Videoween #2: Scaring Up Movies That Won't Freak Out the Kids (Much)




We asked each of our DVD feature writers to give us their suggestions for Halloween videos. So each day this week you'll get their answers in our "Videoween" feature. Today it's Sue, who provides the Mom perspective.




It's that spooky time of year again, and horror movies abound that are not okay for the kids or for me. (20+ years later, clowns and open closet doors still freak me out, thank you Poltergeist.) But finding reasonably family-friendly Halloween movies can be a bit of a challenge. Below you'll find a smattering of Halloween movies (listed in chronological order) of varying levels of scariness that my family and I enjoy. Consider them treats (no tricks!) from my family to yours. Happy Halloween!


Frankenstein -- The original horror movie is the 1931 version of Frankenstein, and if you have not yet seen it, you really should. At this point it may seem ridiculous to adults because it has been so borrowed from and poked fun at in the three-quarters of a century since its debut, but it is still fun to watch. Boris Karloff set the bar as the monster, and Colin Clive is perfect as the obsessed Dr. Frankenstein. This ranges from scary for the uninitiated to hilarious for the experienced horror movie fan.


Arsenic and Old Lace -- This 1944 Frank Capra picture starring Cary Grant, Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre is a classic, and one of my personal favorite Halloween movies. Cary Grant's physical comedy skills are on full display and Josephine Hull and Jean Adair as his sweet but murderous spinster aunts are the perfect foils to Massey and Lorre as obviously evil bad guys. Boy Wonder's favorite character is the harmless but obviously lunatic Cousin Teddy, who believes himself to be Theodore Roosevelt. Arsenic and Old Lace is sweet and funny and just scary enough.


Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein -- This 1948 picture scared the pants off my daughters when they were in 2nd grade and Kindergarten, respectively. Five years later, they discuss it with relish; it is, in their opinions, deliciously scary. The comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello balance the triumvirate of terror -- Frankenstein's Monster, Count Dracula and the Wolfman -- to create a satisfying, scary Halloween treat.


Young Frankenstein -- Mel Brooks' 1974 film is still so funny! The script is extraordinary as is the cast, which includes the fabulous Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn and Teri Garr. It is also the film that simultaneously honored and completely and effectively defanged the original Frankenstein by spoofing it so entirely. Young Frankenstein is laden with sexual innuendo -- "Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!" -- but our kids were neither bothered nor preoccupied by it; they were more interested in lines like "Taffeta, darling!" and "'Abby someone.' 'Abby who?' 'Abby Normal.'" We love Young Frankenstein because of the pace, the dialogue and because it takes a scary story and turns it on its ear.


ET: The Extra-Terrestrial -- When this movie was released in 1982 it frightened and delighted me. Now it does the same thing for my kids. ET falls into the Halloween movie category because of the Halloween scene, the fear (not horror) factor, and the whole Reese's Pieces product placement thing. (My friend and I were packages of the candies for the Halloween following the film's release. My eldest daughter unearthed the costume and has since used it herself.) This is a movie that may truly frighten children of all ages, particularly sensitive and empathetic souls, but it is a wonderful story, well told and expertly made by master filmmaker Steven Spielberg.


Ghostbusters -- Ivan Reitman's 1984 classic starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis perfectly combines bust-a-gut laughter with freaky demonic possession. This movie is not appropriate, I think, for the really young (under 9 or 10 years old) or immature kids. It isn't sophisticated, but the demons might freak out younger kids, there are some sexually suggestive (though not explicit) bits, and the humor is so highly appealing to chronological as well as spiritual 10-year-olds that you may never hear the end of it.

"Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by dickless here."

"Is this true?"

"Yes it's true. This man has no dick."

On the other hand, it contains less colorful cultural catch-phrases like "He slimed me" and "Are you the Gatekeeper?" This is pure fun with a fair amount of spook factor, and my girls love it.


The Addams Family -- The cast of this 1991 release is reason enough to watch this movie; the late Raul Julia plays a dashing, athletic, unpredictable Gomez, Angelica Huston's Mortitia is statuesque, sultry and strong, and little Christina Ricci as Wednesday is watchful, deadly serious and has many of the films best lines. The Addams Family is not scary (not even the sensitive six-year-old Boy Wonder flinched while watching this one); rather it could be described as silly, goofy and even kind of sweet. The Family Addams is undeniably creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky (perhaps they're even ooky), and plenty of fun for a family Halloween movie night.


Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas -- Possibly the only Halloween movie that doubles as a Christmas movie -- or is it the other way around? -- this film is a wonder regardless of the season. Although skeletons, graveyards, jack-o-lanterns and spooks abound, this 1993 PG-rated film is not particularly scary, but it is visually and aurally delightful. A delicious Halloween treat!


Hocus Pocus -- This 1993 picture featuring three witches (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker) reincarnated on Halloween 300 years after their execution for witchcraft is a good, scary family Halloween movie. It is not "horror movie" scary, it's more "suspension of disbelief" scary, especially if you are under the age of 13. The mortal modern kids prevail, and the sometimes scary, sometimes silly witches return from whence they came. This may disturb a young child's sleep for one night, but it shouldn't cause lasting trauma.


Monster House -- This film may be animated, but it is rated PG for a reason, and I would not recommend leaving the kids to watch this one while you raid their candy bags. Monster House is the 2006 Academy Award-nominated picture about a house that is, in fact, a monster. This is the most flat out frightening of the films on my list; it took our family several tries before watching it all the way through, but once we did, we agreed it was a movie we'd have to watch again.