Opening the Gateway: Introducing Kids to the World of Horror Movies


How young is too young for horror movies?

I have no idea. Everyone is different, really. I’ve seen plenty of kids who didn’t even bat an eyelash watching Jaws for the first time at 10 or watching The Exorcist for the first time. Everyone has a different story to tell about their first horror movie – a month full of nightmares, being too scared to go in any water, laughing at all the parts you’re supposed to be scared of, or six months full of scary movie weekends in front of the TV.

On the other hand, I’ve recently watched a semi-scary (The Host) movie with a 62-year-old who almost flew off the couch when there was an on-screen knock during a tense moment in the film.

But I know plenty of horror fan parents who wonder when would be the right time to introduce the younger ones to the wonders of a good horror movie. My best advice is to start slow and see if they like it. Horror might not even be their thing. It happens.

If you are one of those parents, I have a few options to share with you. We’ll call them Gateway Horror Movies. Horror movies that don’t go too far and can still deliver a few chills. This list also works for adult friends who say they aren’t really into the genre as well.

Gateway Horror Movies in no particular order.

Poltergeist (1982)

This one you might want to keep 13 and older. It’s up to you.

A film directed by horror legend Tobe Hooper, and produced by Steven Spielberg, the first of two on this list. The movie revolves around the Freeling family, Steve (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams), and their three children, Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), who experience terrifying supernatural phenomena in their suburban California home.

Strange occurrences begin happening in their house, including objects moving on their own, and Carol Anne communicating with unseen entities through the static on the TV screen. Yes, you may have to explain to your kids why that TV is so small and fat…and on the floor.

As the paranormal activity escalates, the family seeks help from parapsychologists Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), Dr. Klein (James Karen), and medium Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein). They discover that the disturbances are caused by restless spirits trapped in the house, and particularly drawn to Carol Anne’s innocence and psychic abilities.

Tangina explains that the house was built on a cemetery, and the spirits are angry about their resting place being disturbed. Carol Anne is inadvertently drawn into the realm known as the “Other Side,” and the family must find a way to rescue her before it’s too late.

If the kids are old enough, you can tell them that the skeletons used in the pool scene are real skeletons. Back then it was cheaper to use actual human skeletons.

MGM+ (Free 7 day trial)


Equal parts science fiction and horror-comedy the story is set in the small desert town of Perfection, Nevada, where handymen Val McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) decide to leave town for a better life. However, their plans are abruptly halted when they discover mysterious, dead bodies and encounter strange seismic activity.

The town is soon under siege by gigantic, subterranean worm-like creatures, known as “Graboids,” that can sense vibrations and move rapidly underground. These carnivorous creatures begin attacking the townspeople, pulling them underground and causing chaos.

Val and Earl, along with seismologist Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter) and the rest of the town’s residents, must find a way to survive and outsmart the Graboids. They devise various strategies to evade the creatures, including using improvised weapons and staying on elevated structures to avoid detection.

Only available through Rent or Purchase right now. 

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

A fantasy film directed by horror legend Eli Roth, based on the 1973 novel of the same name by John Bellairs. The movie follows a young orphan named Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) who goes to live with his eccentric uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black), in a mysterious house in the town of New Zebedee, Michigan.

As Lewis settles into his new home, he discovers that both his uncle and their neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), are practicing witches and warlocks. Jonathan reveals that the house was once owned by another warlock, Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), who hid a doomsday clock within its walls before his death. The clock is counting down to an unknown cataclysmic event that poses a threat to the world.

Determined to stop the clock and prevent disaster, Lewis, Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmerman embark on a quest to find and destroy it.

As the clock’s countdown accelerates, tensions rise, and the extent of Isaac Izard’s plan is revealed. With time running out, Lewis must embrace his own magical abilities and confront his fears to save the world from destruction.


The Gate (1987)

The Gate revolves around two young boys, Glen and Terry, who accidentally open a gateway to a demonic realm in Glen’s backyard. After discovering a geode and performing a ritualistic incantation, they unintentionally unleash a horde of small, malevolent creatures.

As the boys and Glen’s older sister, Al, try to fend off the demonic forces, they face various terrifying encounters. The creatures wreak havoc in their home, and the situation becomes increasingly dire as the boys realize that closing the gate is the only way to stop the evil entities from taking over.

Throughout the film, the characters confront their fears and work together to find a way to seal the gate and banish the demons. Using their wits, courage, and the power of friendship, they manage to overcome the supernatural threat, ultimately restoring peace to their home.

Amazon Prime or Tubi, Roku Channel and Plex for free

The Watcher in the Woods (19810)

A supernatural horror film, from Disney of all companies, is based on the novel by Florence Engel Randall. The story follows an American family, the Curtis family, Helen (Carroll Baker) and Paul (David McCallum), and their two daughters, Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson) and Ellie (Kyle Richards) who move into an old English manor called the Aylwood House.

Shortly after moving in, Jan begins to experience strange and unsettling occurrences. She senses a presence in the woods surrounding the house and has visions of a blindfolded girl. Mrs. Aylwood (Bette Davis), the elderly owner of the estate, reveals that her daughter, Karen, disappeared in the woods under mysterious circumstances three decades earlier.

As Jan investigates, she uncovers clues that link the supernatural events to Karen’s disappearance. With the help of her sister Ellie and local teenagers, Jan learns about an occult ritual that went wrong, causing Karen to become trapped in an alternate dimension. The ritual involved an eclipse and a séance, which Jan realizes needs to be reenacted to bring Karen back.

Only available to buy on Amazon right now but worth it. 

The Monster Squad (1987)

A horror-comedy film directed by Fred Dekker and co-written by Shane Black that centers around a group of young boys Sean (Andre Gower), Patrick (Robby Kiger), Horace (Brent Chalem), Rudy (Ryan Lambert), and Eugene (Michael Faustino), who are obsessed with classic monster movies. They call themselves “The Monster Squad.”

The film kicks off when the kids come across a mysterious journal written by Abraham Van Helsing, the famed monster hunter. They soon discover that the journal contains details about a powerful amulet that can either banish or summon monsters to the world. Meanwhile, Dracula (Duncan Regehr) awakens and assembles a team of legendary monsters, including Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan), the Mummy (Michael MacKay), the Wolfman (Carl Thibault), and the Gill-man (Tom Woodruff Jr.), to help him locate the amulet and take over the world.

As Dracula and his monster allies their way through their small town, the Monster Squad must band together to stop them. With the help of an elderly German man who knows the secrets of Van Helsing’s journal, the kids embark on a mission to retrieve the amulet and prevent the apocalypse.

Free on Pluto TV or rent from Amazon Prime

The Witches (1990)

Based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. The movie follows a young boy named Luke Eveshim (Jasen Fisher) who, after the death of his parents, goes to live with his grandmother, Helga (Mai Zetterling), in Norway.

The takes a turn when Luke and his grandmother travel to a seaside resort in England. Unknown to them, the hotel is hosting a convention for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which is of course front for a gathering of witches, led by the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston). The witches plan to turn all the children in England into mice using a potion called “Formula 86 Delayed-Action Mouse-Maker.”

Luke discovers their scheme but is discovered and turned into a mouse himself. Luke retains his human intelligence and, with the help of his grandmother and his friend Bruno, who has also been transformed into a mouse, comes up with a plan to stop the witches.

Available for rent on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube, and Fandango

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Directed by André Øvredal, with Guillermo del Toro serving as a producer and co-writer. The movie is based on the anthology series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz and set in the small town of Mill Valley in 1968, the story revolves around a group of teenagers who stumble upon a book of scary stories written by Sarah Bellows, a troubled young girl who lived in a local mansion.

The teenagers—Stella Nicholls (Zoe Colletti), Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur)—explore the abandoned Bellows mansion on Halloween night. Inside, they discover Sarah’s book of scary stories and decide to take it with them. They soon realize the book is cursed, and the stories within start coming to life, tormenting them and their friends.

The teenagers race against time to solve the mystery of Sarah Bellows’s past and find a way to stop the sinister forces unleashed by the book.

Each story from the book manifests as a terrifying entity, including the Jangly Man, the Pale Lady, and the Toeless Corpse, haunting the teenagers in increasingly terrifying ways. The stakes heighten as the teenagers face the consequences of their actions and struggle to break the curse before it claims more victims.

Netflix and Amazon Prime, for rent everywhere else. 


A stop-motion animated dark fantasy film directed by Henry Selick, based on the novella of the same name by Neil Gaiman. The movie follows Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), a young girl who moves with her parents to a new home, the Pink Palace Apartments, which has been divided into separate units.

Feeling neglected by her busy parents, Coraline discovers a hidden door in her new home that leads to an alternate world that seems like an idealized version of her own. In this parallel reality, Coraline’s Other Mother (Teri Hatcher) and Other Father (John Hodgman) are attentive and doting, and everything appears magical and enchanting.

Coraline soon discovers that this other world is not what it seems. The Other Mother, with her button eyes, is revealed to be a sinister entity who wants Coraline to stay with her forever. When she refuses, the Other Mother kidnaps her real parents and imprisons them in the alternate world, forcing Coraline to navigate a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

As Coraline explores the Other World further, she encounters other eccentric characters, such as the eccentric Mr. Bobinsky and the mysterious Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, who provide her with cryptic warnings and guidance. With the help of a talking cat and a magical stone, Coraline must confront the Other Mother and rescue her parents before it’s too late.

Available for rent in all the usual places.


A horror-comedy film directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg. The story follows a young man named Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) who receives a strange creature called a “Mogwai” as a Christmas gift from his father. The creature, which he names Gizmo, comes with three important rules: keep him away from bright light, especially sunlight, never get him wet, and never, ever feed him after midnight.

Of course, every rule is broken which causes Gizmo to multiply into mischievous creatures called “Gremlins.” These Gremlins wreak havoc on Billy’s small town during the holiday season, causing chaos and destruction.

As the Gremlins multiply and terrorize the town, Billy, his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates), and his very good boy Barney, must find a way to stop them.

Available for rent in all the usual places.


If you’re looking for all-time classic movies to share with the kids, you can try our Add These Movies to Your Bucket List list!


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