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A group of vampires in What We Do in the Shadows.
Photo: Paramount Pictures

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What to watch this Halloween if you hate horror movies

Halloween movies that won’t give you nightmares

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The Halloween holiday season can be tough to navigate if you’re someone with a low tolerance for scares. The season’s main saying, “Trick or treat,” suggests a balance between the scary and the sweet, but tricks and frights tend to dominate the Halloween landscape.

For balance, Polygon put together a list of movies to watch this Halloween that won’t end up giving you nightmares. No matter what genre of movie you usually like, from musicals to romantic comedies, or for those ready to experiment with more gentle, friendly scares, this list has something for you.


Not-too-spooky classics and cult classics

ghostbusters 1984 Image: Columbia Pictures

You’ve probably heard of these movies before. Maybe the fact that they’re got some monsters in them scared you off, but not to worry — any of the movies in this category are more likely to make you laugh than scream. And, on top of that, they’re all iconic enough that dressing up as one of the characters would make you a hit at any party.

Ghostbusters

Since its debut in 1984, Ghostbusters has spawned a multi-billion dollar multimedia franchise. Why not go back to where things started? There are a couple of jump scares, but the ghosts that these Ghostbusters bust are by and large excuses to goof around. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis star as a trio of parapsychologists who turn catching ghosts into their life’s work.

Ghostbusters is available to rent on Amazon.

Young Frankenstein

What happens when you’re the descendant of an infamous figure in horror history? That’s the story Mel Brooks aims to tell in Young Frankenstein, which stars Gene Wilder as a descendent of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He’s done all that he can to distance himself from the family name, but will he be able to resist the call of reanimation when he returns to the family estate?

Young Frankenstein is available to rent on Amazon.

Death Becomes Her

Death Becomes Her can get a little gruesome as two women, both of whom have drunk a potion promising eternal youth, begin to discover that, no matter what happens to their bodies, they’ll never die. However, it’s all so garish that it won’t be difficult to remind yourself that what you’re watching is movie magic, especially as Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn go all-out as bitter rivals.

Death Becomes Her is streaming on HBO Max.


Spooky musicals

A giant plant holds a woman. Image: Warner Bros.

Musicals might initially seem like too cheery a genre to offer any Halloween-appropriate fare, but there are a few out there! The songs help the scares go down, just like a spoonful of sugar.

Little Shop of Horrors

Everything about Little Shop of Horrors is magical, from the cast (Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin) to the songs (“Skid Row (Downtown),” “Feed Me (Git It!),” “Suddenly, Seymour”). The story focuses on a timid young man whose life abruptly turns around when a mysterious plant enters the picture. It talks! But it also only wants to feed on fresh blood.

Little Shop of Horrors is streaming on HBO Max.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show gave us the famous “The Time Warp,” among others, and remains a cult classic to this day. Tim Curry stars in this send-up of old science fiction and horror B-movies as the mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter, with Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as the hapless couple who happen upon his estate.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is available to rent on Amazon.


Any Tim Burton movie

The Nightmare Before Christmas Image: Touchstone Pictures/Disney

Tim Burton doesn’t strictly make Halloween movies, but pretty much anything in his oeuvre has enough of a spooky aesthetic that you could make a strong argument that they were meant for the holiday. Here are the most overtly Halloween-y of the bunch.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Is it a Christmas movie? Is it a Halloween movie? Honestly, The Nightmare Before Christmas, which chronicles the King of Halloween Town’s burgeoning obsession with the much fluffier, sweeter holiday of Christmas, is whatever you want it to be. The only categorization that really matters is that it’s also a musical, with Danny Elfman providing the singing voice of Jack Skellington.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is streaming on Disney Plus.

Corpse Bride

Is there love after death? Corpse Bride posits yes, as the film follows a young man, Victor, who inadvertently weds a woman who died long ago while waiting for her would-be husband. As Victor is introduced to the ways of the underworld, he begins to untangle the mystery behind how his new bride came to perish.

Corpse Bride is available to rent on Amazon.

Beetlejuice

Beetlejuice has all the Halloween-y elements you’d want — ghosts, a mischievous spirit, monsters, summonings — without ever really getting too scary. The designs that Burton came up with are a little creepy, sure, but the predominant impetus of Beetlejuice, which sees a recently deceased couple attempting to drive out the family who have just moved into their house, is to have fun rather than scare the viewer.

Beetlejuice is available to rent on Amazon.

Edward Scissorhands

On the more romantic side of things is Edward Scissorhands, which stars Johnny Depp as an unfinished artificial humanoid who is taken in by a normal suburban family after his creator passes away. Winona Ryder co-stars as the young girl in the household who, after getting over her fear of Edward, who has scissors for hands, begins to fall in love with him.

Edward Scissorhands is available to rent on Amazon.


Spooky romances

nicole kidman and sandra bullock in practical magic Photo: Warner Bros.

If you’re a fan of romance, there are still a few Halloween-y options out there for you. Of course, our recommendations are both full of witchcraft — love potions aren’t going to brew themselves!

Practical Magic

Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock star in Practical Magic as a pair of sisters who come from a family suffering from a specific curse: the women in their family tree are doomed to have the men they fall in love with die untimely deaths. The two, who are both witches, take opposite tacks, with one deciding to fall in love and one determined never to.

Practical Magic is available to rent on Amazon.

The Witches of Eastwick

The picturesque town of Eastwick is in for a shaking up. Three women (Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer) in Eastwick, unaware that they possess witchly powers, bond over weekly get-togethers where they share their fantasies about their ideal men. When a new man in town (Jack Nicholson) draws their attention, they become aware of their powers, as well as something wrong with their new suitor.

The Witches of Eastwick is available to rent on Amazon.


Halloween movies for the whole family

The Sanderson Sisters (Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker) look confused Photo: Buena Vista Pictures

If you’re looking for something to watch that’s suitable for all ages, there are still plenty of options of movies that will scratch that Halloween itch without getting too scary, including films that are based on childrens’ and young adult books.

Hocus Pocus

In Hocus Pocus, young Max Dennison accidentally resurrects three witches in Salem on Halloween. The witches, played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, plan to use their new lease on life to become immortal, and it’s up to Max, his sister, and their new friend to put a stop to the witches’ antics.

Hocus Pocus is streaming on Disney Plus.

The Witches

Speaking of witches, Anjelica Huston plays perhaps the most fabulous witch of all time in The Witches. The film is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, in which a young boy encounters a coven of witches who despise and kill children. Given its premise, the film does have a few genuinely scary moments, but nothing too intense for its intended younger audience.

The Witches is streaming on Netflix.

Goosebumps

Goosebumps is the rare young adult film that has something for both younger and older audience members, as Jack Black’s portrayal of iconic horror author R. L. Stine combines incredible physical comedy and snipes at Stephen King. The film teams Stine up with a group of local kids to keep his horror novel creations from wreaking too much havoc in the real world, and return them to the pages of his books.

Goosebumps is available to rent on Amazon.

The Addams Family

This list has one more Anjelica Huston entry in the form of The Addams Family. Huston stars in this adaptation of the comic strip series as Morticia Addams, with Raul Julia as her beloved husband Gomez. The Addams family are a bunch of macabre oddballs, and the film follows their attempt to reconnect with someone they believe to be a long-lost family member.

The Addams Family is streaming on Amazon.


Animated Halloween movies

Coraline crawls through an otherworldly tunnel. Photo: Focus Features

If you want some further reassurance that the spooky antics unfolding on screen aren’t real, an animated movie might do the trick. We’ve already listed a couple of options from Tim Burton, but the studio Laika has a few gems, too.

ParaNorman

ParaNorman’s main character, a young boy named Norman, can speak with the dead. His unusual ability leads him on a journey of uncovering the history of the town he lives in, all while attempting to persuade the people around him that he isn’t just crazy.

ParaNorman is available to rent on Amazon.

Coraline

Based on the novella of the same name by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is both charming and chilling as its protagonist, Coraline, discovers a parallel world that seems to be everything that the real world she’s living in isn’t. However, what seems too good to be true, is, and Coraline must muster up her courage to fight back against the Other Mother, who seeks to take over the real world.

Coraline is available to rent on Amazon.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown might just be the sweetest entry on this entire list, as is to be expected from the Peanuts franchise. In this holiday installment, Charlie Brown and his friends set out to figure out whether or not the Great Pumpkin, a supernatural figure with a pumpkin for a head, is real. Charlie Brown doesn’t believe in it, while Linus, who annually writes a letter to the Great Pumpkin, fervently does.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is available to buy on Amazon.

Hotel Transylvania

The Hotel Transylvania series takes horror’s best-known monsters and brings them together through computer animation. Adam Sandler voices Count Dracula, who, in the first installment of the series, is the proprietor of a hotel where famous monsters can kick back and get some rest. Will he be able to keep the hotel under control when a human guest suddenly appears?

Hotel Transylvania is available to rent on Amazon.


A vampire mockumentary

a trio of vampires in what we do in the shadows Photo: Paramount Pictures

One of the freshest entries in the “horror suited for non-horror-fans” genre is, of all things, a mockumentary. What We Do in the Shadows was such a hit, and so cleverly executed, that it spawned two television spin-offs, What We Do in the Shadows and Wellington Paranormal, both of which are also good options for not-scary Halloween TV.

What We Do in the Shadows

The film that started it all stars Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, and Jonathan Brugh as a trio of vampires who share a house. The mockumentary observes them as they go about their everyday lives, from trying to get invited into clubs to dealing with familiars. Talking head segments help flesh out each of the characters, who don’t ultimately seem so different from you or me 00 except for the fact that they’re undead.

What We Do in the Shadows is available to rent on Amazon.


Slightly scarier but still funny movies

A still from the original Shaun of the Dead. Photo: Universal Pictures

If you feel like you’re ready to take the next step with horror movies and watch something that does genuinely have an element of peril, here are a couple of suggestions to ease you into deeper horror waters. These movies really do get a bit scary, but have a good amount of laughs to balance out the equation.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead, the first film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy, stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as a pair of slackers who are forced to take stock of their lives when the zombie apocalypse comes knocking. Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, and Bill Nighy co-star as various friends and family members the pair come across in their attempt to get everyone to safety in the local pub.

Shaun of the Dead is available to rent on Amazon.

Zombieland

Zombieland also uses zombies as its source of scares. In this zombie apocalypse scenarios, survivors refer to themselves by the names of the destinations they’re trying to reach. For instance, the bookish Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is trying to get to Columbus, while the bullish Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is trying to get to, well, Tallahassee. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin also come along for the ride, with most of the movie’s fun coming from their clashing personalities and the myriad ways they come up with to dispatch the undead.

Zombieland is available to rent on Amazon.