Halloween is a fun time to watch scary movies, and there are many spooky films that were made particularly for children, with witches, ghosts, and child protagonists. The Watcher in the Woods and Something Wicked This Way Comes are more serious films, while The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Haunted Mansion are more light-hearted and comedic. But all four movies are appropriate for family viewing and feature tons of scary thrills that make them perfect for Halloween.
The Watcher in the Woods (1980)
Starring Bette Davis (Mrs. Aylwood), Lynn-Holly Johnson (Jan Curtis), Kyle Richards (Ellie Curtis), Carroll Baker (Helen Curtis), David McCallum (Paul Curtis)
In this classic Disney movie, a family rents an English mansion one summer and discovers a supernatural mystery. There is a strange glow in the surrounding woods, and the family’s daughters in particular feel that they are being watched. Jan, the oldest girl, keeps seeing a blindfolded girl in the mirror, and the younger daughter keeps hearing and sensing odd things. The mansion’s owner, Mrs. Aylwood, finally tells the family the tragic tale of how her daughter mysteriously disappeared years ago during an eclipse. Now, Jan is determined to find out what happened and what The Watcher in the Woods has to do with the daughter’s disappearance.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Starring Jonathan Pryce (Mr. Dark), Jason Robards (Charles Halloway), Diane Ladd (Mrs. Nightshade), Vidal Peterson (Will Halloway), Shawn Carson (Jim Nightshade), Pam Grier (Dust Witch)
Based on a Ray Bradbury short story, this Disney-produced movie explores what happens when people get their deepest wish but at a terrible price. Will and his best friend Jim are enjoying a quiet autumn when Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival comes to their small town. The boys sense something sinister in Mr. Dark and his weird carnival, which features a mirror that shows people what they wished they looked like and a carousel that makes people young again. Soon townspeople are being granted their most desired wish, but each wish comes at a terrible cost. When the boys see Mr. Dark performing his evil magic against a townsperson, Mr. Dark tracks them down and they must resist giving in to his wicked temptations.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Starring Chris Sarandon (Jack Skellington), Catherine O’Hara (Sally), William Hickey (Dr. Finkelstein), Glenn Shadix (Mayor)
Based on a poem by Tim Burton, this stop-motion animated movie is perfect for both Halloween and Christmas viewing. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, has gotten bored with the usual Halloween mayhem and desires something more. While wandering in the woods, he stumbles upon Christmas Town and sees people who are actually happy and having fun. He decides to kidnap Santa Claus and put on Christmas himself, but unfortunately the scary people of Halloween Town give Christmas a spooky twist and ruin it. Jack Skellington only has one night to try to fix everything.
The stop-motion animation gives this movie a perfect scary-yet-fun look. The Nightmare Before Christmas also features some good songs and a Danny Elfman-composed score. Overall, this is a good family-friendly animated movie with enough spooky scares to make it perfect for Halloween viewing.
The Haunted Mansion (2003)
Starring Eddie Murphy (Jim Evers), Marsha Thomason (Sara Evers), Nathaniel Parker (Master Gracey), Terence Stamp (Ramsley), Jennifer Tilly (Madame Leota), Wallace Shawn (Ezra)
When reclusive and mysterious Master Gracey wants to sell his mansion, husband-and-wife real estate team Jim and Sara Evers go with their children to check out the property. Once there, however, they realize that Gracey lied about wanting to sell the house. Instead, he thinks that Sara can help lift a curse put on the house years ago when the owner’s fiancée killed herself and he hanged himself. Spooky things happen in the mansion, including ghost servants and a glowing green light. The family must work together to find out what really happened in the mansion in order to break the curse and save Sara.
Based on the Disney ride of the same name, The Haunted Mansion tries to recreate much of the spooky feeling of the Walt Disney attraction. The movie’s set looks a lot like the ride, and the ghosts and lighting help add to the haunted ambiance. The plot has just enough chills to be scary, but the family at the center of the story keeps the movie funny and light-hearted enough to be appropriate for the whole family and is a fun choice for watching around Halloween.