October may be the time of year for hard-R horror movies, but it’s also the month of pumpkin carving, superhero and vampire costumes, trick or treating, and eating so much candy that you get a cavity. In short, Halloween is different for kids than for adults. It’s a magical night when anything is possible, and kids are more aware of that than anyone. There is an overabundance of horror movies for adults, but what good spooky cinema is out there for the under 13? And what possible nightmares are they getting from these choices? The following ten films are kid-friendly, spooky Halloween fun.
- The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). While only half of this film is spooky enough to count as a Halloween film, Disney grouped these two stories together into one feature. You might have to sit through Mr. Toad’s misadventures to get to the animated retelling of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, but it’s worth it. The story follows Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher in the town of Sleepy Hollow in 1790, as he eats food and woos ladies. After hearing a local legend about a Headless Horseman, Ichabod goes on a wild ride to escape his fears. Bing Crosby voices Ichabod, his rival Brom Bones, and the Narrator of this segment to great effect, and his voice—as you’d expect—is pitch perfect for the song that recounts the legend of the Horseman. The ride at the end is suspenseful and wonderfully terrifying, and might scare the little ones while giving those slightly older a nice enough thrill. 3+
- It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966). Like any Peanuts feature, there are a lot of familiar elements that will entertain the whole family and this Halloween movie has the heart of the holiday just so. The story is split between Linus’ obsession with a being known as the Great Pumpkin, a Santa Claus-like figure, who is supposed to arrive and deliver presents, and the other kids as they go trick-or-treating and attend a Halloween party. There’s also a subplot as Snoopy’s WWI pilot character battles the Red Baron. While this is a simple and long-lived Halloween special, it hasn’t lost any of its appeal and I can see why it airs almost every year. It might be a little soft and not scary enough for today’s kids, but this isn’t a holiday just for jumps and screams. You have to treat yourself on occasion, and this definitely counts. All ages welcome.
- Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). Ray Bradbury returns to OcTerror with this live action adaptation of his novel of the same name. Green Town, Illinois is your average, innocent American town in the midst of autumn, but it doesn’t stay that way when Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival shows up in the middle of the night. Two young boys are both attracted to and repulsed by the carnival and the attractions inside, such as a carousel that can make you younger or older depending on which way it spins. Jonathan Pryce is terrific as Mr. Dark, and it’s a little odd for me to see him thirties. There is a genuinely terrifying sequence toward the end that I know would have scarred me (in the best way) as a kid, and I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t find this film sooner. It’s probably better for 8+ or use your best judgement.
- Addams Family Values (1993). The sequel to the wonderfully dark first film, this movie delivers on the humor, quirkiness, and Goth charm of the first and ups it. Morticia Addams gives birth to a new member of the family, Wednesday and Pugsley get jealous, and a nanny named Debbie is hired to help. What follows is a Halloween-in-summertime vibe as the kids get sent to summer camp, a scheme for the family fortune is once again hatched, and the new baby succumbs to rosy-cheeks. Honestly, there’s a little something for here for everyone and there’s plenty of laughs to be had. The acting is just as amazing as the first, and Joan Cusack is a wonderful addition to the cast. I can honestly say that Wednesday’s Thanksgiving Day speech is one of my favorite film moments and worth watching the film for. 4+
- Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998). This was honestly one of the scariest kid films of my youth and part of that reason was the animation of the zombies and how seriously it took itself. This wasn’t Scooby-Doo Where Are You? on Saturday mornings; this was some real shit. The Mystery, Inc. gang investigate a bayou island that’s supposedly haunted, and perhaps encounter something more than a creepy janitor wearing a mask. There’s a lot going on in this film, but it has amazing animation, all the best aspects of a great Scooby-Doo episode, and those characters that we’ve loved since the 1960s. It definitely helped jumpstart the home video franchise for Scooby-Doo, and while those have been hit or miss this one is a definite classic. 6+
- The Haunted Mansion (2003). While this is probably the least successful film based on a Disneyland ride, I remember that I genuinely enjoyed it when it first came out. (This may be because I had never been to Disneyland and figured it was as close as I was going to get). The Haunted Mansion follows the Evers family as they’re trapped in the titular mansion during a storm, only to discover that a supernatural plot is afoot and that not all is as it seems. I will say that it hasn’t aged well; the special effects that I loved in 2003 are dated now (but do seem to fit the ride itself?) and Eddie Murphy’s performance is so over the top that it’s laughable—and not in a good way. It does remind me of the ride in good ways, and I would appreciate a remake that takes the source material seriously instead of making jokes. Kids might still enjoy this, but parents won’t be able to stand it for more than one watch. 5+
- Corpse Bride (2005). We have our first stop-motion picture of the year, and it’s from Tim Burton. While this isn’t The Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s still an original and fun concept. In dark fairy tale fashion, Victor, a hapless groom-to-be in an arranged marriage, accidentally proposes to a dead bride while practicing his vows in a forest. There’s a lot of commentary on Victorian morals and class values, and some schemes and plots for fortunes and life-and-death situations. The animation is beautiful, the voice acting from Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp is great, and the music by Danny Elfman is one of the best aspects of the film. The pacing can be a little bit slow and might not hold little ones’ attention, but older kids will appreciate the darker tone and visuals a bit more. 6+
- ParaNorman (2012). Another stop-motion picture, this time from Laika studios, and it perfectly matches the dark tone from their previous picture, Coraline. Norman Babcock is an eleven-year-old boy who can speak to the dead and is misunderstood by his town of Blythe Hollow, which relies on an old myth about a witch for tourism. He accidentally unleashes a witch’s curse on the town and awakens zombie colonists; the rest of the film is fallout and trying to fix that. Norman is one of the best kid characters I’ve seen in recent film, and he’s wonderfully relatable as a misunderstood outsider. The other characters are good too, and the voice acting is a bunch of fun with some noticeable work by John Goodman and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The animation is absolutely wonderful and the plot is touching. There are some great messages about bullying, acceptance and persecution, and judgment. 8+
- Toy Story of Terror! (2013). This television short from the Toy Story universe takes place chronologically after the third film, and our gang of toys are on a road trip with their new owner, Bonnie. They get caught up in a mysterious and nefarious sequence of events as Mr. Potato Head goes missing and things get crazier. While this is some kid-friendly fun, there are some nice jump scares for the little ones. The idea of leaving beloved toys behind at a motel and what could happen to them is a terrifying idea in and of itself, but having an evil plot behind it just makes it that much worse. The animation is Pixar-perfect and the DVD/Blu-ray release includes some pseudo creepy commercials to go with the film, which are a joy. We also get to see Jessie face her fears, and that’s a powerful lessons for kids to learn on Halloween. 3+
- Book of Life (2014). Before you go see Disney-Pixar’s Coco in November, watch this take on Dia de Muertos that came out three years ago that also features the land of the dead and a guitar-playing protagonist. That’s about where the similarities end though, because this film follows a bet between La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. They’re betting on whether the suave Joaquin or charming Manolo will win the heart of Maria; there’s death, adventure in the afterlife, reunification with lost loved ones, and adventures to return to the land of the living. This is a beautiful film with wonderful visuals tied closely to the cultural heritage that it’s based off of, and I’m particularly fond of the character design for La Muerte. The music and score are fantastic, the voice acting lovely, and there’s plenty of fun to be had for the whole family. I do hope that Coco can expand on the representation that Book of Life paid tribute to. 4+
Horror movies are made for adults, but that doesn’t mean kids don’t deserve to be scared too. Kids and families get the more physical aspects of the holiday, but spending time together on the spookiest night of the year is what’s most important. So carve a pumpkin, put on a costume, go door to door, and come home to watch a kid-friendly flick.
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