Spooky movies for kids

Prepare yourself for Halloween horror—some movies still available on VHS!

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Halloween's one of our favorite times of year—and we want to be able to share the spooky fun with our kids. So we asked three Chicago film experts, each of whom have special insight into classic film horror and monster movies, for their favorite picks for family-friendly flicks. Then we took their suggestions and curated them into this lucky list of 13. Dim the lights, cue the strings and cuddle up when you watch these Halloween-season classics.

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Christopher Sanew, media specialist, Gene Siskel Film Center

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949)
Expert insight
“When I was a young kid, this short-form Disney adaptation of Washington Irving’s classic tale was a staple at Halloween, and I still faithfully trot it out every year. It can be found on The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad DVD. Bing Crosby croons through several musical numbers, but the centerpiece is Ichabod’s lonely journey home from a Halloween party, when he encounters the ghoulish Headless Horseman. The Horseman’s laugh and the wild color palette break the earlier, jokey tone. Good spooky fun for all ages.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Expert insight
“Based on the Ray Bradbury novel, this live-action thriller, again from Disney, is uncharacteristically dark. Two boys start snooping around a mysterious traveling carnival that seems to grant its residents whatever they wish. Jonathan Pryce is truly frightening as the proprietor, Mr. Dark. Witness the scene in which he interrogates Jason Robards about the whereabouts of the boys using his hand tattoos. I have a fear of carnies to this day—although, to be fair, who doesn’t?”

Coraline (2009)
Expert insight
“Button-eyed dolls, secret passages and the Other Mother are enough to give the creeps to anyone. The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick adapts Neil Gaiman’s popular novel about young Coraline, who reluctantly moves with her family into a creaky old house. While exploring, she comes across a hidden door leading to an alternate world filled with seemingly endless wonders—including the perfect parents, who are much more understanding and sympathetic than her own. Ah, but those creepy, soul-less button eyes! It’s fashionable to say that 3D is awful, but if done right, it enhances the mood of the movie. I saw Coraline in theaters in 3-D and for me, it still stands as one of the best uses of the process; the alternate world really becomes a secondary character in three dimensions. The movie is available on 3-D Blu-ray, so if your equipment is capable, it’s worth getting the full experience.”

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Expert insight 
“You wanna see something really scary? This anthology reworks some of the most famous episodes from Rod Serling's classic TV series, though the real standouts here are the segments by Joe Dante and George Miller. Dante's take on 'It's a Good Life' is full of wild set designs, gruesome animation and gallows humor. As a young kid, when I saw Kevin McCarthy pull a rabbit from his hat in little Anthony's forced magic show, I was both delighted and terrified. Everything and everyone in the house is a nervous joke waiting to explode. Miller's segment is a reworking of the classic episode 'Nightmare at 20,000 Feet' with an appropriately sweaty and twitchy John Lithgow standing in for William Shatner. The Landis episode might be too dark for young kids and Spielberg's entry is a bit sappy for any age, but in general this one is suitable for all ages.”

Poltergeist (1982)
Expert insight “This Spielberg-produced shocker was the cause of many sleepless nights for countless kids in the early '80s. The now-familiar setup involves a family who's moved into a house built on top of a cemetery—no matter how great the deal, that's a house you should never buy. It taught me some other valuable lessons as a kid, like why you shouldn't sit too close to the TV or keep a creepy clown puppet in your room. Accented by Jerry Goldsmith’s classically spooky score, this movie can still hold its own; its paranormally insidious copycats have nothing on Poltergeist, even 30-plus years later. Some of the scenes are pretty intense, so this one is for the older kids.”

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