Screening bloody murder
Halloween horror flicks to watch with your brood
So, it’s Halloween week and you want to engage in a little family activity, apart from filling your bellies with Nerds, Starbursts, chocolate and broccoli. (Parents always try to up the ante on the nutritional stuff around Halloween to counter the candy intake.)
Why not watch some scary movies with the whole clan?
I’ve put together a list of good, scary flicks that should be OK for the whole brood. Yes, there are a couple of controversial picks in there. (I explain why.) But we’re talking mostly PG, PG-13 and even that crazy G-rating.
Let’s face it, your kids will be sneaking R-rated horror movies soon, so you might as well get them trained on the hard PG stuff now to avoid running nightmare drills when they’re 11 and viewing A Nightmare on Elm Street on the sly.
The number listed next to each movie is a scare factor rating, with (1) being the mildest and (5) indicating that you may have kids sleeping in your bed and kicking you through the night after watching it.
Spielberg Alien Double Feature
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (2)
War of the Worlds (5)
When I was a kid, I actually thought Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a little scary. I saw it with my dad, and it was one of the first movies I saw that was, one, about aliens and, two, a father cracking up.
For a good Halloween double feature, go with Spielberg’s Close Encounters with friendly aliens but a weird dad, and follow it with War of the Worlds, with a flawed but determined father fighting bad aliens. It’ll be a strange but enriching family experience to watch one dad react to friendly aliens by building mountains out of mashed potatoes and throwing a bunch of dirt into his kitchen, and another dad become a superhero when aliens try to mulch him and his daughter.
When you're done, you can go for the Spielberg alien trifecta with E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (2). I’m just thinking three movies in a row with the family might be too much. Hey, your kids have some video games and phone apps to explore, right? They need some serious alone time for that shit.
Halloween/Christmas Double feature
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1)
These two always make the Halloween and Christmas lists—some scary elements, but probably not enough to cause serious trauma to your youngest kids. The Phoebe Cates “My dad died in the chimney dressed as Santa” monologue is reason enough to include Gremlins as Halloween fare.
Yes, go ahead and show this to kids of all ages while sorting out the candy they just brought home from the neighborhood. (Throw out those apples from the smelly dude down the street.) Michael Keaton’s wisecracking ghost and all of the comedic depictions of grisly death are a nice warmup for a real ghost story like The Conjuring. But I’d wait until everybody has crossed the 12-years-of-age barrier before The Conjuring. Make sure there’s some shaving going on with all parties before you set eyes on that one.
King Kong (The original 1933 film) (3)
This is a good one for the family to sit down and watch. Not only does it include groundbreaking stop-motion animation, turning what is essentially a puppet into one of the all-time great monsters, but it also contains some rather racist and sexist old-timey Hollywood horrors. You can tackle questions about overgrown wildlife and how our ancestors were racist idiots all in one sitting.
The family message here would be “Don’t buy a house for your family that rests atop a sacred burial ground. They might regret it, and this could cause discord around the dinner table.” Take note: Even though it’s rated PG, a guy does claw his own face off in this one, so don’t show it to toddlers. Don’t show it to people who hate trees, either.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1)
As long as there are devices playing videos, this will be an essential Halloween family watch, accompanied by a bowl of York Peppermint Patties. Bonus points if the family pet is a beagle.
Addams Family Values (2)
Hey, it says “Family” right there in the title. Plus, it’s good for developing a child’s macabre sense of humor and also qualifies as a nice Thanksgiving primer.
Ghostbusters (The original) (2)
If you want to give the kids nightmares and make them vomit, let them watch the crappy remake. If you want to show them a funny time with decent scares, show them the 1984 masterpiece. You might want to fast forward past the Aykroyd wet dream part, though.
Monsters, Inc. (1)
If your young ones think there are monsters in the closet, show them this Pixar gem. Then, when they try to go to bed all hopped up on candy, they will think Sully is the one bustling around in the wardrobe, which will account for your kids spending the whole night in their closets rather than their beds. On second thought, skip this one, or at least give your kids a stern talking to about not making friends with the monster in the closet, no matter how much it sounds like John Goodman. They’ve got school in the morning.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (3)
Wizards and witches wave their wand things and fight a nose-less Ralph Fiennes in what was certainly the best Potter movie—arguably the scariest, too.
The Shining (5)
OK, this is one of the more controversial picks on the list and the lone R-rated choice, but I have my reasons.
Firstly, it’s a well-known fact that you might see cackling, old ghoul ladies in your bathtub and the ghosts of murdered children and cackling when riding your Big Wheels around an abandoned hotel. These things happen, and children need to be prepared.
Secondly, if your kids think you’re a jerk of a parent, just show them this movie. Heck, that time you grounded them for throwing dirty socks and bricks at you might’ve made them grouchy, but wait till they get a load of how sucky a dad Jack Nicholson is in this movie. The film also shows how alcohol and axes don’t mix, another nice life lesson for the whole crew.
And here’s a helpful hint: After the screening, put five six-packs of beer in the fridge and stumble around a bit like you’ve been drinking. Leave an axe prominently displayed on your front porch or in the bathroom. Calmly—but with a slight slur—ask your kids to rake the leaves. Not only will that lawn get raked before you finish the sentence asking them to do it, but they’ll probably trim the hedges and shine your shoes, too!
Happy Halloween, and don’t buy candy for kids if you live in an apartment, unless you are OK with eating the whole damned bag yourself, because kids don’t trick or treat in apartment complexes anymore!