The Summer holidays are coming up soon and with them come kids who suddenly have a lot more free time to burn. For those with children or younger siblings, this is the perfect time to start indoctrinating them into the world of horror movies!
Thanks to the 2017 and 2018 spate of kid-centred horror films like IT and Stranger Things, more children and teens than ever are aware of the genre.
For the uninitiated, horror is not always the most accessible genre to get into. Especially for youngsters or those who might be more sensitive, it’s better to cut your teeth on softer horror films the whole family can watch.
Here are some great scary (but not too scary) starter horror movies to watch with kids (and wimpy adults).
1. Frankenweenie (2012)
Early Tim Burton is great for starting younger kids on the eerie aesthetic and themes of death that make their way into horror. There are so many good ones to choose from (A Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Edward Scissorhands) but we nominate Frankenweenie for commitment to those horror themes, despite its childlike tone. A retelling of the classic Frankenstein story with puppets and stop motion, Frankenweenie‘s main change (from live-action short to stop-motion feature) makes it doubly appealing to kids.
Those who think Burton’s later work is far from his best will be relieved to know that this is a reworking of one of his earliest shorts, and has a lot of the tongue-in-cheek, referential humour young Burton was known for.
A word of warning though: this movie does contain some sad pet death scenes.
2. Monster House (2006)
A very underrated gem, Monster House is an excellent starter to the “haunted house” sub-genre. Here the house isn’t exactly haunted but rather an evil entity of its own, akin to The Haunting of Hill House, and is genuinely quite menacing.
The story relies on a lot of common childhood fears and stereotypes, like the mean scary next door neighbour, incompetent grown-ups and fear of the dark.
For an early 2000s CGI animated movie, the design has a charmingly odd feel. The animators worked hard to create character designs that were asymmetric, ensuring each character looks unique and organic. It’s little details like this that make the movie stand out as such an unusual children’s film.
Older Kids (10+)
3. Coraline (2009)
Despite being aimed at kids, Coraline has a reputation for being incredibly creepy. Based on a story by Neil Gaiman, whose books are a must for children fascinated by the dark and magical, Coraline tells the tale of a young girl sucked into a mirror life that’s far better and more magical than her own in every way. However, she soon finds out her doppelgänger family plans to trap her there forever.
The bright, whimsical settings, quirky characters and talking animals will appeal to kids of all ages, while the generally creepy tones, terrifying Other Mother and slowly melting Other loved ones make the movie truly frightening.
4. Gremlins (1984)
Gremlins and age ratings have had a special relationship, especially in the UK where in a sudden “think of the children” moment, the BBFC slapped a hefty 15 rating on the movie. This was much more extreme than it was for US audiences, where the movie was only rated PG.
Nowadays that rating seems quaint, and despite many a 90s kid being legally barred from watching it, many horror lovers still list Gremlins as their favourite childhood movie. Thankfully, upon its theatrical re-release in 2012, its rating was officially dialled down to a more realistic 12A.
With a script by Chris Columbus (who’s worked on such family friendly movies as Home Alone, The Goonies and the first two Harry Potter films), Gremlins plays out more like a kid’s creature feature with a few scares than the dark, gory horror film it was played up to be.
The puppetry is fun and the violence is cartoonish enough to be satisfying without being mentally scarring for any sensitive kids.
5. The Witches (1990)
Roald Dahl‘s story of a cult of witches with an evil plot to turn the world’s children into mice is wonderfully goofy. Dahl is a master of writing stories that on the surface are whimsical and fun but actually have surprisingly disturbing content, with this early nineties adaptation being no different.
The witches themselves are menacing but in a light, campy way (especially Anjelica Houston‘s Grand High Witch) thanks to their over-the-top facial prosthetics.
The film does pack some chilling moments though, with probably the scariest point in this movie being when an innocent(ish) boy is turned into a mouse in a transformation scene that’s shockingly grotesque.
Practically every child has read a Roald Dahl book at some point, and any young fans of his particular blend of silly-but-creepy will love The Witches.
6. The Thing (1982)
What’s great about introducing teens to horror is that, aside from being less prone to being mentally scarred by a movie, they usually have much higher attention spans. This makes for great opportunities to introduce them to some classic slow-paced horror like The Thing.
The long, tense stretches of silence won’t be lost on older kids in this story of alien threat, icy seclusion and paranoia. The Thing isn’t just a legend of horror film, but has formed much of the basis of horror and sci-fi in our pop culture today.
Thanks to the amazing work of special FX artist Rob Bottin, this is also a great film to nurture an appreciation for grizzly practical effects. Having this film under their belt will set teens up well for a rich future of classic sci-fi horror like Alien and its sequels, The Brood, The Fly and Leviathen.
7. The Shining (1980)
Best left to older kids due to the adult visuals, like the famous elevator full of blood and the flashes of the dead twin girls, The Shining works perfectly as an introduction to Stephen King‘s particular brand of horror, as well as the strong visual filmmaking style of Stanley Kubrick.
Instead of relying on the cheap scares or gore that teens who are already fans of horror may be used to, the film’s mounting tension and sense of helplessness are what make it scary.
This is another film that’s rather slow paced, giving you time to get to know the family at the centre and making you actually care about them before things start getting weird.
While you don’t want Danny-aged kids watching, having a child as a key protagonist, as well as parents, is a relatable centre for younger viewers. A threat to the safety of a family is something pretty much anyone can understand.
8. The Woman in Black (2012)
Adapted from a 1980s Gothic novel, The Woman in Black is a call-back to old literary horror and the traditional kind of ghost stories that were told by the fire in times gone by. As with most old haunting stories, there’s a mystery at the centre that drives the plot, and the movie has a strong sense of forward momentum.
Despite not having a super high rating (12), the movie has a lot to offer by way of spookiness. The atmosphere remains dark and creepy throughout and there are enjoyable (but not excessive) jump-scares.
This was arguably part of the turning point for Daniel Radcliffe becoming a more serious actor, and anyone who grew up watching the Harry Potter movies will get a kick out of his performance in this.
9. Poltergeist (1982)
Poltergeist is another film that was rated 15 while America only gave it a PG, but even most Americans will concede that it’s a hard PG at least. Some of what happens in the film, like the infamous face peeling scene, will make you wonder how it even got that rating.
A precursor to aggressive haunting films such as the Paranormal Activity movies and parodies of the sub-genre like Scary Movie, Poltergeist is part of the canon of classic horror movies. It was an unusual turn for Steven Spielberg, whose E.T. came out in the same month.
Once again, the movie centres around a family and it’s no coincidence that some of the best horror movies have this in common. The threat of one of the most basic forms of safety and assurance in life being destroyed is one of those ingrained fears for adults and children alike, and this is exactly what happens in the film. Poltergeist has no qualms about placing these kids in danger, and the movie is famous for casting Heather O’Rourke as the constantly terrorised youngest child Carol Anne.