Top Ten Halloween Movies for Kids
My boys (11 and 7) and I have decided to make a list of Halloween-related movies to watch together in October. We have a bunch of old stand-bys like “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” and some that I’ve been waiting for them to be old enough to watch without getting nightmares later on (like “Nosferatu“). Here’s my list of the best age-appropriate* Halloween fare to watch with your kids.
OK, we didn’t make it all the way through this one. But I really wanted to expose my kids to two things with this movie.
First, there was a time when we’d take our time telling a story. And this movie is an excellent example of that concept. You really get a feel for how our instant-gratification society has influenced storytelling when you watch a flick like this that luxuriates in things like mood and building suspense.
Second, I wanted them to know about this guy named Bela Lugosi – how the Hungarian came to America to be an actor and wanted it so bad that he learned his lines phonetically because he hadn’t learned English yet. I told them how he was so great as Dracula on the Broadway stage that Universal tapped him to play the part in the movies. And I told them about how he turned down the role of the Frankenstein monster (my boys know better than to call the monster “Frankenstein” — that’s the name of the scientist, not the monster) because it was all “make-up and grunting.”
Again, we didn’t make it all the way through this film, but I wanted the boys to see a classic silent movie — to know what that kind of storytelling was like. And, of equal importance, I wanted them to see one of the creepiest screen vampires of all time, Max Schreck.
8. Young Frankenstein
The boys were introduced to Mel Brooks a while ago when we watched Spaceballs together. So I was pretty confident in putting “Young Frankenstein” on. But I have to tell you, this wasn’t their favorite Brooks flick. Although there are flashes of screwball comedy (“FRAHNKensteen” and, of course “Abby Normal”)… there’s a lot about Young Frankenstein that was either too cerebral — or too mature — for my kids to grasp.
To be fair, you almost have to watch the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein to truly appreciate Brooks’ parody chops, and we hadn’t yet. Nevertheless, this was a decent Halloween choice with several standout moments.
The absolute apex of Big 80s comedy charm. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are at their hilarious peaks. The ghosts are scary, but not overwhelmingly so. And, hey, who doesn’t love that theme song?
6. Bride of Frankenstein
If you watch one movie on this list that you haven’t seen before, it should be this unsung classic of Universal Studios horror. It’s got comedy, tragedy, message, romance and chills.
And it’s a good chance to tell your kids the story about this woman named Mary Shelley. She, her future husband (and famous poet) Percy Shelley, Lord Byron (considered to be one of Britain’s greatest poets) and John Polidori (who is considered by some to be the creator of the vampire genre of fiction) decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror novel.
And, um, it’s pretty clear that Mary kicked their butts. (Although, I never have found out what the others put up against it.)
“Bride” starts with a fictional social gathering among the Shelleys and Byron in which they recount the wager. And the story is introduced as they convince Mary to tell them more of her stories.
The theme of the Frankenstein monster wandering the countryside searching for acceptance — and finding only revulsion and contempt — is a powerful one. The bizarre sequence in which Dr. Pretorius shows Baron Frankenstein the lilliputian people he’s created (and keeps in glass jars) will mesmerize you. And the sequence in which the Bride is brought to life has some of the most striking and beautiful photography I’ve ever seen in black-and-white movies. This movie absolutely clips along from scene to scene. And it leaves you a little spellbound at the end.
5. Monster Squad
You can have your Goonies. Give me the Monster Squad any day.
See… here’s the thing. We all love the Universal Studios monsters. They’re classics of American pop culture. And this movie is an absolutely wonderful tribute to those characters. Count Dracula assembles a team of the Earth’s most powerful evil monsters (including the Wolf Man, the Frankenstein monster, the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon called Gill-Man). We’re a comic-book family and that, my friends, is a comic-book premise. A group of misfit kids find the diary of Dr. VanHelsing that details how to defeat the monsters, but they’ll have to rely on their wits — and each other — if they’re going to succeed.
Now, if you do watch this movie with your kids, do me a favor and take a little bit of an active roll. Times have changed a lot. Evidently, it was OK to throw words like “faggot” around back then. If that ever was the case, it certainly isn’t now. And a couple other themes (like the old making fun of the fat kid trope) show the age of this flick. Make sure you take a second to point that out, OK?
4. Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton’s stop-motion masterwork has been the highlight of my October ever since it was first released on VHS. When I had kids, I realized that the characters and the creepy music was a little overwhelming for my little guys. But this year, they were both eager to give it a shot. And I’m happy to report that I can look forward to resuming my annual tradition of watching this flick ever October once again.
There is nothing not to like about this movie. It has a great story, excellent pacing, absolutely mesmerizing music, and captivating characters.
Here’s a tip. At one point, the denizens of Halloweentown sing “it’s our job, but we’re not mean, in this town of Halloween.” At that point, I paused the movie and pointed it out, explaining that these guys weren’t malicious… it was just their duty to come out and give everybody a good scare on Halloween. I’m telling you, that went a long way to taking out the creep factor for my younger son.
It was also a good opportunity to answer his comment, “what’s with all the singing?!” with a little discussion of the tradition of American musical theater.
3. Dracula – Dead and Loving It
I know, I know… the cool thing would have been to put Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein higher on this list — and probably to ignore this one completely.
But you wanna know what? This is an underrated, under-appreciated gem of a movie.
Like I said, The boys were already big fans of Mr. Brooks’ sense of humor from watching Spaceballs, so they were primed for this spoof of Bram Stoker’s classic tale. And even though I knew they’d dig the humor, I wasn’t quite prepared for how much they’d love Leslie Nielson.
But from the moment when Nielson’s “Count” smacks his lips over Renfield’s ridiculously spurting papercut (right around 11:00), they were enthralled by Neilson’s comic brilliance.
OK, it got a little inappropriate once or twice, but mostly this is a Brooks movie you can watch with your kids. (We’re still waiting for them to be old enough to see “Blazing Saddles.”) And, like “Spaceballs,” this is a Brooks film your kids are going to want to watch repeatedly.
And that’s fine with me.
2. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
“I got a rock.”
1. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
This is the all-time best Halloween movie for kids, and I’ll tell you why.
First: It’s Abbott and Costello. You will not find funnier people on screen before or after these guys. They’re comedy gods among men. And you get tons of classic Bud ‘n’ Lou bits like the sliding candlestick.
Second, you get a true gathering of Universal Studios monsters by some of their most famous actors. Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolf Man. Karloff declined playing the monster because he thought the slapstick comedy would demean horror flicks. His loss. Glen Strange did a fantastic monster.
Third, this is the only time (other than the original Dracula) that Bela reprised his famous role. I remember reading somewhere that the character that shows up in American pop culture more than any other isn’t Santa Claus or Superman. It’s Dracula. And, more often than not, it’s a characterization based on Lugosi’s Count. That makes this movie appearance an important event.
Fourth, you have a last-minute cameo (of sorts) by one of the creepiest voices of them all as the unbeatable Vincent Price voices the Invisible Man.
* Mostly. Everyone draws the line a little differently.