Halloween movie recommendations: Horror films perfect for a broader audience

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Heather O'Rourke stars as Carol Anne in "Poltergeist."


In a genre where a PG-13 rating is considered by some fans to be a mark of disgrace, finding horror movies without all the questionable content can be a difficult task.

But that doesn’t mean film buffs and casual horror fans are stuck choosing between “Scooby-Doo” and “The Human Centipede” this Halloween.

For older audiences searching for spooky, holiday-appropriate movies, here are some of the best films that prove you don’t need buckets of blood and gratuitous sex to make a good scary movie.

“The Sixth Sense” (PG-13) — M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 breakout hit about a boy (Haley Joel Osment in an Oscar-nominated role) who sees dead people put the writer-director on the map, thanks to its moody atmosphere, spooky visuals and tight scripting. Even if Shyamalan’s recent output has been disappointing, to say the least, “The Sixth Sense” remains a modern classic.

“The Others” (PG-13) — At the close of World War II, a mother (Nicole Kidman) and her two children, who live cut off from the outside world due to the kids’ rare skin condition, begin to suspect that their family home is haunted. Drawing heavily on Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” director Pedro Almódovar creates an atmospheric period horror film that is at once terrifying and tragic.

“The Ring” (PG-13) — Naomi Watts stars as a journalist investigating a mysterious videotape that causes anyone who watches it to die after seven days. A remake of the Japanese film “Ringu,” Gore Verbinski’s “The Ring” kicked off the J-horror craze of the early 2000s. A decade later, though, it still stands out as one of the best PG-13 horror movies ever made. The original Japanese version, which co-stars Hiroyuki Sanada (“The Last Samurai”), is highly recommended.

“Poltergeist” (PG) — Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), 1982’s “Poltergeist” laid the groundwork for all ghost movies that came after, including modern flicks like “Insidious” and “Paranormal Activity.” A family in a brand new suburban community begins to encounter bizarre phenomena. Things go from amusing to terrifying, however, when the youngest daughter is kidnapped by the spirits.

“Drag Me to Hell” (PG-13) — After directing Tobey Maguire in three “Spider-Man” movies, Sam Raimi (“Evil Dead”) made a welcome return to the genre that kickstarted his career with this grotesque horror comedy. Alison Lohman stars as Christine, a loan officer at a bank who makes the hard decision to turn down an elderly woman’s request for an extension on a loan only to discover that the woman was, in fact, a witch.

“Insidious” (PG-13) — After their son falls into a coma-like state, a couple (played by Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) turns to a paranormal medium for help in this recent film from James Wan and Leigh Whannell (“Saw”). Borrowing a number of plot points from “Poltergeist,” “Insidious” at times plays almost like a remake of the Steven Spielberg/Tobe Hooper collaboration. That said, “Insidious” is also one of the more genuinely frightening horror movies of the last few years.

“The Birds” (NR) — Without any explanation, flocks of seagulls and crows descend on a northern California coastal town, terrorizing the inhabitants. Loosely adapted from a Daphne Du Maurier novella, Alfred Hitchcock’s taut ecological thriller would later become a major influence on zombie movies like “Night of the Living Dead.” “The Birds” also features some impressive examples of the kind of matte effects commonly used in Hollywood prior to CGI.

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