Boo! Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teenager


It might strike you as odd, but picking scary movies that will thrill the kids (but not appall my partner and me with a high gore factor or adult themes) is high on the list of things we are doing to prepare for the start of the new school year. School starts again in 6 days, and our youngest son is starting high school. A challenging transition for any kid but our boy has some additional challenges. One of the many strategies he has chosen to employ is a reward system for getting through each week. This will include making our occasional family movie nights a regular event. These will occur on Friday nights through the fall semester and feature, you guessed it, horror films.

Here are some of our favorites that we’ve already seen (and think you should too)

1. Jaws (1975) PG – Have you ever noticed that some of the scariest scenes in Jaws don’t ever show the shark? We have “Bruce,” Steven Spielberg’s animatronic shark, to thank for that.  If Bruce hadn’t malfunctioned so often, the young director might never have been inspired to just imply the shark’s presence by using the camera to give us a shark’s eye view. Coupled with John Williams’ awesomely dramatic musical theme, it was a brilliantly frightening technique. (You thinking it now aren’t you? Da-dum…da-dum…dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum DADADAAAA)

Spielberg wanted Jon Voight to play Hooper, but George Lucas suggested Richard Dreyfus (who he had worked with in American Graffiti).

Everything about this movie is good – the directing, acting, writing , music – and they all come together around a great story (by Peter Benchley) to create the perfect storm of film horror. If your kids haven’t seen it yet, it’s time. They’ll scream when the head pops out of the hole in the sunken boat. They’ll laugh when Roy Scheider quips, “We going to need a bigger boat” after seeing the shark for the first time. (Did you know he ad-libbed that line?) And chills will run down their spines when they hear Quint’s monologue about the sinking of the Indianapolis.

Scariest chairs in a movie.

2. Poltergeist (1982) PG – Another Spielberg film that stands the test of time. He adds just enough humor and wonder to give an extra edge to the terrifying bits. Though Carol Ann got all the attention for disappearing into the TV, it was the character of her scrappy brother who appealed to my youngest son. The poor boy gets dragged out of the house by a monster tree and dragged out of his bed by an evil clown toy, and not only does he survive, but he kicks the clown’s butt. What a kid. One of my favorite bits though is this monologue by the medium, Tangina, played (brilliantly, I think) by Zelda Rubinstein. Watch it on You Tube here:

3. The Sixth Sense (1999) PG-13 – “I see dead people.” Maybe the biggest tag line from a movie since Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “I’ll be back.” This ghost story directed by M. Night Shyamalan  is one of only four horror films to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. (The other three were Jaws, The Exorcist, and The Silence of the Lambs.)  Shyamalan is one of our youngest son’s favorite directors and so there are two of his movies on this list.

 4. Signs (2002) PG-13 – This story gradually turns up the suspense until you’re white-knuckled and holding your breath for much of the last half of the film. It’s another of M. Night Shyamalan’s creations and he actually plays a significant role in the story. (He appears at least briefly in almost all of his movies.) The plot is simple – family finds a huge crop circle on their farm and more strange happenings ensue – and all the possibilities your imagination can produce to explain the events are extremely scary.

Scary eighties hair.

 5. The Lost Boys (1987) R – Don’t let the R rating spook you.If it came out today, I’m sure it would be rated PG-13. A pair of brothers and their divorced mom move to a new town and become convinced it is plagued by vampires. If you were raised in the eighties like me, you’ll probably remember Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. They were both in this movie and provide some great comic moments to lighten the scary stuff. A young Kiefer Sutherland is seriously creepy as the leader of the local pack of young, big-haired bloodsuckers.

 6. Insidious (2010) PG-13 – Very scary in a mounting-suspense, haunted-house-atmosphere kind of way. A couple’s son falls into an unexplained coma, mom starts seeing things, they seek help from a paranormal investigator, and I’m not telling what happens after that. A solidly spooky story.

 7. The Shining R (1980) – Based on Stephen King’s novel about a writer who takes a job as a caretaker at an isolated mountain hotel. Add a psychic son, an evil presence, and Scatman Crothers and you get a classic recipe for terror. Jack Nicholson’s disturbing performance as the dad gone gleefully mad apparently bridges the potential generation gap in horror film viewers quite well. This was our second son’s pick for scariest movie.

Look behind you, Buffy! Or Daphne! Or whatever your name is in this movie!

8. The Grudge PG-13 (2004) – Sarah Michelle Gellar (who our youngest son previously knew as Daphne in the Scooby Doo movies) plays an American nurse living in Japan who stumbles upon a supernatural curse in the act of playing itself out. Lots of suspense and weird, creepy effects. This was one of our youngest son’s picks for scariest movie.

9. The Ring PG-13 (2002) – Like The Grudge, this is a remake of a Japanese horror film with disturbing special effects and a creeping sense of dread. In this one, a young woman investigates a strange video tape that is said to cause the imminent death of anyone who views it. I’m not a huge fan of The Ring myself, but number one son and youngest son think it’s awesomely scary.

10. Audrey Rose (1977) PG – A mysterious stranger appears and tells a young couple that their daughter is the reincarnation of his own dead child. Long before playing Hannibal Lecter (in the scariest movie I will never let my children watch), Hopkins does a great job of playing the stranger so that you’re never quite certain if his character is sincere, a nutcase or a molester stalking the child until bizarre things begin to happen. This one spooked our oldest son (who is now 24) when he was a just tender teen.

If you’re a fan of PG (ish) horror, I hope you can find something here to watch with your children that you haven’t already seen. In the meantime, I have until Friday to come up with a new gore-free fright-flick. Suggestions are welcome!


If you’d like to see more suggestions, try Boo 2! More Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teens.

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  1. Poltergeist used to really creep me out. Maybe that’s what started my desire to want to see/experience ghosts. Ghosts, NOT poltergeists…

    • I’d love to see a ghost, too, J-Wo! But definitely the not-angry-or-destructive kind. My son is reading a memoir for a summer reading assignment (and so I am too) that I bet you would like. It’s called Give Up the Ghost and it’s about a man who visits places that are supposed to be haunted as a way of working through experiences he had as a kid (when he was haunted by dreams of the ghost of a little girl in a blue dress). He’s an excellent storyteller and his writing is really funny and sad and mysterious by turns.

  2. Paul J. Stam

     /  August 21, 2012

    Good choice, all.

  3. Awesome! My daughter watched The Lost Boys, but that’s just about it. And she’s 13! I saw The Shining in the movies when it came out, at 10. I can still envision my father in that role, chopping us up.

    • Oh my! That sounds terrifying for a 10-year-old. Does your daughter like scary movies? If so, you should try some others on the list (starting with Jaws, of course)!

  4. I think I need to add The Lost Boys to my list to watch… it keeps popping up on lists. Anyway, not sure how you (or your family) feel about movies with subtitles, but I’d really recommend The Orphanage (2007). It’s a Spanish language film about a family that moves into what used to be an orphanage and, without giving anything away, creepy things start happening.

    • I have heard a lot of good things about The Orphanage! I’m definitely going to watch it. I don’t mind subtitles but not sure how the sons feel about them. I’ll have to ask. Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. I loved Jaws! But the most scared I’ve ever been over a movie was watching the 1931 Dracula (on TV when I was a kid). I was alone & I ended up hiding behind the couch! Of course, that was many years ago. I just can’t watch the scary stuff anymore. Love that you reviewed these for appropriateness, though!

  6. Great choices – I loved them all. We used to go for B-movie classics like The Tomato that Ate Manhatten and Killer Klowns from Outer Space.. though I can’t remember gore factors in them now. I watched them with other high school friends when we were 16 or so. The kitsch was classic.

    • That’s awesome! I’ve actually heard of Killer Klowns but not the hungry tomato movie. What’s the worst you ever saw?

      • Blood Hook – about a guy keeping a huge muskie and feeding it people – so that he could win a fishing derby. There were people hanging off the side of the boat with hooks through their cheeks like a chain of fish.. ( Pretty classic bad B-movie stuff. The other movie, I think was called Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, not the tomato that ate Manhatten. Got my wires crossed.

  7. Man, the ones I’ve seen on that list are awesome. I don’t know why I put myself through watching horror movies. I hardly watch them anymore (and when I do it’s out of the corner of my eye) because I still have flashbacks to the scenes I saw when I was a teenager. Just being home alone at night brings back 101 horror movie scenes, doesn’t it? I’m telling my son he’s on his own with this stuff. 😉 You’re a cool mom.

    • It’s not as scary when we watch them together. And nothing, I think, is as terrifying as it is when you’re a teenager home alone. I still remember The Amityville Horror as the scariest book I ever read because I was reading it one night when my parents were out somewhere and got seriously spooked. I read it again years later and was surprised when it seemed kind of cheesy and didn’t frighten me at all. Thanks, Muddled!

  8. Okay, this may sound silly, but I am not a fan of the horror genre. I think I must scare too easily–or maybe that’s not all bad.

  9. Anita Gallagher

     /  August 21, 2012

    We saw jaws when it first came out, it scared your brother badly but you seemed unscathed, and he’s older. Did you ever see The Pit and the Pendulum ?

    • I remember that! I was pretty proud, at the time, that I wasn’t as spooked as big brother. He spent more time than any of us in or on the ocean, though. I always figured that was what got to him. I have not seen The Pit and the Pendulum though I’m a fan of the story. Was Vincent Price in that? I just loved him.

  10. Love your list! I would put Jaws at the top of the list as well. It’s one of my all time favorites. I have to say, I have never seen “Audrey Rose” but I just put it on our must watch list! Thanks for the recommendations. And most of all … good luck to you all for a great first day and freshman year!

    • Thanks, Wendy. Good to see you back! I figured a beach lover like yourself would like Jaws. Thanks for the well wishes. Our youngest went to the school open house/meet the teachers yesterday and it went really well. I think he’s more excited than nervous right now which is a very happy thing.

  11. Once upon a time, I loved horror movies. Jaws made me forever scared of the open water, but the other movies I’ve seen on the list are wonderful. Love all of M. Night’s stuff. An oldie I’ve loved forever is Day of the Triffids (sentient alien plants take over the world), and I thought the TV version of Stephen King’s “It” was darn creepy.

    • It seems like M. Night get a lot of grief from the critics, but we love him. Haven’t seen Day of the Triffids but feel like as an old sci fi geek, I should. (I read a lot of fan magazines when I was a kid and that was often mentioned. Couldn’t just watch a movie whenever you wanted to back then, though.) “It” is an excellent suggestion! I thought it was pretty creepy too (and the book scared the snot out of me). Movie night tonight. We could watch part and continue next week.

  12. Jools

     /  August 22, 2012

    Time to convince mom to let me watch these movies~

    • I figured you would have seen most of these, niece, being the film buff that you are. I’m thinking about doing a funny-scary movie list and would put Shaun of the Dead at the top of the list. (Wasn’t it you that first showed that to the boys?) That movie makes me laugh until my eyes leak.

  13. What a great list! I hate gory films too.

    • Slasher movies seemed to become ridiculously popular when I was young (with endless sequels to Friday the Thirteenth and Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street) and I always hated them. I’ll take spooky supernatural or monster flicks over gore any day.

  14. Da-dum da-dum… funny how some things from movies just stick! And Signs is one of my all-time favourites! I love movies that work on more than one level so you can get something else out of it on re-watching, depending on what kind of mood you’re in.

  15. Oh yea, another Signs fan! I think that movie is seriously underrated. The first time you watch it, the suspense is almost unbearable. And you’re right, I think, you can enjoy it on a completely different levels when you rewatch.

  16. wonderful list, but the remarks at the end of every movie are even better, lol. yes, they’re fun horror movies and you’re right about Hannibal Lecter – scary ’cause crazy, haha. i’d like to watch the Silence of the Lamb series again, though. 😉

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