Halloween is coming. Perhaps you were aware of that. What better way to celebrate the holiday than with some family-friendly horror movies? Take a break from stressing out over costumes and shopping for candy with any of these great choices. Or you could just watch all eight Harry Potter movies, in order, all over again. Enjoy!
My husband and I took our son, Nicolas, to see this at the New Beverly Cinema, the Los Angeles repertory theater Quentin Tarantino owns, when he was a little over 6 years old. He laughed the whole way through – and he especially enjoyed the Invisible Man, voiced by Vincent Price. Abbott and Costello’s classic brand of slapstick comedy is perfect for kids, and the clever integration of Universal’s iconic movie monsters into their zany world will amuse grown-ups, as well.
This entire list could consist of nothing but Tim Burton movies, in theory – at least, his earlier ones. But I’m limiting myself to just a handful, and this one’s a must. Beetlejuice finds Burton in his sweet spot with a mix that’s weird and whimsical, giddy and ghoulish. The macabre details, the off-kilter humor, the Danny Elfman score: They all blend brilliantly to create one of Burton’s absolute best works. And Michael Keaton is in peak form as the title character: a fast-talking, flatulent spirit who’s been hired to scare a family of yuppies out of their new house.
This is just straight-up silly – a pure, unabashed B-movie with a ridiculous premise and cheesy special effects. If your kids are savvy moviegoers (like mine is), and they’ve grown up enjoying blockbusters with the highest of high-tech computer-generated visuals, they’ll be struck by how cheap and simplistic The Blob looks by comparison. But that’s what makes it such a blast to watch. A meteor crashes to Earth and emits a reddish, gooey ooze that starts sucking the life out of people, increasing in size with each new victim. Pandemonium ensues. It’s a hoot. And it gave Steve McQueen his first starring role.
We’re back with Burton again, this time in stop-motion animation mode. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) is also a great — and popular — Halloween choice along these lines, but I’ve got a soft spot for the melancholy sweetness of this one. With an all-star voice cast led by Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, the film follows the romantic troubles of a shy young man torn between the woman his parents have arranged for him to marry and the woman who rises from the Land of the Dead and accidentally becomes his wife. It’s as gorgeous as it is poignant.
This may not seem like the most traditional pick. But if you’ll recall, a crucial scene in E.T. takes place on Halloween night: when the boys smuggle their alien friend out of the house by pretending he’s Gertie, dressed as a ghost for trick-or-treating. As always, Steven Spielberg works wonders with perspective here, as an awestruck E.T. surveys the landscape of ghouls and goblins and struggles to make sense of it all. And come on – this is one of Spielberg’s greatest films ever. Any excuse to watch it will do.
Tim Burton reminds us of why we love Tim Burton with this feature-length version of the 1984 short that revealed early glimmers of the veteran director’s darkly humorous style. The story of a little boy who brings his beloved, deceased dog back to life felt like the purest expression of Burton’s ethos that we’d seen in a while. His love of classic monster movies is infectious. And it’s just gorgeous in crisp black and white. I recently showed this to my son and I cried all over again, and he made fun of me for crying, so a good Friday night was had by all.
You could watch either version – the original or this summer’s remake with a cast of stellar comediennes. But I’d steer you and (more importantly) your kids toward this one first, for cultural perspective, if nothing else. You know what it’s about: It’s Ghostbusters. A group of scientists try to explain and eliminate a paranormal invasion that’s terrorized New York City. A comedy classic starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, but one with some genuine scares and thrills, too.
A really fun big-screen version of the R.L. Stine Goosebumps books, starring Jack Black as the real-life author. If your kids love the books, they’ll have a blast watching this – but even if they’re not familiar with the series (as my son wasn’t when he saw the movie), they’re still in for some thrills. A teenager moves to a new town and finds his next-door neighbor is the creepy and reclusive Stine. Soon afterward, the monsters trapped inside Stine’s bound books spring to life and wreak havoc. Some of the images here may be a bit too scary for very young kids, but the tone is mostly playful.
THE Halloween classic, of course. You’ve probably seen it a million times and can recite Linus’ Great Pumpkin speech right along with him. But if it’s been a while, or if your kids have never seen it, this is a great one to watch together – regardless of their age. Charlie Brown’s trick-or-treating lament – “I got a rock” – never gets old. And Linus’ unshakable faith that the Great Pumpkin not only exists but also will rise up and bring presents to all the good boys and girls has a charming innocence.
Another dazzling example of stop-motion animation – in the same year, as Corpse Bride, no less – from the geniuses at Aardman. Mild-mannered Wallace and his trusty dog, Gromit, come to the rescue when a mutant rabbit attacks a village right before its annual vegetable competition. Winner of the Academy Award for best animated feature, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is irresistibly sweet and slyly subversive. A great choice for viewers of all ages and an excellent entry into the Wallace & Gromit world.