It's Halloween night. Do you know what movies your children are watching?
It wouldn't be the most wonderful holiday of the year without a double- or triple-feature of scary movies to go with the tricking and treating. While there are plenty of R-rated slasher flicks to please big brother and sister in the other room, there are also a fair amount of PG-rated spookfests that provide good, clean fun (and scares!) for the under-13 crowd in the basement.
However, a few of these so-called "kids' movies" threaten to step over the line at any moment and become cinematic experiences that might be a little too troubling for their target audience. With honorable mentions to the formidably traumatizing "Little Monsters," the recent "ParaNorman" (pictured) and "Frankenweenie," "Beetle Juice" and "Jumanji," here are our top nine picks for movies most likely to inspire hiding under the covers.
9. 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993)
Sure, the scare factor is announced right there in the title, but Tim Burton's creeptastic holiday vs. holiday war film "The Nightmare Before Christmas" earned a few unexpected spine shivers. How this animated flick got away with shoving poor Santa Clause into the sinister games at Halloweentown is beyond us. The movie's enough to make a kid glad to discover Father Christmas — er, spoiler alert? — is a figment of fantasy.
Even the "good guys" of this movie are undeniably unsettling.
8. 'Coraline' (2009)
Director Henry Selick and writer Neil Gaiman beat fellow spooktastic stories like "Lost" to the punch when it came to employing eerie parallel realities as a scare-and-confuse tactic in "Coraline." Even better (or worse, depending), he threw button-eyed moms and 3-D needle strokes into this strange stop-motion movie to give viewers an extra long-lasting case of the willies.
7. 'Alice in Wonderland' (1951)
Disney has a veritable catalog of trippy cartoons supposedly made for children (such as "Fantasia," "Sleeping Beauty," "James and the Giant Peach"), the most frightening of which is their translation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland." From the Cheshire Cat's sinister smile to the suddenly melodic flowers to the Queen of Heart's truly terrifying "Off with their heads!" chant, this journey down the rabbit hole is freaky for any generation.
6. 'Labyrinth' (1986)
Plenty of '80s movies aimed to bite back at the era's disaffected youth, and the lessons of the nightmarish "Labyrinth" were pretty routine (teenagers need to stop being mopey brats all the time, David Bowie is the man, yada yada). But to get to the point, a selfish girl was forced to face the figments of her wildest imagination — basically a maze of malady filled with toothy goblins, a bog of eternal stench and impossible brain teasers.
Creepiest part? Two words: Helping Hands. Eek!
5. 'The Watcher in the Woods' (1980)
"The Watcher in the Woods" was so disturbing that its original ending had to be re-edited after initial screenings, and even then it still turned out scary as hell. It was labeled a family film, somehow, though it was anything but (in the movie, two innocent kids get wrangled into seances, alien encounters and ghostly possessions, for crying out loud). In fact, it was originally pitched as the potential next "Exorcist."
4. 'The NeverEnding Story' (1984)
The Nothing. Who could forget the Nothing? It was enough to give a girl nightmares for years on end.
"The NeverEnding Story" was on its surface a tale of overcoming adversity and combating the neighborhood bullies with brains (and a giant flying dog, if one's around). But as it played out, the poor kids of the story endured losing beloved pets to deathly quicksand, escaping sneezy, pissed-off mega-tortoises and battling freaky creatures... not to mention, the Nothing. Perhaps the most existential villain of all kid cinema, the Nothing began to eat away at the decaying world as one little boy with a quiver and a snake necklace tried to fight back. So. Screwed. Up.
3. 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939)
Getting sucked up by a tornado, thrust into a world with a rainbow horse, a glittery castle and super-odd townsfolk and then running across a scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion along the way to see a middle-aged guy who calls himself "the Wizard" is scary enough. Throw in the cackling Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkey brigade and it's all just way too much.
Also, does stealing footwear from dead people really seem like a good instance of problem-solving to anyone?
2. 'The Dark Crystal' (1982)
Jim Henson and Frank Oz might've just been the most devilishly crazy duo to ever make a so-called kids movie, and "The Dark Crystal" was their seminal skin-crawler — if for no other reason than those horrifying animatronic monsters. Even the central Gelflings were the stuff of any tween's nightmares. Like "Labyrinth," this movie seems more suited for college coeds with tapestries and glowlights than innocent youngsters... if you catch our drift.
1. 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' (1971)
The snozberries might taste like snozberries, but they're totally laced with hallucinogens. Or at least that's what it seemed like once the journey c0mmenced over at Willy Wonka's elusive chocolate factory. Perhaps the intent of this movie was to scare bad behavior urges out of the viewing youth, but there was no discernible moral to be drawn from that mind-melter tunnel scene. Not to mention those Oompa Loompas chanting in synchrony about the fate of the fallen children — who were either blown up, nearly drowned, reduced to molecules or shot down garbage shoots — are enough to make a kid really reconsider that visit to the candy shop.
Oh, and Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (no disrespect to Johnny Depp) is inexplicable terror.
Originally published on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012.