11. The Witches (1990) – Nicolas Roeg
Luke’s parents die in a car accident and he moves to England to live with his grandmother, Helga. He has grown up hearing her stories about evil witches who despise children. She tells him that they have to hide their true appearance by wearing wigs and gloves. After Helga’s diabetes plays up, the doctor recommends that the two get away to the seaside. They stay in a hotel by a beach at the same time as the “Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children”.
When Luke accidentally wanders into one of their meetings, he soon realises that the members are all really there for a secret witch convention. As Luke is discovered by the witches, they turn him into a mouse. With the help of Helga and his new and rather unfortunate friend Bruno, Luke must stop the witches from carrying out a terrible plan.
Despite being a family favourite with some genuinely scary and impressive special effects (courtesy of the legendary Jim Henson), this movie was not to original writer Roald Dahl’s liking at all. In fact, he was rather appalled by the different ending to his book. The role of the Grand High Witch was originally supposed to go to Cher but she was busy with the film Mermaids (1990). The eventual casting of Anjelica Huston was just about the only thing that Dahl actually liked about the film.
12. The Addams Family (1991) – Barry Sonnenfeld
The Addams family are a group of social misfits with a love for all things dark and macabre. They always look like they are ready to head off to a funeral and their home is a throwback to the Victorian Era. Gomez, the head of the family, is tortured by the absence of his long-lost brother, Fester.
The family’s broke lawyer hatches a scheme with the loan shark he owes money to, to infiltrate the family in order to gain access to their treasures. They have the loan shark’s son pose as Fester and the family slowly warm up to him. As the new Fester adjusts to his life with the Addams family, he begins to realise just how attached he is becoming to them and their peculiar ways.
The Addamses were originally a Charles Addams creation, a peculiar family featuring in a series of cartoons appearing in The New Yorker from 1938 to 1988. The strips were followed by a live-action 1964 TV series as well as some animated ones later on. There have since been a number of other productions based on the family including sequels to the film, video games, and a musical.
13. Hocus Pocus (1993) – Kenny Ortega
Max is a teenager who moves to Salem, Massachusetts with his family. On Halloween, the town takes their celebrations seriously while Max is ever the sceptic, finding this rather silly. Legend has it that three witches, the Sanderson sisters, were hanged on Halloween some 300 years ago.
Only a virgin can lift the curse and bring the sisters back… which is exactly what Max does. As the sisters return they do everything in their power to stay alive for eternity but must complete the spell before sunrise. It is now up to Max, his little sister Dani, Max’s love interest Alison, and a cursed cat named Binx to stop the witches from taking over.
The idea for the story came from producer David Kirschner who was out on the porch with his young daughter one night. As a neighbour’s black cat ran past, Kirschner and his daughter started making up a story. In it, the cat was once a boy who was turned into an animal by three witches.
This is a Disney production which was originally meant for the Disney Channel only. The script caught the attention of Walt Disney Studios and they decided to make the film a cinema release with a cast of well-known actors.
14. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Henry Selick
The inhabitants of Halloween Town spend each year preparing for the single most important annual event, Halloween. Their leader, The Pumpkin King Jack Skellington, seems bored with the same routine and decides to explore the other holiday towns.
When he comes across a doorway to Christmas Town, Jack makes up his mind that Christmas will be organised by his followers instead this year. He plans to have Santa kidnapped and pose as Father Christmas himself but not everyone is completely on board with the plan. A rag doll named Sally is attracted to Jack and tries to prevent a Christmas catastrophe from unfolding. The world is in for a terrifying night of mishaps as Jack Skellington unleashes his version of Christmas upon unsuspecting citizens.
A huge amount of work went into the development of this movie, with Jack Skellington alone having more than four hundred changeable heads for all his different expressions. Featuring 227 puppets in total, the filmmakers had their work cut out for them.
The film is based on a poem written by Tim Burton in 1982. He had many ideas for bringing The Nightmare Before Christmas to screen prior to 1990, which is when he finally made a development deal with Disney. Originally, Disney considered the feature to be too dark and scary for kids but despite this, it has been a family favourite for over 20 years.
15. Casper (1995) – Brad Silberling
Kat and her paranormal therapist father, James are commissioned by Carrigan Crittenden to rid her late father’s haunted mansion of ghosts. Kat’s and James’s relationship is complicated by the death of their mother and wife, Amelia, and the two don’t seem to get on.
A friendly ghost, Casper soon becomes close friends with Kat as his mischievous uncles, Fatso, Stench and Stinky wreak havoc in the house and occupy James. Casper slowly begins to remember the circumstances surrounding his life and death and reveals that there is treasure inside the home. Carrigan attempts to get her hands on the treasure and goes to great lengths in order to do so.
Based on the Casper the Friendly Ghost comics and animated cartoons, this film was one of the first to use CGI for special effects. It did so successfully and the effects were lauded as ahead of their time. Both Ricci and Pullman had to act with a stand-in mannequin for a lot of the scenes involving the CGI ghosts and were praised for their strong performances.
16. The Frighteners (1996) – Peter Jackson
Frank Bannister is a paranormal exterminator whose wife Debra has died in a car accident some years earlier. A trio of ghosts from various eras accompany him and fool customers into believing their houses are haunted. When the inhabitants of the town begin to drop like flies, Frank believes that an evil spirit is indeed amok within the community. As the truth behind the deaths is revealed, it is up to Frank to save the people of his town from the psychotic ghost.
Pitched to Robert Zemeckis by Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh, this was intended to be a feature-length Tales from the Crypt spin-off directed by Zemeckis himself. After reading the final script, Zemeckis decided that the film would be better directed by Jackson.
The Frighteners was filmed almost entirely in New Zealand and special effects company Weta Digital, of Lord of the Rings fame, worked on making the locations look like the American Midwest. Having mostly had experience with physical effects, Weta was faced with an enormous task of digitally portraying the many ghosts in the film.
17. Monster House (2006) – Gil Kenan
A young boy named DJ Walters has been spying on his elderly neighbour across the street, Mr Nebbercracker. Every time a child comes onto the property, Mr Nebbercracker chases them away angrily. Everyone in the neighbourhood is terrified of the old man and tends to stay away from his house.
When DJ, along with friends “Chowder” and Jenny decide to reveal the secret behind the mysterious house, they realise that it is a “Domus Mactablis” or “deadly home” in Latin. This leads the children to explore what is really going on when the house finally seems to be resting.
This film was shot entirely by using the motion capture technique, which includes animating the characters with the movements of real actors. Robert Zemeckis used it for the first time in his previous animated film, The Polar Express (2004). Monster House features the voices of Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Kathleen Turner among others.
Despite being animated and having a PG rating, this film has some frightening scenes that may scare younger children. It views as a throwback to teen adventure favourites in the same vein as The Goonies.
18. The Hole (2009) – Joe Dante
A mother, along with her two sons Dane and Lucas, move to a house in the country. The family moves around a lot and Lucas is not happy about another relocation. The boys make friends with their pretty neighbour Julie and decide to explore their new home. When the kids find a padlocked hole in the floor of the basement, they open it up and find that it appears bottomless. As their worst fears come to life, the trio suspect the hole has some rather sinister origins.
This is a relatively recent feature from one of the most prominent horror comedy directors, Joe Dante. It is his third film to be featured on this list and we can absolutely see Dante preoccupied with bringing his beloved genre to a younger audience once again.
Dante must be lauded for his ability to move with the times and stay in touch with not only youth culture, but also what frightens them. A considerably scarier feature than the others on the list, this will appeal to older children. The odd seasoned pre-teen fan may also be able to sit through The Hole without cowering in fear under a blanket.
19. Coraline (2009) – Henry Selick
Coraline and her busy professional parents move into a renovated Victorian mansion. The building is occupied by a variety of eccentric characters including a couple of retired actresses, a Russian acrobat, and the landlady along with her grandson “Wybie”. Feeling forgotten and neglected, Coraline begins to explore the mansion and comes across a hidden door to a place called the Other World.
There, she encounters duplicates of her parents called Other Mother and Other Father who at first seem much nicer and more attentive than her real family. Everything in the Other World seems the same but somehow different to her real life. Coraline is tempted by this new world but soon realises that it is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Everything in Coraline was made especially for the film, with over 28 animators working on around 100 seconds of animation each week.
The director Henry Selick met author Neil Gaiman, just as he was finishing the novel Coraline. He is a writer whose books gather readers of all ages despite being relatively dark in nature. Gaiman is a big fan of Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and looking at the two men’s bodies of work, it is easy to see how they came together to bring Coraline to screen.
20. ParaNorman (2012) – Chris Butler & Sam Fell
Norman is an 11-year-old who is able to communicate with ghosts. As he is often the subject of ridicule, Norman doesn’t have many friends and finds that his family doesn’t understand him. After a series of visions and a bizarre visit from his estranged uncle Mr Prenderghast, Norman has to save the town from the vengeful ghost of a witch.
There are a number of references to classic horrors in ParaNorman, among them Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Evil Dead. These will most likely be lost on a younger audience for whom this film is primarily intended, but are a heart-warming nod to the older horror enthusiast who might be watching.
This is a stop-motion animation film produced by the same company as an earlier entry, Coraline (2009). A 3D printer was used to make the character’s faces, and it was only the second feature of its kind to be shot in 3D as well.
Author Bio: Bela is a self-professed film nerd with a hankering for the macabre. she lives in New Zealand and spends far more time with her cat than she does with people.