clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

15 horror movies just scary enough for everyone to watch

New, 20 comments

Spooky, spoopy, and all-ages friendly

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

KRYSTEN RITTER as NATACHA in NIGHTBOOKS sitting behind some candles with her bright blue hair Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

The Halloween season is just around the corner, and with it the annual opportunity to scare the pants off of one another, dress up in outlandish costumes, and ingest copious of sugared confections. With the release of Netflix’s Nightbooks, the new David Yarovesky-directed children’s horror fantasy starring Winslow Fegley and Krysten Ritter, now’s as perfect a time as any to snuggle up on the couch and settle in for a marathon of spooky, but not too scary, movies.

Children’s horror stories are vital part of any childhood. They enliven the imagination, beguile and enthrall youngsters with colorful and unnerving oddities, and ultimately impart valuable life lessons about the value of courage, honesty, and determination. Plus, a lot of them are still wickedly hilarious even when watched as an adult.

With that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of 15 of the best children’s horror movies available to stream and rent from home. So draw the blinds, grab your safety blankets, and prepare to get spooped.


Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Dracula and Lou Costello face off in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Photo: Universal Pictures

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are one the greatest comedy duos of all-time, renowned for such classic skits as “Two Tens for a Five” and “Who’s on First.” Who better put at the center of a horror comedy starring Universal Pictures most iconic horror legends like Count Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s Monster? Considered the “swan song” of Universal’s aforementioned Big Three, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the perfect combination of laughs and chills; filled with hilarious dialogue, clever bits of physical comedy, a masterful performance by none other than Bela Lugosi himself as the immortal Dracula. —Toussaint Egan

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video, Apple, and Vudu.

The Addams Family

Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci), Gomez Addams (Raul Julia), Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd), and Morticia Addams (Anjelica Huston) pile in the backseat of a car in The Addams Family (1991). Photo: Paramount Pictures

The creepiest and kookiest family out there deserves an equally creepy and kooky movie. The 1991 live-action Addams Family movie delivers on this promise. Barry Sonnenfeld, the longtime cinematographer for the Coen brothers, made his directorial debut with the TV sitcom adaptation, matching absurd comedy with Sam Raimi-esque mayhem. Anchored by superb performances from Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia as Morticia and Gomez Addams, the film follows the macabre family as they welcome home long-lost Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) — but is the mysterious uncle really who he says he is? Or is there a greater scheme at hand? The Addams family may enjoy death, darkness, and other delights of the night, but they also love each other dearly, and that’s the best part. (And if you want a horror comedy that goes even harder on the one-liners, Sonnenfeld’s sequel, Addams Family Values, is like a Borscht belt comedy version of Fatal Attraction — it’s wild.) —Petrana Radulovic and Matt Patches

The Addams Family is available to stream on Pluto TV.
Addams Family Values is available to stream on Paramount Plus.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

The headless horseman in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Photo: Walt Disney Productions

Few American horror stories are as enduring as Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow; the tale of a superstitious schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane who is stalked one night by the headless ghost of a soldier who died in the Revolutionary War. Disney’s 1949 animated feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is essentially an ideal children’s horror film: one that offers equal amounts of spooky iconic imagery with whimsical animation and charming humor. With narration courtesy of Bing Crosby and Basil Rathbone and a wonderful score by Peter Pan composer Oliver Wallace, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a perfectly safe movie through which to introduce your kids to horror without utterly traumatizing them for life. —TE

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is available to stream on Disney Plus.

Coraline

Coraline crawls through an otherworldly tunnel. Photo: Focus Features

Henry Selick’s 2009 stop-motion animated horror film Coraline has all but eclipsed Neil Gaiman’s original novella at this point in terms of cultural legacy, cementing itself as a modern children’s horror touchstone among a generation of audiences introduced to it in the decade-plus since it was first released. Starring Dakota Fanning as a precocious 11-year-old girl who discovers a portal to alternate world in her house inhabited by twisted, button-eyed doppelgängers of her mother and father, Laika’s first feature film is an eerie and magical experience that taps into prime qualities which make children’s horror such an enduring and essential genre. —TE

Coraline is available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video, Apple; $2.99 on Vudu.

Don’t Look Under the Bed

Ty Hodges as Larry Houdini in Don’t Look Under the Bed, Photo: Disney Plus

It’s a Disney movie with a history that sounds like an urban legend: Don’t Look Under the Bed was reportedly too scary for a Disney Channel Original Movie, so much so that parents asked the Disney Channel to stop airing the 1999 children’s horror film as part of its annual Halloween programming, a request the network granted. Watch the movie — which you can stream today on Disney Plus — and it’s easy to see why: Don’t Look Under the Bed is actually pretty scary. It starts as a mystery: Frances Bacon McCausland is the new girl in high school, starting a year early and sticking out like a sore thumb. Then, she’s framed for a bunch of mean pranks — something she doesn’t understand until a man named Larry Houdini, who claims to be an imaginary friend, tells her that it’s the work of The Boogeyman. Don’t Look Under the Bed is a wonderfully eerie adventure that takes a sudden detour into spooky fantasy, but in its climatic moments, when the truth is finally revealed to Frances? It’s frightening stuff. —Joshua Riveria

Don’t Look Under the Bed is available to stream on Disney Plus.

Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge

Daniel Kountz as Kal in Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge. Photo: Disney Plus

There are four Halloweentown Disney Channel Original Movies, and in my professional opinion, the first sequel is the best. Halloweentown II appears to have slightly more budget than the first Halloweentown, but the not-so-great special effects of the early-2000s give this movie its charm. Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge picks up two years after the original. Plucky young witch Marnie has been living in the fantastical Halloweentown with her grandma and meets a handsome boy while visiting the mortal realm. But upon returning to Halloweentown, she learns that a mysterious illness has been affecting its inhabitants… turning them boring and normal. It’s a fun, spoopy romp that recognizes that the scariest thing in the world might be losing what makes you special. —PR

Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge is available to stream on Disney Plus.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls

Jack Black, Owen Vaccaro and Cate Blanchett in The House With A Clock in Its Walls. Photo: Quantrell Colbert/Universal Pictures

2018’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls isn’t exactly the kind of film you’d expect to come from the director of such gory fare like Hostel and The Green Inferno, which is exactly what makes this kid-friendly fantasy horror comedy so compelling. Starring Jack Black, Owen Vaccaro, and Cate Blanchett, Eli Roth’s adaptation of the John Bellairs’ 1973 children’s book follows the story of Lewis Barnavelt (Vaccaro), a young orphan who moves in with his eccentric warlock uncle Jonathan (Black) in his strange (and seemingly infinite) home filled with frightful and extraordinary surprises. As Polygon’s Petrana Radulovic wrote back in 2018, “The House With a Clock in Its Walls follows in this grand tradition of spoopy movies, giving just enough taste of horror to genuinely scare, but with the heartwarming message of embracing weirdness, of finding those who will embrace it with you.” Plus, it’s got a hilarious (see: horrifying) animatronic Jack Black baby. What’s not to like? —TE

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video, Apple, and Vudu.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth: Jennifer Connelly stands in the Labyrinth Image: Sony Home Entertainment

Jennifer Connelly stars opposite of David Bowie in Jim Henson’s classic 1986 musical fantasy Labyrinth as Sarah Williams, a 16-year-old girl who inadvertently casts a spell that results in her baby brother Toby being abducted into another world by the Goblin King Jareth (Bowie). With only 13 hours to spare, Sarah must navigate the treacherous corridors and traps of Jareth’s labyrinth in order to rescind her wish and bring Toby back home, all while defeating the challenges constructed by the Goblin King’s minions. The second collaboration between Henson and artist Brian Froud following 1982’s The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth is a fairytale adventure on par with Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride or Wolfgang Petersen’s The NeverEnding Story, bursting at the seams with memorable characters, beautiful set pieces, and an inimitable performance by David Bowie as a wily and verbose sorcerer with an irrepressible flair for the dramatic. —TE

Labyrinth is available to stream on Netflix.

Mad Monster Party

Dracula holding Francesca’s hand in Mad Monster Party Image: Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment

While Jules Bass is perhaps best known for his Christmas-themed animated television specials like Frosty The Snowman and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, his 1967 stop-motion horror musical Mad Monster Party is just as entertaining if lesser known. Starring Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) as Baron Boris von Frankenstein, the film centers on Frankenstein’s retirement from the “World Organization of Monsters” and a convention of monsters including Dracula, Mr. Hyde, and many more who vie for the Baron’s coveted role of leadership. While technically more of an animated comedy than anything resembling a horror movie, Mad Monster Party is a fun, silly, and thoroughly enjoyable children’s film to ease kids into a familiarity with some of pop culture’s most iconic horror characters. —TE

Mad Monster Party is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple, and Vudu.

Monster House

Jenny (Spencer Locke), D.J (Mitchel Musso), and Charles (Sam Lerner) look on in horror in Monster House. Photo: Columbia Pictures/Amblin Entertainment

What’s better than a haunted house? A haunted house that eats people. That’s the main premise of the 2006 animated film, which finds young hero D.J. (Mitchel Musso) embarking on a mission with his friends to stop the creepy house down the street from eating people. Convinced that the old man who lives there — earlier whisked away on an ambulance stretcher — is now possessing the house, D.J. and his friends venture into the house, only to find that the real story is much more sinister than they could’ve predicted. It’s a kid-friendly romp, but still full of scary moments! —PR

Monster House is available to stream on Netflix.

The Raven

Vincent Price in The Raven (1963) Photo: MGM Home Entertainment

Vincent Price is bonafide horror royalty, fondly celebrated for his role in such films as 1958’s The Fly, 1959’s House on Haunted Hill, and 1964’s The Last Man on Earth. Starring alongside Boris Karloff (Frankenstein), Peter Lorre (M), and a young Jack Nicholson in Roger Corman’s 1963 riff on Edgard Allan Poe’s classic poem, as a former sorcerer who must help a magician (Lorre) who is transformed into a crow by the villainous Dr. Scarabus (Karloff). While not the type of adaptation you’re likely to find taught in a high school English class, Corman’s The Raven is a wickedly funny horror comedy that combines some of the funniest character actors of their time and just allows them to let loose with hilariously improvised dialogued paired with dazzling special effects. —TE

The Raven is available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video, Apple, and Vudu.

Return to Oz

Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale placing a crown on the head of the Scarecrow in Return to Oz. Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

This movie is disturbing in a cute way. Picking up with Dorothy Gale in electrotherapy, where she’s been since her time spent in Oz, the movie is basically the Terminator 2 of whimsical childhood adventures. When another evil force threatens the magical land, Dorothy teams up with Scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead, portly automaton Tik Tok, and a flying bed with a talking moose head (his name’s Gump) to save the day. Renowned film editor and sound designer Walter Murch directed this frightening sequel, which I’m so pleased to say will be able to freak the next generation of youngsters out on streaming. —MP

Return to Oz is available to stream on Disney Plus.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Chuck (Zajur), pursued by the pale lady monster. Photo: Lionsgate

Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series is a perennial classic of children’s horror literature, each installment chock full of spine-tingling stories paired with the dark, unnerving, and iconic illustrations of artist Stephen Gammel. Trollhunter director André Øvredal’s 2019 film adaptation weaves Schwartz’s short stories into a narrative centered on a group of teenage friends in the rural town of Mill Valley who are stalked night after night by ghoulish creatures conjured from out of the notebook of a vengeful, long-dead woman. Co-written and produced by Guillermo del Toro, the film does an admirable enough job of emulating the characteristic horror of the original series, but the real stars of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark are the monster designs which uncannily resemble the surreal eeriness of Gammel’s remarkable artwork. Watch out for the pale lady. —TE

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is available to stream on Tubi.

The Witches

Anjelica Houston as a hideous, bald, huge-nosed witch in The Witches Photo: Warner Bros.

Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches is, to quote Polygon’s own Matt Patches, deeply effed up. Based on Roald Dahl’s dark fantasy novel of the same name, Roeg’s adaptation was inspired many a nightmare for a generation of kids from the ’90s onward, mostly attributable to the disturbing practical makeup effects of Lindsay MacGowan and Christine Beveridge and the leering cinematography of Harvey Harrison. Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family) is a chillingly memorable villain as the Grand High Witch Ms. Ernst, and the scene where the assembly of witches remove their disguises to reveal their true horrific forms is nightmare fuel in its purest concentrated form. —TE

The Witches is available to stream on HBO Max.