Little kids are always being underestimated, especially when it comes to horror. Quality movies for all ages that could legitimately be called horror films are more elusive than unicorns. Like I've said before, it's occasionally because simple-minded adults believe that children have enough fears and suffering to deal with, but in the case of movies, it's mostly because "all-ages horror" translates into "crap" 99% of the time. Are there any scary movies the whole family can enjoy? That's a rhetorical question, don't shout the answer at your screen.
1. The Nightmare Before Christmas
One of Tim Burton's best, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a beautiful stop-motion film about Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween, and he's bored with the same old thing. So when he finds a magical portal leading to Christmastown, he decides that he'll give Santa a break this year. Why does this sound like a bad idea?
I've watched this movie dozens of times, and it just never gets old. It melds my two favorite holidays, it features music and lyrics by Danny Elfman, it's got all manner of interesting monsters, ghosts, and ghoulies, and it's appropriate for everybody to watch. If you don't like this movie, I refuse to listen to your opinion about anything.
I know quite a few people who absolutely hate Casper. I'll admit, it's not perfect. Some of the actors are off, the effects haven't aged terribly well, and it's all rather silly. I don't care. There's so much to like about it! The plot is paper-thin, but you still get three very funny ghosts in Casper's uncles, Christina Ricci looking adorable, and Whipstaff manor, one of the coolest fictional haunted house ever. Throw in a cameo by Dan Akroyd as Ray Stanton, and it's almost the perfect haunted nostalgia trip.
3. Monster House
Headed up by masters Zemeckis and Spielberg, Monster House follows a young boy named DJ and his friends as they combat the house across the street. Not the neighbor across the street, you understand, but his actual house. Turns out that the modest two-story with the bare trees is possessed, and alive. And it knows what the kids are up to.
Monster House is hands down my favorite horror movie for the younger crowd. Not only is it funny and well-scripted, there's actual scares to be had. I got startled more than once on first viewing, and this flick deals with some rather morbid subject matter for something that's rated PG. It's kind of like an early Tim Burton film if Burton wasn't given any studio restrictions. I also love how the movie subtly suggests that it's taking place in the 80s, the most fertile period of horror films and "kids combating the supernatural" movies in recent memory.
There's more than these three on the list, but if you're looking for the best in kid-friendly frights, then add these to the Netflix queue pronto.