October is upon us, and as jack-o-lanterns peer out with flickering eyes, the time comes to embrace adventure and face our fears. Networks like AMC and Chiller run marathons of spooky films all month long, but those movies are often too violent or inappropriate to enjoy with friends and family members.
So for this Halloween, your treat can be this list of 15 films — from Hollywood classics to obscure and forgotten independent films — that are decidedly scary without the R-rated content. We've included age recommendations, but parents should take into account the sensitivities of their individual children to truly scary material.
'House on Haunted Hill' (1959)
The premise is classic: a rich man offers a group of people money if they stay overnight in a supposedly haunted house. “House on Haunted Hill” is directed by William Castle, known for his outlandish gimmicks to get people to see his movies. (Director Joe Dante, in an interview with DVD Savant, mentioned Castle as the basis for the huckster character John Goodman played in “Matinee”). Castle was infamous for hiding buzzers in seats and passing out glasses that revealed hidden images in the movies. Gimmicks aside, the moments of shock and surprise in this film, along with the hammy but effective Vincent Price, make it worthwhile Halloween viewing.
Age recommendation: Some relationship themes in the film make it better viewing for ages 12 and older.
'The Birds' (1963)
Author Daphne du Maurier already had two books (“Rebecca” and “Jamaica Inn”) turned into films by suspense master Alfred Hitchcock when he set his sights on her 1952 story “The Birds.” According to a 2007 article from The Guardian, du Maurier was not happy with the changes Hitchcock made from her original (Hitchcock retained only the title and the central concept of birds attacking for an unknown reason). However, film history would disagree. The film is a textbook example of Hitchcock’s skill in using special effects, editing and mood music to create two hours of solid tension. With a career-making performance from Tippi Hedren, who worked with Hitchcock again in “Marnie,” it still stands as a classic in the horror-suspense genre.
Age recommendation: The looming threat and the scare moments should be OK for viewers 10 years or older.
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