I realize I am an author so movies ought to be my competition but in reality I’m a fan of films myself. I owe my love of the horror genre to many movies I watched as a kid myself. Yet I also know many parents are on the fence about allowing their children to watch scary stuff on the TV, especially if they aren’t familiar with the movies themselves. So I thought it partly my duty to help guide concerned parents with what kind of scary films are appropriate for kids.
If your child loves scary stories, it can be difficult to find movies that are both hair-raising and age-appropriate. How can you encourage their imagination without scarring them for life with material that’s way too old for them?
The good news is that there are a few movies out there that strike the right balance between fun and frightening. Here are just 10 of the best children’s horror movies to show to your kids.
Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!
Parents, you surely remember this movie from your own youth, right?
Kids, you might not be familiar with creatures like Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but now is your chance to see them in action.
Ghostbusters is a classic ’80s film about four friends who protect New York City from ghosts, ghouls, demons and other things that go bump in the night. While never very scary, it does deliver some fun shocks and shivers in terms of action sequences, and the special effects hold up quite well despite its age.
All in all, Ghostbusters is a great choice in children’s horror movies, and everyone should see it at least once in their life. You might as well indoctrinate your kids while they’re young.
Don’t get them wet. Don’t expose them to the sun. Don’t feed them after midnight.
These are the three rules of owning a mogwai, and they’re at the center of Gremlins, another classic film of the ’80s. Gremlins is basically a two-hour testament to the strange and often destructive adventures of seemingly cute creatures. They may look innocent, but don’t turn your back on them!
Parents should be aware that Gremlins does contain a certain level of violence, albeit unrealistic and cartoon-like violence, so don’t let that deter you. Gremlins is a classic children’s film with just the right amount of creepiness and laughter to keep the kids entertained.
Funny and fast-moving, Goosebumps is a film that the whole family can enjoy. Kids will love action-packed sequences that include Wolf Boy destroying a supermarket and The Blob eating an abandoned carnival; parents will get a kick out of the movie’s quick, quippy humor that never stops until the credits roll. This is a newer film than others in my list, but genuinely good for kids.
The plot of Goosebumps is simple: A high school boy moves into a new house without realizing that Goosebumps author R.L. Stine is his new neighbor. When the boy unlocks one of the books on Stine’s shelf, it unleashes all of the grisly, ghastly monsters that Stine has created over the years. They aren’t just figments of his imagination; they’ve been real this entire time.
All in all, if you’re looking for a funny, all-ages film to pop in the DVD player on family movie night, let Goosebumps take you for a wild ride filled with humor, action and nostalgia.
4. The Monster Squad
Monster Squad is a great film for children who are already well-versed in movie monsters and conventional horror tropes. It brings together everyone from Frankenstein to the Mummy, and all the action is driven by a group of enterprising kids who love scary stories.
Whether your child is a leader like Sean or a tag-along little sister like Phoebe, kids will see themselves in every role of Monster Squad, making the movie both amusing and relatable.
I might as well add, when I was a kid this was one of my favorite films. I used to watch a VHS recording of it captured from HBO all the time.
5. The Witches
A brave little boy transformed into a mouse is the only hope of defeating the evil magic that lies at the heart of The Witches.
Based on a book by Ronald Dahl, author of several other fantastic adventures such as Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches follows the tale of a boy, his grandmother and his best friend as they work together to stop a group of evil child-killing witches from taking over the world.
The movie is best remembered for the twist where the witches turn the boy into a mouse, but rest assured that he doesn’t let that stop him. He simply uses his paws and whiskers to create new plans!
Creative, whimsical and just a touch scary, The Witches is the kind of children’s horror that parents can feel comfortable showing to their little ones.
6. Ernest Scared Stupid
Ernest P. Worrell had many adventures back in the ’90s, but his stint with the trolls in Ernest Scared Stupid is definitely a highlight. For one, it pits Ernest and his fun-loving, trouble-attracting nature against a serious villain in a fight against good and evil. It also ropes in a diverse group of neighborhood children who help Ernest succeed in his quest.
Finally, and most importantly, it’s set during Halloween. There’s nothing like watching a Halloween movie when it’s actually Halloween outside!
For all its child-targeting trolls, Ernest Scared Stupid isn’t really a horror movie. The trolls don’t kill any children, only turn them into wooden dolls, and all “victims” are revived in the end. Ernest Scared Stupid is more like a fun romp rather than a slasher flick, and for that reason, it’s an exciting children’s horror movie that can be shown to all ages.
7. Teen Wolf
I know there is a TV show of the same name, but the original movie is the good stuff!
Teen Wolf is exactly what you’d expect from the title. It’s about a teenager who suddenly realizes that he’s cursed with a werewolf gene when he sprouts fur and claws without warning.
Beyond its simple premise, however, Teen Wolf offers a lot of fun, goofy horror in terms of Michael J. Fox and his changes. Can he still play basketball in his condition? Will he get the girl? What’s he going to do about those fangs?
Despite being a movie about a teenage werewolf who wins basketball games while covered in fur, Teen Wolf has a strong, positive message about learning to love yourself despite your flaws. It’s still a children’s horror movie, but it’s one that might educate as well as entertain.
8. The Frighteners
Teen Wolf is all grown up! Michael J. Fox returns to the horror genre with The Frighteners, a story about a widower who gains psychic abilities and starts to use them for his own benefit. He sends ghosts to haunt people so he can later charge them for expensive exorcisms, but little does he know that some spirits can’t be contained.
While technically a movie made for adults and by adults, The Frighteners can still be considered a good children’s horror movie since it doesn’t rely on buckets of blood to be scary. It’s imaginative, not exploitative, and it tells a good morality tale about lies and deception too.
However, parents should be warned that there’s some scary imagery in this movie, most of it concerning a spirit that takes the form of the Grim Reaper. If your children are very small or easily frightened by cloaks and eerie sounds, this might not be the movie for them.
If your kids love playing dress-up, you might want to be careful showing them Beetlejuice. They’re sure to want a black-and-white striped suit after watching this movie!
Centered around a house of ghosts that pester and torment a new family moving in, Beetlejuice boasts an all-star cast in the form of Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis and newcomers like Winona Ryder. It’s an exciting display of both talent and ingenuity as crazy costumes combine with fun visual gags and trademarked catchphrases.
10. Monster House
A spooky mansion lies at the heart of Monster House, a place where the stairs are always creaking and the basement is always hungry. A team of kids set out to investigate the property and recover the people it’s eaten, but once they go inside, can they make it back out alive?
Monster House is a delightful example of children’s horror that takes itself just seriously enough to be scary. While never crossing the line into truly frightening, its motion-capture graphics allow for creepiness and horror effects that real-world movies simply can’t hope to accomplish.
If you’re looking for a movie that will give your child goosebumps without actually traumatizing them for life, Monster House is the way to go.
These are just a few of the best children’s horror movies on the market I know of. There are many more, of course, so don’t be afraid to find your own frightful tales to show your kids. This is just a starter list to get you going. Boo!
Think more movies should be on this list? Let me know in the comments field box below!