a creature who, with the help of designer Steve Norrington and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, takes the guise of a grotesquely sagging, wretched old hag; the very embodiment of the childhood fear of that old “witch” down the street who wants to eat you for her supper.
Yes, kiddies, that craggy old math teacher of yours really was a terrifying monster. And she looked just…like…THIS:
5. THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)
The woefully undervalued Fred (“Night of the Creeps”) Dekker’s bid to cross breed “The Goonies” with that quintessential rogue’s gallery: the Universal Monsters. Of course Universal had no involvement with the picture, which meant we were treated to the late, great Stan Winston’s menagerie of “re-imaginings”, highly stylized, hyper realistic revisions on the classic prototypes. Most impressive are Tom Woodruff, Jr. as The Gillman (who bears more than a little resemblance to Winston’s own Predator) and Duncan Regehr as a sinuous, surprisingly frightening Dracula. As a kid’s Amblin-style adventure, you have to wonder just what Dekker was thinking with the bloody violence, coarse language, and intense set pieces. You know, all the reasons we hold it near and dear today.
Dracula, that grandiose old fop, meets the 80’s head on:
4. PINOCCHIO AND THE EMPEROR OF THE NIGHT (1987)
So, I realize I’m kind of cheating with this one…but just a little. While not technically a horror film, “Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night” is filled with so much unadulterated and patently bizarre nightmare fuel (the audience of child-sized puppets, the psychedelic performance hall, the demonic Emperor himself, all in this scene ALONE) that you have to imagine Filmation foresaw their impending bankruptcy and just said, “Aw, fuck it anyway.” Most frightening are the film’s themes of child predation, and the bewitching enchantment of certain lies (*See also “Coraline”). The third tier animation the company was known for only enhances the horrifically surreal nature of the entire project. This is the film that forever engendered in me an otherwise inexplicable fear of neon and synth.
* Try to ignore the obligatory comic relief in the form of a cross dressing monkey:
3. GREMLINS (1984)
I have a little trouble with this one, because though it may be my personal favorite on the list, I am of the firm belief that Joe Dante’s lunatic vision of suburban mayhem was never intended for the playground set. That did not, however; stop Warner Bros. from seizing upon the marketability of a plushy character like Gizmo (hey, Howie Mandel, again!) and pushing the advertising to reflect the recent success of producer Steven Spielberg’s own “E.T.”. The film itself hews much more closely to the classic structure of the traditional monster movie than the family film, and in so doing crafts one of the best: an impeccably produced big-budget creature feature with a knowing sense of humor and a bevy of startling special effects courtesy Chris “The Fly” Wallas. A brilliant pop-satire and an effectively creepy monsters-on-the-loose homage where the titular beasties kill, maim and create very real havoc and devastation.
The legendary “kitchen scene”: pretty brutal stuff heightened by Jerry Goldsmith’s exceptional music score:
2. CORALINE (2009)
A strong candidate for the scariest kid’s movie of the past two decades, Henry Selick’s masterful adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s limitlessly imaginative source material is a mesmerizing illustration of our deepest, most elemental childhood fears: fears of abandonment, trust, the dark, dreams…the list goes on and on. In the guise of the villainous “other parents” the film brazenly attacks the one thing cherished above all else by any child: the parental figure, and twists them into a devious perversion of that which is used to gauge any sense of right and wrong, that which is used to establish our youthful perception of reality. Detailed with exquisite (and haunting) stop-motion animation and featuring one of the most chilling visuals in any horror movie, children’s or not…those cold, soulless button eyes, marring what would otherwise be (seeming) perfection, “Coraline” is perhaps the most vivid depiction of a childlike nightmare ever committed to film; pure, striking, weirdly beautiful and utterly terrifying.
The Other Mother, cheerily menacing, and The Other Father, dopey/eerie, present Coraline with the just plain terrible:
1. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983)
Where “Coraline” presents the ways in which our parents can sometimes betray us, Ray Bradbury’s wistful screen adaptation of his own novel presents the ways they can sometimes fail us, and how they can then ultimately, and triumphantly, save us. It’s a beautiful story, basking in twilight nostalgia, and brought to the screen with pitch perfect nuance by Jack (“The Innocents”) Clayton. For the very persona non-gratis of dreaded fear, few can top Jonathan Pryce’s nefarious Mr. Dark, proprietor of a truly wicked carnival that offers the regretful their deepest wishes and a chance at redemption, for a devastating price, naturally. As his Autumn light foil, Jason Robards is the father figure we perhaps never asked for, and are so very fortunate to have. For stomach dropping fright fare to keep the kid’s awake at night there is no shortage: a horde of creeping, crawling spiders, a devilish carousel, a decapitation by guillotine (oh yeah, it’s a kid, by the by) and most seat squirming of all, a bizarre parade through town devoid of any sense of joy or purpose, a simple paradoxical image that grabs at the base of the spine and holds tight. If that doesn’t work, I defy you to watch the scene where Mr. Dark strolls casually through an empty main street drag, in the dead of night, scattering leaflets for his carnival with the casual air of a man of unlimited, and inhuman, patience. Truly the stuff of nightmares.
Outwardly not the most frightening scene, but a powerful one for young and old alike:
ParaNorman is now in theaters everywhere from Focus Features. -Sean Stewart