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.
“The Monster Squad” (PG-13) — In the tradition of Universal’s monster mash-ups like “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman,” “The House of Dracula” and “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein,” this 1987 cult favorite brings together all the classic monsters in a plot to take over the world. In typical ’80s movie fashion, the only thing stopping them is a group of kids. As a bit of film trivia, “The Monster Squad” was co-written by “Iron Man 3” director Shane Black.
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (PG) — One of several adaptations of Jack Finney’s 1955 sci-fi novel about the invasion of Earth by interstellar seedpods, this 1978 version stars a young Donald Sutherland (best known to some audiences for his role as President Snow in “The Hunger Games”) and Leonard Nimoy (“Star Trek”). The original 1956 film is also worth checking out.
“Carriers” (PG-13) — Following a viral pandemic, a group of survivors (led by Chris Pine) make their way across the country in an attempt to find sanctuary. Even though the premise is far from original, the human drama and agonizing moral dilemmas the group finds themselves in are what really make “Carriers” work as a horror movie. Fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” will appreciate this one.
“Signs” (PG-13) — M. Night Shyamalan’s take on alien invasion movies is also possibly his most frightening. After crop circles begin appearing on people’s farms in rural Pennsylvania and elsewhere, a disillusioned reverend (Mel Gibson) and his family prepare for first contact. Along with Gibson, “Signs” features an excellent supporting cast, including Joaquin Phoenix and Abigail Breslin.
“Ghostbusters” (PG) — It’s more funny than scary, but Ivan Reitman’s 1984 horror comedy about three unemployed parapsychology professors who start up a ghost-hunting business is a genre classic. Along with Bill Murray (in one of his most memorable roles), it co-stars Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver and the criminally underappreciated Rick Moranis. While nowhere near as great as the first one, 1989’s “Ghostbusters II” is also worth seeing — especially if the long-rumored “Ghostbusters III” ever happens.
For detailed content information on these and other films, check out kids-in-mind.com.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.