For many horror fans with kids, deciding which scary films are appropriate for our children can be a challenge. It’s natural that we want to pass on our love of the macabre and bond over a shared interest in horror, but we also want to protect our children from nightmares, or from being scarred by exposure to onscreen violence. There are some more obvious kid-friendly choices (check out some of our recommendations here and here), but it can be tricky to determine what is and isn't age-appropriate. To remedy this, we've set put together a list of ten classic titles we deem suitable for most young viewers... at least those old enough to understand the difference between fantasy and reality.
Do keep in mind that these are our opinions, and only you know best what your little monsters are ready to see.
The Legend of Hell House
This 1973 haunted house film is dripping with ambiance and boasts an impressive cast. What separates Hell House from a lot of other genre fare is that it's light on violence. The film is not worse for it; if anything, it’s better. The thrills are atmospheric and play on our fear of what we don’t see. The obvious benefit to this type of film is that it's much less likely to induce nightmares than movies with buckets of blood.
Wait Until Dark
In this early prototype of the home-invasion scenario, Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman who becomes the victim of a group of criminals looking for a package they believe is somewhere in her home. Wait Until Dark still holds up over forty years after its initial release. It isn’t a conventional horror film; it’s more a psychological thriller with horror elements. But it is a great introduction to the world of macabre for more impressionable viewers.
This 1982 hanted house epic may be the scariest PG-rated movie of all time, and definitely not appropriate for very young children. But it is a great film, and one that can be shown to preteens who are mature enough to understand the difference between fantasy and reality. It's chock full of intense scares, but save for a few scenes (namely the infamous "face peeling") it's not particularly gory.
David Schmoeller (Puppet Master) delivered an underrated and atmospheric film with this PG-rated 1979 shocker. Though a few scenes may be startling to younger viewers, it's fairly tame by today’s standards. Tourist Trap is a unique film and a rare opportunity to see Chuck Connors playing against type; it's also one of the few slasher-esque films that are tame enough for younger audiences.
The Bad Seed
Based on the famous novel and stage play of the same name, this 1956 classic poses an interesting question about whether psychopaths are born evil or a product of their environment. Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) is a nasty little creep, but most of her malicious deeds are merely suggested, rather than explicitly shown. The Bad Seed is not just an excellent genre picture; it's great cinema.
The Birds is another fine example of an expertly-crafted film that transcends genre. It's also a fantastic introduction to legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, and a fine example of why Hitch is known as "The Master of Suspense." The Birds is also a bit less jarring than more violent Hitchcock features like Psycho or Frenzy, and less likely to frighten your kids.
Twilight Zone: The Movie
There are bountiful scares to be found in this anthology based on the classic TV series. Twilight Zone boasts a great creative team behind the vignettes within, including genre favorites like Steven Spielberg, John Landis and Joe Dante. The film is scary enough to entertain and leave a lasting impression, but not so terrifying as to scar impressionable viewers.
Like Poltergeist, Jaws really pushed the PG envelope. It's a suspenseful and frightening film that kept an entire generation out of the water for years after its release, and it has held up incredibly well since its debut in the summer of '75. Although Jaws is definitely not free of gory scenes, most of the violence is only briefly shown or suggested... with a few startling exceptions, of course.
Larry Cohen's 1974 killer-kid cult classic is basically a B-movie schlockfest at heart, but it also packs some legitimate scares within its running time. The 2008 remake is far too violent for impressionable viewers, but the original leaves enough to the imagination that you need not feel badly about sharing it with your offspring of appropriate age.
This haunted house tale is a great example of "slow burn" horror, spending most of its running time building up to an epic conclusion. Some critics have complained that the film meanders a bit, but we think it's great fun. Burnt Offerings is heavy on atmosphere and light on violence, which is a good combination for vulnerable viewers.