Here's the truth: many people don't care what their kids watch, so a bunch of kids have already seen a handful of 'Friday the 13th' movies by the time then turn 10. However, some parents are a little more discriminating and protective, keeping the nastier side of of cinema hidden until they're a little older. Of course, this is a big problem come October, when anyone and everyone wants to watch horror movies.
That's where we come in. Here are 10 horror movies that are not only legitimately good (and occasionally great), but perfectly appropriate for the younger set. The slashers can wait a few more years -- get the family into the Halloween spirit with these movies, which run the gamut from killer sharks to angry ghosts.
'Frankenstein'Ages: 5 and up
The original Universal monster movies are about as good as horror movies get and because of the time of their production, they're about as kid-friendly as anything. Any kid with at least one Halloween under his belt will be familiar with the likes of Dracula and the Mummy, so do them a favor and show them the real thing. Start them off James Whale's 'Frankenstein,' the unsettling and iconic film that so much of horror cinema is built upon. It holds up like gangbusters and your kids will learn that some movie monsters are meant to be pitied. After all, kids love monsters -- give them another reasons to embrace them. There is no monster that's easier to fall for than Dr. Frankenstein's creation.
'The Haunting'Ages: 7 and up
If you're planning on taking this list literally, you may want to consider programming 'The Haunting' rather early in your family's horror marathon. It's one of the slower films on this, choosing to pursue chills and a genuine sense of dread over actual scares. But your patience will be rewarded, since this is one of the creepiest and classiest haunted house movies ever made, a perfect introduction to the genre for the younger set. It also teaches the important lesson that some of the best horror movies will slowly get under you skin rather than go for the throat. Your kids will probably have a few questions, but consider it an excellent jumping off point for an enlightening conversation about mental illness and perspective.
'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'Ages: 7 and up
Many of the best horror films have a lesson in tow, which makes them great educational tools under the right circumstances. Why break out the history books and talk to your kids about the fears of the Cold War when you could get them started with the original 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' which takes the paranoia of the age and repackages it as a disturbing sci-fi thriller. The remake may be a better film, but the original is far more appropriate for the younger set, hiding some truly fascinating and horrifying ideas in an approachable horror setting. This is the kind of movie you show if you're prepared to answer questions and chat about once you hit stop on the DVD. With luck, your kids will probably like to know more.
'Something Wicked This Way Comes'Ages: 7 and up
You don't see many horror movies released under the Disney banner, which makes 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' all the more unique. Based on Ray Bradbury's classic novel of the same name, the film follows two boys who encounter an evil carnival and have to outsmart its master, who wants to steal the souls of their town. This is the kind of movie that demands a cool night, a few candles and something pumpkin-flavored to drink. Few films feel so much like a good 'ol Halloween yarn.
After 'Frankenstein,' it will be time to introduce the kids to the most tragic character in all of horror cinema. Although David Cronenberg's (excellent and incredibly gruesome) remake is probably more well known at this point, the original 1958 version of 'The Fly' remains a compelling and upsetting B-movie. There is no villain in this film, just a tragic sci-fi accident that transforms an adventurous scientist into a pitiful beast. You come for the crazy fly transformation, but you stay for the touching and occasionally devastating emotional moments. Just be warned: your kids will probably repeat the infamous "Help meeee!" from the final scene for the foreseeable future.
Although M. Night Shyamalan has fallen on hard times, his 'Signs' is a gold standard popcorn thriller, an enthralling (if occasionally nonsensical) sci-fi horror movie that's about as chilling as they get. Most importantly, Shyamalan wisely fills the time between the tense setpieces with big laughs and relatable family moments, making this the rare family-friendly horror movie that's actually about a family. The almost total lack of violence is plus, too. 'Signs' is all about jump scares and shocking reveals, making this the cinematic equivalent of a fun haunted house attraction. Well, a fun haunted house that decides to get annoying spiritual in the home stretch, but that's a conversation for another day.
'The Monster Squad'Ages: 9 and up
If you've followed this list's advice, you've already introduced the kids to the Universal monsters. With the originals out of the way, it's time to give your kids the ammunition to battle the inevitable nightmares. It's time to show them 'The Monster Squad.' An occasionally hokey but massively entertaining flick that just sweats the '80s, 'The Monster Squad' finds a group of young kids defending their town from a monster invasion, forcing them to use their horror knowledge to protect their friends and families. Since you've spent the past day or so educating them in the ways of the genre, this is the best possible way to cap things off for the kids. Teach them to use their newfound genre fandom for good instead of evil.
[Note: early on, one kid calls another a "fa---t" so you may want to include that in the discussion.]
Despite its reputation as one of the scarier summer movies ever, Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws' is PG. More importantly, it actually feels PG by modern standards. Like the shark itself, the violence is mostly offscreen and when things do get bloody, there's just enough distance and subtlety to keep things from getting too graphic. That means that kids of all ages can watch one of the best horror movies ever made without a care in the world. Well, the fact that they'll probably want to stay away from the water for awhile could be a problem, but who needs the ocean when you have thrilling cinematic adventures like this?
Joe Dante's 'Gremlins' is such an iconic and beloved movie that some people seem to forget that it's one of the craziest movies ever made (only topped by its sequel). This is what a horror movie version of a Looney Tunes cartoon would like -- slapstick and violence meet head-on, the scares becoming bigger and more ludicrous with each passing minute. This is a loud, funny and utterly bizarre movie that never quite follows the rules of our universe. It's a live action cartoon. Naturally, it's perfect for your children. Not to mention, the scene where the mother dispatches a group of Gremlins in the kitchen will only make your kids respect you more.
'Poltergeist'Ages: 12 and up
Have you seen 'Poltergeist' recently? It's terrifying. For that, you can probably thank director Tobe Hooper. But it's also warm, charming and disarmingly fun. For that, you can probably thank producer Steven Spielberg. 'Poltergeist' is probably the most frightening film on this list, but it's so fun and energetic that the scares feel like part of a grand adventure instead of a hellish and nightmarish trip. Although it wears a PG-rating, this is probably more of PG-13, so parents be warned: this has a slightly harder edge than many similar films. But hey, you've got to traumatize your kids with a horror movie at least once, right? Make it this one.