A Bloody Good Time 02.07.13: The 10 Best PG-13 Horror Films
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
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When Mama took #1 at the box office a few weeks ago, I saw complaints about PG-13 horror. Not just here, although that’s where it started. It seems like any time a PG-13 horror film is successful, people complain. When one isn’t successful, people cheer, because this means that we’re getting a return to R-rated horror. They say this as if R-rated horror is the only good kind of horror.
I’m sorry but fear knows no rating. Entertainment knows no rating. You don’t need to have copious amounts of blood, gore, swearing and nudity to be a successful horror film. You just have to horrify people. There was a time when filmmakers were good enough to rely on shadows and suspense to trick the mind and scare the viewer. It’s still possible to do that today. I think some of these “R-rated” fans just like to be shown everything in every visceral detail and don’t care if someone is try to build to a genuine scare instead of a gross-out moment. Horror can be a deeper medium if you let it.
I’m not saying there aren’t bad PG-13 horror films. There are plenty of them, especially today. Studios will throw out poorly-made films, cut enough down to get a PG-13 and release it hoping to make a few quick bucks. However a movie can have all the gore in the world, a completely unrated film with no boundaries and still be a terrible, terrible movie. Aliens vs Predator: Requiem had an R-rating and it was way worse than Alien vs Predator.
Maybe I’m getting the “no PG-13” people wrong. Maybe they’re not in it for the blood and guts. But I can’t think of another argument that would fit. Certain types of PG-13 horror wouldn’t work, like Evil Dead or Saw, which are made for the sole purpose of having lots and lots of gore. But a ghost movie like Mama? That doesn’t need an R-rating.
Instead, I’m going to present the case that PG-13 horror can be good. Here are the ten best PG-13 horror films.
Before I get any complaints, you will not see Poltergeist or Jaws here. It’s very simple as to why. Neither are PG-13. The PG-13 rating wasn’t created until July 1, 1984, and wasn’t assigned to a movie until Red Dawn on August 10, 1984. So naturally, all of the movies listed arrived after the rating was created.
#10: The Gate (1987)
This is a perfect example of a movie that would have skirted the line between R and PG before the PG-13 rating was created. It stars child protagonists, but it’s very much a horror film and should not be seen by little kids, even with their parents. That doesn’t mean we didn’t see it as little kids, I’m just trying to think like the MPAA for a minute (it’s painful to do so). The Gate was a really fun fantasy/horror hybrid with stop-motion animation, really cool monsters and a clever story.
The gist is that these kids find a doorway (or gate, if you will) to Hell in their backyard. This movie is great for kids and adults to watch (if we’re not thinking like the MPAA) because the kids can enjoy some scares while safely with their parents or older siblings, and the adults don’t have to feel stupid for watching something that plays down to children. The kids are the heroes, they save the day, and the monsters are neat-looking anyway.
#9: Willard (2003)
You don’t really see Willard get a whole lot of love these days. Maybe it’s because people see it and think, “oh, killer rat movie” and ignore it. For a killer rat movie, watch Graveyard Shift (seriously, watch it, Brad Dourif and Stephen Macht are in it). This is something more. This is a psychological horror film that is more of a character study. We focus on the life of one man as he is hammered into the ground by pretty much everyone until he can’t take it anymore and exacts revenge using the bond he has with his pet rats.
Crispin Glover’s a weird guy, but Willard allows him to be weird for the sake of the character. You can see why people don’t like Willard, but at the same time you can also see he’s completely harmless. Which is why we root for him at the end, because he doesn’t deserve to be treated the way he is. It’s also why we don’t root for him, because no one deserves to die for being mean to somebody else. I’ve always loved this movie and still see it as an underrated movie today.
#8: Arachnophobia (1990)
This movie scared the hell out of me growing up and still creeps me out today. I’m not terrified by spiders, but I’m terrified of the idea of extremely poisonous spiders that could be creeping around in my toilet or shower. The generation before me had Psycho and the shower scene. I had Arachnophobia and the scene where the older man narrowly avoids having a deadly arachnid bite him in the ass. There’s also the fact these little things crawl into football helmets, slippers, lampshades, everything.
Even if this particular breed of spider isn’t real, this is a very real thing. I’ve seen several Animal Planet shows and read news reports of the same things happening to real families. Sometimes it’s spiders, sometimes it is scorpions. Either way, they are lucky to survive. Arachnophobia has some laughs but its mostly a straight-up horror film that anyone with a slight fear of spiders will probably not like to watch very much.
#7: Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
I really wanted to limit how many horror comedies made this list but a good movie is a good movie. Killer Klowns isn’t particularly scary (unless you’re deathly afraid of clowns, then it might be) but it is funny and it features a lot of great special effects. It also has a lot of bad special effects, because that’s kind of the point. It’s a spoof of the sci-fi boom of the 1950s that gave us such classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder as The Amazing Colossal Man and It Conquered The World.
There are some people that actually list Killer Klowns as a bad movie and I think those people missed that point entirely. You know why it’s “so bad it’s funny”? That’s because it’s supposed to be! You’re supposed to laugh! You don’t think anyone seriously thought that clowns using shadow puppets to eat people would be legitimately horrifying, do you? Sorry, that’s just a rant against a very select few. The point is, Killer Klowns is a great horror comedy and one that you should definitely check out if you get the chance. Plus, it has a great theme song.
#6: The Sixth Sense (1999)
I tend to dislike M. Night Shyamalan in general, even his early work. However, I do find several things to enjoy about The Sixth Sense and think that of all his films, its the one that holds up the most. This is a horror movie that actually got nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, something that doesn’t happen very often. It’s a well-directed (something you don’t think about when you think Shyamalan these days) horror film with thrills, scares and a twist that people today like to say they saw coming, when most people really didn’t.
A lot of people like to point out the moment with Mischa Barton as the scariest but I actually thought the ghost that killed himself playing with his dad’s gun was worse. It’s just incredibly disturbing to see a ghost and not at all suspect it will have a gaping head wound when it turns around. This was PG-13, after all. That’s a pretty grisly image for that rating. For all the deserved crap Shyamalan gets today, this movie has a well-earned good reputation. It’s because of this movie (and for some, Unbreakable) that we give him so much grief for The Happening. We know he can make good movies and it makes us very angry when he doesn’t.
#5: Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi had been absent from the horror genre for a good decade before he finally came back with Drag Me to Hell. Even with the remake coming out, Drag Me to Hell is the closest to a new Raimi-directed Evil Dead film as we’re going to get it. It’s equals parts scary, nasty and darkly funny all wrapped in one. The story follows a young woman who gets a gypsy curse placed on her when she denies a woman a bank loan and she dies shortly after.
It’s hard to really describe why this is such a fun horror movie. It’s not particularly gory, but it’s nasty with what the lead has to go through while dealing with this curse. There is a lot of humor in it, but it’s very dark humor, similar to that of Evil Dead 2. There’s even some slapstick here and there out of the oddest situations (like wrestling with a corpse, for example). Raimi proved with this movie that he still had it as a horror director and hopefully he comes back to the genre again.
#4: The Ring (2002)
It may be blasphemy to some, but I enjoy the American version of The Ring better than the Japanese version. I’ve explained why before, but it essentially boils down to I didn’t care for the psychic stuff in the original and there was a lot of elements (not all, as Sadako looks scarier than Samara) that I thought Gore Verbinski was able to do better than Hideo Nakata. I’m not discrediting Ring by any means, just getting my opinion out there.
What is there to like about this remake? I like the foreshadowing and ways that the video integrates itself into the world as we see the curse play out. I like the non-ending that leads to the big shock at the end. I actually saw The Ring before Ring so when Samara comes out of the TV, that legitimately shocked and scared me. It’s one of the rare jump scares that actually worked, which says a lot about the sense of dread and tension that built through the entire film.
#3: Tremors (1990)
I have yet to meet the person who does not enjoy the original Tremors and I’m not sure I ever want to. This movie is just fun. It’s the kind of movie I wish I had watched in a theater with a group of like-minded individuals to laugh at the comedy and enjoy the action on a big screen. The tunneling worms, or Graboids, are very cool monsters and the ways to evade and kill them are even better. It’s a very enjoyable monster movie that doesn’t ever wear out its welcome.
Is this movie scary? Not really. It has its moments (the concept in general is scary to think about) but it’s otherwise a monster movie that’s comedic in tone. There’s just something really fun about watching Fred Ward, Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross and Reba McEntire all interact with each and with this monster that shouldn’t even exist. This is the kind of movie for those who are tired of movies that take themselves too seriously.
#2: The Others (2001)
The Others is one of those rare A-list horror films that you don’t see too often anymore. It has a big time movie star (Nicole Kidman) and a very talented director at the helm. Make no mistake, Alejandro Amenabar is very good at what he does. He has Abre los ojos (later remade into Vanilla Sky) and Mar Adentro under his belt, which are some of my favorite Spanish-language films not directed by Guillermo del Toro.
It’s a fairly low-key movie. It has a very Gothic feel and tone, something that may have been made in the days of Hammer or Universal. The twist is one that has been done to death since, but at the time seemed surprising. Nicole Kidman gives a great performance and what scares there are are built up perfectly with the movies tone and atmosphere. Just talking about this film makes me want to watch it again, as it’s been a long time.
#1 Insidious (2011)
I was actually surprised that Insidious was rated PG-13. It doesn’t necessarily have anything in it, it’s just that recently there had been a lot of bad PG-13 horror films (which is where the complaint likely comes from, I admit) so a very good one showing up surprised me. Insidious is everything a horror film with this rating should be. It doesn’t rely on the handicaps an R-rating can provide and it doesn’t let the rating neuter it from providing some very good scares.
This movie was #2 on my top ten of 2011 (fall behind Tucker and Dale vs Evil) and I still love it today. I think the scares hold up, I think the score is still very good and the acting is top-notch. It’s amazing how much things like acting, story and direction can make a horror film that much better and make the scares actually work. If you’re invested in the characters, you will be in fear over what could happen to them. If you build to a scare instead of just throwing it out there, it makes the scare that much more potent. Insidious is a very well-made film and my favorite with the dreaded PG-13 rating.
That’s it for me. Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I look at the top ten horror romances.
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