What are some scary (but not too scary) movies for kids?
October 21, 2007 1:36 AM   Subscribe

It's that time of the year: I'm looking for good horror movies for kids.

Ideally, these movies would be something scary to introduce them to the genre, but not so scary that they'll have nightmares. The age range of the kids is 6-12. The problem is that horror movies give me the wiggins and I've avoided them whenever possible. Also, when it comes to movies I'm fairly culturally inept. (Someone suggested The Goonies to me and I've never seen it before, despite having grown up in the 80s.)

If 6-12 is too broad of an age range, feel free to suggest movies that would work on the low or high end of that range.

posted by the_W to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

But seriously, I'm not sure a movie in the horror genre is the answer. When I was a kid, plenty of "regular" movies seemed scary to me. Terminator might be a good one.
posted by kepano at 1:44 AM on October 21, 2007

It may be a bit mature for some of the kids in your age group, but the only "horror movies" I came anywhere close to enjoying while growing up were Simpson's Halloween specials.
posted by Ms. Saint at 1:51 AM on October 21, 2007

That 6-to-12 age range may be too wide. I'm not comfortable suggesting any horror movie o someone on the low end of that spectrum, but pre-teens cold probably handle stuff like the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (no actual violence, but creepy as heck), or "Fright Night" (surprisingly little violence there too).
posted by RavinDave at 1:55 AM on October 21, 2007

When I was a kid, the giant creature movies were all the shizzle. The old Godzilla movies might be nice, also the giant ant flick Them! There was also a kid's show from the '90's called Goosebumps that was sort of a Twilight Zone knock-off that would span that age range- check NetFlix.
posted by maryh at 2:02 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Goonies scared the crap out of me as a kid. Seriously.
posted by macdara at 2:24 AM on October 21, 2007

Response by poster: Macdara: it's probably good I didn't see that one then. I remember being kinda freaked out by Return of the Jedi (!), and when I saw Gremlins in the theater I got so scared I started throwing up everywhere.

But this is good to know, especially the part about 6-12 being too wide of an age range to be watching the same movies. I like the idea of the Godzilla movies though.
posted by the_W at 3:02 AM on October 21, 2007

I strongly recommend the move "The Raven". It's actually a comedy, but there are some scary parts to it. And how can you go wrong with a movie that has Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Jack Nicholson in it? It's cheesy fun, and should be just fine for kids in that age range.

The only problem would be finding a copy of it in the next week.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:19 AM on October 21, 2007

There are some excellent old Disney cartoons that scared the crap out of me when I was little, but in a fun way. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one I remember particularly well. It will probably give the younger kids a decent scare, although the older ones might be a bit too jaded to get freaked out.

In my opinion, when you're that age it's almost impossible to find a good horror movie (i.e. a good introduction to the genre) that won't scare the hell out of you. There are some decent sci-fi movies from the 50s and 60s that might do the trick, although they are all at least a little bit cheesy. The Day The Earth Stood Still is still pretty good.

Nosferatu is the original horror classic, and it has some seriously creepy moments despite its age. The Werner Herzog remake from 1979, while not quite as great a movie, is simultaneously more arty and more viscerally frightening, and it's one of my favorites. (Klaus Kinski's performance is extraordinary.) But both of these may be too complex for kids of that age to appreciate. (That's not to say you shouldn't watch them yourself! they're both amazing films.)

Of course, you could always show them The Shining or The Blair Witch Project (in my book, they're tied as the the two scariest movies ever) and scar them permanently.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 3:35 AM on October 21, 2007

Sleepy Hollow and The Day the Earth Stood Still are excellent reccommendations. But you will be a monster-- AN ABSOLUTE MONSTER-- if you screen The Shining for 6 year olds. As I'm sure you and Vic know.
posted by maryh at 3:49 AM on October 21, 2007

Gremlins? The Lost Boys? I think I remember House and it's sequel being laughably tame but possibly appropriate (scary, startling, but not horrifying).
The People Under the Stairs, if I recall, would be ok for that age range too.
posted by Martin E. at 3:52 AM on October 21, 2007

posted by RavinDave at 3:58 AM on October 21, 2007

I, umm, thought Beetlejuice was really scary.

I was 16 when it came out. I'm a total wuss. My six year old sister was totally fine and loved it.

There are other 80s-era classics that would work for that age group, too, like Ghostbusters, Little Shop of Horrors, and maybe Edward Scissorhands - they are all quite costumey and good for Halloween!
posted by DarlingBri at 4:02 AM on October 21, 2007

Monster Squad is great. Possibly too scary for some.

Really though, I think the best thing for something like this is the old Nickelodeon show Are You Afraid of the Dark?

It's sort of hard to find on dvd, but you can probably get one of the seasons somewhere and see if they like it before going all out. Either the earlier series or the reincarnation are fine, they were roughly equal.
posted by dogwalker at 4:44 AM on October 21, 2007

Seconding The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Lost Boys, as metioned above.

When I was a kid I thought The Watcher in the Woods was the scariest movie ever (and made by Disney!).

I also thought Friday the 13th, American Werewolf in London and Poltergeist were scary, but I realize that they are not really meant to be movies for kids.

Also, maybe Labyrinth?
posted by triggerfinger at 5:04 AM on October 21, 2007

Neverending Story scared me to death! so brilliant too
posted by jonathanstrange at 5:15 AM on October 21, 2007

First some classic and non-classic 'scary' animated movies:

Monster House - manic, fun and just scary enough for the 12 year olds probably.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Corpse Bride

Snow White - I remember being scared silly by the wicked witch when I was about 8.

I think the Harry Potters could be considered borderline horror (especially the later ones) too.

Ghostbusters is great, especially for the older kids.

The older black and white classic horror movies are not graphic enough to be immediately scary but are scary enough - Frankenstein, the even better Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula. There are some non-graphic ghostly stories which can give you a chill too, like The Uninvited, The Curse of the Cat People (this one stars a little girl so might appeal to your audience), and earlier, subtler Hitchcocks like Rebecca.

I think the horror movies from the '50s-'70s (from Hammer etc.) tend to be get a bit too graphic (and most are in color which makes it a bit worse) or add a lot of sexual content which may go way over the head of the kids (or confuse them, depending on where they are) but you can try pre-screening some of the Vincent Price vehicles for instance...House of Wax, The Fly (original version), and so on.

Finally, if you want to add some classic TV in there, the Alfred Hitchcock Presents and old Twilight Zone series had plenty of non-gory scariness.
posted by derMax at 5:15 AM on October 21, 2007

Why would you want to freak out (your?) kids?! I think Ghostbusters is as hardcore as you want to go at that age. I remember watching American werewolf in London at the age of 5 and I was traumatised. The same with watching When a Stranger calls at the age of 13. I couldn't deal with horror as a genre until I was mid teens tbh and as a parent I wouldn't feel comfortable exposing my 6 yr old child to the genre.

Saying that there were bits of Finding Nemo that my DD found horrific. I might let her watch Beetlejuice in a few years.
posted by mycapaciousbottega at 5:45 AM on October 21, 2007

Ooh just spotted dermax's mention of Monster House which we saw as a family. It was kid-scary(!) and I would second the recommendation.
posted by mycapaciousbottega at 5:51 AM on October 21, 2007

Monster House is, indeed, perfect. My daughter is six, and is very sensitive to scary movies, but she really liked that one. The twelve-year-olds might not be scared, but they will enjoy it for the humor and action.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:02 AM on October 21, 2007

Hocus Pocus.

I saw the original "The Fly" on TV when I was that age and found it incredibly scary, in what I guess was a good way. Also loved "King Kong versus Godzilla" and the old Tarzan movies, which contained enough quicksand and scary animals to keep me pumped. "Old Yeller" scared me to death, also because of the scary animals.

When I used to care for children, it always surprised me what movies they found "scary" and didn't want to watch again. Proceed with great caution.
posted by hermitosis at 7:16 AM on October 21, 2007

Something Wicked This Way Comes
posted by kimota at 7:32 AM on October 21, 2007

6 - 12 is definitely too broad a range. For some perspective, when I was 6, I was afraid of going to 1st grade. By the time I was 12, I fell asleep in the middle of Scream, because it bored the crap out of me (this could have been my nascent impeccable taste rearing its head again, however).

Anyway, 12 year-olds are usually painfully aware that they are not cool, which will make it difficult to please them, because hating things is how you show how awesomely great you are. I would show them something truly frightening. I don't mean traditional horror movies where something gross happens! Oh dear! I mean really psychologically damaging stuff. That'll teach 'em... Alien is a favorite of mine. Maybe 120 Days of Sodom (kidding!)

6 year-olds, on the other hand, probably couldn't handle Alien, or much fright-stimulation at all. I really don't know what I could handle at that age. I think my favorite movie was The Secret of NIMH. I remember being frightened by one of the various rat-fights... this is a boring, talky, animated movie, by the way, about anthropomorphic mice. So, 6 year-olds are pretty much scared of anything. I wouldn't show them any film in the horror "genre" at all.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 7:49 AM on October 21, 2007

House and House II (particularly House II) worked for my kids who are similarly far apart in age. You do have to be careful with the 6 year olds, though and remember, the original Wizard of Oz is still one of the scariest movies ever, even if you're 12.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:58 AM on October 21, 2007

I used to race home from elementary school every day to catch the last 15-20 minutes of "Dark Shadows". Of course, I was also traumatized by that flying monkeys in the "Wizard of Oz" and that "Rudolph" Christmas special with the abominable snowman around that time too. It's not so much that they can't handle it -- it's that you can't really tell what resonates in their pysche.
posted by RavinDave at 8:04 AM on October 21, 2007

Seconding Something Wicked This Way Comes

And also, The Halloween Tree, based on the Ray Bradbury story. Don't let that packaging tuurn you off, it's really haunting.
posted by kimdog at 8:07 AM on October 21, 2007

I second Monster Squad. It actually just came out on DVD, which I know because I have a friend that just turned 25 and is still obsessed with that movie.

But if you decide on that, get ready for copious use of the word "faggot." I forgot how much kids used that in the eighties.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 8:11 AM on October 21, 2007

Addams Family
some of the original Scooby Doo eps.
Monster House
posted by mr. remy at 8:15 AM on October 21, 2007

i think at that age you want horror-but-funny-horror. where they can maintain the detatchment of knowing that it's a guy in a rubber suit or a fake squid the victim is wrestling with.

maybe look towards the elvira sort of things, where not only do you have cheezey horror, you've got a host who is pointing out that it's all silly makebelieve.

that said, i was a huge fan of the creature double feature on saturday afternoons with not one but TWO monster/horror movies. (only once did one scare me enough that i had to change the channel. i wish i could remember what it was so i could go see it as an adult.)
posted by rmd1023 at 9:01 AM on October 21, 2007

Not a film, but no young halloween is complete without a screening of
It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Instant nostalgia for any age, and probably appropriate for 6 year olds.

I'm pretty sure when I was 6 (possibly 7), I had a 'ghostbusters'-themed birthday (we had a cake shaped like a ghost, watched Ghostbusters on VHS, and I got the awesome 'Ghostbusters' C64 game). I recall it being a *little* scary, but not terribly frightening. And nobody is too OLD for Ghostbusters, ever.

Then when you put the younger one to sleep, you can scare the crap out of the older one by showing him Jacob's Ladder.
posted by fishfucker at 9:35 AM on October 21, 2007

huh, not sure how I broke that link: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
posted by fishfucker at 9:36 AM on October 21, 2007

Giving a nod towards Monster House too. Also, what about The Witches?
posted by AdamOddo at 10:11 AM on October 21, 2007

How about the new Doctor Who series?
posted by sian at 10:52 AM on October 21, 2007

Pee-Wee Herman? Funny. Large Marge? Scary. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.
posted by Shebear at 11:50 AM on October 21, 2007

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
posted by RavinDave at 11:54 AM on October 21, 2007

Seconding the Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Also, I recall that some episodes of Amazing Stories were kinda scary.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:24 PM on October 21, 2007

I came here to suggest Watcher in the Woods but triggerfinger had the quicker finger, so I'll second the nomination.

It scared me when I was a kid and I loved it. It still scares me now and I still love it. I would say it's too scary for the really young kids, but those under 7 or 8 probably wouldn't understand it anyways and thus not get too frightened. Bette Davis in her later years is in this and she puts on a fine and creepy performance. The frights come from ghost and paranormal sorts of scares, not bloody monster, zombie and chainsaw stuff.
posted by RoseovSharon at 1:46 PM on October 21, 2007

Holy lord don't show anybody Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

But aside from that, Little Monsters is a good one, if you don't mind inspiring a little unbridled hedonism in the kids. Monsters, Inc is one of my favorite movies, too.

nth-ing Lost Boys, Great Pumpkin, Gremlins, Sleepy Hollow cartoon -- most of these are great suggestions, really.
posted by churl at 3:40 PM on October 21, 2007

I just watched Takashi Miike's children's fantasy/horror extravaganza The Great Yokai War. It's got some real scares - the villains are led by a stylish guy representing the rage and hatred of humanity's cast-off garbage, who turns japanese folk spirits into monstrous machine creatures - but has humor and gentleness, too. It's about 20 minutes too long and a bit of a sprawling mess, with more hinted at than explained and lots of small bits that could have been better integrated, but that's the adult in me talking. The alternately awesome and goofy special effects and basic "boy becomes hero with help" plot are worth a look if you think they'd like something a little different.
posted by mediareport at 5:53 PM on October 21, 2007

You should just get "Are you Afraid of the Dark," on dvd. It was a scary story telling show on Nickelodeon, but 6-12 year olds would be too young to have seen it when it originally aired.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 6:40 PM on October 21, 2007

Good suggestions from above. Twilight Zone or Amazing Stories, if you can find them to rent. Legend of Sleepy Hollow is good; Fantasia has some memorably scary parts.
Goonies and Ghostbusters are good picks.
Labyrinth would be good if the older kids are willing to get into the slightly cheeseball David Bowie 80s hairdo and makeup.
I wouldn't go too scary with the younger kids; even horror-comedies can be scarily confusing (ie, one indelible image leads to nightmares) when you're 6.

My suggestions are mostly really dated but here they are anyway:
For the older kids: Lady in White scared the crap out of a bunch of older-elementary school age (10+) sleepovers, as I recall. I don't remember the sexual stuff mentioned in the description on IMDB, I just remember the ghost girl.

Escape to Witch Mountain is a more kid-friendly one that I remember enjoying at elementary school sleepovers.

The murder-mystery comedy Clue might be suitable, if there are a bunch of egghead 12 year olds (it's very talky, only a little scary).

The Japanese cartoon Spirited Away might work for the whole group, if the younger kids will have parents or a safe retreat if it's scary. It's not a horror movie but it's about a little girl who gets lost in a supernatural world with some ugly monsters. She is never in real danger, but that's not always clear. Maybe not cool-scary enough for the older kids, maybe too many confusing-scary images for the little ones. Dunno.

For the older kids: The Mummy (the recent version with Brendan Frasier). Fun; would definitely be too much for the younger set.

The Addams Family?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:05 PM on October 21, 2007

Spirited Away--now that it's too late.
posted by mecran01 at 3:00 PM on November 2, 2007

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