14 Children's Horror Movies That Gave Us Nightmares - But We Loved Them Anyway

List Rules
Vote up the best movies that gave you childhood nightmares.

There are plenty of movies that we watch as children that we never think of once we get into our teens, but there are a few that are going to stick with us forever. Whether they're animated, live-action, or feature puppets, children's horror movies have a knack for sticking with audiences long after the credits are over.

The horror movies for kids that are collected here aren't just scary - they feature themes and intense visuals that remain nightmare fuel well into adulthood. Some of these are horror-comedies that cut closer to the bone than you'd think, while others mask real-world fears inside of fantastic stories. Whatever the case, at least one of these movies (or, you know, all of them) gave you nightmares as a child and still resonates with audiences well into adulthood.

  • 1
    126 VOTES

    The Witches is easily the most brutal children's horror movie of the 20th century - but what do you expect when you sit down in the theater to watch something from the twisted mind of Roald Dahl? Concerning a young boy who ends up on vacation with his grandmother at a seaside hotel at the same time as a conference of witches, this film isn't just scary, it's exceedingly bleak.

    Within the first reel of this movie, the main character's parents perish car crash and a witch tries to lure him away with a piece of chocolate, and things just get darker from there. Even if the thematic elements of this film haven't stuck with you, the visuals definitely have. Who can forget Anjelica Huston removing her skin to reveal her slimy and gnarled witch face beneath the well-manicured visage?

    Many films play on the idea that there are scary people out in the real world, but no children's horror movie illustrates that concept quite as well.

    126 votes

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  • Young viewers can have a little gothic horror as a treat - at least that's what Disney thought in the early '80s. The Watcher in the Woods is a spooky little Hammer Horror-inspired tale that involves everything from haunted manor homes, to creepy kids, to aliens - and it has a late-period performance from Bette Davis that's one for the ages.

    The ghosts, creeps, and creaks are enough to scare a young audience, but it's the gloomy tone of the film that makes sure it sits with you far into adulthood. Even if everything else in this movie was abysmal (which it's not), the atmosphere created by the filmmakers is enough to make this a children's horror cult classic.

    73 votes
  • 3
    108 VOTES

    Haven't you ever just wanted to get away from your family? Or have you ever wished that you had a different family? That theme sits at the heart of Coraline, a film about a young girl who feels neglected by her parents and crawls into a parallel universe where she finds doll-eyed doppelgangers of her parents who are way too nice. 

    Coraline may be a children's movie, but it's more than that; it's a shotgun blast at everyone who ever worried that the grass might be greener on the other side. When people from Coraline's universe start getting kidnapped and shoved into a snowglobe, it's up to her to free them and close the door on the alternate universe altogether. Of course, she also has to fight a giant spider after she finds out that some of her neighbors were straight-up murdered.

    If any movie serves as a reminder that just because it's animated doesn't mean it's not totally horrific, it's Coraline.

    108 votes

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  • 4
    113 VOTES

    Is Gremlins a movie for children? It's technically targeted at kids because of Gizmo, the cute Mogwai at the center of the action, but then there's literally everything else that happens. When Kingston Falls bank worker Billy Peltzer receives the gift of the Mogwai, things are chill for about three days before insane reptilian monsters burst out of Gizmo's back and start slaying people.

    It's not just the terrifying lizard monsters that make this movie hold up; it's the fact that Billy has to deal with very real-world problems while trying to rid Kingston Falls of its monstrous scourge. As scary as the gremlins are (and they're super scary), there's also the idea that a classic small town is being destroyed by monsters from the outside world. Gremlins does more than just give young viewers a couple of fun Christmastime scares; it prepares them for the real world while also turning them into lifelong fans of Joe Dante.

    113 votes

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  • 5
    97 VOTES

    Return to Oz may not be a traditional horror film, but there's not another genre in which it cleanly fits. In this sequel to the children's classic The Wizard of Oz, all of your favorite characters are either deceased or turned to stone, Dorothy is an escaped preteen mental patient, and Oz is now filled with monsters called "Wheelers" who speed around on evil Heelies. Oh, and there's a witch who keeps a bunch of decapitated heads in her closet... and there's a creature known as the Nome King who can turn people into ornaments. 

    All of that is intense for a kid, but it's exactly why audiences still love this movie. Return to Oz doesn't pull its punches, and it doesn't hold your hand as Dorothy goes from the frying pan to the fryer over and over again. Even though the film has a happy ending (sort of, Dorothy is still about to grow up during the Great Depression, which is arguably worse than fighting witches in a magical realm), the audience has to go on a journey with Dorothy before she has her "happily ever after."

    97 votes

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  • 6
    68 VOTES

    Is Krampus a movie for adults or a movie for children? Why can't it be both? When the world's most argumentative family makes their son lose his Christmas spirit, the Krampus shows up to remind everyone why they should do their best to stay off the naughty list. Krampus is a really fun Christmas-horror movie that ticks all of the boxes without going too hard in the paint. It's a fantastic family film.

    Krampus is definitely a blast for young viewers, but when a jack-in-the-box swallows a child whole (on-camera, by the way), that's when the nightmare fuel gets injected. Are there lessons to be learned about being kind to your friends and family in this movie? Totally. But the thing that makes you want to rewatch Krampus as an adult is the adept way the film dishes out scares for people of all ages.

    68 votes

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