Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Movies You Can Watch With Your Kids

Are you freaked out by Friday the 13th? Scared stiff by Silence of the Lambs? Terrified at the mere mention of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

Then put those monstrous movies aside and host a family-friendly fright fest this weekend. Here’s a roundup of creepy creature features that are good, spooky fun, but that won’t leave you too harried, haunted or horrified to enjoy .

Frankenstein (1931)

, who kids may know from his voice work in , steals the show as the featured creature in Universal’s Frankenstein, a James Whale-directed spectacle about a mad scientist who creates a living being (“It’s Alive! Alive!”) from stolen body parts. Amidst gothic architecture, torch-wielding villagers and the impending marriage of his creator (Colin Clive), a gaunt, lumbering, emotive, almost childlike Karloff is at once menacing and sympathetic (props also to makeup artist Jack Pierce). After watching this film, along with sequels Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein, check out Mel Brooks’ laugh-out-loud parody/homage, Young Frankenstein.
Recommended for ages 8 and up.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Dreamlike. Ethereal. Hypnotic. Haunting. Surreal. These words only half-describe , an artfully directed film shot in Lawrence, Kan., and Salt Lake City, Utah, on a shoestring budget (estimated at $30,000). The story follows Mary Henry, a beautiful young organist who survives a car accident, only to be haunted throughout the rest of the film by a ghastly ghoul (played by director Herk Harvey). The movie wallowed in obscurity for years, but has become a cult classic along the lines of such similar (at least in tone) ’60s black-and-white thrillers as Dementia 13, Spider Baby and .
Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Mad Monster Party (1967)

Most everyone is familiar with the classic stop-motion animated Christmas TV specials produced by Rankin/Bass (Frosty the Snowman, etc.) Far fewer people are hip to their Halloween-friendly theatrical release, . Boris Karloff plays the voice of Baron Von Frankenstein, a retiring mad scientist who plans to leave his eerie enterprise to his nerdy nephew, Felix Flankin. Dracula, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Monster’s Mate (Phyllis Diller) and others of their ill-tempered ilk are less than happy with this ill-advised arrangement, leading to a fun-filled monster bash from beginning to end, the latter of which pays hilarious homage to King Kong and Some Like it Hot.
Recommended for ages 5 and up.

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

William Shatner, as veterinarian “Rack” Hansen, turns in one of his better—not to mention least hammy—performances in , a nature-run-amuck B-movie of the type that was so prevalent during the 1970s. Thousands of tarantulas attack the denizens of Verde Valley, Arizona, who have depleted the arachnids’ natural food supply with insecticides. Real spiders were used during filming, and the characters, particularly Hansen, seem genuinely scared. Thanks to an increasing sense of menace as things get more and more desperate, Kingdom succeeds where many similar movies fail, giving viewers an experience they’ll likely never forget. The bone-chilling ending is especially effective.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Poltergeist (1982)

Tobe Hooper’s best film (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a close second), is truly a product of its era, yet it holds up remarkably well. The movie moves along at a relatively leisurely pace, letting viewers get to know the characters before putting them in explicit danger. Little Carol Anne’s trademark “They’re here” pertains to ghosts communicating through the family television set, setting the stage for escalating supernatural scares, from impossibly stacked chairs to a raging storm to the abduction of Carol Anne into a spectral void. JoBeth Williams’ impassioned performance as the loving wife and mother gives the film an eerie sense of verisimilitude, helping make it a true time-honored classic.
Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Ghostbusters (1984)

While  didn’t invent the horror comedy (the genre goes back at least as far as 1914 with Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ghost Breaker), it did reinvent the notion of mixing scares with laughs. Produced and directed by Ivan Reitman, the film has numerous spectacular and now iconic elements, including Ray Parker Jr.’s catchy pop theme song, terrific special effects (Who can forget the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man?) and a terrific cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who form a ghost removal service. Aykroyd and Ramis also wrote the screenplay, which is clever and frequently hilarious. What you gonna watch? Ghostbusters!
Recommended for ages 13 and up.

The Monster Squad (1987)

The Monster Squad is somewhat similar to , but with Universal-style monsters instead of pirates. The plot doesn’t exactly break new ground—Count Dracula, with the help of the Wolfman, the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, must retrieve an amulet before midnight—but the fast-paced action and Stan Winston’s cool creature designs will entertain all but the most jaded of horror hounds. A sympathetic Frankenstein monster sides with the titular squad of teenage boys to thwart the Count’s plan, giving the film some heart. Creative creature deaths and well-placed humor add to the fun.
Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Easily one of Tim Burton’s better films,  stars Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as a cute, likeable couple who die in a car accident and, as ghosts, return to haunt their spacious yet comfortable New England home. Unfortunately, pretentious, obnoxiously rich bores move in, and the dead duo must turn to a crazed ghoul named Betelgeuse to get rid of them. Played by a pre-Batman Michael Keaton, Betelgeuse, like the film itself, is bizarre, manic and outrageously funny. A wall-to-wall parade of clever bits, quirky characters, colorful sight gags and otherworldly comedy (the waiting room of the dead is hysterical), Beetlejuice seems tailor-made for Halloween.
Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost (1999)

The Witch’s Ghost is the second in a surprisingly entertaining series of direct-to-video  films in which the ghoulish goings-on are real and not simply bad guys in masks. Tim Curry voices Ben Ravencroft, a Stephen King-like New Englander who invites Mystery, Inc. to his hometown for the Autumn Harvest Festival. As the title implies, the town is haunted by a witch’s ghost, scaring up frolicsome frights and even a few surprises as the gang investigates. Catchy pop tunes by a vampy cartoon trio called “The Hex Girls,” a rousing musical score and a rollicking good version of the classic TV show theme by Billy Ray Cyrus add to the fun.  
Recommended for ages 5 to 15.

Monster House (2006)

The computer animated  is the most flawed film on this list; the back story doesn’t quite work, and the African-American deputy is an unfunny stereotype. But its star—a living, breathing, pulsating haunted house—is enough to make it a terrific pick for a Halloween fright fest. A kid named DJ lives across the street from a cranky old man who keeps anything—toys, tricycles, basketballs, etc.—that happens to get on his lawn. The film tries with only marginal success to elicit sympathy for the old man, but his house, with its windows for eyes, jagged boards for teeth, and long red carpet for a tongue, is a truly memorable character.
Recommended for ages 10-15.

Ten more family-friendly fright flicks to enjoy this weekend:

The Wolf Man (1941; recommended for ages 8 and up)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948; recommended for ages 8 and up)
House of Wax (1953; recommended for ages 10 and up)
Horror of Dracula (1958; recommended for ages 13 and up)
The Birds (1963; recommended for ages 13 and up)
Gremlins (1984; recommended for ages 13 and up)
The Witches (1990; recommended for ages 8 and up)
Halloweentown (1998; recommended for ages 8 to 15)
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005; recommended for ages 5 and up)
Coraline (2009; recommended for ages 10 and up)

1 comment:

Elizabeth J. Neal said...
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