Right off the bat, I’ll admit we’re getting into tricky territory here. It’s tough to say what constitutes a family friendly horror film. I certainly acknowledge that my parameters may be different than others. Not all the entries on this list are PG-13, and for some parents even that rating is too severe for their children. That’s fine, these things are first and foremost completely up to the parent. More than anything, I’m going off of experience. I was told, in the late 90’s, that I could watch anything from the previous decade. Most of the 1980’s horror films I grew up watching were light on gore and sex—although both were somewhat present—and even though I would wind up watching just about everything that was new at the time with friends, I was growing up during a time when horror was relatively tame.
Other than the shocking opening scene, there’s not a lot of gore in Scream. I Know What You Did Last Summer is about the same. These things were geared toward a wider audience, which was fine for a kid just getting into the genre. Even the major slasher series I fell in love with seemed to get tamer and tamer as they went on, due in large part to backlash against the franchises and the genre from the MPAA.
Ghoulies was a ripoff of Gremlins that actually turned out to be one of Empire Pictures’ most successful productions. Both of the first two are rated PG-13, I tend to think the second one is more family friendly, though, just because I’m not sure the first would do a lot to hold a child’s interest. The first movie isn’t really about the Ghoulies, it’s about a Satanic cult and they don’t appear too much in it. The second, however, gives them the spotlight and changes the setting to a carnival. It’s a lot more fun, absurdly campy and is solid and harmless, family friendly entertainment all around.
Critters applies much of the same principle, although I’m basically subbing in the entire franchise here. The Critters films make for a great gateway into the genre. They were some of the first horror movies I ever watched and I’m sure many others can say the same. The monsters aren’t overly scary, but that sense of dread and excitement is still apparent. While there is a bit of nudity in the second, despite its PG-13 rating, the series as a whole features virtually minimal bloodshed and no outright gore. The focus is much more on providing an entertaining, funny thrill ride.
It may shocking to see a Friday the 13th entry pop up on a list like this, and parents should definitely use their best judgment with this one, but Jason Lives is pretty harmless compared to the earlier movies in the franchise. There’s much less gore and it’s the only film in the entire series with absolutely no nudity. On top of that, Jason Lives simply has a much lighter tone. This doesn’t devalue it as a Friday film at all. I actually think it’s one of the best. But it’s easier to handle for kids, I think, because even if Jason himself is as scary as he’s ever been in this one, there’s a lot to laugh at to alleviate the tension.
Freddy’s Dead is a Loony Tunes cartoon that happens to have Freddy Krueger at the center of it. It is definitely the one to start with for any kid who is curious to find out more about who Freddy is and even where he comes from. It gives a lot of backstory and the moments where it does are the darkest to be sure. But there’s nothing outright shown in them. While things are implied, that could be said for any Elm Street entry. Freddy himself seems to be written to cater specifically to children in this one, particularly in the Nintendo Power Glove scene.
Admittedly, Halloween could definitely be scary for a child and there’s nothing about it that is in there to cater to children. It probably shouldn’t be a starter movie, but could definitely be a next step after they’ve tested the waters. While there are minor, minor glimpses of nudity in two spots, it’s virtually bloodless. Overall, it’s great for those who are getting really curious about the slashers and what those were really all about, without subjecting a child to something like The Prowler.
The Monster Squad would be the easy pick here, but while it sort of tows the line between child and adult humor, the movie was definitely aimed at kids. They were the target audience, no doubt about it. So instead I’ve picked Fred Dekker’s previous feature, Night of the Creeps. While it has an adult class and probably should be more adult, it’s actually surprisingly family friendly. It has the exact same tone and feel as its successor and there’s a sense of adventure carried from beginning to end. Sure, there are moments that would probably give a kid a good scare, but they’re more than balanced out by the excellent sense of humor.
Family friendly film director extraordinaire Steven Spielberg scripted this flick. It’s rated PG, but there’s no question that this is a horrifying movie for a young viewer. In fact, it’s really only for those who are clearly going to be horror fans: the kids who enjoy telling each other scary stories and just like getting a good, safe scare in general. And even with all its terrifying moments, that Spielbergian sense of family is still ever-present.