Teens and horror movies go together like peanut butter and jelly. It is one of the biggest reasons why the majority of horror films strive to get a PG-13 rating to secure their primary demographic. Despite this link, many parents hate how dark/sexual/illicit-substance-using these movies tend to be. I would argue these features really contribute to their appeal even though teens may not admit to it though.
My personal history with horror is tumultuous at best. After viewing a specific part of Poltergeist at the age of 8 when flipping through TV channels one summer night, I became a certified coward. That mentality reigned over my teen years. I finally started opening my mind to the possibility of enjoying horror in my twenties. I am so incredibly grateful that I did; and like any late-age convert, I’ve really become a “high brow” horror fan (engrossing story lines, good production value, awesome acting). This fact means that I have some good picks for horror movies which teen patrons will love and that won’t have parents coming in the next day to file a complaint.
A Quiet Place (2018)
Monsters who attack anything that makes loud noises – an outdated library staff analogy perhaps? The monsters themselves are quite scary-looking when seen up close. Yet, the story always returns to the family at the center of this post-apocalyptic world. This film is actually a great selection for a family of horror fans to enjoy together. The only problem that has come up when recommending this movie has been that some of the younger teens (12-13) don’t appreciate having to pay so much attention. Again, most of the movie is completely silent and things have to be inferred – resulting in some patience being involved before things get really exciting.
I wanted to put both Jordan Peele’s horror selections on this list, but stuck with his latest film Us to keep from being biased. There is plenty of violence in the movie, but other than that the movie focuses on creepy, under-your-skin storytelling to be scary. Thinking about the ending STILL gives me chills. If you have a 13 year old who is used to horror, it is a good pick; but if the teen is still finding their horror side, you might want to tell them to wait until they are 14 to enjoy this one.
Remakes rarely turn out to be as good as the originals on which they are based. The new It movie breaks that longstanding tradition though. Now, the film is insanely scary (based mostly in violence) and has more than its fair share of swearing. It’s still a good pick for those at least 15 years old who want more than jump scares and cliché tropes like the couple making out gets killed first.
Lights Out (2016)
This selection shows that simplistic horror movies don’t necessarily equal bad. It is equal parts scary, smart, and compelling with a ghost (or monster-esque ghost) who only appears in darkness. Violence and some swearing are present but the straightforward premise makes it a good choice for even younger teens. If you don’t handle jump scares very well, you might feel exhausted by the time the credits roll though.
The Conjuring (2013)
A haunted house, a demonic possession, and an exorcism meet in a single movie. This entry is NOT for beginners! Other than being absolutely horrifying there isn’t much in this movie that protective parents would consider “bad.” There is some swearing and some violence but no gore. Really it is the frightening factor that might make some parents cringe (from their own fear of course). Before recommending this one, you’ll want to ask if the teen in question has seen and handled/enjoyed other super scary options (It, Poltergeist, etc.).
If you have a younger teen who hasn’t seen anything like standard horror movies yet, here are a few quick picks. They are good places for younger viewers to begin to assess their fear tolerance.
“A scary animated movie?” you may be asking yourself. However, the answer is firmly “yes” when speaking of Paranorman. The beginning of the movie and even the climax have a family-friendly, adventure-romp. Viewers will follow along as the kid protagonists try to destroy an evil curse. The third act takes a very dark turn though and the “final battle” of sorts is downright unsettling to the point where even adults can get goosebumps.
Tim Burton truly WANTED to be creepy and unsettling in his early days as a director. The ghostly pranks and face warping by the dead Maitlands in order to scare the Deetz family can be disturbing. Also, the séance at the end with Barbara and Adam withering away has a serious creep factor. The moments are still encased with comedy and fun to make it a nice horror introduction.
Scary monsters and monster-riddled gore (remember the microwave, anyone?) but still a mostly family-friendly movie. When watching it over the last holiday season, it had more profanity than I remembered. Nonetheless, since the evil monsters definitely get their comeuppance and aren’t outrageously scary. The movie is a good beginning to monster-based horror.
–Brooke Windsor, currently re-watching Community – Season 1