This is Part 2 in our very subjective series listing the best (in our opinion) creepy movies for kids. For Part 1, go here.
Next up in our journey through children-targeted creepiness are two movies that provide the creeps through tactile expertise. Respectively, the films we touch on today come from the stop-motion prowess of Laika and the puppeteering mastery of Jim Henson Company. If representatives of either company are reading this, the answer is “yes”: we will gladly partner with you on an adaptation of Get Dressed, Sasquatch! Just shoot us an email.
9. ParaNorman (2012)
The first and most recent of three stop-motion films on our list, ParaNorman tells the story of a boy in New England who communicates with ghosts. It’s hard to imagine a movie squeezing in more things that we love than ParaNorman—ghosts, zombies, witches and their curses, you name it—and it’s even harder to imagine the filmmakers pull it off with a strong script, plenty of humor and, of course, more than a handful of scary moments.
While the scaffolding of ParaNorman is familiar (social outcast kid, bullies, sex-minded teenaged older siblings, etc.), the premise, storyline and execution are uniquely inspired. Norman can see dead people, but the ghosts with whom he communicates are mostly comic relief as opposed to fear-inspiring. The real threat comes from a once-burned witch who unleashes an army of zombies to right the 300-year-old wrong committed by the townspeople of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts. The movie has a lot of fun playing with New England folklore and history, reveling in the autumnal hues, shadows and secrets of this superstitious and haunted corner of the country.
Speaking of hues and shadows, there’s nothing like stop-motion animation to bring a deep level of pathos and reality to a children’s story. In this regard, the Laika animators are in a class of their own. Their work is phenomenal across the board, but their ability to breathe life into characters with nuanced body language and facial expressions is nothing short of staggering.
8. The Witches (1990)
Based on the wonderful 1983 Roald Dahl book, The Witches stays faithful to its source in a way few Roald Dahl adaptations have managed. Roald Dahl wrote children’s books that never condescend to their target audience, dealing directly with adult themes like death, cruelty and, of course, witches-in-disguise who despise and murder children all over the world.
As with the best of Roald Dahl’s stories, the stakes are real and the threat is immense—although aimed at a young audience, this movie and the book from which it’s adapted stay true to the premise and all of its terrifying implications. But, as this is Roald Dahl, the threat is surrounded by humor, delightful plot twists and richly developed characters for us to cheer throughout their toughest tribulations.
Besides Anjelica Houston’s terrifying performance, perhaps the most impressive aspect of The Witches is the makeup and puppetry. Produced by the Jim Henson Company, the witches in The Witches, once they shed their human disguises, are legitimately frightening in a way that wouldn’t quite be the same if they were rendered with CGI. As with Laika’s ParaNorman, the tactile artistry of these puppets adds a realer-than-real quality that elevates the movie, and the story, to a status that only a handful of youth-targeted movies have reached.
Stay tuned for the remaining installments in our series on the best creepy movies for kids. Click here for Part 1.