It might strike you as odd, but picking scary movies that will thrill the kids (but not appall my partner and me with a high gore factor or adult themes) is high on the list of things we are doing to prepare for the start of the new school year. School starts again in 6 days, and our youngest son is starting high school. A challenging transition for any kid but our boy has some additional challenges. One of the many strategies he has chosen to employ is a reward system for getting through each week. This will include making our occasional family movie nights a regular event. These will occur on Friday nights through the fall semester and feature, you guessed it, horror films.
Here are some of our favorites that we’ve already seen (and think you should too)
1. Jaws (1975) PG – Have you ever noticed that some of the scariest scenes in Jaws don’t ever show the shark? We have “Bruce,” Steven Spielberg’s animatronic shark, to thank for that. If Bruce hadn’t malfunctioned so often, the young director might never have been inspired to just imply the shark’s presence by using the camera to give us a shark’s eye view. Coupled with John Williams’ awesomely dramatic musical theme, it was a brilliantly frightening technique. (You thinking it now aren’t you? Da-dum…da-dum…dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum DADADAAAA)
Everything about this movie is good – the directing, acting, writing , music – and they all come together around a great story (by Peter Benchley) to create the perfect storm of film horror. If your kids haven’t seen it yet, it’s time. They’ll scream when the head pops out of the hole in the sunken boat. They’ll laugh when Roy Scheider quips, “We going to need a bigger boat” after seeing the shark for the first time. (Did you know he ad-libbed that line?) And chills will run down their spines when they hear Quint’s monologue about the sinking of the Indianapolis.
2. Poltergeist (1982) PG – Another Spielberg film that stands the test of time. He adds just enough humor and wonder to give an extra edge to the terrifying bits. Though Carol Ann got all the attention for disappearing into the TV, it was the character of her scrappy brother who appealed to my youngest son. The poor boy gets dragged out of the house by a monster tree and dragged out of his bed by an evil clown toy, and not only does he survive, but he kicks the clown’s butt. What a kid. One of my favorite bits though is this monologue by the medium, Tangina, played (brilliantly, I think) by Zelda Rubinstein. Watch it on You Tube here:
3. The Sixth Sense (1999) PG-13 – “I see dead people.” Maybe the biggest tag line from a movie since Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “I’ll be back.” This ghost story directed by M. Night Shyamalan is one of only four horror films to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. (The other three were Jaws, The Exorcist, and The Silence of the Lambs.) Shyamalan is one of our youngest son’s favorite directors and so there are two of his movies on this list.
4. Signs (2002) PG-13 – This story gradually turns up the suspense until you’re white-knuckled and holding your breath for much of the last half of the film. It’s another of M. Night Shyamalan’s creations and he actually plays a significant role in the story. (He appears at least briefly in almost all of his movies.) The plot is simple – family finds a huge crop circle on their farm and more strange happenings ensue – and all the possibilities your imagination can produce to explain the events are extremely scary.
5. The Lost Boys (1987) R – Don’t let the R rating spook you.If it came out today, I’m sure it would be rated PG-13. A pair of brothers and their divorced mom move to a new town and become convinced it is plagued by vampires. If you were raised in the eighties like me, you’ll probably remember Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. They were both in this movie and provide some great comic moments to lighten the scary stuff. A young Kiefer Sutherland is seriously creepy as the leader of the local pack of young, big-haired bloodsuckers.
6. Insidious (2010) PG-13 – Very scary in a mounting-suspense, haunted-house-atmosphere kind of way. A couple’s son falls into an unexplained coma, mom starts seeing things, they seek help from a paranormal investigator, and I’m not telling what happens after that. A solidly spooky story.
7. The Shining R (1980) – Based on Stephen King’s novel about a writer who takes a job as a caretaker at an isolated mountain hotel. Add a psychic son, an evil presence, and Scatman Crothers and you get a classic recipe for terror. Jack Nicholson’s disturbing performance as the dad gone gleefully mad apparently bridges the potential generation gap in horror film viewers quite well. This was our second son’s pick for scariest movie.
8. The Grudge PG-13 (2004) – Sarah Michelle Gellar (who our youngest son previously knew as Daphne in the Scooby Doo movies) plays an American nurse living in Japan who stumbles upon a supernatural curse in the act of playing itself out. Lots of suspense and weird, creepy effects. This was one of our youngest son’s picks for scariest movie.
9. The Ring PG-13 (2002) – Like The Grudge, this is a remake of a Japanese horror film with disturbing special effects and a creeping sense of dread. In this one, a young woman investigates a strange video tape that is said to cause the imminent death of anyone who views it. I’m not a huge fan of The Ring myself, but number one son and youngest son think it’s awesomely scary.
10. Audrey Rose (1977) PG – A mysterious stranger appears and tells a young couple that their daughter is the reincarnation of his own dead child. Long before playing Hannibal Lecter (in the scariest movie I will never let my children watch), Hopkins does a great job of playing the stranger so that you’re never quite certain if his character is sincere, a nutcase or a molester stalking the child until bizarre things begin to happen. This one spooked our oldest son (who is now 24) when he was a just tender teen.
If you’re a fan of PG (ish) horror, I hope you can find something here to watch with your children that you haven’t already seen. In the meantime, I have until Friday to come up with a new gore-free fright-flick. Suggestions are welcome!
If you’d like to see more suggestions, try Boo 2! More Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teens.