Nostalgia is huge for horror fans. Revisiting the films that shaped our childhood is like stepping back through time and recapturing the excitement we felt at those moments all over again. Maybe you have a little one desiring to follow your footsteps into horror fanaticism, but they’re just a bit too young for the gore and violence. Or perhaps you’re well aware of the fast approaching Halloween season and need to spruce up your requisite holiday viewing lists. For all of these reasons, below you’ll find ten of the best horror films for children.
Saturday the 14th (1981)
Very much in the vein of a National Lampoon-like spin on a haunted house flick, this horror comedy feels right at home with Saturday Morning Cartoons. When a family of four moves into a large, dilapidated house, they find themselves living with every monster imaginable and a greedy vampire next door determined to obtain the deed. Look for spoofs of every Universal Monster, and a new spin on Van Helsing. Though cheap in budget, it’s of the great age of practical effects.
The Watcher in the Woods (1981)
Parents likely dismissed the disclaimer that this movie was not intended for small children during its theatrical run because Disney is the stuff of warm fuzzy feelings. But Disney proved they know how to induce chills as well. Set in an isolated home, owned by the ever creepy Mrs. Aylwood (played by Bette Davis) and set at the edge of the woods, the film already has that eerie gothic quality perfect for atmosphere and jump scares. Even the scenes with the mirrors are enough to give kids bad dreams for days, but that final reveal of the Watcher sealed this film’s fate as terrifying.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Based on Ray Bradbury’s novel in which an evil proprietor of a traveling carnival barters souls for dreams. Yes, Disney went dark again with this film adaptation. Jonathan Pryce, as Mr. Dark, oozes menace and what could be more ominous and other worldly than a mysterious carnival arriving in town? But perhaps the scariest of all is the overall theme of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Disney announced plans for a remake last year.
Return to Oz (1985)
While this may not technically be classified as horror, it should be. The film begins with Dorothy in a mental hospital receiving shock treatment, which immediately sets a dark tone. The flying monkeys have nothing on the “Wheelers,” and that room full of heads belonging to the evil which is pure nightmare fuel. A very surreal and creepy spin on the classic Land of Oz means you’ll only find this Disney movie aired late nights.
Invaders from Mars (1986)
Tobe Hooper emulates B-movie style in this 1953 sci-fi remake, going bigger and campier than its predecessor. When young David witnesses a strange cosmic event happening in his backyard, his parents chalk it up to a lightning storm. But when they start behaving strangely, David realizes an alien invasion taking hold and it’s spreading to everyone around him. The only one who believes him is the kind nurse, played by genre veteran Karen Black. Hunter Carson, playing David, presumably got the lead role by being the son of Karen Black and screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, so his performance is often very stiff. But that’s easily overlooked when it comes to the underground alien lair full of a variety of alien creatures.
Monster Squad (1987)
A club full of young boys that hold meetings about their beloved classic monsters must square off against those very monsters when Val Helsing accidentally sends them into the present. A fun horror comedy that’s developed a cult following over the years and known for excellent lines like, “Wolfman’s got nards!” This is one club where adults who grew up with this film still want membership. All of the Universal Monsters are represented, and the relationship between five year old Phoebe and Frankenstein’s Monster is the heart of the film. Also noteworthy is that this film marks two back-to-back werewolf roles for actor Jonathan Gries.
Lady in White (1988)
Beginning on Halloween night in 1962, 9 year old Frankie (Lukas Haas) gets locked in the school room closet by a pair of bullies. As if being stuck in a dark abandoned school isn’t enough, he witnesses an eerie scene of a young school girl getting murdered as she pleads for her mother. Thus he’s pulled into the mystery of the girl’s murder and finding her mother. An elegant, classic ghost story that will appeal to both grown-ups and kids alike, this clever tale follows Frankie as he must contend with ghosts, real like murderers, and growing up without a mother. Equal parts scary and heartfelt makes this a must see.
The Witches (1990)
Giving Nicolas Roeg, director of horror classic Don’t Look Now, the helm of this Roald Dahl film adaptation ensured kids would stay up nights in fear that evil witches would come for them. It probably didn’t help that Jim Henson elevated the witches into something truly terrifying, looking like distant cousins to the bird-like Skeksis from the Dark Crystal. Anjelica Huston, obviously relishing her role as the Grand High Witch, steals the film as the most evil witch of them all.
The Willies (1990)
This anthology features a trio of boys, led by a young Sean Astin, camping in the backyard and trying to scare each other with spooky stories. Think of this as the Creepshow for children or perhaps boys in particular with a multitude of “What’s grosser than gross?” vingettes, followed by larger stories involving elementary school terrors. The humor is dark and gross, but meant solely to be appreciated by kids. Look for in jokes referencing the Goonies and Weird Science.
The Hole (2009)
When teen Dane and his kid brother, Lucas, move to a small town with their mother, they find a trapdoor that’s been locked shut in the basement. After befriending next door neighbor Julie, they unlock the trapdoor and unwittingly unleash the evil within. Directed by horror veteran Joe Dante, this kids’ horror covers a variety of phobias as the evil feeds on the trio’s deepest fears. From scary ghosts to unnerving puppets, Joe Dante knows how to build tension without being too much for the younger crowd to handle.
What film affected you the most growing up?
About the Author
Meagan Navarro is a blogger from Houston, TX. She fell in love with monsters at age four after being exposed to them via Ghostbusters, and her passion grew into an obsession for all things horror and Halloween (which is the entire month of October, as far as she’s concerned). Meagan also loves traveling and chocolate. Follow me on twitter: @HauntedMeg