Since the dawn of man, stories of monsters have been used to keep children in line. Whether it be tales of vampires creeping into our beds, werewolves stalking us in the woods, or even a stranger following us in public, we are taught to always be on guard. Evolving with the times, movies have done much to increase the appeal of these stories. No longer just a fair warning, now legitimate entertainment, horror movies are some of the most prevalent films of any genre. Whether they be microbudget gold or big budget blockbusters, we can all find something entertaining within the genre. But what about the kids? Most parents nowadays don’t let their kids watch a maniac with a chainsaw vivisect a victim, so what can they watch? Especially since we’re all stuck inside. PopHorror has an answer with our list of Family Friendly Freakouts!
Some of these Family Friendly Freakouts are old and some are new. So whether you’re single and on your own or stuck with the family, you’ll probably find a new or old favorite on this list.
I’m kicking our Family Friendly Freakout list off with an old favorite. I didn’t grow up with this one and didn’t see it until high school, but I still find it entertaining. The brain child of Fred Dekker and Shane Black, The Monster Squad was something different for its time.
Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, The Monster Squad tells the story of a group of preteens who idolize classic horror. They meet after school every day to discuss the genre, and fawn over Abraham Van Helsing’s supposed journal. Unbeknownst to them, strange events are taking place as Dracula seeks to cast the world into darkness with the help of a mummy, The Creature of the Black Lagoon, a werewolf, and Frankenstein’s monster. The kids figure it our pretty quickly, so they attempt to stop the evil in its tracks.
Monster Squad premiered August 14, 1987. To create the monsters, FX guru Stan Winston (Jurassic Park 1993, Terminator 2: Judgement Day 1991) was brought in. His team created several unique creatures for the film, most notably an updated appearance for Gill-Man. Initially, this Friendly Family Freakout did not have much love, only receiving a single VHS release. Alamo Drafthouse announced a 20th anniversary showing – and, thanks to the overwhelming support – the first home video release since the VHS. Thank you, Alamo Drafthouse!
This one isn’t technically a horror film, but if certain parts can scare my niece, then I’m adding it to the Family Friendly Freakout list. I actually did grow up with this one, and it’s one of my all time favorite movies. Brought to us by a near legendary team of Director Richard Donner, Producer Steven Spielberg, and a screenplay by Chris Columbus, The Goonies is a brilliant story kids of any age can enjoy.
In Astoria, Oregon, at an area known as the “Goon Docks,” a group of friends want to spend one last weekend together before they are forced to move. A local country club has opted to expand their hold, and they have the Goon Docks in their sights. Finding a clue, the ever-positive Mikey leads his friends and older brother on a treasure hunt for lost pirate gold rumored to be in the area. On their trail are the Fratellis, a small time counterfeiting gang who will do anything to get the treasure before the kids can find it.
This Family Friendly Freakout had a lot going for it back in the day, especially with its talented, young cast. Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, and Corey Feldman have all had decent acting careers. Jeff Cohen, who played fan favorite Chunk, left acting altogether and had an amazing transformation. He is now not only lean, but is a founding partner in his own law firm!
Now for something a bit more modern. Most of us grew up reading the Goosebumps books as kids, and even got to watch a live action TV series. But, what if the stories weren’t just mildly entertaining books that got parents and church groups up in arms? What if they really were as dangerous as the books claimed? Preposterous, right?
In 2015’s Goosebumps film (read our review here), Zach and his mom relocate to a small town in Delaware after the death of his father. Unbeknownst to him, their move brings them to the same street to legendary author R.L. Stein and his daughter, Hannah. Zach and Hannah find and read the original book manuscripts. Unfortunately, these pages contain the actual characters Stein wrote about, like Slappy the dummy, the werewolf of Fever Swamp, and the giant mantis from A Shocker on Shock Street. The kids and author have to race against time to defeat the evil or the world is doomed.
At the height of the book series popularity, a movie was originally optioned by Tim Burton. Nothing ever came of this, as they couldn’t agree on which book should be adapted. Fast forward to 2008 when Columbia Pictures acquired the rights. Writers Scotty Alexander (Donnie Darko 2001) and Larry Karaszewski (The People vs. Larry Flint 1996) were brought on to help with the story. Realizing all of the books were on the short side, the duo decided to create a universe where all of the monsters could exist. The biggest draw to this Family Friend Freakout was having Jack Black sign on. Black managed to bring his own manic characterization to the character, embodying an embattled yet thoughtful R.L. Stein. Speaking of Stein, the author has a brief cameo towards the end. Did you spot him?
Everyone knows a creepy house that they avoid at all costs. Maybe it’s falling apart, maybe there’s a really big dog that barks at everyone, or maybe the owner is just a raging A-hole. But what if the house itself was the monster? That’s the premise of our next entry in our Family Friendly Freakout list: 2006’s Monster House!
While home alone with his babysitter, DJ and his best friend, Chowder, accidentally lose their basketball in the yard of their menacing neighbor, Horace Nebbercracker. Trying to get the ball back, DJ has a run in with the old man, who then has a heart attack. After Nebbercracker is taken away, strange things begin happening around the house, such as the babysitter’s boyfriend disappearing after getting pulled into the house. The two friends then rescue a headstrong Girl Scout from the menace. The trio try to stop the house before the entire neighborhood ends up being taken by this haunted abode.
Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers and Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment set out to create a similar film to 2004’s Polar Express. The animators had actors act out their scenes using motion capture suits which allowed the animators to capture all of the movements. Acting talent includes the often underrated Steve Buscemi, Nick Cannon, Catherine O’Hara, and Fred Willard with so many more to name. If you haven’t seen this Family Friendly Freakout, I suggest looking into it.
Next on our Family Friendly Freakout list is surprisingly dark for a kid’s movie. Released to strongly positive reviews, ParaNorman made several landmarks for a film like this. First of all, the entire movie is stop motion, but the faces utilized were all 3D printed as only the second stop motion film to be shot in 3D.
Eleven-year-old Norman has a problem… he can talk to ghosts. That’s not his only issue though, since his friends and family don’t exactly believe him. Things go from bad to worse as his estranged uncle informs him that the town is cursed, and the only way to stop it is to read from a specific book once a year, or the ghost of a powerful witch will raise the dead. While attempting to read the book, a local bully stops him, only for the town founders to rise up. Now it’s up to Norman in a race against time to find another way to end the curse and solve the mystery of the witch!
ParaNorman was shot over the course of three years in Hillsboro, Oregon. As mentioned, the faces for the characters were created using a 3D printer which was popularized by the film, Coraline. The cast for this movie includes Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, and the always enjoyable John Goodman.
And that leads us to Coraline. Some of y’all probably saw this one coming. Based off of a 2002 Neil Gaiman novel, this Family Friendly Freakout dropped in 2009, and it was definitely something different. Other movies on this list were surprisingly dark, but this one sets the tone for a lot of films that dropped after this. While others may attempt it, I don’t think anything can top the fiendish plans of The Other Mother!
After moving across the country, Coraline finds herself in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Pink Palace Apartments. While navigating a slew of interesting, new neighbors, Coraline is given a strange doll with button eyes that bears a striking resemblance to her. Later, the doll leads her through a strange door where she meets a button-eyed doppleganger of her mom known as The Other Mother, who takes Coraline on a journey where she meets button-eyed doubles of everyone from the Pink Palace. A dark side of The Other Mother is eventually revealed as she intends to trap the girl in The Other World. Can she escape?
Production of Coraline started not long after the original book was published. Director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993) had a chance meeting with book author Neil Gaiman. Selick professed an interest in adapting one of Gaiman’s books, while the author admitted to being a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas. To stand out from the crowd, Selick sought to use a unique style and enlisted Tadahiro Uesugi (Big Hero 6 2014) as a concept artist. Uesugi was able to use contrasting color palletes to help differentiate the two worlds.
Can Jim Henson create nightmare fuel? He can and he did! Based off the 1983 Roald Dahl novel, The Witches released in 1990, a time when you could still traumatize your kids with children’s programming and not even feel bad. Starring Anjelica Huston, Rowan Atkinson, and Mai Zetterling, The Witches proved to be a hit and has gained standing as a cult favorite. This was also the last film to have Jim Henson actively oversee the production before his death.
Newly orphaned Luke lives with his elderly, diabetic grandmother. Grandma, a German expatriate living in England, spins wild tales of witches to both entertain and inform young Luke of the dangers in the world. Luke and Grandma head for a resort to get away for awhile. At the resort, a Children’s Welfare Convention is taking place, chaired by the ravishing Miss Ernst. The boy discovers that they are actually a gathering of England’s witches, and that Miss Ernst is the horrifying leader of every witch on Earth. Luke is discovered spying on them and is turned into a mouse! Can Luke stop the witches before they can turn all of the world’s kids into mice, plus learn about the connection between Miss Ernst and Grandma?
As with most adaptations of his books, Roald Dahl hated the finished product. He was so furious, he demanded his name be removed from the finished product. After receiving a heartfelt letter from Producer Jim Henson, the author changed his mind. While he did not request a specific actress for the role of Miss Ernst, it was noted that he was happy with Anjelica Huston, as he was a fan. Also of note: during the big meeting between the witches, a majority of them were actually men.
Back in ’90s, someone had the idea to revive several beloved children’s titles from previous decades. We had The Flintstones, Little Rascals, and Richie Rich just to name a few. But the only one that can make this list is Casper the Friendly Ghost. The character started lif… uh, afterlife as a children’s book in the 1930s and evolved into a cartoon in the mid ’40s. He starred in several cartoons over two decades before receiving a regular comic strip published by Harvey Comics. A few decades later, the world was reintroduced to Casper on their movie screens.
Spoiled heiress Carrigan hears from her late father’s attorney that he only left her a single piece of property called Whipstaff Manor. Upon her first visit to the estate, she meets friendly Casper but quickly runs afoul of his prank happy uncles, the Ghostly Trio. Casper, who longs for a friend, sees a chance program featuring a supposed psychic Dr. James Harvey and his 13-year-old daughter, Kat. Seeing an opportunity, Casper manages to get Carrigan to hire the Harveys but what will happen when Kat meets Casper? Will the Ghostly Trio harm the pair? What does Carrigan have planned for the mansion?
This Family Friendly Freakout is lead by an all star cast including Christina Ricci hot off of her stint as Wednesday in the first two Addams Family films. The film also features the talents of Bill Pullman and legendary Monty Python actor, Eric Idle. Two notable cameos include Ben Stein as Carrigan’s lawyer and very young Devon Sawa in a surprise role. This film is notable for being the first one to feature a CGI character as a lead. Casper’s popularity lead to a resurgence for the character, including a Saturday morning cartoon, video games, and a slew of straight to DVD sequels.
Ernest Scared Stupid
Who’s ready to get stupid? Chances are, if you were a child of the ’80s and ’90s, you’ve seen an Ernest movie. Who’s Ernest you ask? The character was originally an ad man created by the late Jim Varney. The actor was offered a TV show, which turned into a series of movies, and a legend was born! Ernest’s zany antics earned him the admiration of both children and adults with his light-hearted buffoonery and heart of gold. What’s he doing on this Family Friendly Freakout list? Well…
One of the many Ernest movies was called Ernest Scared Stupid. In the film, the villainous troll, Trantor, is captured while hunting his favorite prey, children. Village elder Phineas Worrell seals the creature under a magic tree but the monster has trick up his disgusting sleeve. He curses the Worrell line, stating that only a Worrell ancestor will release him but that every subsequent member of the family will be dumber than the last. Fast forward to present day, and we see Ernest working as a bumbling handyman, a far cry from his ancestor. While helping a few of the local kids build a new tree fort, he picks the very tree Trantor was trapped under and unwittingly releases the ghoul, who soon begins transforming the local kids into small wooden statues in order to use their life force to summon other trolls. Can Ernest overcome adversity when no one will believe him?
While the film wasn’t a huge hit in theaters, Ernest Scared Stupid is still a cult favorite. Jim Varney brings his normal level of absurdity to the roll, even acting as several members of his family. The Chiodo brothers (Killer Klowns From Outer Space 1988) provided the effects used to bring Trantor and his brethren to life. Director John Cherry used to keep the Trantor head in his office, but ended up giving it to his son.
The Addams Family
Based off of the work of Charles Addams, The Addams Family is a gothic comedy about the nicest weirdos on the block. Featuring the acting talents of Anjelica Huston, Tony Shalhoub, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci (in her breakout role), and the late Raul Julia.
For the past 25 years, Gomez Addams has held a séance to contact his missing brother, Fester, on the anniversary of his disappearance. After a run in with his loan shark, Abigail Craven, the Addams’ family lawyer, Tully, enlists the aid of her adopted son who bears a striking resemblance to Fester. Tully’s plan is to have Gordon pose as Fester and have him locate the secret Addams family fortune. While with the family, Gordon/Fester has a change of heart and slowly bonds with them, but his domineering mother continually forces her way in. Can the family overcome the scheming loan shark and lawyer? Will Gordon/Fester stay loyal to his mother or come to his new family’s aid?
Initially, the film rights were owned by Orion Pictures, but after the production company went over budget, they were sold to Paramount. In his directorial debut, Barry Sonnenfeld (Men In Black 1997) had his hands full. Multiple rewrites and health issues plagued production but the end result could be considered a masterpiece. The film also pays homage to Charles Addams. There are several nods to the original comic strip, such as the opening Christmas Carol, the passenger on Gomez’s model train, and Pugsley holding a street sign.
While the times are certainly scary, at least we can entertain ourselves. These Family Friendly Freakouts aren’t the scariest, but they’re still a good way to hang out with family for some beginner scares.