In the late 1940s, Disney briefly abandoned the concept of feature-length animated movies and began to release "package" films, which were basically just anthologies of animated shorts. Arguably the best of the lot, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, begins with a brief adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, and concludes with an incredible rendition of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Cowardly, gluttonous schoolteacher Ichabod Crane encounters a headless specter and then... disappears forever. It's still creepy nearly 70 years later.
Another successful attempt by Disney to scare the hell out of children everywhere, this adaptation of Florence Engel Randall's young adult novel comes courtesy of horror veteran John Hough (The Legend of Hell House), and it shows. A family moves into a haunted house, populated by an unseen force following them throughout the grounds and Hollywood legend Bette Davis, who has a secret. The theatrical ending is okay but pretty confusing; the alternate endings available on DVD explain the whole twisty plot and have some truly disturbing visual effects.
Poltergeist was originally slapped with an R rating but producer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper lobbied for a PG (this before PG-13 was invented), and they succeeded. The result was that one of the scariest movies ever made is usually considered, by default, a "family film" and is often shown to kids even though it includes grown men tearing their faces off and homicidal clown toys. It's a horror classic that restaged the classic haunted house scenario in suburbia, and it's expertly written, acted and directed.
Based on the novel by Ray Bradbury, this eery small-town horror yarn tells the story of a supernatural carnival that sweeps into an unsuspecting community and begins stealing everyone's souls. The direction by Jack Clayton (who also helmed the 1961 haunted house classic The Innocents) is wistful and disturbing, but a little dry. Something Wicked This Way Comes has a lot of atmosphere - and at least one severed head - but the pacing was so slow that Disney had it re-edited and re-shot. The finished film may now be a little messy at times, but it's still disturbing, and Jonathan Pryce is having a blast as the villainous ringmaster "Mr. Dark."
Another film that's probably too scary for many kids but got marketed to them anyway, Joe Dante's classic horror-comedy Gremlins tells the story of a kid who gets a pet for Christmas and can't handle the responsibility, so the pet turns into an army of monsters who lay waste to the entire town. (It's kind of a weird film.) Dante has a lot of fun subverting Capra-esque family filmmaking by injecting wholesome scenes with mean-spirited monsters, and the finale where our heroes fight off a monster wielding a chainsaw is as classic as ever.
The only film ever directed by Apocalypse Now editor Walter Murch probably should have been a light-hearted return to the magic and wonder of Oz, as made famous in the classic 1939 musical. Instead, it's a shocking horror show about a little girl who is institutionalized for believing in fairy tales, subjected to electroshock therapy and then - apparently - going berserk and killing her doctor and burning down the hospital. It's all translated into a vivid psychotic break involving hallways of severed heads and giggling homicidal maniacs on roller skates. Return to Oz is one of the most disturbing kids movies ever produced, and it's hard not to love it for that.
Every adult knows that Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Frankenstein Monster aren't real. That's why adults are useless in this devilish supernatural adventure. When monsters attack, only the kids can recognize the signs, so only they can save the world. Hilarious dialogue helps take the sting off of genuinely frightening moments, like when werewolves explode, a child takes a shotgun to the Gill-man and Dracula snaps one neck after another en route to call a little girl the b-word.
Roald Dahl was no stranger to endangering children... in fiction, that is. Like his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this gruesome fairy tale is about a monster who plans to exterminate annoying children by taking advantage of their love of candy. (That's what Willy Wonka did, isn't it?) In The Witches, the villain is a literal demon played with campy glee by Angelica Huston, who turns our heroes into mice and plots to kill all the children in England. Nicolas Roeg's film gives this disturbing tale a happier ending than Dahl's book, but it's still creepy as heck thanks to the malicious villains and some grotesque makeup effects.
Joe Dante's impish sequel to Gremlins finally arrived with the proper PG-13 rating, but this version is more humorous than the original and arguably even more fun. This time, the title monsters infest a New York City skyscraper and start chugging mutagens, turning into hybrid monstrosities with wings, spider legs, heightened intelligence and - in one particularly bizarre example - the ability to convert into living electricity. The monster effects are as creepy as ever, but the inventiveness and satire have officially reached Bride of Frankenstein levels of ingenuity.
Many great horror films are about being careful what you wish for. In the case of Henry Selick's creepy Coraline, based on the novella by Neil Gaiman, the title heroine wishes her parents were more fun and soon wanders into an alternate reality where they are fabulously entertaining... and horrifying monsters. The stop-motion animation adds an otherworldly quality to an already disturbing yarn, full of magical moments and charming characters.
Shane Acker's impressive, Oscar-nominated animated short got the big screen treatment in 2009, and the results were... mixed. The characters and the story are forgettable, but the bizarre post-apocalyptic atmosphere and sense of pervasive dread keeps 9 alive. It's a stylish and scary film, even though it's not a great one.
Norman can see ghosts, and they are his only friends in a town with a lengthy history of persecuting the strange and unusual. But the town outcast is the only one who can save them in ParaNorman, after a prophecy brings zombies to life that terrorize the populace until... oh, just watch it. Sam Fell and Chris Butler's excellent stop-motion animated film revels in creepy images, but it turns out that the scariest monsters are actually inside all of us.
Joe Dante came back for a terrifying horror film for kids, not that anyone noticed. This spook story debuted in 2009 but wasn't officially released in America until 2012, and even then it nearly bypassed theaters entirely. That's too bad, because The Hole is a return to form for the director, telling the story of charismatic young kids who accidentally let the forces of hell out of their basement. The personifications of their greatest fears are scary enough, but when they have to venture into the title crevasse, that's when the horror really begins.