By G. Connor Salter, Crosswalk.com
Some Christians may find it strange to see a list of scary but family-friendly movies that parents and their kids can watch for Halloween. While there are debates about whether Halloween celebrates fear and evil, there is a strong tradition of Christian writers—from Dante to C.S. Lewis—creating stories with scary moments where the story provides spiritual lessons. Writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton even argued that it’s wrong to downplay the scary moments in classic fairy tales—stories about brave heroes should have dangerous dragons.
These 10 movies are, with one or two exceptions, appropriate for children of any age. Some are more funny than spooky, but each avoids becoming too dark to frighten many children. Almost every one has a clear moral theme that will make for fruitful discussion afterward.
Note: like Christianity.com’s article on horror movies for grownups with Christian themes, each entry on this list includes links to descriptions of its content. Each entry also notes whether the movie features ghosts or other supernatural content.
Further Reading: A Christian Perspective on Horror in Movies and Culture
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Maya23K
1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Many people sit down to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas every December. It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown may not have the same iconic status, but it’s an equally entertaining cartoon. Like its famous predecessor, it perfectly captures the Peanuts comic strip’s humor.
The story is simple: Halloween time has come again. Most members of the Peanuts gang are preparing for trick or treating. Snoopy will (as usual) be pretending to be a WWI flying ace, flying his doghouse through the air to hunt the Red Baron. Linus is sending a letter to the Great Pumpkin, who he believes will leave presents in a sincere-looking pumpkin patch for whatever child believes the most in him.
As with many of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts stories, something profound exists at the heart of this silly story. The story provides plenty of laughs and occasional spooky moments. It also raises intriguing questions about the nature of faith and about true belief versus hypocrisy.
Further Reading: 3 Things Horror Movies Can Teach You about Your Faith
Photo Credit: © Lee Mendelson Productions
If any current writer has become known for telling scary yet redemptive stories for children, it’s Neil Gaiman. Coraline tells the story of a girl named Coraline who discovers a hidden other world through a door in her parents’ new apartment, leading to a seemingly perfect world with seemingly perfect versions of her parents. The biggest difference is that these “other parents” have buttons for eyes… and tell Coraline she’s welcome to stay if she accepts buttons for eyes.
Like the book (which Gaiman discovered helped many female readers deal with trauma), it’s a movie with truly scary images yet a redemptive message. Coraline has to decide which matters more—the real world with its complexities or a fantasy version that seems to fit all her dreams. To determine whether her “other mother” truly loves her and wants to hurt her, she has to consider what love truly is. In the end, she has to make the brave choice to fight evil even if it hurts. Scarier than many movies on this list, it’s also perhaps the most educational and uplifting by the end.
Further Reading: 10 Fun Family-Friendly Scary Movies for Halloween
Photo Credit: © Laika Entertainment
3. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Viewers will argue until the end of time whether this movie makes for better viewing at Christmas or Halloween. Since it also mentions Valentine’s Day and other notable holidays, a good case could be made for watching it on any holiday.
In Halloween Town, Jack Skellington is having a crisis. He’s good at organizing the event every year—coming up with ways to scare humans, sending the monsters out to the right locations—but wonders if he wants to scare people anymore. A chance trip leads him to the North Pole, and Jack gets an idea: why not steal Santa’s job for a change of pace? His ideas of what kids want for Christmas prove unconventional, and his friend Sally worries that Jack’s attempt to find something new may create a bigger problem.
The mishmash of cheery Christmas imagery and darker Halloween imagery makes the movie simultaneously scary and lighthearted. Its plot even raises a question that few children’s movies raise: does following our dreams work if we try things that don’t fit us?
Further Reading: Are Scary Ghost Stories Right for Christmas?
Photo Credit: © Disney
4. Werewolf by Night
Most viewers know the Marvel Cinematic Universe for its superhero movies. However, it has expanded with shorter films discussing little pockets of the universe where other characters have their own exciting adventures. Werewolf By Night tells the story of a monster-hunting society with a problem. Its leading member has died, and the family must decide who will inherit his title. The remaining relatives must compete to see who has the brains and bravery to lead. . . in a maze which may have monsters of it own.
There are a few scares—would it be a spoiler to say there’s a werewolf involved?—and action scenes intense enough to make this movie too much for small children. However, the fights are only as intense as a typical Marvel superhero fight scene, and any scares are combined with humor. Adults may enjoy the movie most because they can spot references to The House on Haunted Hill and the 1930s Universal monster movies. Kids will appreciate its mix of scares, humor, and adventure.
Further Reading: Should Christians Watch Horror Movies?
Photo Credit: © Disney
5. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Any of the Wallace & Gromit adventures are worth watching, but this movie, so far the only feature-length movie about them, brings something special to the table. It has all of the series’ classic elements—the silly inventions, the chase scenes, the foolish owner and his much wiser pet dog. Then it adds a plot spoofing classic British horror films like The Curse of the Werewolf.
Wallace thinks he can stop his town’s rabbit population from eating everyone’s vegetables by brainwashing them to hate vegetables. His machine goes awry, and after one of the test rabbits escapes, it appears that a giant rabbit is prowling everyone’s garden patch. As usual, Gromit will have to use his resources to solve the problem . . . hopefully before the fall festival arrives.
A scary-yet-funny spoof that kids will enjoy for its great story, and grownups will enjoy even more as they spot the references.
Further Reading: What We Can Learn from the Spookiest Scene in the Bible
Photo Credit: © Aardman/DreamWorks
6. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Plenty of classic Disney movies have scary moments that could make for great Halloween viewing. The company’s classic short cartoons (like “Skeleton Dance”) are also worth watching as a family. However, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is one of the few movie-length classic Disney movies that is truly scary—at least the second half.
Like many 1940s Disney movies, this is an anthology—two loosely connected short films. The first part is a loose adaptation of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, with plenty of comedy and some terrific chase scenes. The second half is a fairly close adaptation of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Bing Crosby narrates the story, including providing the singing voices in several musical sequences. The story ends in a thrilling chase where the hero must outrun the Headless Horseman. It’s classic Disney at its darkest, but it mixes the scares with silliness and some great music.
Further Reading: Is It Possible to Have a Christian Halloween?
Photo Credit: © Disney
7. The Amazing Mr. Blunden
There are two movies based on the children’s book Ghosts by Antonia Barber, both called The Amazing Mr. Blunden. As of this writing, the 1972 movie is the only one easy to find and watch, and it’s a real treat for families who enjoy classic British period dramas like Pride and Prejudice or some of the older Christmas Carol adaptations.
The story is simple. In 1940s England, a mother with three children gets a mysterious offer to become caretakers of an old mansion. The man who makes the offer, Mr. Blunden, asks the two oldest children, Sarah and Jamie, whether they would be bothered if they saw a ghost. When they reach the mansion, they meet two ghosts who tell a story about dark events that happened a century ago and caused the mansion’s ruin. As Sarah and Jamie learn what happened, they discover that a little magic and bravery may help them solve the crime that caused so much pain.
The Amazing Mr. Blunden is more of a silly mystery (a story about dark events in the past, the adventure to solve the case) than a scary story. At worst, the ghost scenes become slightly creepy, but no gory or disturbing images appear. Because the story doesn’t take ghosts too seriously, the spooky elements become a way for the movie to consider interesting themes: why people regret their past mistakes, what it takes to admit past mistakes, and what it takes to be brave and do better next time.
A sometimes silly, sometimes spooky story about sacrifice, guilt, and redemption.
Further Reading: What Does the Bible Say about Ghosts?
Photo Credit: © Hemisphere Productions/Hemdale
When Tim Burton made the live-action short film Frankenweenie in 1984, Disney executives worried it was too scary for kids. Test audiences who saw it alongside Pinocchio actually found Pinocchio more frightening. Part of the reason may be that Burton’s movie sounds dark—a Frankenstein spoof about a pet dog—but its concept is so silly it’s hard to find it truly disturbing. Both the short film and the longer 2010 stop-motion film adaptation are spooky without being too ghoulish and great fun.
The story is simple. Victor Frankenstein is a precocious boy growing up in a suburban town called New Holland. When his dog, Sparky, dies in a car crash, Victor tries to use electricity to bring Sparky back. The result works. However, once word gets around that Victor can bring back dead pets, his friends and enemies want the same power.
Like Burton’s best movies, Frankenweenie becomes more about the characters’ emotional journeys than the special effects or the odd concept. It even manages to be heartwarming in a quirky way as Victor deals with tough questions about love and loss.
Further Reading: Crosswalk – Frankenweenie Review
Photo Credit: © Disney
9. The Raven
Vincent Price made plenty of scary movies and plenty of funny movies. Sometimes, he made movies that combined the two. The Raven is one of his better horror comedies and probably the most surprising. At first, the movie looks like what the title suggests: a movie based on the Edgar Allan Poe poem, where the plot features a grieving man and a raven that breaks into his house. Then the raven starts talking, demanding the hero make a potion to turn him back into a man. From there, the story becomes a tale about magicians, intrigues in ancient castles, chases, and wizard battles featuring falling eggs and floating chairs.
The special effects are minimal but well-handled. The story manages to spoof Poe’s work while giving some genuine scares and dramatic moments. The comedy is similar to the Scooby-Doo series (chases, slapstick, snappy comebacks), but faster and wittier. A fun movie for any age group to enjoy together.
Further Reading: Why Do We Celebrate Fear at Halloween?
Photo Credit: © Alta Vista Productions/American International Pictures
10. The Witches
Even Roald Dahl’s most famous children’s books (like The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) had scary moments. The Witches is one of his darker stories, and this adaptation perfectly captures the story’s mix of light and dark.
The story begins with Luke’s grandmother warning him about witches. When he and his grandmother check into a hotel, he finds out the convention of women holding a secret meeting in a private room aren’t ordinary women. They are witches planning an international conspiracy to destroy the world’s children. Luke knows that his grandmother is the only one who will believe him. He must move fast to stop the witches before they can execute their sinister plans.
Some parents may be concerned about showing a movie with “witches” in its title, but the villains and their plans have little to do with actual witchcraft. The witches are creepy, but their magic is storybook magic more than historically accurate witchcraft, and their evil plan resembles Bond villain plans more than anything genuine pagans do.
Further Reading: Horror Stories in the Bible
Photo Credit: © Warner Bros
Bonus Suggestion: Wendell & Wild
Wendell & Wild is a good example of a movie that uses religious imagery in non-traditional ways but so irreverently that viewers can’t call it an anti-religious film.
The story sounds disturbing. Kat Elliott lost her parents in a car crash—an encounter with death that has given her extrasensory powers. Other characters describe the gift as making her a “Hell Maiden.” In the underworld (a strange world featuring a theme park called Scream Fair run by a giant demon called Buffalo Belzer), two demons named Wendell and Wild have a dream: they want to quit their job fixing Buffalo Belzer’s hairline and get into the human world. Once there, they want to raise funds to build a rival theme park to Scream Fair. Kat’s powers mean she can communicate with them. However, their plan—she helps them enter the human world, then they resurrect her parents—gets complicated fast.
The story references demons, hell, and raising the dead. Still, each element is so absurd (Wendell and Wild try to use Buffalo Belzer’s hair cream to raise the dead) that these references obviously don’t match biblical depictions of heaven, hell, and spirits. Parents with small children not used to absurd fantasy movies with religious imagery may want to tread carefully. Anyone who can tell the difference between the Bible and fantasy will see Wendell & Wild as a dark yet fun romp so silly it can’t be called subversive or blasphemous. The story’s true message is that trying to raise the dead solves nothing, that trauma must be faced, and that facing one’s pain is complicated but worth it.
Further Reading: Should Christians Avoid or Embrace the Horror Genre?
Photo Credit: © Netflix