Halloween is just around the corner and kids all around the country are getting into the spirit of the season. Between stocking up on chocolates and preparing their costumes, there’s a good chance that the wee’uns are going to want to watch something scary! Not just creepy but something to really shock them.
We’re fully aware of the fact that it’s now 2013. In the old days, fathers could get away with showing their 6 year-old sons The Shining and terrifying the hell out of him (true story: thanks, Dad!) but in this age of PC-gone-mad, parents are noticeably less keen to let their kids watch anything that has the potential to upset them.
So as to help parents and guardians navigate the murky waters of Family Chillers this Halloween, we’ve put together this list of excellent scary films, organised by age suitability:
Any Scooby-Doo Cartoon
Bounding in at the lowest end of the scare-spectrum are the continuing adventures of Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, Fred and Daphne. The gang have been travelling the world in The Mystery Machine since the late 60s but their exploits are as disposable and fun as ever. In fact, the string of straight-to-video animated features from the past few years are actually better than Scooby-Doo episodes from its heyday. (The secret was to eliminate Scrappy-Doo)
And don’t worry about your kids getting nightmares: without fail, the paranormal mystery always turns out to be an evil property developer or something!
Teenager Sarah (Jennifer Connolly) is tired of babysitting her infant brother. She wants to do grown-up things and flippantly wishes that goblins would just take the boy away. But you know what they say about wishes coming true? In Sarah case, she’s transported to the magical world of the Labyrinth where she must make her way past the challenges set by The Goblin King (David Bowie) if she has any chance of saving her baby bro.
An indispensable part of any 80s child’s upbringing, this film directed by Jim Henson functions as a nostalgic Rorschach Test. Many of us remember wanting to be besties with Hoggle and Ludo, the two adorable creatures Sarah picks up on her quest; some of us recall Jennifer Connolly as our first movie crush; and most of us have never forgotten the image of Bowie in those tight, tight, tight trousers.
Taking a page out of the Tim Burton playbook, Laika Animation Studios brings this spooky, good-natured film about a lonely young boy who –much like Haley Joel Osment– can see dead people. And talk to them too. Nobody believes him, of course, making him an outside in his own town and even in his own family. But when zombies start coming alive and pursuing the townspeople, it’s Norman who must come to the rescue! Usually, we try to avoid movies with puns in the title but in the case of ParaNorman, we happily made an exception.
It’s no surprise that this film has that mythical suburban Spielberg vibe to it. After all, the ‘berg executive produced this animated movie along with Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis.
DJ is an adolescent boy whose parents have gone away for Halloween weekend. Like any child his age, he’s terrified of the creepy man in the run-down house across the street. The thing is, it’s not the man he should be scared of but the house itself, which turns into a child-eating monster when nobody else is watching.
Teaming up with his best friend, Chowder and a cute girl from the local private school, DJ has to find a way to stop the house before Halloween evening, when it gobble-up unsuspecting trick or treaters!
Based on an original idea, the screenplay was co-written by Dan Harmon, who has gone on to become one of TV’s most respected comedy writers and the creator of Community. The film has some genuinely scary moments but nothing that a smart 7 year-old won’t be able to handle.
While their divorcee dad is off working, two brothers are left alone to get on each other’s nerves in the way that all young siblings always do. In their dusty basement, they find an old clockwork board game called Zathura, which they begin to play. Of course, this is no ordinary set of snakes and ladder and the boys quickly realise that the game’s cards have the power to affect their reality, taking their entire house on a magical space adventure!
Directed by a pre-Iron Man Jon Favreau, Zathura is a spiritual sequel to Jumanji in the sense that the two are based on books by Chris Van Allsburg and both of them are about magical board games. It’s less a ‘spooky film’ than a thrilling, Goonies-style adventure but this is such an underrated film, we wanted to show it some love. Keep an eye out for its young cast including Josh Hutcherson from The Hunger Games and Twilight star Kristen Stewart!
When her family uproots to a dreary new town thousands of miles away, young Coraline couldn’t be more frustrated: with her broken-down home, with her aged neighbours, and with her inattentive parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman). Discovering a secret hatch in the house, she is spirited away to another place: a magical world populated by colourful and fantastical versions of everyone she knows: her new mother looks just like her old one, only cheerier and with terrifying buttons for eyes. In fact, everyone here has buttons for eyes.
Adapted from a book by Neil Gaiman, the real visionary behind this film is Henry Selick, the man who actually directed The Nightmare Before Christmas (and not Tim Burton, as everyone assumes). Like one of Grimm’s fairy tales, this film is much darker than your average kiddie-flick but with its beautiful visuals, haunting score and endearing female lead, Coraline is a cut above the rest.
When his parents tragically pass away, young Luke is taken up by his wise Norwegian grandmother, who teaches him about the secret lives of witches. As it would happen, these hideous crones live amongst us and adopt elaborate disguises – all for the express purpose of exterminating children.
Accompanying his Nana to an English seaside resort, Luke inadvertently stumbles upon Britain’s largest convention of witches, who have gathered in the ballroom for their AGM!
For the most part, this is a very faithful adaptation Roald Dahl’s darkest children’s novel, thanks in part to the Jim Henson Company’s truly gruesome make-up effects. Behind the camera is legendary director Nic Roeg, who lends the same mastery of atmosphere he brought to grown-up classics like Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth. The Witches has haunted the dreams of many a child who saw it back in the 90s and for the most part, it still holds up over 20 years later.
This film is a rarity in our modern age: a nuts-and-bolts horror film that’s both scary and perfect for younger viewers. Like quite a few of the entries on this list, it involves two boys and one girl stumbling upon something creepy in their house. In this case, it’s a hole in their basement that seems to contain their greatest fears. Behind the camera is director Joe Dante, whose trademark blend of horror and humour has always shone through in films of his like Gremlins, The Howling and Inner Space. If your tweens and early teens are looking for something to watch from behind a sofa cushion or through their fingers, you could do a lot worse than renting The Hole.
Guillermo del Toro’s undisputed masterpiece is, for us, also one of the finest films made this century. Taking place during the Spanish Civil War it centres on Ofelia, a young girl whose mother is getting re-married to a sadistic general. She discovers a creature she believes to be a fairy and follows it down to magical labyrinth where she’s given three challenges by a hulking faun.
Ofelia’s quest brings her in contact with a number of wonderful and terrifying creatures that test her wits and courage amidst her grim reality. Del Toro does a masterful job contrasting the surrounding horror with her mythical journey — playing with the audience’s suspicions that it may just be a product of her imagination.
A few moments of graphic violence have resulted in a 15 Certificate so parents may want to pre-watch this before they screen it for their young teens*. But if they do, they’ll be treating their kids to one of the most profound cinematic experiences of recent years.
*As always, the BBFC’s ratings are advisements. It’s up to you as a parent to determine whether your child is ready for these films. But seriously: kids are more robust than we give them credit for.
For more family-friendly Halloween films, go to our Treat or Treat Collection at blinkbox