So you’re hosting a Halloween party for the rug rats, and you want a video to both get them in the spirit and keep them under control. Too bad everything in the horror section of your video store is rated R for Repugnant. What can you rent that won’t result in years of psychiatry bills?
You could hardly do better than the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s, all of which combine maximum terror with minimum blood loss. Boris Karloff stars in Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Mummy (the latter scared me so badly as a kid that I had to go sit under the porch). Claude Rains is worth seeing as The Invisible Man, and Lon Chaney Jr. is lovably unnerving in The Wolf Man. The 1931 Dracula has little bite by today’s standards, though.
There are good modern spooktales for and about younger kids, too. Best bets are two recent films: The Witches (1990), starring Anjelica Huston, and Arachnophobia (1990), featuring a host of…ugh…spiders. Both have the right mix of whimsy and icky stuff to keep children enthralled. Also check out 1988’s Lady in White, starring Lukas Haas (Rambling Rose), and the splendid 1983 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.
With kids in their mid-teens, you can let the grue flow more freely. The spate of haunted-house teen flicks that erupted in the ’80s resulted in enjoyably schlocky special-effects extravaganzas such as The Gate, Fright Night, and House (the last two are rated R, so you’ll want to screen them first). Brat-pack hunks Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric bare their fangs in The Lost Boys (also rated R), and the two Gremlins movies are reasonably foolproof (the first one’s scarier, the second funnier). And if you think your kids can handle a far-out musical comedy about a man-eating plant, try the 1986 remake of Little Shop of Horrors.
As for what not to rent: any tape where the special-makeup-effects guy gets a credit on the cassette box is surely one your kids can sleep better without.