Halloween Movie Night: Spooky Flicks Your Tweens Will Love
What kid doesn’t love Halloween? I sure do! Oh, wait. I’m not a kid. Minor technicality.
Halloween is the kind of holiday everyone can enjoy, whether you’re one or 101. There have been lots of movies made to celebrate all hallows eve, but most of them are hardcore horror (Halloween, Pumpkinhead, Trick R Treat) or tame TV cartoons (It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Mad Monster Party).
The best way to curl up over candy and cocoa after the trick-or-treating is all done is with a movie that’s just as fun for you as it is for your kids. Here are three of my top picks:
Dearly-departed grandmas certainly aren’t outside the norm, but what about a long-gone granny whose shopworn spirit sits on the sofa while she knits, watches TV, and has long talks with her grandson? That’s perfectly paranormal, as far as 11-year-old Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is concerned.
He’s been having conversations with the dead (and the un-dead) ever since he can remember. And it’s not just people. The thoughtful, kindly kid plays fetch with dead dogs, pets putrid parrots, and does his best to keep all species, specters, and souls happy.
It’s not easy straddling the endless abyss of the netherworld, especially while dealing with the taunts of the bullies in his class, and putting up with his bratty, self-absorbed sibling, Courtney, at home. But Norman is nothing if not dutiful. It’s that exact tried-and-true trait that ropes the pragmatic preteen into solving an age old mystery, and hopefully laying to the rest the souls of a gaggle of ghosts.
Norman and his family reside in a Salem of sorts — Blithe Hollow — where witches were burned back in the day, and where zombies now roam the nights. It’s a picturesque tourist town… until the tourists are targeted as brain-food. As undead creatures take over the occult-friendly ‘burb, it’s up to Norman and Co. — big sis, boneheaded bully, plus assorted others in tow — to save the day.
It’s a well-made animation with heart, a few scares, and a good message for kids about how in important friendships are when the chips are down.
Back in the 80’s, the heyday of “real” movies for kids (thanks to directors like Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Richard Donner, et al.) there were lots of quality horror movies for children. I don’t mean teen-slashers; I’m talking about the spooky, mysterious, non-comedic stories that are geared toward 11- and 12-year olds. (Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Lady in White, The Goonies, The Watcher in the Woods). These movies featured kids in perilous supernatural situations, solving the unsolved, empowered by their own initiative and smarts.
While our Haunter protagonist, Lisa (Abigail Breslin), at 15 is a little older, she’s got a normal, everyday big sister vibe, making her as relatable to younger kids as she is to teens and adults. Plus, it’s largely set in the 80’s. Win/win.
Sort of a Groundhog Day meets The Lovely Bones, Lisa wakes up every morning on the eve of her birthday, doomed to repeat the same routine: Morning with mom, dad and little brother, laundry, mac ‘n cheese for lunch, the same episode of “Murder, She Wrote” on the tube, dinner, and then bed. For some reason, she can never leave her house. A strange mist surrounds it, keeping her at bay. Slowly, awareness begins to creep in. How long has Lisa been repeating this tedious cycle—and why?
As her mind sharpens, so too do the claws of the killer (Stephen McHattie) who put her there. Desperate to solve the mystery of her death — and to prevent anyone else from being murdered and sent to purgatory — Lisa takes matters into her own hands. Needless to say, the consequences are quite dangerous.
Directed by Vincenzo Natali, a filmmaker who specializes in claustrophobic thrillers (Cube, Nothing, Splice), Haunter has those elements, but it’s less horror and mystery than it is suspense and puzzle. You already know early on that Lisa is a ghost, so it’s more about seeing how it’s all going to turn out. As The Pale Man, McHattie is menacing as can be, and he plays his role to the hilt without ever hamming it up.
Deft direction, strong performances, and an absorbing story elevate Haunter to the status of one of the better “family” horror films of recent years.
And speaking of classic 80’s horror movies with strong child protagonists, here’s one now. Lady in White was released in 1988, and it still holds up to this day.
The story is told in flashback by a contemporary horror-fiction writer thinking back on a miraculous, life-shaping event in his childhood. This format is maintained for the first half of the film with a voiceover narration, but it’s pretty much abandoned after that. The writer as a child, Frankie, is played with wide-eyed appeal by Lukas Haas in one of his first starring roles. Featured in virtually every scene, he had to carry Lady in White.
The story’s main attraction is the mystery that young Frankie must help solve. One Halloween night, he witnesses the ghostly echoes of a murder that took place years before on the spookiest of holidays. Shaking in his Frankenstein mask, the little boy watches in horror as a young girl is murdered before his very eyes… But ghosts can’t actually hurt you, can they? When Frankie is accosted by a man who may or may not be the killer — and who may or may not be dead himself — he’s not so sure. Now a beacon to the netherworld, Frankie is later haunted by the infamous Lady in White (Katherine Helmond).
That’s all well and good, but if you are looking for a true ghost movie you might be a tad let down. Lady in White is really a coming of age drama with a very strong family/nostalgia backdrop that just happens to have supernatural trimmings. It may not be a rip-roaring thriller, but it’s a terrific movie to show to young kids, particularly as a Halloween treat.
What are some spooky movies your kids love to watch? Share them with us!
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