With Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark hitting theaters this month, scores of teens will be venturing out to the multiplex to get their scare on. While we all love a good horror film with a hard R rating, we sometimes forget how effective PG-13 horror can be. The PG-13 rating might have been introduced in the early 1980s, but the 2000s proved that producing horror films that were more accessible to a teen audience could be extremely successful.
Let’s take a look at some horror films that brought us the best scares without needing an R rating.
10. The Haunting (1999)
While the 1999 film adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House is by no means a great piece of cinema, it is an entertaining one. First of all, what a cast: Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lili Taylor. Liam Neeson’s Dr.Marrow invites our star-studded cast to the lavish Hill House for what appears to be a sleep study on insomnia. Soon enough they learn the good doctor is really testing the effects of fear on a person’s psyche. Marrow thinks it is just the stories he is providing that are inducing the paranoia in the house but actually it’s the hundreds of creepy cherub-like carvings of children’s faces throughout the house.
That’s right, hundreds. But if that’s not enough to give you the heebie-jeebies there are also ghosts that play with your hair, graffiti art through the house, visions of dead people, and a creepy mirror room. as a child this was terrifying, and as an adult, well lets just say the name Eleanor (Lili Taylor) gives me chills.
9. Cloverfield (2008)
With the surge of found footage films in the mid 2000s, Cloverfield offered an option that skewed away from showing too much but still captured the fear and chaos of the New York residents being terrorized by an unknown monster. The film intercuts snippets of happier times celebrated by the main characters as the horrifying experiences appear to be taped over old videos. The film is a scary monster movie akin to films like King Kong (1933) or Godzilla (1954) but the found footage aspect helps us invest in the lives of these characters so by the end of the film we are sad to see them go.
8. The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
A personal Halloween favorite of mine, The Haunting in Connecticut follows the Campbell family whose teenage son Matthew (Kyle Gallner) is undergoing cancer treatments far from their home. The family decides to relocate to be closer to the hospital where Matthew is undergoing treatment. Unfortunately, the house they decide on was a former mortuary, which is really never a good sign. To make things worse, the former owner also liked to dabble in necromancy and would hold seances in the home. Let’s just say things start to get real freaky.
The imagery in this film is shocking and quite grotesque for a PG-13 rating but manages to avoid any real gore. You’ve got carved up bodies with eyelids removed, bodies hidden in the walls, and some gross ectoplasm medium happenings. If you are looking for a good scare it’s definitely one to check out.
7. Mama (2013)
Andy Muschietti’s directorial debut Mama focuses on two orphaned girls who are abandoned in a cabin and raised by the mysterious Mama for years before being found and returned to their family to live with their uncle, played by Game of Thrones alum Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. In their time in the cabin the girls have become feral with the youngest have grown up with Mama as her only parental figure. The ghostly Mama soon proves she is not willing to give up the children and continues to visit them.
The film is incredibly dark visually, a similarity to the works of the film’s executive producer Guillermo del Toro. It’s beautiful and the design of Mama is terrifying. Muschietti has continued to build on his horror career with It (2017) and It: Chapter 2 (2019), but it all began with this creepy film.
6. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi’s only PG-13 horror film is a gem that is not to be missed. Drag Me to Hell follows loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) who is cursed by the elderly Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) after Christine denies an extension on her mortgage, she is attacked and given an accursed button. As a result, Christine will be tormented by a demon for three days before she is dragged to hell.
Drag Me to Hell combines good old fashioned horror with Raimi’s iconic camp to make a fun but grossly creepy film. After the NC-17 rating for The Evil Dead and R ratings for Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, Raimi finds the right combination for a successful PG-13 horror film.
5. 1408 (2007)
Based on the short story by horror icon Stephen King of the same name, 1408 follows author Mike Enslin‘s (John Cusack) stay at the notorious Dolphin Hotel in New York City. Enslin has made a career of selling books exploring haunted sites in the United States, even though he doesn’t believe ghosts are real. But after receiving a mysterious postcard depicting the Dolphin Hotel with a message that reads “don’t enter 1408” Enslin can’t resist. And neither can the audience.
In just under two hours Enslin and the audience are subjected the mind-bending psychological terror as the ghosts of room 1408 come out to play.
4. The Ring (2002)
A remake of the 1998 Japanese film Ringu, The Ring brought audiences the cursed videotape. The premise is simple enough: watch a weird creepy video, get a phone call, and then die in 7 days. Good times. Starring Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller, a journalist, The Ring follows Rachel as she investigates the mysterious tape and its origins. We soon learn of Samara, the vengeful ghost of the tape who kills those who watch it, and the imagery of Samara crawling out of the television is one audiences will never forget.
The Ring manages to keep much of the same tone of its original Japanese counterpart and the dark washed-out colors and anxious seven-day countdown adds to the immense dread and suspense of the film.
3. A Quiet Place (2018)
A Quiet Place is possibly the most successful PG-13 horror film to break through in recent years. Honestly, I didn’t even realize this film had a PG-13 rating, but then thinking back, all the horror doesn’t come from any gory violence and there isn’t much else to warrant keeping younger audiences away. Led by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place is a simple film but the shocking opening paired with the long runs of silence throughout the film leaves you on edge.
There is no score to warn you of what’s coming so you spend the whole film sitting in dread waiting for the creature to attack. The tactic works amazingly. Krasinski stands out as a director on this film as he creates a truly suspenseful film, something that has been lost in recent years of horror franchise sequels and overly used jump scares.
2. Insidious (2010)
In 2010 James Wan kickstarted a new horror franchise of the 21st century with Insidious, a haunted house film where the family finally just moves houses. Finally! But of course it isn’t the house that is being haunted in this flick, it’s the people. Wan is able to create a tense environment as the Lambert family seeks help with the paranormal activities in their home from demonologists. The film has just the right amount of jump scares and dread to keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time. But it isn’t just the mood Wan creates.
Insidious didn’t just launch a franchise, it introduced audiences to Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye)and her assistants Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker, as well as the concept of ‘the further”, and it gave us the now iconic red-faced demon often referred to as the Lipstick-Face Demon (Jospeh Bishara). Insidious was a hit and continues to be praised even nearly a decade later.
1. The Others (2001)
Alejandro Amenábar’s eerie tale of a haunted house is easily the best PG-13 horror film out there. Not only is it beautifully shot, the film’s script and performances are superb with Nicole Kidman earning a Golden Globe nomination and Fionnula Flanagan earning a BAFTA nomination. The Others follows Nicole Kidman as Grace, who begins to believe she and her children are being haunted. The film is quietly eerie, harkening back to old haunted house films like 1944’s The Uninvited. What makes Amenábar’s film so great is the suspenseful twists and turns he takes you on until the very end and he does it without cheap jump scares or any gory violence.
The 2000s clearly made the most of the PG-13 rating and while that trend has decreased in recent years and harder hitting horror films are flooding the market, films like A Quiet Place and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, it appears production companies are breathing new life into PG-13 horror. Are there any PG-13 horror films you loved that we missed? Let us know on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!