One of the most popular ways to spend Halloween and the days leading up to it is by watching old monster movies, old dark house movies, or various other Halloween-themed shows. The right movies can help put you in the mood for the holiday and can be a great way to pass the time while waiting for trick-or-treaters to show up.
I give the ratings for the movies I describe, but you'll notice that some of them just say "passed" or "approved." These are old movies which were rated under a different rating system from the one we use today. Most of the older movies are relatively tame by modern standards, but I would still recommend caution when showing Halloween movies to young children. Different children have different levels of tolerance for scary things or the violence or risque humor that often accompany the films made for adults. Keep in mind the ages of children who may be watching and how well they seem to tolerate subjects. Sometimes, I point out potential problem areas in my descriptions. When in doubt, read more detailed movie reviews or see the movie yourself before showing it to children. The links on the movie titles in the tables below are to more detailed descriptions of each movie. Sometimes, you can find these movies or clips of them on YouTube, especially the older ones.
Major Movie Franchises and Popular Series
There are some major movies series with multiple sequels that are considered Halloween classics. If you and your friends are fans of the series, have a movie marathon! I don't describe these in a lot of detail, movie by movie, because a number of them are slasher series, and I'm not really into this style of movie myself. Instead, I've provided links to other sites where they are described in more detail.
|Name of Franchise||Years||Ratings||Description|
|Halloween||1978-2018||R||The Halloween franchise is notable for being a series for adults that is specifically about Halloween, a novelty at the time the first movie was created. The villain, Michael Myers, is an immortal psychopath who murders people on Halloween, beginning with his own sister when he is still a young child. As he grows up, he breaks free from secure facilities where he is held and continues to target people, especially members of his own family.|
|Friday the 13th||1980-2009||R||Jason was a strange kid who supposedly drowned at a summer camp while the teenage counselors who were supposed to be looking after him were partying. Jason's mother's anger at her son's death led her to take bloody revenge at the same camp years later, but it is also later revealed that Jason is still alive, and he sets out to take bloody vengeance himself.|
|Nightmare on Elm Street||1984-2010||R||A serial killer who targets children can kill people in their sleep by invading their dreams.|
|Ghostbusters||1984-2016||PG for the original movies,
PG-13 for the reboot
|One of the more humorous franchises. A couple of parapsychologists invent a way to trap ghosts and go into business, although most people don't take him and his friends seriously until they have to save the city from supernatural threats. There were two movies in this series in the 1980s and a couple of cartoon series. In 2016, there was a reboot movie of the original in which all the Ghostbusters were women instead of men.|
Classical Monster Movies
These classics have been around for years, some based on characters from classical literature, and are still loved by horror fans, especially at this time of year. There are often multiple versions of each of these, and some even have sequels, but I tried to focus on the most iconic versions. Most of these wouldn't be good for every young children, but there are some that older children might appreciate, and it can be good to introduce children to the classics. Most of the classic monster movies are much tamer than the modern versions and much easier for kids to watch than any movie that involves serial killers.
|Name of Movie||Year||Rating||Description|
|Frankenstein||1931||Passed||Based on Mary Shelley's famous novel. A scientist learns how to give life to a dead body but finds that he cannot control the creature that he created. There have been many versions of Frankenstein over the years, and some movies which are sequels to the original story. The year I've given is for the version in which Boris Karloff plays the role of the monster. Note: "Frankenstein" is the name of the scientist. The monster is "Frankenstein's monster" and has no other name. But, over the years, people came to associate the name "Frankenstein" with the monster itself, so when people dress up as "Frankenstein" for Halloween, they're really dressing as the monster.|
|Dracula||1931||Passed||Based on Bram Stoker's famous novel. A mysterious stranger arrives in an English town. Although he seems quite handsome and charming, he is actually a vampire, preying upon the local population. There are many versions, but I recommend the classic one with Bela Lugosi.|
|The Mummy||1932||Approved||Archaeologists discover the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian high priest, Imhotep (played by Boris Karloff). An assistant at the dig accidentally brings the mummy back to life by reading from an old scroll, and the mummy goes in search of the woman who is the reincarnation of his former lover. There are many different versions of The Mummy and sequels to some of them, but the version with Boris Karloff is iconic.|
Old Dark House Movies
When you think about haunted houses or at least spooky old mansions, this is the sort of movie you think of. Most of these are old classics, although there are some that are modern movies done in a similar style. Some of them have actual hauntings, but many of them are actually atmospheric mysteries, where the ghosts aren't real and there are human villains (Kind of like adult versions of Scooby-Doo shows, only without the talking dog). There are also some, including the film which gave this particular genre its name, which are more psychological: no ghosts or supernatural, just strange things happening in an isolated old house, which are the product of the disturbed mind(s) of the people there. It's not always a mystery to be solved as much as suspense about what the innocent people are going to do about the dangers that come from their fellow human beings. I particularly like this genre of movie, which is why I know a lot of them!
|Name of Movie||Year||Rating||Description|
|The Old Dark House||1932||TV-G||The movie which gave this genre its name. A group of travelers are stranded on a stormy night and forced to seek shelter at an isolated old mansion that is inhabited by a strange and disturbing family, one of which is a dangerous killer bent on setting fire to the house and destroying everyone in it. Based on a novel (Benighted by J.B. Priestly), although the movie has a happier ending than the book. In spite of the relatively tame rating, I wouldn't recommend this for kids at all.|
|The Cat and the Canary||1927||Not Rated||A silent film based on an older stage play. A wealthy, eccentric, old man dies, leaving a strange will to determine which of his greedy relatives will inherit from his estate. The will is to be read in his spooky old house years after his death, and in case something happens to the main beneficiary, there is a secret alternate one specified. However, the alternate heir is already aware of the terms of the will and plans to take steps to get rid of the pretty young heiress who stands between him and a fortune. The shy, somewhat cowardly man who loves her has to find a way to save her and uncover the villain! There's a lot of comedy involved, but I think the later version with Bob Hope is even funnier. You can see this version on YouTube.|
|The House on Haunted Hill||1959||Not Rated||An eccentric millionaire (Vincent Price) and his wife invite a group of strangers to spend the night in a mansion where a series of murders took place and which may be haunted. If the guests stay for the entire night, the millionaire will pay them each $10,000. He says that the object of the party is to see if they can see any ghosts, but some of the guests suspect that he has an ulterior motive, and the owner of the house insists that some of them might be ghosts themselves before the night is over. When the millionaire's wife is found dead, is she a victim of murder, suicide, or the ghosts that inhabit the house? Relatively tame by modern standards, I still wouldn't recommend it for kids.
There was a 1999 remake with a somewhat different plot in which a rich man rents a house that was formerly a mental hospital for his wife's birthday party. The remake is rated R and is much more gorey than the original film. Also, in the original film, (spoiler) there are no real ghosts (at least, there apparently aren't), and in the remake, there are. I prefer the original.
|The Haunting||1963||G||Based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. In spite of its tame rating, this is definitely a horror film, and the ending isn't happy, so be careful showing when letting children see it. A doctor studying the paranormal invites a group of people with apparent psychic abilities to stay with him in a house that seems to be haunted. One of them will never leave. A remake from 1999 has a more adult rating.|
Comedies and Spoofs
Add a little fun to the scare with movies, which are intentionally funny. Some of them are remakes of scarier, more serious movies from other genres.
|Name of Movie||Year||Rating||Description|
|The Cat and the Canary||1939||Basically the same story as the older silent film version, but this is a sound movie with Bob Hope playing the part of the hero. A wealthy, eccentric, old man dies, leaving a strange will to determine which of his greedy relatives will inherit from his estate. The will is to be read in his spooky old house years after his death, and in case something happens to the main beneficiary, there is a secret alternate one specified. However, the alternate heir is already aware of the terms of the will and plans to take steps to get rid of the pretty young heiress who stands between him and a fortune. The somewhat cowardly radio actor who loves her has to find a way to save her and uncover the villain! Sometimes, you can find clips on YouTube.|
|The Ghost Breakers||1940||Passed||The Cat and the Canary version with Bob Hope was so popular that they decided to make another, similar type haunted house mystery with him and Paulette Goddard the following year. In this movie, Paulette Goddard plays Mary Carter, a young woman who has just inherited her family's old castle down in Cuba and is traveling there to see it for the first time. However, she is stalked by sinister characters and repeated offers from a mysterious stranger to buy the castle. People constantly warn Mary that the castle is supposed to be haunted and that people who spend the night there seldom survive. Bob Hope's character, Larry Lawrence, a radio star, accidentally crosses paths with Mary when he suspects that a gangster attempted to kill him and when he believes that he may have shot the assassin. He ends up accompanying Mary to Cuba along with his servant and sidekick, Alex (played by Willie Best). I'll warn you that this is one of those old movies that has a black comic relief servant, although I really think that it's one of Willie Best's best roles. Black actors of this time were often underappreciated, and Willie Best often played the role of a servant in movies like this, but Alex is much brighter and more interesting than most of the similar roles of this time which are intended as comic relief. Just be aware that there is that type of character there.|
|Dark and Stormy Night||2009||Not Rated||A parody/hommage to the old dark house genre. Contains references to many older films, especially The Cat and the Canary. A group consisting of greedy relatives, bizarre friends, and a couple of reporters assembles at an old dark house to hear the reading of the will of an eccentric old man. However, the old man's lawyer is murdered before he can read the addendum to the old man's will, leaving the ownership of the estate in doubt. As a serial killer stalks the house and people are murdered, the reporters struggle to find the killer and the missing part of the will before they end up as victims themselves! Meanwhile, the cab driver just wants the 35 cents one of the reporters owes him. This movie isn't rated, but it's pretty tame as murder mysteries go, imitating the older style of movies which are not graphically violent and include little or no bad langauge or innuendo. I can't think of anything in the movie which would be offensive for a child old enough to watch murder mystery movies. The dvd has both black-and-white and color versions of the movie.|
|The Ghost and Mr. Chicken||1966||G||Don Knotts plays an aspiring reporter who works as a type-setter for a small-town newspaper. Years ago, a murder/suicide took place in an old house in town, and when people hear that the murderer's nephew is planning to have the old house torn down, the asprining reporter's boss agrees to let him write a story about it, provided that he is willing to spend a night in the house himself. He does so, and sees a lot of frightening things, but when the nephew hears about it, he sues the paper, saying that the story is made up. The aspiring reporter is challenged to prove what he says he saw, which means going back into the spooky old house and uncovering the truth behind the past murder. Although spooky, the movie is generally safe for family viewing. Sometimes, you can find clips on YouTube.|
|Clue||1985||PG||This movie is based on the classic mystery board game, Clue (also known as Cluedo). An unknown person invites a group of strangers to an isolated mansion to reveal the secrets of the person who has been blackmailing each of them. When the blackmailer, known as Mr. Boddy, is killed, they try to discover which of them is responsible before the police are called in and the guilty secrets they are being blackmailed for are revealed. A lot of the jokes have innuendos that wouldn't be appropriate for kids. As a gimmick, there are three different endings to the movie (like the different possible endings in the game), and when it was shown in theaters, different theaters showed different endings. When you get a commercial copy of the movie, it comes with all three endings. Sometimes, you can find clips on YouTube.|
|Young Frankenstein||1974||PG||A descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein goes to his family's ancestral home, where he is inspired to repeat his grandfather's experiments. This movie parodies aspects of other Frankenstein movies. Use caution when showing it to children because of the innuendos. Stars Gene Wilder.|
|Haunted Honeymoon||1986||PG||This movie parodies a number of other old movies, especially those in the old dark house genre. Gene Wilder plays a radio actor in the 1930s who is about to be married. However, he has also been deeply troubled by repressed memories from his childhood which have been interfering with his ability to continue acting in the scary radio programs that have made him famous. His uncle has devised an experimental psychological technique to help him that involves intentionally frightening him in order to force him to confront his fears. Unfortunately, as the family gathers at Aunt Kate's spooky old mansion for the wedding, one of the people has sinister intentions toward Larry, and murder attempts are masked by the well-intentioned scary pranks that the other family members are playing. Some of the jokes are definitely not for kids! Sometimes, you can find clips on YouTube.|
Family-Friendly and Kids' Movies
These are movies that are specifically indented for children and families. Pretty much every Scooby-Doo movie as well as the episodes can be good for Halloween. There are too many of them to cover here, but they are very Halloween-appropriate.
|Name of Movie||Year||Rating||Description|
|It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown||1966||Not Rated||An iconic children's Halloween special that has remained popular for decades. Personally, I didn't like it much as a kid because it seemed a little too disjoined/episodic and difficult to follow, but it does have some funny moments. A group of neighborhood kids go trick-or-treating and have a Halloween party while one of their friends remains convinced that if he waits in a pumpkin patch all night, "The Great Pumpkin" will show up and give toys to all the good kids.|
|The Legend of Sleepy Hollow||1949||Approved||A Disney short film paired with The Wind in the Willows in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Based on the classic story by Washington Irving. A nervous, superstitious school teacher in a small town along the Hudson River attempts to woo a beautiful, wealthy young woman, competing against a much bolder rival. Then, after a party at which the guests tell scary stories about a local legend of a headless horseman, the school teacher has a frightening encounter with the ghost.|
|Ernest Scared Stupid||1991||PG||Part of the Ernest series of movies. Ernest is a good-natured but dim-witted man. In this movie, it's close to Halloween, and Ernest accidentally reawakens a legendary troll in his home town that abducts children and turns them into little wooden dolls in order to increase his powers.|
|Spaced Invaders||1990||PG||A group of aliens attempts to invade Earth on Halloween, becoming confused when they overhear a broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds and thinking that their people have already started an invasion. Because the War of the Worlds ends with the destruction of the invaders, they also come to believe that the rest of their fleet has been destroyed. Most of the adults in the community where they landed think that the aliens are just kids in Halloween costumes, but they are befriended by human children, who later help them to leave Earth. Corny but fun! Sometimes, you can find it or clips of it, on YouTube.|
|The Goonies||1985||PG||Not directly related to Halloween, this movie is sometimes recommended for Halloween because of its features children hunting for pirate treasure in a series of tunnels under their town, needing to avoid dangerous traps and solve puzzles. The children hope that, by finding a legendary treasure, they will be able to save their homes from a greedy developer. This is an iconic '80s movie! Sometimes, you can find it or clips of it, on YouTube.|
|Hotel Transylvania||2012||PG||When Dracula's wife is killed by an angry mob, he goes into hiding with his baby daughter, Mavis. He builds a hotel for monsters which can be a safe haven for them from humans. However, over 100 years later, when Mavis is a "young" vampire woman, a human named Johnny finds his way to the hotel, and he and Mavis fall in love. Their romance complicates Dracula's safe haven for monsters as well as his relationship with his daughter. This movie was followed up by a couple of sequels.|
|Under Wraps||1997||G||Three kids accidentally bring a mummy back to life but must return him to his resting place before Halloween is over.|
|The Worst Witch||1986||G||Mildred Hubble is the worst witch at a school for young witches. She can't seem to do anything right, and other students make fun of her. However, when the school is in danger on Halloween, Mildred is in a unique position to save the day! This was a little like Harry Potter before Harry Potter existed. The movie is based on a series of books by Jill Murphy, and there was also a tv series based on the books. Sometimes, you can find this movie or clips of it on YouTube, and it is currently available through Internet Archive. Tim Curry's Halloween Song is a little trippy.|
|The Watcher in the Woods||1980||PG||A family moves into a mysterious old house, where they feel like something is watching them from the nearby woods. The two daughters of the family learn that the woman who is renting the house to them lost her daughter under mysterious circumstances 30 years before. Some people think that the daughter, Karen, is dead, and some think that she just ran away from home, however, whoever or whatever is watching from the woods is trying to send the modern girls a message, asking them to do something. The teenager girl who now lives in the house, Jan, keeps seeing images of Karen in mirrors, blindfolded and pleading for help. Karen is trapped somewhere, and they have to hurry if they are going to free her! The movie is creepy, better for older children than younger, but with an odd twist near the end. The movie is based on a book, and if you read the book, you actually understand the ending even better because it turns out that the story was never really a ghost story but actually science fiction. Although, the movie is a lot more scary if you didn't know that. In 2017, there was a remake of this movie that turns the story actually into a real ghost story, having to do with the Black Plague in the Middle Ages. You can sometimes find the 1980 movie or clips of it on YouTube. Oddly, there are alternate endings to the movie because people found the first endings difficult to understand. You can see the alternate endings on YouTube, and this video explains the differences between the different endings, if you don't mind spoilers.|