Kid Scares: Halloween Movie Roundup

My husband loves Halloween. Like, looooooves it. How many o’s were in that “love”? Add two more. It is his favourite holiday by far, as it collects several of his favourite things—spookiness, chocolate, monsters, horror, the macabre, an excuse to wear eyeliner, gourds—into one spectacular day.

One of my favourite things about Halloween is the cinematic output it inspires. Now, as an enormous wuss, I don’t like jump scares, excessive blood, and the kind of thing where a boogeyman hides in your closet with a carving knife. Which means that kid-horror—scary-ish movies aimed at the under-13 set—is 100% my jam. They’re tense without raising the stakes too high, colourful and dark, and often feature strong female characters. Worth watching all year round, obviously, but a special night like Halloween requires a special movie.

35786a6a5f690178a6db13efa3fd7300f7dcad15a0df8a157fcfb920501b4d87Hocus Pocus
This movie was pretty much my world when I was in middle school. Sarah Jessica Parker’s cleavage, Bette Midler’s astonishing ability to throw shade, and my beloved Thora Birch (what happened to her? I miss Thora Birch) in this tale of three witches transported from Puritanical Salem to modern days—well, 1993, which is close enough. The three leads chew their way through every single scene, but aside from a slightly tense opening, even your weenie eleven-year-old (ahem, me) will be able to handle it.

ParaNorman
Sometimes, a mini-trend emerges for a brief moment, and it seems like all the studios are putting out basically the same movie. In the summer of 2012, the unlikely subgenre was “children’s stop-motion horror,” which saw ParaNorman and Frankenweenie battling it out. ParaNorman is, I think, the better movie: rounder characters, more interesting premise (boy can commune with dead; dead rise up and take over town; hijinx ensue). The ending is definitely electric and memorable—tense, sure, but also spellbindingly beautiful and cathartic.

Frankenweenie
The yin to ParaNorman‘s yang, Frankenweenie is a fleshed-out version of the 1984 Tim Burton short film about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life. Filmed in black and white, the movie is a love letter to classic Hollywood monster movies—albeit adapted for 21st century kids—and is a perfect child’s introduction to the Tim Burton aesthetic. Graduate them to Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice if they dig this, or stick with Corpse Bride if they need a gentler approach.

Casper
What? You think I’m too good to list the seminal 1995 movie Casper? You think I’m going to ignore the over-the-top haunted house, the miscast Christina Ricci (in her 1267th “spooky” role), the perfectly cast Devon Sawa, the ghosts named Fatso, Stinky, and Stretch, the subterranean railway, and the slow dance scene that was sleepover-movie rapture (climactic is so many different ways)? Devon Sawa’s 1995 also included Now and Then, and let me tell you that a lot of twelve-year-old girls did a lot of thinking about Devon Sawa that year. Anyway, drop this movie in the middle of a sleepover and then just back slowly out of the room.

hqdefaultGhostbusters
Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis are the original, no-bullshit Ghostbusters. Many people have many fond memories of the 1984 movie. They will be happy to tell you all about it on the internet. However, the 2016 remake is worth watching for two reasons: first, it’s hilarious, and second, Kate McKinnon owns this film in an undeniable way. She’s a stone-cold fox, a soft butch, a lady scientist and a eyebrow-waggler extraordinaire who kicks a bunch of ghost ass and never apologizes. Her fight scene prompted actual cheers from our screening audience. This is a good selection for girls you’d like to empower and boys who need to be told to sit down.

The Monster Squad
Okay, so look: this movie needs to be taken with a grain or two of salt. We know the drill—monsters are here, kids gotta save the town—but this one is a good bet for your rowdy gang of idiots in the basement who are jonesing for a bit of scariness but are too young for an actual slasher film. The movie’s most redeeming quality is its obvious affection for classic Hollywood monsters, but remember, it’s a product of its time. Casual sexism and misogyny might make this a teachable moment. The 1980s is the same decade that saw Phoebe Cates emerge topless from a pool in an otherwise relatively PG film. The Monster Squad is cut from the junior version of the same crass cloth.

Wallace and Gromet: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
I have such a deep affection for the Aardman Animation studios. They’re the geniuses behind Chicken Run (one of my desert-island movies for real), and the creators of Wallace (the dim but lovable human) and Gromet (his infinitely smarter dog). In this movie, Wallace is a pest controller working to rid the town of rabbits…but little does he know that his experimentations under the full moon have led to something sinister. This is a really lovely blend of goofy and slightly tense for the kids, with lots of madcap dashing about and sight gags; it’s also great for the parents, with layers of puns and visual references built in.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
For your littlest beans, introduce them to all the classic Halloween tropes (costumes, trick or treating) and the classic Peanuts vibe (a vague sense of ennui) with this gentle half-hour TV special from 1966. Linus wants to see the Great Pumpkin, a mythical being he insists is real; the rest of the gang want candy and to go Violet’s party. Nothing really happens, but that’s kind of the best thing about it: Halloween is inherently anti-climactic. Kids gotta learn early that candy won’t fill that void…although the Great Pumpkin, whoever he is, might.

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Kaitlyn Kochany
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Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-area freelance writer and editor. She had her son, NS, in January 2016, and has been trying to sleep and write since then.

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