We’re nearing the end of our list of the top 10 creepy movies for kids, which seems like a good time to reiterate that although our board books involve monsters and mythologies that are traditionally presented in a spookier context, they are not at all creepy. Monster ABC, Goodnight Krampus and Get Dressed, Sasquatch! are our way to introduce monsters to children in a fun context that demonstrates the power we have over imaginary and fictitious creations. They can be as fun and harmless as we want them to be.
On the other hand, it’s also fun to be scared sometimes. The movies in this list feature elements that many will find delightfully creepy, and others will find too much to handle. So proceed with caution and try not to unwittingly terrorize your children (the first rule of parenting).
The three movies in this portion of our list all feature children being swept away into realities, worlds and situations that put them in great danger. These stories, as do so many thrilling tales involving and aimed at children, take the fear and uncertainty inherent to childhood and heighten those feelings to uncanny degrees. Being a child is difficult and weird. From the child’s perspective, adults seem to inhabit a bizarre, dangerous world that only gets curiouser and curiouser as puberty approaches. Some of the best children’s stories (and stories in general) take to extremes the befuddling nature of adolescence, and these three movies do so with aplomb.
4. Coraline (2009)
Coraline is the second film on our list from Laika Studios, the Hillsboro-based stop-motion stalwart. A beautifully rendered fairy tale, Coraline tells the story of a little girl who discovers that no matter how bad things seem, they can always be worse (and exponentially more sinister). Adapted from the Neil Gaiman novella of the same name, this is a story of parallel dimensions, evil doppelgängers and talking cats set in a fantastically gloomy Southern Oregon neighborhood.
Lured into the Other World by a rag doll of all things, Coraline finds herself surrounded by uncanny and off-kilter versions of people she knows, including the Other Mother and Other Father who yearn to replace Coraline’s eyeballs with buttons and make her stay with them forever. An excellent premise with thoughtful, nuanced follow-through, this movie is delightfully disconcerting and insanely rewatchable. In Coraline, childhood is a weird place to be, but never quite as bad as it could be.
3. It (1990)
The 1986 Stephen King novel that provides the raw material for this made-for-tv adaption is the quintessential Stephen King story with so many of his preoccupations in one 6-million page narrative: small-town childhood friends; ancient, unknowable evil; psychologically disturbed writer characters; etc.
In It, a group of children trauma bond over their struggles with an evil force that haunts their small Maine hometown and then come together as adults to finish what they started. (Sometimes you just can't shake those awkward teenage years.) Oh, did I mention that this ancient evil has the propensity take the form of an evil clown named Pennywise? If not for this little detail, this 1990 TV movie would probably not be on this list. Yet here we are, thanks to Tim Curry’s terrifying portrayal of a sadistic and horrifying clown that every 90s child knows all too well. I’m pretty that before It was filmed, clowns were widely accepted as positive, fun-bringing goofballs. Now, thanks to Tim Curry, we can’t look at them without cold sweat and full-body shivers. Thanks, Tim!
2. Return to Oz (1985)
As kids, we were enamored by the land of Oz and voraciously read dozens of Oz books. The stories from L. Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson built a world of endless possibility, whimsy and danger. The 1985 film Return to Oz concentrates on the dangerous aspect of the books and the results are, well, unsettling. From Dorothy’s electroshock therapy to the circus-freak Wheelers who sport wheels instead of hands, this movie is one of the rare Disney films that is focused on seeding nightmares as opposed to the pleasantries of wish-fulfillment. Many would say that Return to Oz is a little too intense for children, and that’s fine. But it’s willingness to showcase despair and real danger make it one of the more memorable and re-watched movies of our youth.