Are you a scaredy cat? Is scrolling through social media in October impossible for you because of all the clowns? Do you shudder when it’s time for Halloween posts? We understand. Some of us here avoid Target in October because of the holiday decorations that jump out at you. We totally understand what it’s like to watch an entire movie through your fingers. We get that even fake blood makes you queasy and jump scares make you pee a little. We won’t tell anyone.
Fear not, gentle friends. We’re here to help! We’ve compiled a list of 13 scary-but-not-too-scary films for you. We’ll warn you about what’s coming and which ones you can watch with your kids. Oh, they have already graduated to Hostel and IT? Sigh. OK then, you can watch these by yourself with all the lights on and at least five stuffed animals around you. (No dolls. Trust us on this.) Happy Halloween!
Happy Death Day
This one comes to us from Blumhouse, and as such, should probably be in the category of films that scare the pants off of us, but it’s not what you might think. The film starts off with a few jump scares, and you might worry that it’s going to do you in as far as sleep is concerned, but it quickly becomes obvious that Happy Death Day is what would have happened if John Hughes had made a horror film. It’s funny. Jessica Rothe’s Tree is a powerhouse. You can’t be scared when she’s not. Also, this film not only mimics Groundhog Day, it actually acknowledges it! When you see something over and over again, you can’t be scared by it. Like our heroine, you don’t fear what you know is coming. It’s an easy way to prove to your friends that you can totes handle horror!
It’s animated, but Coraline is pretty spooky. There is nothing creepier than seeing people you know well, like your parents, turn into something else. They start off nice, giving you cake and allowing you to stay up late, but then they want to sew buttons where your eyes were, and we just can’t have that, can we? It’s creepy but ultimately lovely, and it's not going to have you jumping out of your seat. Sure, you may dream of button eyes, but at least they’re on cute characters.
These books might have scared you as a kid, but you are safe with Jack Black. He stars in the film, and though there are jump scares here, they’re for kids. You’re more likely to scream with giggles than with actual fear. The big note here is that, if you’re scared of puppets or ventriloquist dummies, this one might be off the list. Other than that, this is a fun flick to try.
This pick might freak you out, but it’s psychological horror based on past lives. It stars Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh (who also directs) and the late Robin Williams. It involves scissors and a murder. Maybe watch this one with a friend you’re pretty sure didn’t murder you in a past life.
What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about a group of vampires. It’s also considered horror comedy, so you can at least be sure to laugh as you pee yourself. It was written by Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), so you know you're going to love it. Have you seen them in interviews? Maybe watch those first.
Shaun of the Dead
A zombie film with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It’s far too British to be overly frightening, and it’s really funny. There are some harrowing situations, but the humor keeps it from being too scary.
OK, we know you can’t watch The Walking Dead. Aside from the misery porn, it’s full of creepy rotting zombies. We feel ya! However, Zombieland is about taking back your power and keeping the world safe. In fact, it starts with a practical list of ways to effectively fight zombies when the zombie apocalypse inevitably happens. Not only that, but you’re hanging with Woody Harrelson! How can you not be OK with him? You’ll learn all about double tapping and what to do when you’re surrounded. Even better is the cameo. We promise that this particular part of the movie is what you’re going to remember.
Another zombie movie, but this time it’s based on Romeo & Juliet. Hey, it’s zombie Shakespeare! How can it be scary? The world has been overrun by zombies, but one of them seems to be waking up. Can zombie-ism be cured? Will love do it? Sure, it’s a little scary, but it’s also very sweet.
The Cabin in the Woods
Like Zombieland, we have horror comedy here. It was directed by Drew Goddard (Bad Times at the El Royale) and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, so you know what sort of dialogue to expect. There are things that will make you spill your drink, but as long as you know that in advance, maybe you can opt for wine in a sippy cup.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
You have watched this, haven’t you? The Oogie Boogie scene and the sack full of bugs is one you should maybe turn away from or use to get a snack, but the song is great. The rest of the film is a sweet love story, and Zero the ghost dog is going to make you want to run out and buy a stuffed animal. Plus, the stop-motion is so beautifully done that you won’t want to look away. On the scary scale, it’s pretty low.
Gremlins can be a little scary, but the creatures in it are just too cute to really freak you out. It’s the story of a young boy who is given a mysterious fuzzy creature called a mogwai as a pet. He’s also given instructions for their care, which he doesn’t follow. There are some jump scares here, but Steven Spielberg is an executive producer and this is 1984 horror, so you’ll be safe, we promise.
Michael Keaton plays a bad guy who tries to mess with a very sweet couple who has just died and end up haunting their own house. If you think about it in those terms, it’s freaky, but this is not a film that is going to give you nightmares. Winona Ryder plays a young girl named Lydia who really needs some friends and gets them in the form of the ghost couple. You watch them possess her weirdo parents to make her happy and scare them out of the house, and it happens to calypso music. You don’t have to worry about spilling your drink in fright with this. It’s just a lot of fun.
Bonus for slightly less jumpy scaredy cats: Let the Right One In
This is a film about a young girl who is a vampire. You can watch the original film with subtitles or Let Me In, which is the American version of the film. It’s uncomfortable and kind of spooky, but it’s also a story about friendship and belonging. Yeah, it’s going to scare you, but you can follow it up with Hocus Pocus or Practical Magic as a sweet witch chaser.