Family Halloween Movies
The global coronavirus pandemic has made Halloween a lot scarier than it used to be and many families will be celebrating the holiday at home. If you’re looking for scary fun on your screens, we’ve got some suggestions with varied fear factors.
Zero Scream Movies
If you want Halloween-themed entertainment but don’t want to soothe your kids’ nightmares for the first half of November, we have some silly spooky films for your tiny tots. It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, combines silliness with serious messages about kindness, friendship, and standing up for what you believe. Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie is another safe movie about friendship, adventure, and being brave.
Single Scream Movies
For youngsters who want to be frightened – but not too badly – there’s more to choose from.
Disney/Pixar leads the way with Monsters Inc and its prequel, Monsters University. With their more-charming-than-scary monsters, these stories serve up just the right amount of tension and adventure wrapped up in satisfying stories and high quality animation. Best of all, parents will enjoy these films almost as much as their kids.
Hotel Transylvania is followed by its sequels – Hotel Transylvania 2, and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. This franchise features an overprotective Dracula, his daughter Mavis, and a rotating cast of monsters, ghouls, mummies and other lovable creatures who aren’t as scary as they look.
The Addams Family also provides scary-looking animation, with guillotines, crossbows, and an electric chair, all accompanied by creepy music. The story, however, provides a reassuring conclusion and messages of inclusion and compassion.
Conceptions of the afterlife can be scary or comforting, depending on our beliefs. Two animated films dive deep into the next world, as seen from a Mexican cultural perspective. The Book of Life is a love story, in which two young suitors discover that the object of their affections has deceased relatives who care enough about her future to interfere in her present. In Coco, a young boy dreams of becoming a musician, but his great grandmother has made music off limits for the family. One day, his pursuit of a legendary guitar leads him into the land of the dead, where he meets his ancestors and sees his family legacy in a new light. This film features some of Pixar’s best animation and is a visual feast for audiences.
Screaming with Laughter
For older kids, Hollywood has some offerings that provide scary fun.
Goosebumps is based on the book series, and, ironically, brings a book to life, with an abominable snowman and other monsters emerging from its pages – and a real live ventriloquist’s dummy to jack up the creepy factor. In Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween it’s the Halloween decorations, toys, and candies that come to life. The ventriloquist’s dummy is back, but this time he’s got aggressive jack-o-lanterns and demonic gummy bears along for the ride. Carefully written at a PG level, both movies provide lighthearted sendups of Halloween tropes without being too egregiously frightening.
For more exotic adventures, you can watch the animated film Under Wraps. Two archaeologists have taken their family to Egypt but when their son wanders into a tomb, he unleashes a curse that turns his parents into mummies. Now he and his sister must work together to reverse the curse.
If you prefer your scares delivered tongue-in-cheek, you’ll be pleased that the stop motion animation geniuses of Aardman Animation have anticipated your wishes. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a quirky animated feature that sees a monstrous rabbit marauding through a peaceful English village at night. Wallace and his trusty dog, Gromit, run a pest control service and are tasked with eliminating the veggie-stealing villain. The same characters star in an animated short entitled The Wrong Trousers. Produced in film noir style, this little gem might just amuse parents more than their kids. (It can be watched here.)
Tweens and teens are the target audience for much of Hollywood’s Halloween product, so there’s plenty to pick through at this level.
Animation goes dark and scary in Coraline, based on Neil Gaiman’s novel. Unhappy in her new home and overlooked by her stressed out parents, Coraline discovers that she can go through a tiny door in the wall to a parallel world where she can live with attentive, indulgent parents. But the Other Mother isn’t what Coraline thinks she is….This film is well made but has some eerie moments and should not be watched by easily frightened kids.
The House with a Clock in its Walls pushes the envelope in PG moviemaking. Although it carefully limits the blood and guts, it uses plenty of horror clichés and is best described as gothic horror dialed down to a tween level. There’s some fun to be had – particularly Jack Black’s performance – but there is real nightmare fuel here for kids.
A similar level of scary imagery comes in The Witches, adapted from Roald Dahl’s novel. Starring Anne Hathaway, this movie relocates the story from England to the American South while making the tale even more darkly menacing. Again, it’s too scary for kids, and too juvenile for older teens, but the tween crowd should enjoy it.
Of course, for stories of magic, you can delve into the Harry Potter series. The first film in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ( a.k.a. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone outside the US) introduces a young orphan to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and a fascinating world of magic that runs parallel to our own. This might just be the weekend for a magical movie marathon.
If you’re looking for the mother of all monster movies, you can’t go wrong with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. This pulls out all the stops, with the fearsome beasts stomping on cities and each other.
Fighting monsters, albeit on a smaller scale, is the theme of Love and Monsters. This action movie is set in a post-apocalyptic world where monsters dominate the landscape. When a young man discovers that his long lost love is safe 85 miles away, he sets off on a hazardous journey to join her.
Teens will also get a kick out of Vampires vs the Bronx, which mixes two scary things – the blood sucking undead and real estate developers. If your teens can’t get enough of vampires, they can watch Twilight, but only if you are willing to put up with the disturbing romantic messages.
For a film aimed directly at tweens, you can try A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting. It’s not going to thrill parents, but the tween crowd will enjoy the predictable plot and occasional scary moments.
What if it’s not monsters that are scary, but something unknown? Could it be aliens out there? Find out in The Vast of Night, which provides chills without violent visuals, all neatly filmed in a retro style package.
For older teens and adults, there’s a wide range of films to choose from on All Hallow’s Eve.
One of our favorites is Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window. This classic film stars Jimmy Stewart as a photographer with a broken leg who’s stuck in a wheelchair, watching his neighbors through their open windows – and in a world without air conditioning, there’s lots to see. He’s convinced that his neighbor has murdered his wife and now needs to persuade everyone that he’s right. This isn’t truly terrifying, but it does a wonderful job of ratcheting up the tension without any blood.
What if the horror is invisible? Rebecca looks like a love story, but there’s suspense, intrigue, and horror all wrapped up in an apparently idyllic tale. It’s not graphic (but still not suitable for kids) and is an interesting option for older teens and adults.
Another movie that creates psychological tension is 10 Cloverfield Lane. After a car accident, a young woman wakes up in a bomb shelter, where a man tells her they’ve survived a global catastrophe and the shelter is the only safe place to be. But she starts to wonder if he’s telling the truth…
Who’s telling the truth is the big question for detective Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express. The train is trapped in an avalanche and the Belgian detective must figure out who murdered a fellow passenger…before someone else dies. For a claustrophobic whodunit, this takes the cake.
If you want a more traditional Halloween fright night, The Others is a classic haunted house story with a great plot twist. (Families who object to seances might want to consider this one carefully.) Another haunted house provides atmosphere in The Woman in Black. This tale features Daniel Radcliffe as a lawyer in Edwardian England who travels to a remote town to settle an estate. This is scary and sometimes gory but could work for teens looking for a creepy movie.
For total terror, we can refer you to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (but that doesn’t mean we’re recommending it). We’re not kidding here – this is a genuinely white knuckle film. It has a PG-13 rating because it’s light on gore, but it’s heavy on creepy scenes, gruesome images, and drawn out tension. If your teens really want to try a horror movie, this is one of the safer options – but don’t be surprised if they keep their bedroom lights on all night for weeks.