Picture from Family Fright Night: Part 1
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Family Fright Night: Part 1

Halloween’s close at hand and plenty of parents are looking for family-friendly movies that will provide an evening of spine-tingling fun. We’ve put together some of the best bets for a spooky scare that will entertain family members of all ages without hopefully triggering too many nightmares.

We have no recommendations of scary movies for preschoolers (they’re really not the group you want to frighten). But once your children get into elementary school there’s more to choose from. For kids in the early grades, we recommend keeping things on the lighter side of scary with Hotel Transylvania (PG, Grade: B). This story of a vampire appalled to learn that his daughter has fallen in love with a human has some creepy characters but lots of laughs and no extreme peril. It’s followed by Hotel Transylvania 2 (PG, Grade: B-), Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (PG, Grade: C+), and Hotel Transylvania: Transformania (PG, Grade: B-). Note that the sequels are uneven in quality so check the reviews before you show them to your kids.

For more animated films that will ease kids into scarier fare, you can also watch The Addams Family (PG: Grade: B-). Parents are less likely to have fun with this one, but it’s a hit with kids. We don’t recommend the sequel The Addams Family 2 (PG, Grade: C) because it contains scenes of body horror that we think go too far for kids.

Another film that will scare kids and amuse their parents is Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (G: Grade: B+). Produced by the stop-motion wizards at Aardman Entertainment this movie combines dry British wit with a zany plot, a not-too-scary monster, and some brilliantly eerie atmospherics.

Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (G, Grade: B-)isn’t about Halloween, but it has plenty of good scares when a witch doctor summons demons to aid him in his nefarious plan. The rest of the film has the standard feel-good Disney vibe (and a great jazz soundtrack) but there’s no doubt the brightly colored demons will give some kids a jolt.

When youngsters reach their tween years, there are more viewing options, from the truly terrifying to more gentle fare. They don’t necessarily have a Halloween theme, but they will all provide some shivers.

If you want movies that are guaranteed to scare, you can go all out with The House with a Clock in its Walls (PG, Grade: B+). This book adaptation is designed as gothic horror for kids, and it goes all out with witches, warlocks, creepy dolls, jump scares, graveyard scenes, possessed jack o’ lanterns, and a corpse returning to life. The movie is slicky made and Jack Black is a blast as the warlock but there is no denying that this can be a very frightening film for kids.

For more guaranteed chills, we suggest watching Coraline (PG, Grade: B-). In this novel adaptation, the titular character goes through a magical door and finds a new and improved version of her home and family. There’s just one catch: the “other mother” wants to sew buttons on her eyes and steal her soul. Stunning animation and a non-stop plot will keep viewers watching with bated breath – even the adults.

If you want movies in a similar style, you can watch Tim Burton’s stop motion animation films. Frankenweenie (PG: Grade: C+) is the story of a boy who brings his dog back from the dead and it comes with spooky moments along with some pretty gross bathroom humor. The Nightmare Before Christmas (PG: Grade: C) imagines a King of Halloween Town who wants to warm up his holiday and decides to borrow some ideas from Santa Claus. The predictably ghoulish results will cause shivers among kids and possibly wry smiles among parents anticipating the festive season. Winsome and macabre, The Corpse Bride (PG: Grade: B), sees a man inadvertently married to a corpse and taken to the land of the dead. Despite the often unnerving imagery, this film manages to combine humor and pathos in its unusual plot.

Another dazzling stop-motion production is Kubo and the Two Strings (PG, Grade: B). Not made as a Halloween film, this movie tells the tale of Kubo, a boy with unusual gifts who is being hunted by his evil grandfather who is determined to steal his only remaining eye. To stay safe, Kubo must find three pieces of enchanted armor. Along the way, he encounters strange creatures, plenty of danger, and has transformative adventures.

Norman can see and converse with dead people. Since his town is under a curse, this ghostly gift is going to be critical in saving the townsfolk by breaking the curse. ParaNorman (PG, Grade: B-)is uniquely animated and possessed of a good musical score and some clever writing. It also has some gruesome images that could terrify kids (zombies with falling limbs, insects bursting out of teddy bears – basic nightmare fuel).

Haunted houses are an old standby for Halloween and if you enjoy visiting them, your family might enjoy Monster House (PG, Grade: B-). In this computer animated film, a young boy discovers that the dilapidated house across the street isn’t haunted: it’s actually a monster. Full of jump scares, moments of peril, and encounters with the dead and dying, this movie delivers a kick to its intended tween audience.

What’s Halloween without some witches? In The Witches (PG, Grade: B-), Roald Dahl’s novel comes to life as the leader of a group of witches who use magic potions to transform children into animals. The plot may be predictable but the digitally-enhanced witches are truly blood-curdling and could give sensitive kids a few bad nights.

If you want your scares served up with a big side of silliness, Goosebumps (PG, Grade: B)and Goosebumps 2 (PG, Grade: A-)are a great place to start. The first film features dangerous book characters coming to life and the second has Halloween decorations that have turned violent. Both films feature teens fighting back and are lots of fun for the target demographic. Hocus Pocus 2 (PG, Grade: A-)is a big improvement over the original, cutting back on sexual innuendo and upping the comedy.

With plenty of potential family fare to choose from, call the kids and start popping the popcorn. Happy Halloween!

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…