As we have already discovered, I am not a fan of horror films. If you need a refresher, read my Top 5 Non-Horror Halloween Films. Thankfully for me, and other non-horror enthusiasts, there are plenty of Halloween children’s films for us to enjoy. But let’s be honest, some children’s films are creepy as all hell. Whether or not the films actually intend to be creepy, the visual and characters are just off-putting, the subject matter just a bit too dark or violent, or films that make you go “HOLY HELL. HOW WAS THIS EVER MARKETED TOWARDS CHILDREN?” These following children’s films will keep little ones awake at night, despite the fact they were marketed to children. So if you want to gradually introduce your children to the horror genre (or if you just want to scare your annoying little cousin this Halloween), these 5 Creepy Children’s films are for you.
Note, the entire film as to have an air of creepiness, not just one scene. So no Dumbo and his lucid acid trip dreams, no Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and his scary boat ride, and definitely not Fantasia when Satan shows up in the last few minutes. Yeah, Satan shows up in a Disney film and it’s not on the list (do not worry, I will make up for it).
But those films will be our Honourable Mentions, along with Watership Down, The Witches, The Neverending Story, and most of Tim Burton’s filmography.
5) Return to Oz (1985)
Return to Oz is the unofficial sequel of the 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, and whatever colourful, fanciful and magical being was in the original film is drained for the 1985 film. Yes, it is still in the wildly creative world of Oz, but Oz itself has had the life drained out of it with the new rule of the Nome King and Dorothy Gale being sent to electro-shock therapy for her insomnia in the months following the events of the 1939 film. Not creepy enough? Get a look at the creatures in Oz. Dorothy three trusted companions get a strange makeover (they get turned to stone) and just take a look at the Wheelers. No seriously, take a look and tell me that they will not haunt the dreams of a child.
I do not think that Return to Oz was intentionally supposed to be creepy, but when you make Oz that drab and full outright strange looking creatures, it just is. On the upside, it did win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
4) Monster House (2006)
I was a teenager when Monster House came out and there was one little kid laughing in front of me every time the house ate a person. Every. Time. I’m sure this kid is now a fan of The Amityville Horror (1979) and The Haunting (1963), because if children watch Monster House, they are totally prepared to watch those two classic horror films. It’s all about the spirit of the house who eats people, and the neighbourhood kids are fearful of what will happen on Halloween night. Other than the fact this house literally comes alive becoming something tangible and thus able to be defeated, it is still a house that eats people. How is that not creepy? It has a similar plot to two horror classic but instead of just haunting people, it eats them. Yes, it is still a children’s film and is able to produce a few tears from the audience with a happy ending, but the house EATS people. Never get over the fact that a children’s film was created where a house eats people.
3) The Dark Crystal (1982) / The Black Cauldron (1985)
It was difficult to choose between these two films on which was creepier. There are both quest based films; one male and one female must complete the quest with the assistance of some furry animal to get a plainly simple object described by an ominous adjective before the evil, magical being(s) get it. The quest almost fails and someone dies, but miraculously the quest is completed and the dead person gets revived – the day is saved! Yeah! They are almost identical in premise, but gets has the some edge over the other. The Dark Crystal is from Jim Henson’s mind and his puppets, and let’s be honest, puppets are as creepy as clowns, especially Henson’s. Sure, they are beautiful, highly detailed, and Henson can create a world like no other, but the visuals are quite creepy. The Black Cauldron is inspired by Welsh mythology and remember when I said despite Satan being in a Disney film, it is not on this list? The Black Cauldron has that covered. The Horned King looks like a woodsy Satan and has his own army of the undead. Also, The Black Cauldron is the first animated Disney film to be rated PG. In both films, the imagery is the most creepy part, but they both deal with death and evil, complex ideas for children. While quest based films are most notable in the fantasy genre than the horror genre, both of these films fit comfortably in the dark fantasy genre (a combination of both). The Dark Crystal is the much better film of the two, but since they are both so similar that they both deserve to be on this list.
2) Gremlins (1982)
So by this point in the list, we should acknowledge that the 80’s were a prime time for creepy children’s films, which makes sense as it was also the golden age of horror films. But Gremlins is more violent than creepy, but it was still marketed for children and was rated PG. Gremlins is actually one of the films credited with the creation of the PG-13 rating. There is a scene where a gremlin gets put in the microwave and explodes. A) Why was that in a children’s film? B) There a moment in the novel American Psycho in which an animal is put in a microwave and it did not make it in the film American Psycho (2000) for being too violent. C) SO WHY WAS THAT IN A CHILDREN’S FILM??? I have to justify Gremlins being on this list, so let’s be honest, the gremlins are creepy puppets. I hate puppets. It’s hard to decide if Gremlins is truly holiday horror film or misjudged film that was wrongly marketed towards children with a wonderful Christmas time setting and cute Gizmo. Gremlins is too dark, too violent yet also creepy but does it ever have a simple moral for children to follow, listen to the rules. Gremlins is the film for children to graduate from creepy children’s films to outright horror. So why is it not first on this list?
1) Coraline (2009)
What do you get when you put together a Neil Gaiman novel, Henry Selick, and a new production studio, Laika, releasing its first feature film? You get Coraline, the number one spot on our list. Coraline is creepy in ever sense of the word, but is also straight from the mind of a child with thoughts many children have had. What child would not want to run away from home to perfect parents and a perfect life? Coraline is an excellent mix of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Monkey’s Paw (1948), and every psychological horror film involving an alternate reality. It has standard horror tropes, such as black cats as bad omens and ghostly spirits of dead children. Coraline has a slow place and just lingers in its air of creepiness. It is more complex than tradition children’s films, but has a simple moral of to be careful what you wish for (which is the tag line of the film). It feels like traditional gothic horror that is contemplative and with high risk, but not by a monster, but by their own mind. Coraline has creepy ingrained in every frame. Plus, the people in the idealized world look like puppets.
Okay, if you learned anything from this list, it is that I hate puppets and that these 5 children’s films are great gateway films to guide children towards horror films. Did we miss any of your favourite creepy children’s films? Or do any of these films still scare today? We Eat Films’s Road to Halloween ends for this year, so enjoy your Halloween and maybe invite the neighbourhood kids to watch Gremlins. We’ll see if they ever want to play tricks at your house again.