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Horror Movies for Teens

Few genres are as polarizing as horror flicks. Either you love them or you hate them. (In fact, I’m the only writer at Parent Previews who’s willing to watch them.) When your teenagers start looking for creepy scares, you may well have flashbacks to the slasher films of yore – and start arguing with your adolescent moviegoers about the unsuitability of their movie choices.

I’m not going to lie to you - horror movies aren’t the best choice for family entertainment. Even the tamest of the lot tend to have at least some blood and gore. But if your teens are determined to scare themselves silly, there are better options than the juvenile, gross-out inanity of Nightbooks, or the underage sex, substance use, and graphic murder of something like Friday the 13th.

For the 13 and up crowd who really want to give themselves nightmares, Scary Stories to Tell in the Darkis hard to beat. While not unnecessarily gory, sexual, or profane, this movie is deeply creepy, thanks largely to some truly gross visual design. The film also benefits from brisk pacing and lots of diversity in the horror. You don’t like spiders? This movie has you covered. Terrified of shambling corpses? Got it. Scarecrows? You know it. And all without the typical drugs, sex, and gore you find in a classic slasher.

If that works for your teens, they might be able to step it up into Gretel and Hansel, which is a very unsettling twist on an already disturbing fairy tale. This is a good introduction to arthouse-style horror, with strong focus on the aesthetic and a little less carnage. Alice Krige steals the show in her role as Holda, a truly horrifying witch with plans all her own and two little children to manipulate…if Gretel isn’t careful, that is.

Adolescent viewers who aren’t interested in arthouse movies but want traditional slasher/horror fare are best steered to Happy Death Day 2U, in which the protagonist is trapped in an alternate reality with a serial killer. In order to save her friends, she keeps dying over and over again. Yes, there’s plenty of violence, but the film has some wit and genuine emotion.

Older teens will quickly discover that there is little to choose from in PG-13 rated horror. If they’re looking at R-rated movies, you can try steering them towards less extreme horror flicks at that rating level.

On the psychological thriller side of things, I’d recommend Greta, The Little Stranger, or Misery. Greta, starring Chloe Grace-Moretz, follows a young woman named Frances who performs a simple act of kindness – returning a purse she finds on the train. In doing so, she meets the bag’s owner: Greta (Isabelle Huppert), a lonesome French woman with whom Frances forms an immediate friendship. But soon things take a turn for the deranged, and Frances learns that Greta may not be who she seems to be. The Little Stranger is a little slower and considerably more disturbing, a story in which Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) returns to a manor home he remembers from childhood, now beset by financial and personal woes. But how do the doctor’s memories match up with the truth? Last but by no means least, adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Misery is easily one of the best thrillers I’ve ever seen. Tense, unsettling, and perhaps too violent for the squeamish, Misery stars Kathy Bates and James Caan in 107 minutes of pure panic-sweat inducing terror.

If you’re more interested in ghost stories than homicidal maniacs, I’d suggest something like The Woman in Black, which slides back into the PG-13 level. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, an unfortunate young widower and attorney assigned to sort out the ramshackle estate of one Alice Drablow at the eerily titled Eel Marsh house. Once there, Arthur learns that the mess of papers and personal effects are the least of his worries: A creeping shadow and deaths in the village are far more pressing concerns. A less Victorian choice for a good Gothic ghost story (rated TV-MA) is Things Heard and Seen, which takes its characters for a ride in a mildly haunted house in upstate New York as their pasts catch up to them.

For adults who want the pinnacle of horror movies, I must recommend, The Shining which is probably one of the best horror films ever made. Unfortunately, it’s also the most extreme film on this list, as it has some graphic violence, a smattering of profanity, and some nudity – but if you can look past those issues, it truly stands out. (I must point out that my editor can’t look past the negative content and I’m including the movie in this list despite her opposition. But in the interests of full disclosure, she couldn’t make it past the first 20 minutes without being scared spitless, so there’s that.) I watched The Shining for the first time when I was 15, with a friend, in the basement, at about 2 am. It’s just hard to beat an experience like that. A milder but arguably scarier option is The Night House, which has far fewer content problems, but also nearly made me wet myself in a theatre when I saw it. Unremitting tension, clever use of space and framing, and a deeply depressing story make this the best new horror film I’ve seen in a long time.

Whatever you and the kids choose, you might want to make sure the lights in your teen’s room have fresh bulbs. Teenagers talk a big game, but when the wind starts blowing and the trees start rattling outside their window late at night, they might just feel the need for some light.

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