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.