Since director James Wan and writer/actor Leigh Whannell's 2003 short film spawned the gory Saw series, bloodthirsty audiences everywhere have been hooked on sadistic traps and deadly games. The terror team's latest offering, Insidious, promises to chill to the bone with old school scares – to the tune of PG-13. A promise like that is enough to put the staunchest horror fan in a serious kerfuffle, but not all PG/PG-13 horror flicks are big studio lambs sacrificed to bank on widespread appeal. There have been plenty of frightening films with the scarlet ratings that have used classic scares effectively. Check out ten of our favorites (in no particular order), and let us know yours below.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) - Rated PG
The creepy aural and low-key visual effects in Philip Kaufman's updating of Don Siegel's 1956 sci-fi classic sets a dramatic and darkly emotional tone for this tale about a strange plant that becomes the root of all evil and slowly transforms San Francisco into an alien breeding ground. Intelligent jabs and dark humor, surreal lighting, suffocating camera perspectives, and elements of body horror are just a few things that make Invasion of the Body Snatchers absolutely terrifying. Donald Sutherland's final scene will haunt you for days.
The Others - Rated PG-13
Alejandro Amenábar's 2001 haunted house chiller plays atmospheric dread pitch perfectly. The dark and dreary story about a mother nesting at an isolated manor house with her two photosensitive children doesn't rely on the usual hysterics and flashy effects that populate most movies. It's a slow crawl to a disturbing conclusion that relies on quiet dread and the anxiety and oppression of the family's strange lifestyle to ratchet up the tension.
The Last Exorcism - Rated PG-13
Producer Eli Roth and director Daniel Stamm knew that to make an effectively frightening film about exorcism and possession, they didn't need to overload it with gore and cheap tricks. The devilry in The Last Exorcism is all about eerie suspense and clever character play, but that doesn't mean it's not completely hair-raising. The film manages to get away with some pretty nasty stuff in several scenes, and tells an engaging story in the process. Bonus points for the movie's brilliant viral marketing campaign that was as hysterical as it was scary.
Jaws - Rated PG
A PG rating for a film like Jaws boggles the mind at first thought, but Steven Spielberg's 1975 killer shark movie was filmed before the MPAA created the PG-13 rating. Would the gory aftermath of the great white's attack surpass the PG-13 rating and go straight to R today? It's hard to say, but Spielberg's movie about an all-too-real monster that terrorizes people in the water isn't just about the red stuff. Right from the start until the very end, audiences are white-knuckling at the menace that lurks in the great, big sea. The intensity never really lets up – with Spielberg framing shots at water-level, placing us in the ocean with the monster – and dragging us into the unknown of the shark's world when police chief Brody and his crew take to the seas for battle. This sinister seafaring favorite still frightens people out of the ocean.
Something Wicked This Way Comes - Rated PG
The words horror and Walt Disney don't exactly go together like peanut butter and jelly, but the Mickey Mouse studio has released its share of damn creepy films – some unintentionally, even – that have left an indelible mark on many people since childhood. Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of those movies, and while it helps to have a great Ray Bradbury story as its backbone (the script was actually written by the famed author as well), this diabolical horror-fantasy film is ripe with creepy elegance. The bizarre, underhanded carnival and the aw-shucks town it preys on are full of interesting and often underrated players like Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Pam Grier, and Diane Ladd. Their talents, peppered amongst the fight between good vs. evil, highlights a bevy of old fashioned frights, emotional heartbreak, and evocative visuals.
Cloverfield - Rated PG-13
A giant creature attacks New York City and all hell breaks loose. Matt Reeves' 2008 monster movie uses a familiar premise as its basis, but its impressive, realistic-looking special effects, effective use of shaky-cam, and what-you-don't-see-is-scarier philosophy helps set it apart from the rest. The most unnerving scenes happen before we actually get a good look at the thing that's eating the Big Apple's residents.
Poltergeist - Rated PG
Yet another Spielberg movie made before the creation of PG-13 and also spooky enough to warrant a spot on this list. While I'd argue that the appearance of the skeletal Reverend Henry Kane (Julian Beck) singing hymns and demanding to be let into the family's house in the second installment of the supernatural series tops much of the first, Poltergeist is a better made film all-around. If the demonic things that hide in the closet, in the mirrors, and in the television don't disturb you, perhaps the evil clown, ravenous tree, or face-ripping scene will do the trick.
Carriers - Rated PG-13
Combine a viral pandemic that has killed off nearly the entire human race, the visceral grotesqueness of the infected, and a lot of intense, emotional drama, and you have Carriers. It's a bleak, suspenseful survival tale that relies on the interaction between its four main characters to carry it along and the nightmarish situations they find themselves in when they have to face some of the toughest decisions of their lives.
Watcher in the Woods - Rated PG
Disney's 1980 English ghost story pits elements of gothic horror, a slasher-esque hunt and stalk of a female teen through the gnarled woods, and a supernatural mystery together. All this leads up to an oddball resolution that comes completely out of left field and makes this one that much more fun to watch. This probably comes from the fact that the studio wasn't thrilled with the response to the movie's initial release, so they made a bazillion rewrites to the ending – two of which actually made it to the theater. One is infinitely more WTF than the other, but they're both genuinely creepy for a Disney flick. Bette Davis mugging crazy faces, atmospheric cinematography, and the dark addition of things like doppelgangers and possession combine to create a ghostly potion that is truly eerie and magical despite its campiness.
Fire in the Sky - Rated PG-13
This 1993 alien tale from Robert Lieberman, based on an alleged real life encounter with our spacecrafty overlords in the sky, might surprise even the most hardened horror fans with its horrifying, well-crafted, and highly imaginative abduction sequences. The cast – including Robert Patrick, D.B. Sweeney, Henry Thomas, and James Garner – does a great job at holding their own against the scenes of otherworldly sadism inflicted by a group of extraterrestrials. Truly pants-wetting, disturbing stuff.