12+ Scary Movies Our Kids Loved (including at least 5 “hells” and 2 “bollocks”)

Dracula_1958_a
By Screenshot from “Internet Archive” of the movie Dracula (1958) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Because we are integrated Catholics, we observe All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Halloween — the latter, by trick-or-treating, putting the little guys stickily to bed, and showing the older kids a scarier movie than we normally allow.  And because I’m still in denial about just how many outrageous promises I carelessly made about costumes I’d be happy to whip up, I’m thinking hard about what movie we’ll show this year.

There are a bunch of mildly scary movies we can show the little guys: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a favorite; and it’s fun to watch Abbot and Costello meet various creatures. And there’s always The Munsters, which is a truly terrible show, but the little guys love it.

What to show the middle kids and older kids? It needs to be scary, but not too scary.  There are plenty of flat-out terrifying movies out there, but we’re looking for one that don’t introduce any themes or images that kids aren’t ready to deal with.  Pure slasher movies, I oppose for people of any age, as I can’t imagine how you can learn to enjoy watching them without disastrously deadening some part of your soul.  I’m also not a fan of supernatural horror movies, which give people the impression that religion is part dopey, part freaky.

The year I wrote this post, we went with Arachnophobia (1990).  It was weird and funny, a well done, edge-of-the-seat creature feature.  It’s classified as a comedy/thriller, which hits the sweet spot for me:  The comedy makes us more vulnerable when the shocks come, but it also reminds us that it’s just a movie.  John Goodman as the exterminator is hilarious.

Much gorier and much funnier, and also very moving in places, is Shaun of the Dead (2004), one of my favorite movies in any genre.  It’s about a zombie near-apocalypse, but is just as much about friendship and love, and it convincingly shows the main character move from failure-to-launch slobhood to heroic manhood.  But it totally earns the R rating, mostly because of the truly horrifying gore.  We did let our 11-year-old watch this one.

We recently saw The Sixth Sense (1999) and Signs (2002). It beats me why The Sixth Sense is the more celebrated. It’s very good, but Signs is fantastic, and has so much more depth. It’s one of my favorite movies in general, and it will make you feel better whenever you start feeling down about Mel Gibson. The Village (2004) is pretty scary, but relies way too heavily on the plot twist; and, as I mentioned on the radio with Mark the other day, I had a hard time getting past the idea that the villagers would have bothered to pack things like decorative door hinges. I don’t pack like that. Unbreakable (2000) is tremendously underrated, so carefully crafted — Shyamalan’s best, I think.

Have I mentioned The Mummy (1999) often enough in past posts?  Yes?  All right, I’ll skip the details and just remind you that it really moves along, it has a heroine that you actually root for, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Also, the scene where the guy knows something’s coming to get him but he can’t find his glasses?  Brrrrr.  The Mummy Returns (2001) is a worthy sequel.  The Mummy 3, I don’t know what the title is because I fell asleep before I got to the end of reading it, never mind watching the movie (2008) should be taken out and shot. When they replaced Rachel Weisz in the third one, you realized, “Ah, so it was Rachel Weisz who was holding the other two movies together.”

Some darker choices:  Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.  I always feel defensive when my kids watch a Hitchcock movie — the man was so hard on his viewers.  I still haven’t forgiven him for Vertigo.  The nerve, confusing me that way, and making me upset about those awful people with their plastic hair!  The Birds has a weird structure that makes it feel very dated. Vertigo is just nasty, but worth getting under your belt so you can enjoy High Anxiety.

Gaslight (1944). You think you know about this movie because you’re familiar with the term “gaslighting.”  So watch it and find out why it’s a classic.  So incredibly tense, so gorgeously black-and-white.  The acting is subtle and superb and the pacing is exquisite.  I’m adding it to my Netflix queue right now.

Diabolique (1954, not the apparently highly stinky 1996 remake).  ONE OF THE SCARIEST MOVIES I HAVE EVER SEEN.  You feel like you can’t even breathe for a good part of this movie.  Very tricky plot, very nasty direction, and horribly, horribly French.  Entirely effective if you feel like getting grabbed by the brain and shaken around for a while.

Lightening things up again:  Tremors (1990).  Okay, technically more of an action/adventure flick, but it will keep you on your toes.  This is how our Halloween movie tradition got started:  my son was so excited to be trick-or-treating, he bolted down the sidewalk, slipped on some dry leaves, and spent the rest of Halloween in the ER with a sprained wrist.  So we showed him Tremors as compensation.  It’s another combo of suspense, action and gore, with a satisfying and wholesome resolution.  Very likeable heroes, and the paranoid survivalist couple is a scream.

Army of Darkness (1992)  Just tons of fun.  The fact that the diabolical villains are called “Deadites” — because they’re dead — will give you an idea of the tone of this movie.  Brilliant slapstick, but scary enough that it’s not for anyone under the age of ten.  (Also a sexy scene or two, which we handle, if littler kids are watching, by putting a pillow over the screen.)

Rear Window (1954)  Another of my all-time favorites in any genre.  I have something of a Cary Grant problem — have a real hard time getting past his blue hair — which means I often have a Hitchcock problem.  But this movie features Jimmy Stewart instead, flexing his acting muscles on a character which is not as repellent as some Hitchcock heroes — but still, somethin’ ain’t right with that guy.  Love it.  And Grace Kelly and her astonishing dresses are so lovely, you don’t care that she’s kind of a dish of lukewarm pudding, actingwise.  Oh, and yes, it’s scary!  Suspenseful as all get out, and howlingly original in scope.

Island of Lost Souls is also on my to-watch list.  Reliable sources have assured me it’s super creepy.  It’s from 1932 with Charles Laughton, and is based on the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.  IMDb’s plot summary:

An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations.

Sigh.  I dunno, are we sure this same story isn’t featured in the latest issue of JAMA?  Anyway, Charles Laughton is always fun to watch.  Also stars Bela Lugosi.

Speaking of Bela Lugosi, how about Dracula?  1931, the one and only year that saw the production of a genuinely scary vampire movie.  Unless you include The Lost Boys (1987), assuming you can’t think of anything scarier than rice that turns into maggots — SCARY MAGGOTS, WHICH IS SO MEAN, YOU AWFUL VAMPIRES, YOU! Although Corey Haim bopping in the bathtub is genuinely horrifying.  That recent Nosferatu movie stank on ice, in the way that only John Malkovich can make something stink on ice (that is, pretentiosly).  I have heard that 30 Days of Night (2007) is terrifying — so much so that I don’t even think I can acknowledge that it exists.

Addendum: Okay, fine, I guess Dracula (1958) with Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, is a good one, too. We’ll probably watch that one this year.

This has nothing to do with anything; I just think it's funny.
This has nothing to do with anything; I just think it’s funny.

The older ones (we have three in high school this year) may go with The Silence of the Lambs (1991). I may be too chicken to join them.

***

A version of this post originally ran at the Register in 2012, back when I got all embroiled in the comments box, because someone made the following comment:

Shaun of the Dead?  Really?  This movie has the following in it, and this is just the language! (from Screenit.com)  At least 46 “f” words (1 used with “mother”), 2 “s” words, 4 slang terms using female genitals (“tw*t” and a possible “c*nt”), 4 using male ones (“pr*ck” and “c*ck”), 5 hells, 2 bollocks, 4 uses of “Oh my God,” 3 of “For Christ’s sakes,” 2 of “For God’s sakes” and 1 use each of “Christ,” “Jesus” and “Oh God.”

As evidence of my personal spiritual growth, I’d like to point out that I did not title this post “Tw*t” and a Possible “C*nt.”

***

Dracula photo in Public Domain; Mitt Romney by Gage Skidmore via Flikr, licensed under creative commons

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  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com/ priest’s wife

    If you want a REALLY scary movie (but not in a Halloween way)- watch ‘The Bad Seed’

    • Mme_Chantal

      Oh my. When that movie came out, Life magazine had a photo spread story about it. Picture my mother trying to explain to 6 year old me what it was about. It was one of those “Oh no! Is the world really like this?” moments.

  • RH

    How about Night of the Hunter? Creepy creepy, but no gore. Or Jurassic Park? Not too much for most of the kids, but fantastic suspense along with humor, action, and beautiful visuals.

  • Evan

    I love Diabolique; great choice. And Silence of the Lambs has a reputation of being scarier than it is.

    The Haunting (1963, NOT the 1999 remake) is one of the best haunted house films about a group of scientists investigating claims that a famous old mansion is haunted, and would be appropriate for middle school and up.

    If you haven’t seen Bride of Frankenstein (1935) it’s creepy and makes Young Frankenstein even funnier, as you can appreciate exactly what Brooks was homaging/spoofing.

    And if you’re feeling more ambitious for the older kids, Alien is pretty great.

    • Monica

      YES to The Haunting!

    • The Mystical One

      I second both the original The Haunting as well as Alien. Alien is excellent on the suspense, with the bonus of strong female heroine.

  • Eileen

    We’re not really a scary movie family, but I do love Gaslight and quite a few of the Hitchcock movies. I think Rope is a lot creepier than Rear Window, but then I also think The Man Who Knew Too Much and Dial M for Murder are creepier than Rear Window and those two titles never come up in scary movie lists. Never could stand The Birds, but it is a favorite of my sister. For sort of a campy, sci-fi maybe not actually scary movie, I’d recommend The Fly. Also, that Abbott and Costello movie with the Colonial Patriot ghosts.

  • Anna

    French films: what about “Delicatessen”? A very Halloween-y premise, but is more creepy than gory (except that end bit that rids them of the butcher, ugh) so even wimpy me can handle it.

  • Karyn

    I think I must have too much Baptist in me, because I can’t really picture showing my kids things like Silence of the Lambs and I’m not even familiar with any of the other movies you have mentioned. But! –I did order some operas to show them based on your other post!

  • Mme_Chantal

    Simcha, I’m wondering what you think of Hell Boy and Hell Boy II, starring Ron Perlman and directed by Guillermo del Toro.

  • Monica

    Ooooh, these sound good. Last year my fiance and I watched only horror movies for October, and from those I would most recommend The Haunting (“That house was born bad.”), The Shining, and The Orphanage. The Orphanage is very creepy and sad, with few jump scares. Rosemary’s Baby is heartbreaking–it’s a really excellent movie but NOT for children at all and (like The Orphanage) probably not for people who are liable to cry about mother-child bonds in movies.

  • Lydia

    “Night of the Living Dead” is good and creepy (whereas “Dawn of the Dead” just seemed to go on and on).
    I can take or leave most Hitchcock movies. My favorite is “North by Northwest” (not really scary and lots of Cary, I know).
    “Silence of the Lambs” is one of my favorite movies, period.

  • Julia

    Let the Right Ones In is a pretty terrifying vampire film (the original, not the American remake). Not for kids, though.

    • The Mystical One

      To be fair, the American remake is still pretty good.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    It’s a trick. Get an ax.

  • CathyLouise

    Simcha, someday I’m gonna have to shake your hand in appreciation for all the laughs, the out right belly laughs, you’ve given me. Thank you.

  • KyPerson

    If you can, watch the British version of Gaslight. It’s way better. Also, it’s kind of dated, but the Frederick March version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is pretty good.

  • Deimos

    Don’t know if it’s aVailable stateside yet but episode 3 and 4 of the latest Dr Who series. It’s a two parter with scary ghosts, including a Doctor ghost ! Reminded me of watching the series forty years ago i.e. Watching from behind the couch.

  • http://www.skjam.com SKJAM!

    Many of these are fine movies. I just finished re-reading “The Island of Dr. Moreau”; it still holds up after all these years because it works on multiple levels. Scary story about a man trapped on an island of beast people, a warning against cruel/unnecessary animal experimentation (the narrator is especially disgusted when he realizes there isn’t any further goal to Dr. Moreau’s work than “turn an animal into a human being because I can”), and a look at just how animalistic humans really are under their veneer of civilization.

    Something that might be lost on younger readers who know the plot going in: At the time the story was written, the trope of deformed, degenerate subhuman native tribes was a common one in Western literature. So the reader might well have assumed that was what was going on, until the reveal.

  • Richard

    I think “Wait until Dark” ranks as the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. The only time I have ever screamed during a movie (but at least the guy next to me screamed too). AND it has Audrey Hepburn.

    • Jeff

      ‘Wait Until Dark’ is so good that I can’t open the refrigerator door in the dark for a late night snack without thinking about Alan Arkin, and I haven’t seen that movie in over 25 years.

  • dasrach

    Coraline. Coraline, Coraline, Coraline. Creepy, excellent kids’ movie.

    I don’t know if your kids have the patience for silent movies, but if they do, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is really eerie and unsettling.

    My hubby and I are watching some of the Hammer horror movies this October as a toast to Christopher Lee, and we really enjoyed The Horror of Dracula. There’s nothing there that would be inappropriate for a kid older than eight or so.

  • Susan Mathis

    Simcha, I don’t like scary movies but I think that Signs should be shown at every youth group lock-in at least once year forever. Also, you’ll appreciate this story. Several decades ago, when VCRs were still new, I was tasked with finding a suitably wholesome but also scary movie for our youth group at church. After eliminating all the movies I’d heard were “bad,” I finally opted for Psycho, beieving anything made in the 1960s couldn’t be too provocative. Of course, the lights went down, the film rolled and the first scene was of the two adulterers, causing the entire room of teenagers to giggle and me to start writing mental letters to their parents, explaining how this happened.

  • Scott Amundsen

    Peter Medak’s 1980 film THE CHANGELING with George C Scott and Trish Van Devere is one of the best haunted house stories ever put on film, with an odd plot twist involving politics that gives it more depth than the usual film of its type. Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING (1963) is probably the scariest horror movie in which almost nothing happens; everything is suggested rather than shown, and the suggestion alone is enough to make you bite your nails to the quick.

    Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS has sort of been mischaracterized as a horror film when what it actually is is a psychological thriller; it has some gore and the villain of the piece is scary enough but the real chills come from the interaction between Jodie Foster’s FBI trainee Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins’s psychiatrist/psychopath Hannibal Lecter.

    DIABOLIQUE is one of the essentials, as is WAIT UNTIL DARK.

  • Sarah

    Havent seen it since maybe HS/college but Beetlejuice with Michael Keaton is fun, 80’s done right. Completely frightening to me was The Omen, which my husband made me watch one Halloween together, as I was six mos pregnant with our first at the time! Still can’t forget the nanny in the window. I’m wondering if the old school Twilight Zone is on Netflix? Right now our scary movie viewing only includes Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo, as our oldest is only 8!!

  • Guthrum

    My favorites were the American International Poe movies of the ’60’s with Vincent Price. Also up there is Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”. It reveals just enough to create a really frightening, perfect experience in a really scary house.
    I watched most of the slasher movies of the ’80’s and 90’s. “Halloween” was the best.
    I am not a fan of the “Paranormal” type movies. Most horror films today are heavy on the effects and action, but fall far short on story.

  • Newp Ort

    Watch Evil Dead 2 before, or instead of Army Of Darkness.

  • dasrach

    Ooh! And there’s a very cool movie (found footage, but don’t hold that against it) called The Conspiracy. It’s a pretty generic title; this is the 2012 one starring Aaron Poole and James Gilbert. Two guys are making a documentary about conspiracy theorists, but then one of their subjects disappears . . . is it because he was getting too close to a real conspiracy? Or have they been immersed in this subject for so long that they’re seeing conspiracies where there aren’t any? It’s one of the rare movies where I watched it and then immediately went back and watched it again to see how all the pieces fit together.