Finding horror movies for a Halloween marathon is easy — there’s the occasional good one, and the rest are usually somewhere in the bad to so-bad-it’s-good range. What if you’re a parent of a pre-teen, though, and don’t want to risk a month of nightmares? Finding something good to watch that still feels properly Halloween-y can be tough.
There’s always the great Peanuts special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which became an annual classic on its first airing 49 years ago. After you’re done saying “I got a rock” along with the TV, though, you’ve still got hours of Halloween night left. So what to watch if your kids aren’t ready for, say, Army of Darkness?
Here, then, are our top ten movie suggestions to show to younger kids, that we think will be fun for grownups, too.
10. Ghostbusters – It may be a bit inappropriate for really little kids, with scenes like the one with Ray and the ghost in bed, and lines like “Yes, it’s true: This man has no d-k.” But older tweens could probably handle it just fine, especially since it has only a few scary moments, and of those the worst is likely when the arms come out of Dana’s chair. Besides, what kid wouldn’t like seeing people get hit by molten marshmallow?
9. The Monster Squad – Best described as a family B-movie, it’ll never be considered a great cinematic achievement, but it is a heck of a lot of fun. It’s also probably a good way to introduce kids to the classic movie monsters: vampires, werewolves, mummies, and even Frankenstein’s monster. For a 24-year-old movie, the special effects look remarkably good, and the plot even has some occasional poignant moments amid the jokes.
8. Beetlejuice – Another one possibly more suited to older tweens, but if your younger kids aren’t overly squeamish it might be worth a try. Until the very end, it’s not very scary, and it’s so much fun it’s easy to ignore the occasional rise in the gross-out factor.
7. Cinderella – Yes, Cinderella. It’s an unconventional choice, but think about it: A fairy, a costume (nobody recognizes Cinderella at the ball, after all) and a pumpkin all figure heavily in the film. You could even make it into a game, seeing who could spot the most Halloween-y things in the movie.
6. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – It’s easy to forget, especially if you haven’t seen it in a decade or two, that yes, Halloween is very important in this film. Remember Mike and Elliott dressing E.T. up as a ghost so they could take him out (they hope) unnoticed? Why not put E.T. on the TV and hand out small bags of Reese’s Pieces to trick-or-treaters?
5. Corpse Bride – Not as brilliant as most hoped it would be, coming as it did from the dark, twisted mind of Tim Burton (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had just come out, and we didn’t yet know that was just the beginning of his talent’s waning). But it’s still well worth seeing, with a great voice cast and a terrific Danny Elfman score (with several songs). And, dealing as it does with a man who accidentally marries a dead woman, it could hardly be better suited to Halloween.
4. The Addams Family – A great, delightfully bizarre movie, and one with jokes aimed at all ages. It’s ideal for Halloween not just because of the spookily strange family, but also because the holiday itself plays a big part in the movie. “I’m a homicidal maniac — they look just like everyone else.”
3. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – If you haven’t yet exposed your kids to the wonderful claymation products of Aardman Studios, there’s no time like Halloween. This 85-minute film has terrific voice performances, a very funny story, and, of course, a were-rabbit. You really can’t go wrong.
2. Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters – The old Warner Brothers cartoons had a lot of great stories with monsters (some wearing tennis shoes), witches, vampires, and such. It can be a bit time-consuming to put together a good compilation yourself, but Quackbusters does a pretty good job of it, tying a bunch of good old stories with two new (in 1988, that is) ones. These two, “Night of the Living Duck” and “The Duxorcist,” were the last Warner Brothers cartoons voiced by the late, great Mel Blanc, and are very funny, too.
1. The Nightmare Before Christmas – (You knew it was coming.) Really, there is no Halloween movie that can come close to this one. It has a great story, great songs, wonderfully strange visuals, and Prince Humperdinck as the voice of Jack Skellington. Of course, it’s also a great Christmas movie — what could get a person in the Christmas spirit faster than a rousing chorus of “Kidnap the Sandy Claws?” Or is that weird?
We’re sure you’ve got your own favorites, and we had to cut quite a few to get the list to just ten. Please share your ideas in the comments. Happy Halloween!
[A version of this article was originally published on GeekDad on Halloween 2013.]