Watching a scary movie on Halloween night is a bit of a tradition but if you want to do this with a young family, your options are significantly limited. A film with kids in is not necessarily a kids film and this is clearly never more true than it is with the horror genre.
Incidentally, I also like to see a Christmas film in late December, a romantic film on Valentine’s Day, The Passion of the Christ or Watership Down at Easter, V for Vendetta on Bonfire Night, a war movie on Remembrance Day and Wimbledon on men’s final day of the UK tennis tournament but I accept that others may not mark every single red letter day in the same way.
If you want to sit down and watch something freaky with your tweenies then but are not sure what to pick, I think I can help. It is a short list but hopefully long enough for what you need.
There is something inherently creepy about stop motion animation. This is clearly part of the reason Tim Burton favours it so much and his films The Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie and The Nightmare Before Christmas could also be included on this list. Even Wallace & Gromit chose to go spooky for their foray into feature length pictures for goodness sake! Maybe the clay figures remind us of those old Harryhausen monsters or perhaps there is just something zombie like in the way they move, it being a fine line between animated and reanimated.
Coraline is more poetic, more beautiful, more enticing, more charming, more sophisticated and more frightening than any of these other films though. Coraline’s world is dark even before she discovers a portal to a mirror dimension but once she has lost her parents and it threatened with the removal of her eyes it really ramps it up on the scare scale. It all stays just the right side of PG though and it a wonderfully rewarding film experience. My kids have watched this one, once.
This is another stop motion movie from the studio that did Coraline. (This year the company, Laika, gave us The Boxtrolls.) ParaNorman strongly references the classic Hammer Horror movies but manages to effectively use the conventions of the genre as well as lampooning them. I guess it’s like an animated of version of Scream in that respect.
The plot is closer to a cartoony Sixth Sense though with a child protagonist that sees dead people. This little guy isn’t just helping spirits with unfinished business though, he is fighting an ancient witch and hoards of rampaging zombies. Good family fun.
You don’t need me to sell this one, it is 30 years old this year and it an absolute classic. If you want something scary then consider this fact; the time between now and 1984 when Ghostbusters was released is the same as the time between then and when Rear Window and Judy Garland’s A Star is Born came out. Make no mistake about it, to the younger generation Ghostbusters is a proper golden oldie.
All the more reason to show it to them if they’ve not seen it. Just don’t forget that bit with the ghost in the library and the demon dogs. There is plenty here to disturb a younger audience.
My kids haven’t seen this one yet but I’ll let you know how they go.
I remember when I saw this in the cinema aged 20. I was on the edge of my seat during that scene with the Velociraptors in the kitchen but kids in the auditorium less than half my age seemed totally unphased by it. I guess you need to be able to imagine what the situation would be like to find it properly scary. I tell you what, you test it out on your children and let me know.
Another kids animation starting by recreating the feel and atmosphere of horror movies before taking it all somewhere new. This one takes the haunted house motif and runs with it. This is not just a boring old haunted house though. It is, as the title clearly states, a monster house and if you run away it will chase you. Imagine the place where Carl Frederickson lives in Up only this one is not moved around by balloons so much as a rampant demon spirit possession.
The book was bad enough but once you’ve seen those witches throw off their disguises then no amount of Rowan Atkinson and cute talking mice is going to distract you.
The Dark Crystal
Just take one look at the Skeksis. Good Golly that is the stuff of nightmares. I remember when they had one on Blue Peter and it was scary then! Do you know, on second thoughts leave this one off the list. It’s creeping me out just thinking about it.
The Spiderwick Chronicles
This film uses all of the horror tropes but somehow keeps the lower rating by giving the monsters funny noses. Believe me though it is pretty full on. The Spiderwick Chronicles has reached near mythical status among my children as the ultimate in nightmare inducing cinema. They watched ten minutes of it four years ago and have refused to go anywhere near it since, even though the eldest is now well ensconced in the worlds of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.
The Spiderwick Chronicles centres around a young family that move in to a new house and have to defend it from hoards of invading goblins. It’s got jumps, it’s got chases, it’s got narrow escapes and it all ends up in a red splattered kitchen, although in this case the stick stuff is tomato sauce. It also has fairies and magic and is an enchanting, if unnerving, movie.