Looking for something to watch this Halloween that won’t traumatize everyone?
During a season in which TV channels become clogged with “Friday the 13th” movies and reruns of “The Walking Dead,” that can be difficult to do.
For families looking for films to bring in the Halloween spirit, here’s a list of 10 movies that will appeal to audiences young and old, along with a brief description of what you can expect in terms of content and which movies may be too scary for young children.
Related: Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: Scary movies: Love them or hate them?
Of course, no list would be complete without the Tim Burton/Henry Selick holiday favorite about Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King. Although the animation isn’t as smooth or polished as more recent stop-motion pictures, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a visual marvel and probably the single best example of Burton’s twisted style. It also features the perfect Halloween score courtesy of Danny Elfman (who also does Jack’s singing voice). Some of the citizens of Halloween Town are rather gruesome-looking, but there probably isn’t anything that parents should be concerned about besides some mild violence toward the end.
Practicing his wedding vows in the forest, the nebbish Victor (Johnny Depp) finds himself accidentally married to a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter). While it never hits the same highs as “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Tim Burton’s gothic love story is still a fantastic Halloween movie that makes the most of its Victorian setting. With very little in the way of language or violence (aside from a sword fight toward the end) and an unusually jovial depiction of the land of the dead, this one should be fine for most kids.
Although not necessarily meant for kids, this 1981 made-for-TV movie is a hidden gem among horror films that proves you don’t need blood and gore to be scary. After an act of deadly mob “justice” in a small farming community, a mysterious figure dressed as a scarecrow begins appearing at night to seek vengeance. “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” would probably receive a PG for some violence (a man shot to death, an impalement none of it at all graphic, though) and thematic elements. Parents may want to pre-screen this one, though, as it might be too creepy for some younger audiences.
On the 300th anniversary of their deaths, three witches return from the grave to terrorize Salem, Mass., in Disney’s Halloween classic starring Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker. In addition to some mild sexual innuendo, a zombie with his mouth sewn shut repeatedly loses certain body parts (for comedic effect), and there is ample talk about virgins as one of the requirements to stop the witches. But, being a Disney film, it’s all fairly tame.
This twisted update of the “Alice in Wonderland” story makes a serious bid for unseating “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as director Henry Selick’s best movie. Like the recent “ParaNorman” which was also produced by the stop-motion wizards at Laika “Coraline” is, at times, surprisingly dark and may not be ideal for some younger kids due to the implied horror (including a man apparently eaten by rats). For slightly older audiences, however, “Coraline” is hard to beat.
Probably the best of Robert Zemeckis’ string of motion-capture movies (“Polar Express,” “Beowulf,” etc.), “Monster House” is about a house that surprise, surprise is also a monster. What audiences may not expect, though, is the film’s emotional and poignant ending. With a man-eating building as the antagonist, “Monster House” does contain a fair amount of violence for a children’s movie.
When a garden-ravaging monster threatens the annual Giant Vegetable Competition, Wallace and Gromit’s humane pest-control business, “Anti-Pesto,” is called upon for help. As with all of Aardman Animation's films, “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” is a great choice for families with younger kids. Nevertheless, there is a small amount of vulgarity that some parents may find off-putting.
Adapted from a series of German children’s books, this film features “Jerry Maguire" actor Jonathan Lipnicki as a boy who moves to Scotland and befriends a young vampire. Unlike their Transylvanian cousins, though, these creatures of the night are pretty toothless, so parents shouldn’t need to worry about younger kids watching.
This 1948 classic was the first of a series of films that saw the comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello paired with the Universal monsters. Along with Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange), this one also features Dracula and the Wolfman (played, once again, by Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr.). Although there is a small amount of violence, it’s extremely mild by today’s standards.
Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book about a boy who discovers a convention of witches plotting to rid the world of kids, this Jim Henson production will keep audiences appropriately spooked. Just be warned, these witches aren’t the friendly type you see in things like “Harry Potter,” and young children might be frightened. “The Witches” does contain some violence (including one scene where a woman is transformed into a mouse and stepped on).