To conclude my 2016 "Spooky Films for Halloween" series, I offer suggestions appropriate for younger viewers (and those adults who aren't quite up to the intense horror options I've previously recommended). Please mention your own favorites in the comments, and I will gladly watch. Always looking for options to feature in next year's post!
ParaNorman (2012) -- rated PG A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.
A good choice for young viewers who enjoy potty humor, mild body horror (e.g. zombie arms falling off), and extended chase scenes. The tone takes a more serious turn in the climactic scenes, which are really quite stunning to watch. Watch the trailer. Rent at Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 72/100
Frankenweenie (2012) -- rated PG Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.
This poignant and suspenseful homage to classic monster movies bogs down just a bit in the middle (in my opinion), but patient viewers will be rewarded when disaster and hilarity ensue! (Is it just me, or does Victor resemble Cillian Murphy?) Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 74/100
Coraline (2009) -- rated PG An adventurous girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home, but it has sinister secrets.
I loved Neil Gaiman's book, and this adaptation is eerie, odd, and totally endearing. Highly recommended! Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 80/100
Also recommended -- two ghostly mini-series from the UK:
From Time to Time (2009) -- rated PG A haunting ghost story spanning two worlds, two centuries apart. When 13 year old Tolly finds he can mysteriously travel between the two, he begins an adventure that unlocks family secrets laid buried for generations.
Julian Fellowes' adaptation of Lucy M. Boston's Chimneys of Green Knowe is more mystery than horror. I love stories involving WWII child evacuees, and the setting of this film is wonderfully Gothic. Gently paced and at times a bit twee, this story will appeal to young fans of historical fiction. Watch the trailer. Available to stream from Netflix. Rent from Amazon.
The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012) -- unrated A year after their son goes missing, a family moves to Crickley Hall. When supernatural events begin to take place, Eve feels the house is somehow connected to her lost son.
I've seen this twice now, and I liked it even better upon second viewing. Caution: It's not for little kids, but I think it might work for family viewing with kids 12-up. Great setting, strong performances, and an interesting mystery. Please keep in mind its emphasis on loss and grief, and understand that there are many scenes involving children in serious peril. Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon.
The Witch -- Rated R A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Many fans of mainstream horror have panned this specimen of "cerebral horror" for being slow and hard to follow, but I was caught in its spell. If you have a passing familiarity with early American history and/or the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, you understand how Puritan paranoia could warp individuals and destroy entire communities. This film imagines the worst Puritan fears actually coming true for a family living in exile. Brilliantly realized, but not easy to watch. Watch the trailer. Available on Amazon (free for Prime members). Metascore: 83/100
The Boy -- Rated PG-13 An American nanny is shocked that her new English family's boy is actually a life-sized doll. After she violates a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe that the doll is really alive.
I loved the wacky premise of this film, and the Gothic setting was right up my alley. Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead) and Rupert Evans (star of The Canal, featured in my last blog post) offer sympathetic performances as their characters negotiate this bizarre situation. In fact, I was quite enjoying the film...until a certain frustrating reveal. As The New York Times said, "It still has enough scary moments to satisfy horror fans, but you're left wondering whether it might have been more disturbing had it stayed on its original path." I will watch this one again. Watch the trailer. Available to rent on Amazon. Metascore: 42/100
Lights Out -- Rated PG-13 When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.
I appreciated this film conceptually--light is used in interesting ways, especially in the final showdown. I never really cared about the characters, however, which undermined the tension considerably. (Note to self: backstory is no substitute for real-time character development.) Still worth watching, but I'd wait for the rental. Watch the trailer. Available to purchase from Amazon. Metascore: 58/100.
The Conjuring 2 -- Rated R Lorraine and Ed Warren travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by a malicious spirit.
Argh. I really loved the first Conjuring movie, particularly for its character development and thrilling paranormal investigation sequences. This "sequel" takes another real-life investigation of a haunting and casts the Warrens as saviors, even though they really only spent one day on the case. That wouldn't have mattered to me if this had been a good movie. Unfortunately, it seemed more concerned with showcasing computer-generated ghosts and ghouls. (I swear the Babadook made a couple of guest appearances--so jarring.) That said, I did enjoy most of the scenes involving the children, and young Madison Wolfe was impressive as Janet. Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Metascore: 65/100
[I think you'll find a more nuanced depiction of the Enfield Poltergeist in this UK mini-series starring Timothy Spall and Matthew Macfadyen as paranormal investigators Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair. Eleanor Worthington-Cox is excellent as Janet.]
Ginger Snaps (2000) Two death-obsessed sisters, outcasts in their suburban neighborhood, must deal with the tragic consequences when one of them is bitten by a deadly werewolf.
How did it take me so long to see this Canadian cult classic? I just LOVE lycanthropy as a metaphor for adolescence, particularly with a female focus. Excellent characterization and conflict, and the horror is tempered by humor in a way that reminds me of American Werewolf in London. This unrated film features adult content and is fairly gory, so perhaps not suited to pre-teen viewers? Watch the trailer. Available on Hulu or rent from Amazon. Metascore: 70/100
The Eclipse (2009) (Rated R) In a seaside Irish town, a widower sparks with a visiting horror novelist while he also begins to believe he is seeing ghosts.
I appreciated this film even more upon my second viewing. The Eclipse is a quiet, character-driven movie featuring a few carefully-timed jump scares that may, at first, seem incongruous. I can't adequately express how wonderful Ciarán Hinds is as the haunted widower. I can say that Aidan Quinn is perfectly awful as a self-involved author, and I mean that as a compliment--he is perfect in his awfulness. Watch the trailer. Available free to Amazon Prime members. (If you buy the DVD, you get a wonderful "Behind the Scenes" documentary.) Metascore: 67/100
It's that time of year again! This post features "new to me" ghostly/Gothic films, three of which are from this intriguing list of Scariest Ghost Movies of All Time.
(Stay tuned for a follow-up post on spooky films released in 2016.)
Jessabelle (2014) Returning to her childhood home in Louisiana to recuperate from a horrific car accident, Jessabelle comes face to face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking her return -- and has no intention of letting her escape. (PG-13)
I'm surprised by the low IMDB Metascore on this one. Maybe people were misled by the trailer. Entertainment Weekly gave it 3 out of 4 stars, which I think is fair. Great Southern Gothic setting and solid creepiness without too many manipulative jump scares. Unlike some cranky reviewers, I thought the ending was pretty cool. Watch the trailer. (Or maybe not?) Rent from Amazon, DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 37/100
The Canal (2014) A man who suspects his wife is cheating on him begins having nightmarish visions of an evil presence that he believes inhabits his house. (Unrated. Warning for R-rated content.)
This dark and stylish film features strong performances, particularly from Rupert Evans (known to me previously from North and South). His character's study of archival film footage is just the sort of thing I love in a horror film. Hard to say much else without spoiling! Watch the trailer (sex/gore warning!). Rent from Amazon or stream from Netflix. Metascore: 55/100.
Picnic at Table Rock (1975) During a rural picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls' school vanish without a trace. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.(Unrated. PG content.)
This early offering from Peter Weir, director of Witness and Master and Commander, offers a slow burn of Gothic mystery rather than full-on horror. It's beautifully filmed, and how could I resist the turn-of-the-century girls' school setting? Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. No Metascore on imdb.com, but apparently there is going to be an AUSTRALIAN MINI-SERIES in 2017!
What Lies Beneath (2000) The wife of a university research scientist believes that her lakeside Vermont home is haunted by a ghost - or that she is losing her mind. (PG-13)
I didn't see this movie when it was released because I hadn't yet evolved into full-on ghost obsession. (I think it was The Others, which came out the following year, that really flipped the switch for me.) There are many good things about What Lies Beneath: the cast (Harrison Ford!), the camera work, and its lack of cheap jump scares or over-the-top special effects. (I've said it before and I'll say it again--it's what we DON'T see that builds tension and dread. I'll address this issue again when I discuss The Conjuring 2, grrr.) I liked the nods to Rear Window and, to a lesser extent, Gaslight. I think this film is well worth watching, but it's at least half an hour too long and can't quite keep itself together at the end. Watch the trailer. (Or not. It is very SPOILERY!) Rent from Amazon. Metascore: 51/100.
Hi there! I'm the author of THE REVENANT (2011), THE DARK BETWEEN (2013), and GHOSTLIGHT (2015), all from Alfred A. Knopf. I blog a little about writing, but more often about reading, travel, TV and movies. Nothing too serious. Check the links below for more places to find me on the web, or click the banner to return to my website.