Best Halloween Movies for Kids
Halloween is around the corner, and the kids want a party. Chances are someone has mentioned watching a scary movie as the perfect close to a frightful evening. But if you have ever attempted to scare up a film for your child’s Halloween get-together, you have likely discovered how difficult it is to find well-made thrillers that don’t use sex and gore to raise the hair on the back of your head.
As well, individual religious convictions will create differing opinions as to what’s fun spookery and what is occult and even Satanic.
Obviously, the younger the crowd, the more concerned you should be about inadvertently sending home nightmares packed in their goody bags. However, with some careful planning, you should be able to satisfy the kids and their parents. As a critic who has spent a decade reviewing films from a family perspective here are some of the best Halloween movies for kids and children that should keep families happy.
For the littlest viewers, you may want to look for titles with related themes rather than fright factor. A perennial favorite It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is the perfect half-hour end to a “trick or treat” activity, and makes light of Halloween traditions.
The wonder of magic is found in such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, and Return to Never Land. Two sisters find their new home is already inhabited by living “dust bunnies” in the gentle Japanese animation My Neighbor Totoro, and the fear of things that go bump in the night is cleverly addressed in Monsters Inc. Holding more cartoon-style violence with a blithe attitude towards death is Casper from 1995. And for a junior alien experience, there’s always E.T.
If you have access to older titles, Disney’s The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is a perfect example of the shtick comedy the “Mouse House” was making in the 1960’s. Starring the late Don Knotts, many adults may roll their eyes at the lame humor, but everything old is new again through the eyes of a child.
“Tweens” will undoubtedly want something with a little more howling—like the direct-to-video release of Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles. Heavy on mystery and suspense, light on gore, and with just enough spook to make it entertaining, this classic Sherlock Holmes tale should be suitable for the majority of families—although caution is advised for those with small children.
For preadolescents wanting more action, Jumanji was a big hit from a few years ago that many 10-year-olds may not have seen. Upping the scare (and violence) factor a little more is Jurassic Park, another movie many adults may incorrectly assume every kid has watched. This classic is now available on DVD and Bu-ray, and the sound is superb. As for the sequels—well let’s just say they don’t make fossils like they used to.
Teens will likely desire the most fright from their night. Another Spielberg classic from the past is Jaws. Amazingly the artful director’s mechanical shark still looks great today and provides plenty of bite for Halloween. High on violence, this shark fest has few profanities and no sexual content aside from a freethinking female skinny-dipper who acts as shark bait to get the movie rolling.
I have great respect for filmmakers who can get my heart racing without resorting to the typical scare tactics of gore, violence, and women in desperate situations. (Many horror films are riddled with “maidens in distress,” making them one of the poorest examples of female role models.) Although not all Hitchcock films are masterpieces,one that introduces the filmmaker at his best, and provides a strong heroine, is Rear Window. This tale of a laid-up photographer who observes his neighbors for weeks while his broken leg heals offers a plot that will have you closing the drapes for weeks to come.
Another rare choice with high fear and low content is The Others, a classic “haunted house” movie with a great twist and virtually no sex, violence, or profanity—however families sensitive to occult themes (like seances) may want to approach with caution. The Sixth Sense is another popular choice, but has graphic depictions of fatal injuries.
An oft-overlooked genre for scare is science fiction, yet they’e a perfect Halloween selection. Nearly everyone is in a costume of some sort, and there are usually a few “jump scenes” to keep you awake. Aside from the obvious Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, you may want to check out The Arrival. This under promoted edge-of-your-seat thriller has scant violence or sex, a limited amount of moderate profanities, and still delivers a creepy experience that is rooted in quality filmmaking.
Finally, before you roll the movie, consider a few other possibilities to avoid an embarrassing situation:
- Pick your movie ahead of time, and let the parents of the guests know what it is. That way they can decide if it’s appropriate for their child.
- Have some other fun activities prior to the movie. This gives children an opportunity to “opt out” of the last half of the party, without missing everything else.
- Watch the movie with your young guests—especially pre-teens. If any children become scared or concerned, be prepared with a game or other distraction that will give them a graceful way to do something else. Tell the group they have this option before the movie begins.
- You may want to plan an intermission for a snack break, to give you a feel for how everyone is doing, and to break the tension.
Hopefully your hard work and planning will turn any tricks you may encounter into memorable treats for your kids and their friends.