Parental Guidance

Three Family-Friendly Haunted House Movies That Are Better than Insidious: The Last Key

by | January 5, 2018 | Comments

2018 is finally here, and the first big release of the year is the latest (and presumably final) chapter in the Insidious franchise. It’s a PG-13 horror flick, but if you don’t think your kids could handle it — or if you don’t think they’ll particularly care for it — then we’ve got a few alternatives in mind. Read on for Christy’s take on Insidious: The Last Key and three recommendations you can watch at home instead.


Insidious: The Last Key (2018) 33%

Rating: PG-13, for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror and brief strong language.

The fourth and presumably last movie in the Insidious franchise (if the title is providing any clues) is better than you might expect from a January horror movie. But it’s also quite scary, with several startling jump scares and disturbing imagery throughout. If you already had reservations about going down into the basement, the latest Insidious movie will do nothing to reassure you. The great character actress Lin Shaye returns to the central role of parapsychologist Elise, who helps families purge their houses of the demons that are haunting them. But this time, she gets a call from a man living in her childhood home in small-town New Mexico, which forces her to relive the horrors she endured there from her cruel father. The physical and psychological abuse thrust upon Elise as a girl decades earlier is actually harder to watch than any spiritual frights – but those will freak you out, too. Insidious: The Last Key can be a joltingly noisy movie, but director Adam Robitel also puts you on edge through the use of silence in this dark, creepy house. Fine for viewers around 13 and older… if they dare.


If the latest Insidious is too intense for your kids (and it probably will be), here are some other haunted house movies for various ages that you and your family will enjoy:

Monster House (2006) 75%

Rating: PG, for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language.

An animated delight from producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, Monster House is about a house that is literally a monster. Three teenagers (voiced by Mitchell Musso, Sam Lerner, and Spencer Locke) discover that the house across the street isn’t merely creepy and dilapidated, as it looks from the outside. It’s a living, breathing entity that chews up people and things and sometimes spits them back out again. Windows serve as eyes and a long, red carpet lashes out like a tongue. It’s possessed by a soul seeking revenge from beyond the grave, and it thrives on the energy of humans. That may sound pretty scary, and it may be too intense for very little kids. Along those lines, the stop-motion animated characters may look a tad off-kilter, given how much technology has improved over the past decade. But most younger viewers will find Monster House to be a clever and amusing adventure. The teen characters here are in constant danger but they’re resourceful and (eventually) brave, and they work together as a team. Fine for viewers around 7 and older – and perhaps a great, first scary movie to show your kids.

Beetlejuice (1988) 84%

Rating: PG, for adult situations/language and violence.

One of Tim Burton’s earliest and best films – it’s only his second feature after Pee-wee’s Big Adventure – this oozes his signature mix of playful and macabre, colorful and dark. Michael Keaton gives one of the greatest comic performances of his long and varied career as the title character: a raunchy and profane spirit-for-hire who helps a recently deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) scare the new owners out of their home. Perfect for the conspicuous consumption of the era, the new husband and wife are obnoxious yuppies (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones) who throw lavish parties for their horrible friends. Only the couple’s sullen teenage daughter (Winona Ryder in one of her key roles) can see and sympathize with the dead couple. Beetlejuice is lively and ton of fun, with the wildly detailed costumes and production design we’ve come to expect over the years from Burton’s films. Some of the humor is rather adult – especially from the hard-partying Beetlejuice himself, who visits a brothel at one point. There’s some scattered, strong language. And fundamentally, the film is about a couple coming to grips with the fact that they’re no longer alive, which may be disturbing for younger viewers. But the racier material will probably go over a lot of kids’ heads. Fine for around ages 10 and up.

Poltergeist (1982) 85%

Rating: PG, for adult situations/language and violence.

One of the greatest horror movies, period, but also one of the greatest haunted-house movies. Poltergeist kept me awake many a night when I was a little girl; in retrospect, I was probably too young to see it, but hey – I had permissive parents. (You guys will show better judgment, I’m sure.) But Tobe Hooper’s film, which Spielberg produced and co-wrote, is a must-see (or re-see) as a thrilling exploration of the dark side of suburbia. It features so many iconic lines and images; you’ve probably never looked at a snowy television screen the same way since. And Lin Shaye’s character in the Insidious movies definitely calls to mind the late, great Zelda Rubenstein as the brilliant and eccentric medium who famously “cleaned” the haunted house of Poltergeist. Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, and Beatrice Straight lead the excellent cast. A family enjoying the supposed security of Southern California tract-housing bliss finds everything upended when their youngest child, Carol Ann (the late, deeply creepy Heather O’Rourke), hears voices, then gets sucked into another dimension by a host of restless spirits. Poltergeist vividly explores childhood fears; from the toys to the closets to even the wind in the trees, nothing is safe. And the climax that reveals why the angry souls are stirring things up is truly nightmarish. A great choice for tweens and older who can handle inspired, real-world scares.

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