3 Spooky Movies for Kids That Won’t Give Them Nightmares
Kids love scary movies just as much as we do. There’s something thrilling about being spooked – but knowing deep down that we’re really safe, sitting at home in front of the TV and it’s all just make-believe.
When I was about seven or eight years old, my mom and I watched The Exorcist together. For weeks after that, she’d taunt me with “the demon voice” – actually, that wasn’t so fun. I went on to become a horror film reviewer, journalist, and a filmmaker of frightening flicks, so it all worked out fine for me. But I really don’t recommend R-rated demonic possession movies for your kiddos!
Here are three much more amusing, light-hearted, and “just a little scary” movies to introduce your kids to the horror genre:
It seems that everyone has had a neighbor like Old Man Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi): That crotchety old dude who yells at all the kids in the neighborhood for stepping on his lawn, playing ball too close to his windows, or making noise skateboarding along the sidewalk. I remember mine – the jerk actually shot my cat (Don’t worry, she lived! Must be something to that whole nine lives thing!)! While I may have thought about it, I didn’t kill the guy... unlike DJ (Mitchel Musso), the kid in Gil Kenan’s first feature, Monster House.
Of course, Nebbercracker’s demise is all a terrible accident, but DJ is traumatized nonetheless. To make matters worse, his parents (Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard) are going away for the weekend. Plus, it’s Halloween, and his babysitter’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) boyfriend (Jason Lee) is a kid-hating sadist named Bones. If that wasn’t bad enough, it seems that Nebbercracker’s house has come to life to avenge its owner’s unfortunate end.
Along the way, we meet DJ’s best friend ever, the affable Chowder (Sam Lerner), and the girl they both have a crush on – smart and sensible “Jenny” (Spencer Locke). Together, the three kids set out to tame the monster house and, in the process, they learn a shocking secret that will change their lives forever.
Thankfully, Monster House has no sappy songs, no cheesy revelations, and no heavy-handed morals. While the idea of the roaring, seething, hungry monster house is the hook (and it is extremely well-thought out and delightfully executed), it’s the natural, funny, good-spirited dialogue and camaraderie between the kids that really steals the show. Kenan’s direction of the script is smart without being too hip for the room, and it’s got emotion without getting overly sentimental about it.
Monster House has some truly twisted themes and it’s often quite scary and suspenseful, but the PG rating is perfect – kids of all ages will be able to connect on some level. Most children love to be scared, and in the self-contained, wholly impossible world of Monster House, it’s a safe way to get the rush. Since it is such a fanciful fable, it’s safe to say that your young ones won’t have nightmares.
Although everything old is new again and retro is so in, it’s almost out the other side, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie takes things even further back. It’s not just in black and white. It isn’t a mere shout-out to old Universal horror and atomic age sci-fi flicks. It’s not simply 3D like the gimmick of the golden days. Nope, it’s also stop-motion.
While the story is quite tame in the scheme of things (the 6 o’clock news is much scarier), the concepts might be just a tad creepy for really young children. Like Frank Whale’s Frankenstein (minus the monster) meets Stephen’s King’s Pet Sematary (minus the murders), Frankenweenie tells the tale of a boy (Charlie Tahan) and his dog. Everything is going pretty well until young Victor’s pet is run over by a car. Although Sparky is dead, he’s far from buried and his afterlife adventures accelerate. A well-placed charge during a lightning storm, and presto! the pup’s up and at ‘em.
It’s a comedy of terrors as Victor struggles to keep the resurrection of his pulverized pooch a secret. But you can’t keep a good mutt down. Before long, one thing leads to another and the whole town is toxic with power. There’s a science fair coming with all kinds of kooky experiments as Victor’s competitive classmates try to replicate his results. Your kids will love seeing Fluffy, a clairvoyant cat, transform into a soaring bat, much to the dismay of her blank-eyed young mistress.
Hotel Transylvania is a sweet, smart, fun, simple, and well-told little story. It reminds me of some of the paranormal romance animations and stop-motion films I loved as a girl: Mad Monster Party, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and The Wind in the Willows… as well as the few exceptions I’ve enjoyed as an adult, right on up to The Corpse Bride.
Here’s the story: Widowed Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) runs a 5-stake resort hotel and sanctuary that’s for ghouls-only. No humans allowed. Annually, he turns the gothic chalet into party central for his beloved child, Mavis’s (Selena Gomez) birthday.
This year is a big one: she’s turning 118 years old. She’s not a little girl anymore, but she’s still Daddy Drac’s baby. As the guests arrive (Frankenstein and his Bride, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Quasimodo, et al.), it’s kooky and cool chaos... so much hustle and bustle, that at first, no one notices a human has wandered in. The horror!
Jonathan (Andy Samberg) is backpacking through Europe, and he’s your typical granola-crunching, Phish fan, Burning Man kinda hipster-hippy, easygoing slacker dude... and of course, Mavis falls for him right away. Dracula is furious! But he can’t do anything to ruin the party, so as he tries to cover up the fact a mortal is in their midst. Hilarity, as it often does, ensues.
Yes, there are some fart jokes and scatological Sandlery stuff I could have lived without, but kids love that lowbrow humor and so they’ll be entertained from start to finish. It’s a sweet romance, a great daddy-daughter story, and the monsters totally rock (literally... they have a band!).
Do you have any go-to kiddie horror flicks for family movie night?
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