Halloween season is upon us, and while horror movies tend to divide people, there are some delightful offerings out there more suitable for a family audiences. Here's our blog list of six classics.
1. Gremlins (1984)
Joe Dante's fiendishly dark horror-comedy is more a festive movie than a Halloween one. But it's filled with enough memorably icky monsters and creepy moments to make it the quintessential Christmas/Halloween crossover film.
Gremlins was re-rated 12A but it's definitely at the top end of that certificate, being the story of mischievous creatures who wreak havoc on a sleepy American town. Steven Spielberg protege Dante gleefully takes the hatchet to stuffy American suburbia, most famously with the stairlift demise of local busybody Mrs Deagle (Polly Holliday).
Working from a script by Chris Columbus (later of Harry Potter fame), Dante mixes amusingly anarchic scenes (the gremlins getting smashed in a bar) with genuinely unsettling interludes (an anecdotal story about a Father Christmas visit gone terrifyingly wrong). That the tone remains consistently entertaining is credit to the quality of the direction, writing and performances (Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates are a likeable central duo). Jerry Goldsmith's synth-laden score is also a macabre delight.
Of course, the design of the Gremlins helps enormously. Fashioned by Chris Walas, they veer from pointy-eared, reptilian devils to utterly adorable, wide-eyed marvels (the lovely Gizmo, who spawns his evil siblings and sets the plot in motion). Like the film itself, they're sweet and sour in equal measure.
2. Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters, a horror movie? Well, yes, it has more than its fair share of genuinely spooky moments. Ivan Reitman's blockbusting ectoplasmic epic aims first and foremost to tickle the funny bone, and it does so magnificently. This is largely due to the effortless interplay between central ghost-busting team Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis (who co-wrote the script with Aykroyd) and Ernie Hudson. Scene-stealing support from Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and Annie Potts also helps, plus an assortment of razor-sharp lines ("Cats and dogs living together! Mass hysteria!"), the iconic Ecto-1 car and that floor-filling Ray Parker Jr. theme.
However, Ghostbusters also showcases Reitman's skill with memorably creepy atmosphere, particularly in the haunted figure of Weaver's Dana. The scenes in the latter's apartment, which portend the end of days as they're set to Elmer Bernstein's eerie score, are genuinely frightening. However, it's a wholesome, popcorn-spilling kind of scary, the kind where you know, deep down, that everything will be right as rain in the end. Next year's Ghostbusters: Afterlife promises to continue the mythology, with Reitman's son Jason now directing.
3. Hocus Pocus (1993)
Beaches star Bette Midler has a blast as cackling witch Winifred Sanderson in this spookily entertaining Disney offering. Midler teams with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy to brilliant effect for the story of three witches who are unexpectedly resurrected on Halloween night in Salem, Massachusetts. Broomsticks become vacuum cleaners and Guillermo Del Toro favourite Doug Jones makes an early appearance as undead zombie Billy, plus Midler kills it with that rendition of 'I Put a Spell On You'. Good news: Hocus Pocus 2 is said to be on the way with the original witchy trio returning.
4. Monster House (2006)
Director Gil Kenan is well-schooled in the Joe Dante/Steven Spielberg method of scariness, which carefully tows the line between frightening a family audience and comforting them with feel-good schmaltz. His 2015 remake of horror classic Poltergeist skews more towards the teenage/adult end of the market, but for those looking for a nostalgic and family-friendly offering, you can't go wrong with the underrated Monster House.
This slick CGI animation is the tale of a group of kids whose excursion into a haunted building turns into a veritable rollercoaster ride. Spielberg's influence is all over the movie: it's produced through his Amblin Productions label, and features a starry voice cast including Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Catherine O'Hara. Even when things threaten to become hide-behind-the-eyes levels of sinister, the affection towards the characters acts as the equivalent of a warm hug.
5. Coraline (2009)
Now here's an animated family movie that skews very close to horror. Henry Selick adapts Neil Gaiman's menacing story of a bored young girl and a portal into another realm. The eponymous Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning), fed up with apparent neglect from her boring parents, seeks out another realm where she can get anything her heart desires. This includes another mother (voiced with relish by Teri Hatcher) who is outwardly smiley, but with buttons for eyes.
Such ghoulish imagery is Selick's forte – he previously directed The Nightmare Before Christmas for writer/producer Tim Burton. The use of fairy tale imagery to underline the difference between human and inhuman is something that's resonated with us since time immemoral, and that fear is particularly well exploited in Coraline. It's a striking stop motion animation debut from Laika, who've gone on to excel with ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings and Missing Link.
6. Goosebumps (2015)
R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books were the cornerstone for young 1990s horror fans, taking inspiration from all manner of classic monsters. Ghosts, haunted masks, werewolves, you name it – the Goosebumps stories towed the line brilliantly between creepy and comforting. The Goosebumps mythology was adapted to surprisingly excellent effect in Rob Letterman's 2015 movie, which takes an appreciably meta approach to the art of writing and creativity.
The books themselves are at the centre of the story, as Jack Black's kooky writer Stine finds that his literary creations, including scary ventriloquist's doll Slappy, have come to life. That's because the inquisitive kids next door have, of course, broken into his house and read from the weird book that they were supposed to avoid. As suburbia is invaded, Gremlins-style, by a host of creatures, the film does an effective job at scaring, and caring for, its young audience.
What are your favourite kid-friendly Halloween horror movies? Let us know @Cineworld.