That most wonderful month of October is once again fast approaching, when stores begin to stock their most malicious outfits and decorations and movie channels run red with the blood of the living, and the dead. Most of us would gladly hunker down with some of the most gruesome and bloody slasher flicks the world of film has to offer, but what if the kids are still up? We can’t very well expect them to fall asleep after the sheer volume of sugar that Halloween provides, so the best course of action is to take a trip back to the family friendly horror movies you loved at their age. With this in mind, I’ll dive into some of the best family-friendly horror movies around, from old favorites to modern classics which capture exactly what kids want from the spookiest season of the year, without being too scary for younger audiences.
More than just a film, Goosebumps has been one of the forerunners of children’s horror since 1992 with the groundbreaking Goosebumps children’s book series, and the hair raising tv series of the same name beginning in 1995. In addition were two more recent Goosebumps films and some noteworthy comic and video game adaptations. I indulged in plenty of the Goosebumps literature at a young age, particularly the ‘choose your adventure’ titles as something about making the wrong choice resulting in someone dying horribly was all the scarier. That being said, I remember being frightened witless at just as many moments in the television series. Slappy’s original design from Night of The Living Dummy still lives bored into my mind as one of my earliest jumpscares, and his sinister smile still chills me to this day. That episode also featured another sentient doll which held her owner hostage and threatened to kill her entire family (yes, this show was aimed at 7 year olds). I blame Goosebumps as a franchise almost entirely for my love for, and discerning taste in, all things horror.
Are You Afraid of The Dark?
A show known only to me as ‘Canadian Goosebumps’ at one point in time, the equally creepy Are You Afraid of The Dark aired from 1991 to 1996, with one revival show airing from 1999-2000 and another beginning in 2021. The most recent revival has been met with a great reception, though the early-90s original was not without its charms. All adaptations centre around a group of kids who called themselves ‘The Midnight Society’, who meet up ritualistically in spooky places in the dead of night to tell scary stories. Each episode, these stories are shown to the viewer as blood-curdling short films, which often bleed over into that character’s reality in some way.
Tim Burton is a name that will likely pop up a number of times in this article, as he is one of the few who truly understands the balance between dark scares and childlike wonder. To be told that Frankenweenie is Burton’s best film in a long time should be encouragement enough to watch it, and that is exactly what the general consensus is. In this alternate timeline, a young Victor Frankenstein is a scientist and outsider at school with one true friend; his dog Sparky. When Sparky is tragically killed, Victor takes the advice of his science teacher and reanimates his companion. When Victor’s classmates steal his work and attempt to use it on their own pets however, things go horribly awry. Burton pays homage to plenty of classic horror movies and returns to his roots with blazing success with Frankenweenie, a flick not to be missed by horror fans young and old.
It took me a criminal amount of time to finally watch the brilliant animated family horror Monster House, though better late than never. This clever little tale centers around two friends who discover that their creepy neighbor’s even creepier house is far more monstrous than it looks. When the house itself begins eating people on the run-up to Halloween, the boys must try to convince an adult of what is going on before the ultimate smorgasbord of trick-or-treaters file up to its ravenous door! Featuring an all-star cast of voices, and some bone-chilling animation including the evil house’s twisted transformations, Monster House is a modern classic which blends family-friendly humour with a tangible and at-times terrifying threat.
Coraline was adapted from the 2002 Neil Gaiman book of the same name, and is an utterly skin-crawling experience, albeit one packed with heart and nostalgia. 11 year old Coraline finds an alternate, and rather ideal, version of her own home within its walls, though before long she realizes that the place holds a dark and insidious secret. While remaining appropriate for children, Coraline features some truly chilling concepts and hair-raising stop-motion animation that is kept raw to utilize the unsettling effect stop-motion can have. Neil Gaiman always manages to capture the hearts and minds of his audience, especially given his penchant for horror, so one can only be thankful that Henry Selick had the directorial prowess to take it to the big screen.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
You’ve seen the merchandise, you’ve heard at least one of the songs, though if you haven’t actually sat down to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas yet you’re missing out in a big way. This 1993 Burton classic paved the way for many animated films that followed its staggering popularity. The story focuses on Jack Skelington, King of Halloween Town as he one day stumbles upon the neighboring Christmas Town. When he becomes obsessed with Christmas culture he attempts to bring it back to his own people, to great confusion and uproar. Jack’s is a unique tale with a solid moral compass, one layered with catchy songs and lovable voice acting throughout.
This one might be a little bit of a cheat, as there are plenty of parents who wouldn’t want their young children watching Michael Keaton sauntering around making crude gestures and more innuendos than Austin Powers. But that is part of what makes this dark, wacky live-action headtrip such a quintessential Tim Burton classic. Sure, it’s not fully aimed at kids but there’s enough slapstick comedy and colorful integration of unnerving stop-motion (I’m looking at those sandworms) to entertain people of all ages. While it’s not exactly a musical, the placement of a couple of Harry Belafonte songs are particularly hilarious, and the overtly stylized look of the film combined with some brilliantly off-kilter performances are enough to warrant this film a cult classic. Keaton is a force to be reckoned with as the reverse-exorcist Beetlejuice, who promises to rid your home of the living should you simply say his name three times. No one would be that stupid though, right?
James and The Giant Peach
Things are getting personal now as we visit another early Tim Burton nightmare. One of my earliest memories of being terrified is of the hellish mechanical shark with its rotating layers of steel teeth, or the horror of the black rhino in the storm clouds. James and The Giant Peach is adapted from a Roald Dahl book and given a suitably dark and unsettling stop-motion style, blended cleverly with live-action as James crosses into a dreamlike reality of giant fruit and huge talking insects. On a voyage across the ocean and skies to New York, James and his band of oversized creatures must battle peril upon horrendous peril, while ultimately finding himself in the comfort of his friends. This adaptation catures the comic brilliance and surreal grimness of Dahl’s work perfectly, and makes for solid family viewing any time of the year.
Fun fact: Gremlins was almost an R-rated gorefest of a movie before some studio head decided it was worth converting into the fun and exciting festive horror-comedy we know and love. The story centers around struggling inventor Randall Peltzer who is looking for a Christmas present for his son, Billy. When he wanders into an old bazaar in Chinatown, he encounters an old man who presents him with a cute, furry creature called a Mogwai. The man imparts upon Randall the few vital rules one must follow when owning a Mogwai, though Billy himself has a little trouble keeping to them. While it remains a cult-classic among many adults, Gremlins has enough laughs and cuteness from Gizmo the Mogwai to entertain children of all ages, even though those under 10 might find certain scenes of fantasy violence disturbing.
Joe first knew he wanted to write in year six after plaguing his teacher’s dreams with a harrowing story of World War prisoners and an insidious ‘book of the dead’. Clearly infatuated with horror, and wearing his influences on his sleeve, he dabbled in some smaller pieces before starting work on his condensed sci-fi epic, System Reset in 2013.Once this was published he began work on many smaller horror stories and poems in bid to harness and connect with his own fears and passions and build on his craft.
Joe is obsessed with atmosphere and aesthetic, big concepts and even bigger senses of scale, feeding on cosmic horror of the deep sea and vastness of space and the emotions these can invoke. His main fixes within the dark arts include horror films, extreme metal music and the bleakest of poetry and science fiction literature.
He holds a deep respect for plot, creative flow and the context of art, and hopes to forge deeper connections between them around filmmakers dabbling in the dark and macabre.