Spooky movies for kids

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



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Brian Elza, writer at Facets Multi-Media

The Monster Squad (1987)
Expert insight
“Imagine the Little Rascals battling to save humanity from the Universal Studios monsters—only instead of being set in a gothic castle, the kids duke it out with Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1980s suburbia. Awesome to the max, right? A couple caveats for parents: It’s got crude humor (‘Wolf Man’s got nards!’) and fantasy violence (Wolf Man explodes). But if your children can handle a few profanities and splatter effects, you’ll find that they just don’t make kid-centric monster movies as dopey as The Monster Squad anymore.”

The Old Dark House (1932)
Expert insight
“One year after the release of his classic Frankenstein, James Whale directed this entry in Universal’s classic horror cycle. On a dark and stormy night (bear with the cliché), travelers are forced to post up at the crumbling estate of a creepy family. The first member they meet is a familiar-looking lug with a bad brain (Boris Karloff). Almost completely bloodless and profanity-free, this rich-in-atmosphere film is a real treat, as long as your kids can get past the trick: It’s black-and-white!” 

Gremlins (1984)
Expert insight
“An excellent survey course on vintage B-movies from director Joe Dante, Gremlins tells a horror-comedy tale of fuzzy creatures gone wild during Christmastime in a Norman Rockwellian small town. Because Dante came from the Roger Corman school of hard schlocks, he casts forgotten stars of old genre films and employs mothballed horror and sci-fi tropes, crafting a nostalgic-yet-fresh gem stuffed with gags, gadgets and killer puppetry. But what most of my peers remember from Gremlins is a terrifying monologue delivered by Phoebe Cates about why Christmas and Halloween aren’t so unalike.”

The Witches (1990)
Expert insight
“Beyond the plot of this dark Roald Dahl adaptation, certain cinematic aspects burned into my brain: extreme angles, excellent makeup effects, and a seaside locale that's not unlike the cliffy castle in the 1979 Dracula and even the remote mansion in Suspiria. While those films are certainly not suitable for children, this tale of a business convention for witches, where kids get turned into mice, is perfect. It's safe enough for kids, and sophisticated enough for adults. Just look at the cast and crew, which adds gravitas to a family horror flick: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jim Henson and Nicolas Roeg! One caveat: Really impressionable kids might end up paranoid about the elderly neighbor in sensible shoes."

Beetlejuice (1988)
Expert insight
"When you show college-age film students a German expressionist flick like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and ask them where the silent film's influence can still be seen, almost everyone raises a hand to answer, 'Tim Burton.' The director's use of shadow and light, bold colors and otherworldly set designs are enough to make even a dull script enjoyable as pure cinema. Fortunately, Beetlejuice is fine example of a twisted script being perfectly paired with Burton's macabre style. Geena Davis and a younger, sprier Alec Baldwin star as a happily married couple who meet their doom, return as ghosts and seek to rid their once-quiet home from garish new owners. That's where Michael Keaton steals the show, playing a molding bio-exorcist named Beetlejuice, who promises—with a forked tongue—to restore the couple's home. From the looks of it, this undead, unredeemable character was probably Keaton's most enjoyable role. Your kids will like it, too."

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