My niece has gotten to the age (13) where she wants to watch horror films and while I was excited that she has gotten to the age where she is able to watch some, there are still many that she is far to young to experience at that age. It got me thinking of what films she could actually watch and not be to overwhelmed at her age.
So that brings me to this article where I will try and navigate some ideas for horror films for a younger and teenage audience and to get them going in the right direction so that they can appreciate horror in the right way. I have some ground rules that I have set up so that it will narrow down the films that can qualify.
First is that the films should not try to have female victims with sexual innuendo at their core. While that is a big staple of horror films I want to avoid that genre. Some films of their time have this and so it might not be avoidable.
Second blood is acceptable but with some moderation so that leaves out things like Dawn of the Dead (1978) and things like that and trying to keep the gore level down.
Third and finally try and keep nudity to a minimum and that kind of goes back to the first one of trying not to have killings and sex be a main part of the film.
Profanity can be an issue so that is going to be up to the individual parents as to what level their kids are at. As far as this list goes, I don’t rate this issue very high and it can be very subjective. Remember these suggestions are for a younger and teen audience so don’t go and say why it doesn’t include such and such film. As with any list these are just suggestions and every kid and teenager is different. There are many guides out there including IMDB that has a section for each film noting these things. Parents should be monitoring what their kids are watching and not let them just watch anything they want.
I want to start with films that can go to a pretty young age and some will be obvious but some might not. I think that these are a good starter for the pre-teen audience but each child is different and you should see what is appropriate for your kid(s). As you can see there are a lot of animated features but I tried to stay within the horror genre and such films as Labyrinth while has scary moments, I wouldn’t classify as a horror film.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The best part about this film is that you get to watch it at both Halloween and Christmas. This one might be a little too much for very young children but other than that its the perfect Halloween film that you never get tired of watching.
Mad Monster Party (1967)
Known for their stop motion animated Christmas specials Rankin/Bass made this feature film that has all of the classic “Universal Monsters” and has a smart as a whip script by Harvey Kurtzman that makes this a truly must see masterpiece.
Monster House (2006)
This fun film produced by Robert Zemeckis is a nice blend of horror and comedy that is a visual feast and was surprisingly good in 3-D. This film is quite creepy and well worth checking out.
A brilliant adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel director and writer Henry Selick that everyone tends to forget that he directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, is brought to life in stop motion and is the first of many great films from Laika studios. One of the most amazing looking stop motion films that is always a great one to watch anytime of the year.
Based on his 1984 short of the same name Tim Burton returns to his animation roots with this charming stop motion film that expand nicely on the original short. A great homage to Frankenstein that is a great one for the younger crowd.
I do love all of Laika’s films, this is by far my favorite one that they have done. What I love about it is how it captures the outsider in all of us but that we all can relate to Norman and his crazy family. Then you throw in zombies and you have one of my favorite animated films. I can’t recommend this one high enough.
Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005)
Bruton goes back the the stop motion animation well and pulls out Corpse Bride that has all of the weird charm that is a Burton signature. With an all start voice cast this one is another winner.
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice. Oh well I have done it now. This is a bit more of a comedy than a horror film but does have a ton of great moments and really launched the careers of both Burton and Keaton. It’s a visual tour de force that is always great to revisit.
The Witches (1990)
Forget the 2020 remake that is closer to the book with it’s ending the 1990 version is far better. I refer to it as a Hammer film made for kids and that has a lot to do with director Nicolas Roege and the film being set in England. Even with the “happy ending” this film trumps the remake on every level. Anjelica Houston as the Grand High Witch chews up the scenery as any great villain should and the Jim Henson puppets actually look so much better than the CGI one because the puppeteers understood how to infuse them with life. This is one of my favorite all ages films.
The Boxtrolls (2014)
One of the more misunderstood Laika films that it probably didn’t help coming out after Paranorman that was so beloved. I’ll admit the first time I saw the film, I liked it but didn’t love it but after going back and rewatching it, I better understood what they were trying to do with the film. It’s not super scary but is a good kids film with some light scares for them.
Spirited Away (2001)
This film definitely falls into the fantasy realm more than horror but there are some truly terrifying scenes and my niece was really creeped out when she was younger when she fist saw it. This is defiantly not for the very young and while you may think that being a Studio Ghibli film makes is an al ages, this will for sure give young kids nightmares with the ghosts and creatures.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
There are so few musical horror films probably because nothing will ever compare to Little Shop of Horrors. I’m not a huge musical fan but love this film. My only gripe is that test audiences were upset that Audrey II kills everyone in the end and they shot a new happy ending that just doesn’t fit the momentum of the story. Thankfully it was restored on home video and you finally get to see the full on plants rampaging all over the city.
Return to Oz (1985)
People went into this film expecting a sequel to the 1939 musical and it was certainly not what anyone expected or liked. Unfortunately most people have not read the original Oz books and don’t realize that they get quite dark as they go along. Writer and director Walter Murch understood the novels and created for me the real Oz that was sorely missing from the 1939 version. Visually stunning with great claymation work by Will Vinton for the Nome King. If you have never seen it I highly recommend it just know that it’s not a musical and very dark in tone.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Another Disney produced film that the studio interfered with like Return to Oz. An adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury who also wrote the screenplay for the film. While the film is not as good as the novel in the end I still enjoy it and think that overall it works well.There are some really disturbing scenes with the kids so not for the very young.
Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Sure this is more of a comedy than a horror film but since it does a great job of paying homage to the Wolfman and simply put it’s Wallace & Gromit makes this more than enough to earn a spot on the list. Brilliantly stop motion clay animation by their creator Nick Parks makes this a very special film that is simply smashing.
Now we head to the teenage list that can now handle some R rated films and can up the blood and minor gore.
Cronos (1993) / The Devil’s Backbone (2001) / Mimic (1997)
Guillermo Del Toro’s horror trilogy consists of a vampire story, a ghost story and a monster story that covers nearly every base of the horror genre. I am a huge Del Toro fan and these are some of his best films. Sadly there was studio interference for Mimic but he has since been able to put together a director’s cut that does get closer to his original vision of the story. All of these are great films and true must see.
In space no one can hear you scream is the tag line for this film and saying that it scared the crap out of me as a kid is an understatement. A perfect blend of horror and science fiction this is truly one of the best horror films ever made. While there is a fair amount of blood its used wisely to be much more effective. This is a film that is sure to give you nightmares.
The Blob (1958)
While I would love to have put the 1988 remake on the list but it is far too intense for a younger crowd the 1958 version fits the bill quite nicely. The thing that makes it such an intense film is that the “villain” can’t be reasoned with and that make this concept so brilliant that it still holds up today.
Sam Raimi mixes the horror genre with superheroes and what you get is Darkman. Having done the Evil Dead trilogy he wanted to make a superhero film but couldn’t get the rights to any that he wanted so he created his own. While this is not a pure horror film there is enough here to give it its R rating and is a ton of fun.
This film in a lot of ways has a lot in common with Nightmare on Elm Street because the story involves going into peoples dreams and ends up being used by the government as a possible weapon. There is some great creepy moments here and if you have never seen it I really recommend this film.
The Frighteners (1996)
A great mix of horror and dark comedy this film finally has gotten the acclaim that it didn’t get on its initial release. Peter Jackson perfectly mixes the two genres and it is recommended to see the directors cut version due to the rushed production of the original theatrical version.
One of the films that caused and uproar and was the reason for the PG-13 rating is another great blend of horror and comedy from director Joe Dante who delivers basically a Warner Bros. horror cartoon that is a must see Halloween and Christmas film.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and Body Snatchers (1993)
All are based on the 1955 Jack Finny novel the 1956 and the 1978 remake are fairly similar in tone to the novel with slight variations between the two. The 1956 version having a more more of a McCarthysim tone while the 1978 version in someways is more of a sequel than a remake and is far more creepier than the 1956 version could be at the time. The thing that I love about the 1993 Body Snatchers is that it took the basic premise of the book but took a different approach to the story compared to the previous two. Having the story take place on an army base and also using a female lead instead of the typical male protagonist that gave the story a fresh spin. If you have never seen Body Snatcher it is one of my favorite under appreciated horror films that is well worth checking out.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
There are a lot of people that are scared of clowns so this film for some might be their worst nightmare. While not super gory the clowns in this film are super creepy and it has a lot of great dark humor in it. Great makeup effects make this a fun film to watch.
Night of the Comet (1984)
This film mixes science fiction with horror to great results. When a meteor shower kills nearly everyone that is watching it and if they don’t die they become zombies and that is where the fun starts. What I love about this film is the strong female leads that is always a plus for horror films. This one is a lot of fun.
Psycho (1960) / The Birds (1963)
There are so many great Alfred Hitchcock film that capture horror and suspense so well and these are two of his best. Both are seminal films that are still have the impact on viewers as they did when they were originally released.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
This is one film that works well because of director Roman Polanski’s spot on direction and brilliant casting with an amazing performance by Mia Farrow. This is a great psychological horror film that is sure to get under your skin.
This film is not a horror film per say it delivers some of the most chilling scenes and delivers an unnerving experience no the less. From the opening to the end this is one that will have you on the edge of your seat.
The Stuff (1985)
Larry Cohen’s social commentary of consumerism and corporate greed at the time not only delivers on that but has some great creepy moments that work very well here considering the low budget the film works on many levels and has a great sense of dark humor too.
Creepshow (1982) / Monkey Shines (1988)
The two George Romero films that could make the list. Creepshow is a great homage to the EC comic books and being an anthology film allowed him and writer Stephen King to hit all of the horror genre tropes in one film. While there is a fair amount of blood and gore here it’s done in a somewhat cartoony style that doesn’t try for super realism and is a modern horror classic. Monkey Shines is one of Romero’s lesser seen films but I love the fact that it was one of his more intriguing efforts. It’s much more psychological than a pure horror film but that doesn’t mean that it lack the scares just in a different way that I really enjoy.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) / Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
There are so many great Vincent Price films to choose from but these two are some of my favorites. One of the reasons that the films work so well is their dark humor, art deco sets and Price’s brilliant performances that make these films such a joy to watch. One of the best things are the brilliant ways that he kills his victims is one of the reasons why I love them both.
Universal Monsters: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) The Wolfman (1941) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
When in doubt always go back to the classics and in a lot of ways the Universal Monster films are where most modern horror film roots leads back to. Not only do they still stand up today because of their brilliant makeup and standout performances, they are still quite scary and hold up surprisingly well. This is a great way to start youngsters who want to watch horror films and start with these classics.
Ding Dong, Your Dead is a brilliant tag line for this film. While a bit more of a dark comedy than a pure horror film, it does have a lot more psychological elements and does have some good makeup effects. This one is a real charmer.
There are two versions of this film the theatrical version and a director’s cut and while I prefer the directors cut I still love the theatrical cut. Both versions deliver a story where the monsters are the heroes and Clive Barker created a wonderful world with incredibly amazing monster. This is my favorite Barker film and very recommended.
It doesn’t get much scarier than this. After seeing this you will be afraid to get back into the water. It’s well known that mechanical shark notoriously didn’t work but that actually helps the film because by not seeing it makes his appearance that much more impactful. This is pure horror at its best.
I do believe that Toby Hooper did direct this film, I also believe that Spielberg was a the very least a co-director and his influence on the the film is immense. This is one film that delivers the scares perfectly and with brilliant makeup and visual effects makes this the perfect Halloween film.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
This newer entry into the horror genre is surprisingly good. Based on the YA books of the same name it includes four stories that all work quite well. While its a PG-13 it does a nice job of pushing the boundaries of that and uses a great creepy tone to deliver the stories that works quite well here.
Monster Squad (1987)
One of my go to Halloween movies every year, this is one of my favorite films that is a beautiful homage to the Universal Monsters. Fred Dekker directs and co-writes with Shane Black to make this a truly must see film. It bombed when first released but thankfully it has become a cult classic and is a truly must see film.
Sure there is a ton of blood here but in a lot of ways there is very little gore and a lot of the death scenes are off camera. This was the first Stephen King adaption and still one of the best. Superbly directed by Brian De Palma with an amazing performance by Sissy Spacek makes this one of the best adaptations of King’s works.
The Exorcist (1973)
This film is sure to give you nightmares because of the psychological nature of the story and a brilliant cast that pulls off William Peter Blatty’s script off perfectly and director William Friedkin masterful direction. This one is a true classic.
The Shining (1980)
There are two Shining’s there is Stephen King’s book and then there is Stanley Kubrick’s version of the story. While King himself is not a fan of the film there is no doubt that this is one of the scariest films ever made. What Kubrick brought to the film was style and heft that not many horror films are able to attain.
One of the other Stephen King adaptions that what makes this one work is the brilliant direction by John Carpenter with his visual style that makes this one of the best looking King films. What makes it work so well is the car itself is a brilliant villain of the story and how they were able to bring it to life is simply breath taking.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
I debated this one because the gore level is pretty high but in a lot of respects compared to other horror films, its not too bad on that level. In a lot of ways this is more psychological that gory and what makes this film work so well is the script and direction of Wes Craven and the brilliant performance of Freddy by Robert Englund. This is a film that will have you scared to go to sleep.
The night he came home is truly seminal horror film and arguably one of the greatest horror films every made. Launching the career of John Carpenter this film is one (the other being Texas Chainsaw Massacre) that started the slasher films of the 1980’s this film surprisingly has very little blood and gore and relies on tension in both the visuals and the brilliant score by Carpenter. It doesn’t get any better than this one.
Tales From the Crypt (1972) / Vault of Horror (1973) / From Beyond the Grave (1973)
Produced by a company Amicus these three anthology films are good stuff. Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horrors are based on the EC comics of the same name and adapt stories from the comics that while dated still deliver the scares quite well. From Beyond the Grave are original stories it certainly benefits from a great cast including Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, David Warner and many others that make it a real winner.
The Omen (1976)
Whenever you see a kid being evil there is no doubt that your first thought will be that they are Damien. There is nothing more creepy than a kid that is the son of the devil and starts killing everyone around him. Superbly directed by Richard Donner and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole film.
The Haunting (1963)
There is something about a story of a haunted house and this Robert Wise directed one is a true classic. One reason why this film works so well is the great tension that is built up with the story and visuals and shows that you don’t need blood and gore to scare you.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
While I would love to have put Dawn of the Dead on here the gore level on that one is off the charts but in a lot of ways the original George Romero classic works extremely well. In a lot of ways being in black and white I think adds greatly to the mood and feel of this film. This was the film that showed how we all fell in love with zombies for the first time.
And lets not forget there are some great horror television shows that are always good to watch to get your horror fix.
While a lot of the episodes are science fiction based there are a lot of great horror episodes to choose from here like Grotesque, Leonard Betts, Home and of the Host with the Flukeman.
Another great Horror/Science Fiction show that has some really great scary episodes that are perfect horror treats. Unleashed, Midnight, One Night in October and one of the creepiest A Short Story About Love.
The Twilight Zone (1959)
Television doesn’t get much better than this and is truly the gold standard as far a genre TV is concerned. There are so many great ones but some of my favorites are The Dummy, Eye of the Beholder, Living Doll, and one of the all time classics Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Errie, Indiana (1991)
Sadly a little seen show when it first aired and even worse is that the DVD release is long out of print and isn’t really streaming currently but is a super charming show that was basically Twilight Zone for kids. Joe Dante directed 5 of the episodes so you know that is a good thing. It was a town that weird things happened and if that sounds familiar then it very much inspired Gravity Falls
The show get off to a shaky start but once it hit it’s stride after the first couple of episodes then it really gets good. Inspired by the DC Comics and ignores most of the feature film mythology and carved its own path that was a surprisingly good show that sadly lasted only one season. On the plus side Matt Ryan was able to reprise the character on Arrow and later Legends of Tomorrow. He also provides the voice for the animated movies.
Stranger Things (2016)
There is little to say here about this show that nearly everyone has seen. While the second season lagged a bit the third season more than made up for it.
Night Gallery (1970)
Rod Serling’s other series was more steeped in the horrors of the supernatural than the Twilight Zone. There are some great horror episodes like Silent Snow, Secret Snow, The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes, The Caterpillar The House and one of the best Tell David.
The Outer Limits (1963)
A lot of Outer limits explored science fiction there are some great scary episodes that are sure to deliver the creeps. The Human Factor and It Crawled From the Woodwork.
It may not be the scariest of television shows it still has some good moments that make this a more “fun” zombie series. It’s worth it for the fact that Olivia has to eat brains to figure out cases make it a must see for that reason.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974)
This is the show that inspired so many later series such as X-Files and later Fringe started off as two television films and later a 10 episode series was a ratings failure when the series first aired but has finally been revered as a cult success and was far ahead of its time.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)
This was a great creepy series based on the Archie comics and was a great take on the characters from the comics. While it relied on the teen angst formula, it did however deliver some great creepy thrills.
Tales From the Crypt (1989)
Based on the EC comics this HBO series delivered on its promise to capture the tone and feel of the comics and was choked full of gore and has a who’s who of prominent directors and cast that made this a great addition to the horror TV genre.
Bryan Fuller’s brilliant prequel to the famed character of Hannibal Lecter that drew inspiration from the novels but carved a path all its own. With a fresh spin on the genre makes this a must see series.