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The Best Halloween Movies For Teens

Teens are tough customers when it comes to horror movies. They're too old for little kid-friendly titles like "Halloweentown" (and happy to tell you that), and are likely to turn up their noses at classic movies like the Universal monster canon. At the same time, teens might be still too young for more extreme examples of horror, like "The Evil Dead" (both Sam Raimi's 1981 original and the 2013 remake), "The Exorcist," Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," and more recent shockers like "V/H/S" or "Hereditary."

But teens (and anxious parents) should know that there are plenty of horror movies that fit comfortably between those various fields that still deliver a solid case of the creeps, in addition to well-crafted writing and direction. Home video and streaming options make it easy to find many of the titles that follow, but it's also important to note that everyone's mileage varies: one teen's thrill ride is another's nightmare. Some of the following movies feature some genuinely scary and even gruesome moments, so it's important for them to know their tolerance level before digging into certain films. 

Having said that, following are some of the best Halloween movies for teen viewers. Put down you homework, grab your bite-sized chocolate bars, and dig in.

And spoilers may follow.

The Haunting proves black-and-white horror is harrowing

Robert Wise's "The Haunting" is the perfect rebuttal for every horror-loving teen that says that black-and-white movies aren't scary. Wise's 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel "The Haunting of Hill House" — remade to lesser effect by Jan de Bont in 1999 and as a TV series by Mike Flanagan in 2018 — can still rattle nerves more than a half-century after its release.

Even more impressive is the fact that Wise uses relatively few special effects to achieve those shocks: a scrawled message to the film's troubled protagonist, Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris), loud noises, and the idea that someone — or something — unseen has held Eleanor's hand in the night pack a harder wallop than many CGI spirits or camera tricks.

Teens may also appreciate and even sympathize with Eleanor. Though pegged as an outsider, Eleanor's family has manipulated her for her entire life, which has left her desperate for love and connection. She believes that she finds it in fellow psychic Theo (Claire Bloom), but as the film's chilling conclusion shows, the family she needed was always behind the walls of Hill House.

Hitchcock's The Birds delivers a world gone mad

The adult world can seem, at times, like a frightening mess to kids and teens, with no rhyme or reason to why strange and bad things happen. Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" plays directly into that fear with its story of an unexpected assault on humanity by birds. Hitchcock and scripter Evan Hunter (better known as crime writer Ed McBain) completely rework Daphne Du Maurier's short story of the same name, but retain its most chilling element: no reason is ever given for the bird attacks, and by the film's conclusion, the situation seems to be getting worse.

The attacks are violent and terrifying but relatively bloodless, though there's one gruesome moment when overbearing mom Jessica Tandy discovers the corpse of her neighbor, whose eyes have been pecked out by birds. What lingers for viewers instead are Hitchcock's carefully constructed set pieces — a (literal) murder of crows waiting for children to flee their school, the jaw-dropping seagull attack on the sleepy town of Bodega Bay — which suggest a world gone totally mad.

Night of the Living Dead gave us the modern zombie

While we're on the subject of the end of the world: George A. Romero's groundbreaking 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead" presents one of the most alarming apocalyptic visions ever seen on film, depicted entirely from the perspective of ordinary people under siege by an impossibility: the recently dead returned to life and hungry for human flesh.

It's also a landmark title in the zombie subgenre: "Night" established many of the rules and regulations seen in five decades of zombie films that followed, from cannibalistic appetites to the correct way to kill a zombie ("If you have a gun, shoot 'em in the head," as George Kosana's Sheriff McClelland says in the film). In short: no viewer, teen or otherwise, can call himself or herself a horror fan without seeing "Night of the Living Dead."

Content-wise, "Night" is strong stuff: the zombies are seen devouring parts of two victims, and there's a gruesome decayed body in the farmhouse where the survivors congregate. The effects are lo-fi by modern standards — and Romero himself would top them, with the help of makeup effects legend Tom Savini, in "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead" — but the gore still hits hard.

Carrie is the horror heroine for every lonely teen

If there's a patron saint of horror movie teenagers, it might be "Carrie." A shy and lonely girl trapped between an oppressive, fanatical mother at home and vicious classmates at school, Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is initially dismayed that she also possesses psychic powers. They seem to confirm what everyone says about her: she's a freak, a misfit, an outcast. But when she's humiliated at the school prom, Carrie discovers that her newfound abilities can also give her something she lacks: terrible, destructive power.

Stephen King's 1974 novel "Carrie" has been adapted on multiple occasions, most notably by director Brian De Palma in 1976. Bryan Fuller wrote a TV-movie version with Angela Bettis as Carrie in 2002, and Kimberly Peirce directed Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie in a remake of the De Palma film in 2013. There was also a sequel, "The Rage: Carrie 2," with Emily Bergl as Carrie's half-sister, and a notorious Broadway adaptation in 1988. The De Palma film gets the high school anxiety right, which will carry the most freight for teen viewers.

Poltergeist displays Steven Spielberg's scary side

Steven Spielberg's name still carries as much credibility with teen viewers in the 21st century as it did when this film was released in 1982, thanks to the "Jurassic Park" and "Indiana Jones" franchises. It may also serve as the gateway for them to experience the harrowing supernatural thriller, "Poltergeist." Directed by Tobe Hooper of "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" fame (though many have claimed that producer Spielberg was behind the camera), "Poltergeist" takes the traditional haunted house framework away from Gothic horror and filters through the modest home of a suburban California family (led by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams).

Hooper and Spielberg's relentless assault on the senses — especially in the final third, when the cause of the ghostly activity is finally (and horribly) revealed — might strike hard with many teen viewers. Seeing an average family and house under attack from unseen forces may fire up distant memories of the scary places and things in their own homes. One thing is for sure: they'll never see a clown in the same way again.

A Nightmare on Elm Street showed that you weren't even safe in your dreams

Horror movie villains have targeted teenagers for decades, but few were as diabolical as Freddy Krueger, the malevolent heel of Wes Craven's 1984 chiller "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Kruger (played with relish by Robert Englund), a child murderer burned to death by a group of vigilante parents, returns from the grave to stalk their kids in their dreams and kill them with his signature weapon: a glove outfitted with razor-sharp blades.

The idea of a person who can not only invade people's most private thoughts, but also harm them there, is a terrifying notion, but especially for teenagers, for whom trust and privacy in regard to adults is a hot-button issue. Being pursued by a psychopath in the real world is bad enough, but when you can't even fall asleep for fear of being killed — that's a whole new level of anxiety. That unique angle is most likely one of the reasons why the "Elm Street" series enjoys evergreen status as a popular horror title for adventurous teenagers.

The Witches serves up scares for younger teens

Pre-teens and younger teens might find the 1990 version of "The Witches" an appealing Halloween title with more humor and lower scare wattage. Based on the novel by Roald Dahl and directed by cult filmmaker/cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (with Jim Henson serving as executive producer), "The Witches" follows a young boy's discovery of a convention of witches, led by a formidable Anjelica Huston, while on a seaside vacation in England. The boy falls afoul of the witches' scheme — to turn the world's population of children into mice — and must learn to navigate his new, fuzzy form in order to stop their plan.

Roeg skillfully blends the humor and the horror elements; the former is held down by the presence of Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling hotel manager, and by Huston's elegant and witty turn as the Grand High Witch. The latter is summed up by the makeup effects for Huston and her fellow witches in their true form, which should be tolerable by all but the most sensitive younger viewer.

However, the anecdote about young Erica, a child who ran afoul of the witches, is likely to cause shivers. The girl is projected into a painting, and remains there forever, unable to communicate with her parents, until she finally disappears. It's a brief sequence, but its spooky concept is hard to shake.

The Craft is a cautionary tale about power and revenge

Feeling weird and out of place is almost a rite of passage for most teens. Fold that into new and often inexplicable changes (physical, mental, emotional), and most teens are left feeling like no one understands them, cares about them, or wants them around. Director Andrew Fleming's "The Craft" crystallizes both of those opposite teen energies into a supernatural revenge movie. Its story of four high schoolers who learn witchcraft delivers the satisfying sight of bullies and creepy adults getting their just desserts and underdogs finally (if briefly) gaining an upper hand in a system that seems rigged against them.

Of course, there's also a second message that runs underneath the black magic mayhem — that special abilities and insight have to be used with responsibility. "The Craft" doesn't hammer home that notion, but gives plenty of graphic evidence as to why it should be heeded. Its mix of wish fulfillment and caution is one of the reasons it remains a go-to horror feature for teens more than two decades after its release, and even spawned a reboot/sequel more than 20 years later.

Ju-On and Ringu offer modern versions of ghost stories

Hideo Nakata's "Ringu" and Takashi Shimizu's "Ju-On" ("The Grudge") are landmark titles in the Japanese horror boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. They're also excellent examples of fright films built around urban legends or modern folklore, which — as "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" and various films based on creepypasta have shown us — holds particular appeal for young people either seeking to make sense of a confusing world or just scare the hell out of each other.

Both "Ju-On" and "Ringu" hinge on an enduring folklore premise: revenge from beyond the grave. In Nakata's film, a videotape, cursed by the spirit of a tormented young girl with psychic powers, spells death in seven days for anyone who watches it. In "Ju-On," the spirits of a murdered woman, her son, and their cat dispatch anyone who crosses the threshold of the house in which they were killed.

Inexplicable and inescapable, the ghosts of "Ju-On" and "Ringu" also remind teen viewers that strong emotions and traumatic incidents have a life of their own — a tough lesson to learn when you're feeling young and invincible (or downtrodden, as many teens feel). Delivering it in bursts of blood-curling terror — and make no mistake, both "Ju-On" and "Ringu" are frightening — makes those messages all the more alarming.

All your Halloween fears are realized in Trick 'r Treat

Before tackling "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" and "Krampus," writer-director Michael Dougherty paid tribute to the many myths and stories that swirl around Halloween with his 2007 film "Trick 'r Treat." An anthology of grisly horror stories linked by a small, masked boy named Sam in a pumpkin mask, "Trick" explored just about every unpleasant spook story or trope ever issued about Halloween: candy laced with poison, children slaughtered by cruel adults, monsters lurking behind Halloween masks, and most egregious of all, the fate that awaits those who refuse to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.

"Trick" enjoyed positive word-of-mouth prior to its proposed theatrical release in 2007, but the film was unceremoniously dumped onto home video two years later. Though it failed to find the mass audience it deserved, "Trick" has become a cult favorite, especially among teen viewers who appreciate both its skewering and celebration of the holiday's most enduring tall tales.

Ghost hunting gets real and scary in The Innkeepers

File under Be Careful What You Wish For: in Ti West's supernatural thriller "The Innkeepers," a pair of bored and lonely staffers (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) at a rundown hotel pass the time by digging into its history of hauntings and other supernatural phenomena. Their investigation is the sort of hapless stumbling you see on any of the ghost-hunting reality series -– Paxton and Healy scare easily –- but instead of the half-baked phenomena uncovered by those shows, the duo find real ghosts, and real danger.

Teens used to the jump-scare favored by mainstream horror might find West's leisurely pace a little trying. But patient viewers will also find hidden gems, both in the clever dialogue and characters — among them a barista with boy troubles played by a pre-fame Lena Dunham — and in the scare set pieces, which build in suspense and atmosphere until delivering some genuine, bone-rattling frights. Young viewers looking for scary material outside the usual horror franchises should check in with "The Innkeepers."

Fun Size is about Halloween -- just not scary

Consider 2012's "Fun Size" a Halloween movie palate cleanser. The feature -– directed by "The O.C." creator Josh Schwartz — isn't a horror movie, but rather a teen-oriented comedy set on a particularly out-of-control Halloween night. Victoria Justice and Jane Levy (the "Evil Dead" remake) are top-billed as two Cleveland, Ohio teens whose attempts to celebrate Halloween and improve their social standings are upended by, among other distractions, Justice's mischievous and completely silent little brother, a deranged mixed martial arts fighter (played by an uncredited Johnny Knoxville), a bully nicknamed the "Wedgie King," and romantic complications in the form of nice guy Thomas Mann.

A rare foray into PG-13 territory for Nickelodeon, "Fun Size" does have its share of rude (but not crude) humor. For the most part, it works best when creating a whirlwind of anarchic activity and characters to swirl around its appealing leads (though all of the players show off solid comic chops). Teens will appreciate the mix of ridiculous adults (Knoxville) and sympathetic types (Thomas Middleditch as patient convenient store clerk Fuzzy, Chelsea Handler as Justice's quirky mom), plus the portrayal of its younger characters as smart and messy (as Schwartz did on "The O.C."), which probably isn't a far cry from their own states of mind.

Terror is in high tide in The Beach House

Let's tick off all the pluses of writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown's 2019 indie "The Beach House." Supremely creepy and gross? Check. Sympathetic young heroes? Present and played by Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros. Totally untrustworthy adults? That would be Jake Weber (the 2004 remake of "Dawn of the Dead") and Maryann Nagel. Oh, and a hellish vision of a global catastrophe brought on by human folly? Check and double check.

Most unsettling of all is the fact that there's no way to escape the horror of "The Beach House." Its primary villains are microbes from the bowels of the earth, released by global warming, that infect through contact with both air and water, transforming humans into slime-covered, cannibalistic creatures. How do you escape that? The answer is: you can't.

"The Beach House" takes its time in reaching its awful conclusion, which may try some teen viewers' patience. For those willing to go the distance, there is a slow but steady stream of ghastly and disorienting images — especially if worms and slugs are high on your personal ick list –- leading up to a finale that will disturb viewers and just maybe get them thinking about the world around them.

The Wretched tells you to trust no one

What if a group of mystery-loving teens — the Scooby-Doo gang, or the "Stranger Things" crew, for example — came up against a supernatural force that defeated them? That's the premise (in broad strokes) of the Pearce Brothers' 2019 feature, "The Wretched," which offers irrefutable evidence that investigating the strange goings-on at your neighbor's house is dangerous for you. The terrifying phenomena here is courtesy of a witch with a penchant for possessing people; in the case of protagonist John-Paul Howard, that means his neighbors, co-workers, the police, and even his best friend (Piper Curda).

A menace that takes over friends, family, and authority figures should sound the alarm for most teen viewers, who already have questions and even trust issues about their peers and adults. That one of them might actually use their connection with you to kill you should make the skin crawl for most high school age viewers. The youthful cast plays their roles realistically, with none of the faux adult language that major movies sometimes give young characters. They seem real — so nothing bad should happen to them, right? In the case of "The Wretched," you'd be dead wrong.