The Best Scary Movies for Kids

When it comes to children’s horror, the ground is quite tenuous—directors must strike a balance between having fun and introducing kids to scary ideas without catalyzing phobia. Horror has a reputation as a niche genre, but wherever we look, there’s a bit of something for everyone in search of a spooky thrill—even kids. From werewolves and zombies to ghosts and death, here are a few of my favorite scary kids movies.

The Monster Squad—This movie follows a group of young genre nerds who have to protect their hometown when Dracula and his monster friends are unleashed in the quiet suburban streets. Fred Dekker wrote the script with Shane Black, which gives the film a nice, humorous edge for parents and adults. The creatures themselves are spooky, not scary, making this a great choice for kids interested in the genre.

The Frighteners—Peter Jackson brings his signature energetic direction and top-notch special effects to a slightly family-friendly affair. This movie is rated-R, and it has a few pretty intense gore effects, but this is a great transitional movie for kids who are no longer scared by the noises in their closet. It doesn’t have much in the way of scares, and much of the horror is effects-driven.

Little Shop of Horrors—How scary can a film be if there’s singing, Steve Martin, Jim Belushi, Bill Murray, and Rick Moranis? There’s not too much in the plot to frighten kids in this one, but the man-eating monster action still sticks around in my nightmares.

ParaNorman—This is a relatively new film, and it’s pretty dang brilliant. This movie adds some creepiness to an otherwise kid-friendly affair. This is, by far, the most overtly horror-oriented children’s film I’ve ever seen. The movie has ghosts, a main character who can talk to the dead, and a town curse. Animated and billed as kid-friendly, this is—surprisingly—one of my favorite entries on this list.

The Correlation Between Child Development and Fear

As I’ve established, fear is a natural part of childhood. However, children aren’t born with these terrors and anxieties. Some may be introduced through socialization, but many come to fruition as a result of the natural development process. It’s a fascinating correlation, and with a bit of study, I’m sure we can gain some insight into what scares kids the most—and how to help them through it.

Newborns—Newborn babies have two fears: loud noises and falling. These phenomena are not easily interpreted by their undeveloped brains, and the speed and sensory overload is enough to send them into a screaming fit.

7-11 Months—Stranger and separation anxiety become apparent in babies after spending a significant amount of time with the mother and/or father. While this is a healthy part of development, these anxieties are especially frustrating for parents.

1 Year—Along with a child’s first steps, the one-year birthday brings with it a growing need for independence and control over the environment. This means that things beyond the child’s control will be especially frightening—jumping dogs, automatic-flush toilets, thunder, and the dark. The inability to control these phenomena will continue into early adolescence, sometimes well into adulthood. This is why jump scares in horror film and television remain remarkably successful for some people. It’s not explicitly the fear of the noise—it’s the fear of the unknown.

While these fears are a natural part of childhood, they rarely cross the line into phobia territory. Genuine phobias in childhood are extremely uncommon. While most childhood fears are considered to be irrational from an adult perspective, they are actually very reasonable. If, however, you continue to experience a fear of the dark, dogs, or thunder well into adulthood, your childhood fear has likely transformed into something more sinister.

 

How Hereditary Shifts the Horror Genre

In mid-2018, A24 and Ari Aster released one of the most terrifying films of all time: Hereditary. It stars Toni Collete and Gabriel Byrne and follows a family haunted after the death of their secretive grandmother. The film was acclaimed by critics, who called it “truly, upsettingly powerful on an emotional level.” The film quickly became A24’s highest-grossing film worldwide, and it has received several impressive awards nomination. Plus, Toni Collete delivers the performance of her career.

So, here’s what happens. Annie Graham lives with her husband, Steve, their 16-year-old son, Peter, and their 13-year-old daughter, Charlie. When the matriarch of her family passes away, the Annie and her children begin to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. I won’t spoil it too much, but the thrust of the plot is provided by Annie, Peter, and Charlie’s inability to outrun the sinister fates they have inherited through their mother’s bloodline.

So, what makes this film so scary? A lot of things, but primarily: it combines both childhood and adult fears. It makes the viewer terrified of what’s behind the curtain, but it also deals with the trauma of inheriting and living with a mental illness. It depicts a horrifying cult, but is also makes the viewer fearful of strangers. Hereditary artfully combines some of the most basic and complex fears we have as humans and throws them back in our faces. It’s truly exhilarating.

Here’s another fun piece of movie trivia. Apparently, the film has been “scientifically proven” to be the scariest film of 2018. A24 gave a randomly selected audience Apple Watches, which monitored their vitals. During the film, their heart rates raised to an alarming 164 bpm. A healthy resting heart rate is generally between 60 and 80 beats per minute. If that’s not enough to make you want to go out and see this movie, I don’t know what is.

 

The Three Best Horror Blogs You Should Read Right Now

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is a distinct difference between ‘suspense’ and ‘surprise’ … We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of the sudden, ‘boom!’ There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place is there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock, and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen, ‘you shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!'”

The horror genre takes time to develop; held in place by suspense, these stories creep into our imaginations and take hold, twisting the imaginary into perceived reality. Hitchcock illustrates it in the above quotation; the best horror takes hold of the audience’s attention, requiring participation. This active participation can be time-consuming—another characteristic of the genre.

But what happens if we want a little dose of horror to get through the day? Where should we turn? Horror blogs have been churning out quality content for years, and their free, accessible, and concise content is a great method for getting that quick, daily fix. Below, we have listed our top three horror blogs.

CreepyPasta—This website has spawned hundreds of terrifying tales, including Slenderman, The Russian Sleep, and Candle Cove. CreepyPasta is a collection of paranormal and scary short stories published anonymously on Reddit and 4chan imageboards. Now, readers and writers can submit their own “creepypasta” to be published and archived.

Skyway Bridge Jumpers—This website tells the true stories of those who have jumped to their deaths from this particular bridge. The site counts the number of suicides and provides short stories depicting and lives of the jumpers.

Terror Feed—This site hosts horror shorts and spooky trailers. With over 3,500 videos, you’re sure to find something terrifying enough to get you through the day. Additionally, Terror Feed is community-run and swears by the quality of its videos, meaning you may encounter a friend or two when looking for a scare.

The Bubbling Maelstrom

One of the things we’re consistently interested in is the intersection between individual and universal fears. And one of the images that has been percolating through our consciousness recently is that of a bubbling maelstrom. For those who don’t know, a maelstrom is a powerful whirlpool that occurs at sea or sometimes in rivers. Titled “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” it’s also one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most underrated short stories and one of our personal favorites. Driven into the maelstrom by a powerful hurricane, the narrator has been made prematurely old by the experience, even as he was also awe-struck by the phenomenon.

 

We’ve been thinking about this image and story in light of this year’s particularly destructive hurricane season as well as the larger picture that is global warming. It’s not just a maelstrom, it’s a bubbling maelstrom, a heated whirlpool in which the jets burn and tear at our flesh. It’s a race to our own destruction, the slow boil of the lobster and the final flash of Mother Nature breaking off our tail as she ingests and digests our journey’s end.

 

The image of the maelstrom also reminds of a conversation we had with a therapist. She told us that one of the things she likes to do is to ask clients to imagine their emotions as a body of water. What does it look like? Is it an ocean with huge rolling waves, rushing river rapids, a pond with ripples on it from a stone? Or is it a huge lake, calm on the surface for the most part, but dotted with a series of violent maelstroms? The goal, then, is to know where these emotional maelstroms, these moments of tremendous personal upheaval, are located on your lake. You know them by their location, but you also know how to avoid falling all the way into their swallowing vortex. You know where the doors are to your Nightmare Rooms.

 

Where do Podcasts Fit?

Podcast popularity has skyrocketed; between 2015 and 2016, listening grew by almost 25%. Around a fifth of all Americans over the age of twelve have listened to a podcast in the past month. Since 2013, monthly podcast listenership has increased by nearly 75%.

Originally intended as a “Netflix for Radio” solution, podcasts are beginning to turn away from news and politics and into the creative sphere. The all-audio platform has gained traction in several fringe circles, including political extremists, conspiracy theorists, and lovers of horror. From interview-based shows to creative readings and intense research, these fringe podcast creators can be incredibly prolific–sometimes creating two or more shows each week.

Many of us love horror podcasts—from the edgy Astonishing Legends to the incredibly popular Lore, the platform has something to offer everyone. But what place do podcasts hold in horror culture? How much will we cherish this archaic format decades from now?

Unfortunately, we believe that podcast horror is not suited to the long-term cultural zeitgeist. Similar to horror movies and television shows, the podcast format is necessarily passive; listeners often experience the stories while completing a separate task, such as cleaning the living room or driving to work. Horror books provide an entirely immersive experience, commanding complete attention of the reader. Podcasts just can’t do that.

This is not to say, however, that podcasts can’t be a great source of horror. Limetown, for example, is one of the best-written serialized stories we’ve ever seen (heard?). The NoSleep Podcast has an audience of hundreds of thousands of listeners, providing a combination of subgenres to ensure that every person is satisfied. We are merely saying that these podcasts will not be the first examples of horror that spring to mind. That designation goes to the horror books and films of our youth.

 

Books vs. Movies/TV in the Horror Genre

Like other scary story mythologies, The Nightmare Room is a good example of the difference between how books and TV/film age over time. In other words, the literary trilogy engages the imagination in a way that seems to translate through exposure to modern media forms. Movies and TV series also have appeal, but for those who grew up with it, it’s more nostalgia than fear. Sure, there are exceptions. Psycho, The Exorcist, and The Shining have all withstood the test of time, but these seem like the exceptions that prove the rule. And even so, there’s some question how scary these iconic movies come off to today’s younger, effects-driven generation….

 

Part of the reason that books endure the test of time is the inherent way they seem to stick with you. Sure, if you go to the last showing of a scary movie or stay up late binge-watching and then try to sleep in your creepy basement, the horror in digital media can give you the hee-bee-gee-bees for a couple days at least. But the way that a scary book can linger and haunt you seems qualitatively different. Plus, too much of the fear in cinema comes from unexpected sounds and images, surprise more than haunting, for example. We could also make the point that, to our personal preference, too much of the horror genre in film and TV has become straight gore.

 

We’re not literary snobs at The Nightmare Room, or at least, we don’t try to be. Psycho is a better movie than book in our estimation. We might say the same thing about Stand by Me (Stephen King vs. Rob Reiner, how could you go wrong?). Still, we see lists of a dozen or more scary movies that are better than the books that just leave us baffled.

 

What about you? Do you have favorite examples or long-standing arguments with your friends about which is better: The book or the movie? Do you have an unconventional opinion about a scary book or movie that’s better than its counterpart? Write to us and let us know.

 

 

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