Halloween is a fabulously fun time of year, but not everyone likes a scarefest. While some opt to watch the most gruesome of horror movies late at night, others prefer to put on something more family-friendly in between all the trick-and-treating. This list provides a handy guide to 20 of the best non-traumatizing scary(ish) movies. No torture, gore or gratuitous deaths to be found here!
The children’s horror-book series Goosebumps was a childhood staple for many. And come 2015 a movie adaptation was released, starring Jack Black as author RL Stine. “The books themselves are legitimately scary, but they’re legitimately funny, and we try to capture that,” director Rob Letterman announced at Comic-Con San Diego in July 2014 according to CBR.com. And the film-makers succeeded: the movie brought in $150 million, earned good reviews and spawned a sequel a few years later.
19. What We Do in the Shadows
Created by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows was a brilliantly silly mockumentary about vampire flatmates. Its budget was so low that some of the people appearing in it weren’t even real actors, but it was a success nonetheless, eventually bringing in close to $7 million, several times what it had cost to make. That popularity was in no small part down to some wonderful dialogue. All together now: “Werewolves, not swearwolves.”
18. Corpse Bride
Corpse Bride is everything a Tim Burton fan could want: it’s creepy but not too creepy, well designed and beautifully filmed. Oh, and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter both star in it, of course. Directed by Burton and Mike Johnson, the film tells the story of a Victorian gentleman who finds himself accidentally married to the bride in question. It was widely praised by reviewers, with The Houston Chronicle calling it the “best-looking stop-motion animation film ever.”
17. Monster House
Monster House, released in 2006, was originally intended to be a live-action movie. But instead it ended up being an early adopter of performance-capture technology, where the actors did all their work while hooked up to recording sensors. Not all technology-heavy films have good stories to go with them, but Monster House definitely did. It was lauded as a smart, emotional children’s movie and was compared to The Goonies by more than one critic.
16. Edward Scissorhands
Is Edward Scissorhands a Christmas movie? It does end in the snow, after all. But in terms of its sensibilities, it’s much more suited to Halloween. Johnny Depp stars as the film’s titular character, an artificially created human with scissors where his hands should be who seeks to find his way in American suburbia. The film has themes of loneliness and isolation, but despite its gothic nature, it’s never really full-on scary.
Casper is the perfect Halloween movie for children or the easily scared – his nickname is Casper the friendly ghost, after all. Although the film has a darker backstory to Casper than the original Harvey Comics stories ever gave him, the movie still has many more laughs than true scares. It was also the first ever full-length film to star a completely computer-generated main character. Times have changed a lot since 1995.
14. The Haunted Mansion
The Haunted Mansion, starring Eddie Murphy, wasn’t especially well received upon its release. Although the film was a success financially, it was panned by critics, in fact. When placed against the juggernaut that was Disney’s other theme-park property, Pirates of the Caribbean, it seemed to be soon forgotten about. Nonetheless, it does hold up as a fun Halloween film – and rumor has it that it might just get a remake sometime in the future.
13. The Witches
Roald Dahl hated the 1990 film version of his book The Witches, because his original dark, poignant ending was changed into a happy one. Everything else, however, was kept as Dahl intended, including the horrific form of the Grand High Witch. There are rumors that a new, darker version might one day be made, but for the moment the happy ending prevents The Witches from being traumatic rather than just creepy.
ParaNorman was a big hit for stop-motion studio Laika. The 2012 comedy-horror movie, the first to use 3D color printer technology for its characters, ended up being nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It was well deserved, especially as the film’s purpose wasn’t to scare children but rather to promote a message of equality. It had another first to its name, too: the first mainstream animation to feature an openly gay character.
11. Return to Oz
When Return to Oz first came out in 1985, critics seemed horrified at the effect it might have on kids. The Chicago Reader labelled it “bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying,” words that were echoed in other reviews. It was also a box office flop, not even making back its $28 million budget. And yet in later years, the children who’d been scared of Return of Oz came back to it as adults and loved the film. Now, it’s considered a cult classic.
10. Shaun of the Dead
As soon as zombie spoof movie Shaun of the Dead was released in 2004, critics knew it was something special. The “romzomcom” blended genres to create something seemingly new – an incredibly funny horror comedy with a bit of romance thrown in. As well as catapulting Simon Pegg to stardom, the film was such a big success that it has since topped lists of the best British, best horror and best comedy films of that decade.
9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Comedy-horror musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show can be enjoyed at any time of the year, but it works particularly well for Halloween. The 1975 cult classic has picked up such a following that to this day, interactive performances of the movie remain popular. Fans dress up as their favorite characters, mouth along to the script and even throw things at the screen. So, if you’re looking for a fun alternative to trick-or-treating…
8. Practical Magic
Practical Magic, a witchy romance story starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, received bad reviews when it first came out in 1998. Critics slated it, calling the movie a mess of a film that didn’t know whether it wanted to be a romcom or a horror flick. Well, it was both… and it’s undergone considerable re-evaluation over the years. Now, it’s considered a fantastic Halloween movie, and one with a surprisingly feminist bent for the time, too.
7. The House With a Clock in its Walls
Director Eli Roth has been behind some of the nastiest, most vicious horror movies ever made, so it came as a surprise to everyone when he signed on to direct the children’s film The House With a Clock in its Walls. “When you see the movie, you’ll see stuff from my other movies – just done in the PG version of it,” he told Vulture in 2018. Roth wasn’t wrong. The movie had moments of fear, but by and large it was very kid-friendly.
6. Young Frankenstein
Young Frankenstein – or should that be Fronkonsteen? – is one of the most celebrated films to come from the mind of Mel Brooks. The 1974 horror-comedy follows the adventures of the original Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson, played by Gene Wilder, who wants nothing to do with the mad science his family is famous for. It’s a loving spoof of classic monster movies, without any real scares at all, and Brooks considers it the best film he’s ever made.
5. Addams Family Values
What better way to celebrate Halloween than with the Addams Family? They may be mysterious, spooky and altogether ooky, but they’re also a close-knit and loving bunch. Addams Family Values, released in 1993, showcased them at their best. Weirdly, although the film gained an Oscar nomination for its art direction and a Golden Globe nomination for Anjelica Huston, it wasn’t a huge box office success. And more sadly, star Raúl Juliá passed away shortly after the movie came out.
4. Little Shop of Horrors
What could make a better musical than the story of a human-eating alien plant? That’s the premise of Little Shop of Horrors, the 1986 movie starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. The special effects required to create “Audrey II” were extraordinary for the time, requiring endless experimentation and manpower, and they paid off. Viewers who watch the plant in action today will be more awestruck than scared, knowing that no CGI was used in the vast majority of the shots.
3. Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus shows up all the time on the Disney Channel, so you know straight off the bat that it’s not very scary. But it is smart, silly and very, very popular. Despite it receiving bafflingly poor reviews upon its release in 1993, it fast became a cult classic. There’s even going to be a TV movie remake soon, although sadly Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker probably won’t be involved.
2. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
British stop-motion icons Wallace and Gromit were introduced to the U.S. in 2005 via a feature-length movie called The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It was a very silly and extremely funny ride through some classic horror tropes, and audiences loved it on both sides of the Atlantic. What’s more, the film even ended up with the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
1. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Not only one of the best Christmas films of all time, The Nightmare Before Christmas also holds the distinction of being probably the best Halloween film of all time. Despite Disney’s initial fears that the movie would be too frightening for children, it instead became a beloved family classic. Jack Skellington, the film’s protagonist, still adorns countless pieces of merchandise even two decades after the film was released. And maybe one day, there’ll even be a sequel…