Everyone remembers the first movie that terrified them into a sleepless night (or week) of hiding under the blankets and praying for the sun to come up. Sometimes that movie was disguised as a family-friendly feature; other times, your parents saw the PG rating and decided because it lacked intense scenes or other mature themes that it would be juuust fine. Either way, those PG or PG-13 scary movies made a lasting impression. Maybe they scarred you for life, or maybe they turned you into a lifelong horror fan.
While horror masters like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie use grotesque imagery to intensify their disturbing tales, less inspired scary movies tend to rely a little too heavily on blood and gore to scare audiences. To the unvetted viewer, this grossness overload can be off-putting, and for the desensitized horror junkie, the lack of plot simply makes for a boring movie.
There are a number of cinematic gems in the horror genre that make particularly good use of tension, oppressive atmosphere, high stakes, intriguing characters, and downright creepy situations to create a truly horrifying experience that stays with you long after the credits have rolled. Here is a list of the best PG-13 horror movies (and one PG horror movie!) that are sure to haunt you.
- Photo: ABC
Some films considered "classics" age poorly, while others, like the 1990 miniseries of Stephen King’s It, endure. In It, evil takes the shape of Pennywise the Clown, whom you may recognize from your darkest nightmares. Tim Curry’s unforgettably freaky performance as this bloodthirsty clown steals the show as he haunts the seven main characters - and brings their deepest fears to life.
King’s style, which often hinges as much on over-the-top gore as it does on the innermost thoughts and perceptions of his characters, has proven difficult to translate effectively to film. This miniseries is one of the best examples of a King adaption transmitting the deep discomfiture his prose evokes. The library scene, in which balloons filled with blood burst in the faces of seemingly unfazed people while Pennywise leers and cackles from above, manages to pack the wallop of the original text. The viewer feels the same whirling fear of the characters being subjected to the hideous visions - and knowing no one else in the world would believe them if they asked for help.
It ensures that you’ll never really look at a storm drain the same way again.
- Actors: Tim Curry, Seth Green, John Ritter, Annette O'Toole, Jonathan Brandis
- Released: 1990
- Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
What many consider to be M. Night Shyamalan’s best film, The Sixth Sense tells the story of Cole (Haley Joel Osment), a young boy who can see and communicate with spirits. He opens up to child psychologist, Malcolm (Bruce Willis), about his spectral visions, and together they decide to work on Cole’s fear of seeing these lost souls.
This movie really nails the feeling of always being on your guard. The viewer can identify with Cole’s fear at seeing victims of a hanging in his school, a cyclist with a bloody head wound, or a hysterical young girl who cannot stop vomiting over herself. As he goes through these ordeals, he is neither believed nor understood, which just amplifies his distress and the helpless position he’s in.
It’s these themes of isolation and the struggle to communicate effectively that add a powerful emotional layer to The Sixth Sense.
- Actors: Bruce Willis, Mischa Barton, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, M. Night Shyamalan
- Released: 1999
- Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
- Photo: Universal Pictures
This bizarre, found-footage-style movie by M. Night Shyamalan captures the dread of being stuck at a stranger’s home for a prolonged visit - as well as the helplessness of being a child.
Siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are going for a weeklong stay at their grandparents’ rural home. Neither kid has ever actually met their grandparents, however, and they have no idea what to expect. The film is presented as a documentation of the trip on Becca’s camcorder after the kids meet the elderly couple at the train station. As soon as they arrive at the isolated home, they are given the ominous and unexplained rules to never leave their room after 9:30 pm and to stay out of the basement completely.
Of course, these rules are soon broken, and the trapped children are subjected to an increasingly disturbing series of events. It becomes apparent that they are not just in for an uncomfortable and awkward stay - but in serious jeopardy. The tension builds as layer after layer of the couple’s pleasant façade peels away to reveal their warped intentions. The psychological horror that builds toward the end of the movie will absolutely make you squirm.
- Actors: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn
- Released: 2015
- Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
- 8Photo: Universal Pictures
Executive producer Guillermo del Toro teamed up with Andy Muschietti (who directed 2017’s adaptation of It) to bring us Mama, a creepy fairy tale about two girls who are adopted by an earthbound spirit. After a terrible tragedy, sisters Victoria and Lily are left to fend for themselves in a remote cabin in the woods. They are adopted by Mama, the ghost of a woman who ended her own life and, in the process, lost her baby. The wraith cares for the girls over the next five years, until they are discovered and rescued by their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
Mama doesn’t just come at us with traditionally frightening sequences, it also focuses on how scary it can be to be thrust into the role of parenthood when you don’t feel ready. Sympathy mingles with anxiety when we learn that, despite her frightening and violent nature, the girls still love Mama and think of her as their own mother.
Mama blends style with scares as it explores the turbulent past of the woman who became Mama, revealing her backstory in a grimly beautiful and vivid sequence shot from her own point of view. Because the film puts you in her shoes and asks you to empathize with the monster, the fear becomes mingled with concern and, in turn, makes the bittersweet climax all the more intense.
- Actors: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Daniel Kash, David Fox, Javier Botet
- Released: 2013
- Directed by: Andres Muschietti