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Every year, Halloween comes along and scary movies are back in the spotlight. But if you’re a parent, it is a challenge to find a good horror movie from the last 50 years that isn’t rated R. The films on this list will do the trick (or treat), and don’t have much — if any — of the gore that’s so prevalent in the genre these days.
Honorable mentions: Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas,” “The Sixth Sense,” “Gremlins”
10. Tremors (1990) PG-13
This cult classic features Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as two handymen who are terrorized by vicious underground worms in the middle of the hot Nevada desert. Sound ridiculous? It sure is. It’s also a lot of fun. “Tremors” straddles the line between horror and comedy by being really effective at both. It’s a self-aware B-movie with some pretty decent scares a great sense of humor.
9. “Cloverfield” (2008) PG-13
The monster movie was officially taken into the “found footage” genre of horror pictures (following in the steps of “The Blair Witch Project” and “[REC]”) when this movie came out two years ago and created a minor sensation. A giant beast comes from the ocean and lays waste to New York City, but the novelty of this film is that it was supposedly filmed in one night from the point of view of a single camcorder.
Limited in its scope, it is still surprisingly effective.
8. “The Innocents” (1961)
The first of several ghost stories to appear on this list, “The Innocents” achieves its creepy tone through stark, deep focus cinematography and a startling sense that something is always a bit … off. Deborah Kerr is governess to two disturbed children in an enormous gothic mansion, and it’s hard to tell whether the kids are seeing ghosts or Kerr is losing her grip. The ending is still a shock today.
7. “Poltergeist” (1982) PG
Speaking of creepy kids and ghosts, Steven Spielberg co-wrote, co-produced and probably co-directed this story of a family — headed by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams — that moves into a new house only to find that an evil spirit beat them to the punch. Teenage actress Dominique Dunne was strangled by her boyfriend shortly after the film’s release, and Heather O’Rourke (who played Carol Anne and uttered the catchphrase “They’re here”) died suddenly six years later. These and other strange events have led some to call the film cursed, although that is no excuse for “Coach.”
6. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978) PG
Philip Kaufman (“The Right Stuff”) directed this chilling movie, one of the rare remakes that is actually better than the original (Don Seigel’s 1956 film of the same name). Replacing Seigel’s Cold War metaphor with a satire of the “me” decade and all of its excesses, Kaufman peppers his film with hippies, poet and an evil pop psychiatrist played by Leonard Nimoy. As Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams try to uncover the truth about an alien race that’s replacing humans with unfeeling duplicates, Kaufman lays on the paranoia as thick as the parody. The result is a movie that is by turns genuinely creepy and clever.
5. “Psycho” (1960)
Everyone knows about the classic Janet Leigh shower scene, but how many people have actually watched Alfred Hitchcock’s lurid little psychodrama from beginning to end recently? If it’s been awhile, you may have forgotten how playfully the director toys with his audience, constantly giving us more information than any of the characters get. The master of suspense turns us into voyeurs and makes us all complicit in Norman Bates’ mommy issues.
4. “The Others” (2001) PG-13
Another gorgeously shot ghost story, this one is a sort of throwback to “The Innocents,” with Nicole Kidman as the mother of two children in a house on a remote island in the United Kingdom directly following World War II. An uncharacteristically serene film for the modern age, it has an almost surreal quality to it, even as its plot continues to unfold in a seemingly straightforward fashion.
3. “Jaws” (1975) PG
The film that created the notion of the summer blockbuster continues to keep millions away from the water even now. A giant man-eating great white terrorizes the beach town of Amity as its selfish town council keeps pushing unsuspecting victims back into the water. Steven Spielberg employs a less-is-more strategy to the violence and lets the film prey on our own fear of the unknown, bringing it right into our backyard. Did I mention it also contains one of the most simple and terrifying pieces of music ever written?
2. “Drag Me to Hell” (2009) PG-13
Sam Raimi mixes slapstick comedy with genuine horror in this fun, in-your-face horror flick from last summer. Cursed by a goat demon — you read that right — a nice young loan officer (Alison Lohman) is tortured both physically and mentally while all manner of bodily fluids descend on her. The gooey matter is a substitute for gore, for sure, but the movie delivers a lot of big laughs and cheap thrills, all while maintaining a surprising amount of character.
1. “Eyes Without a Face” (1960)
French director Georges Franju went from documentaries to directing this controversial horror film about a doctor who kidnaps young women and surgically removes their faces in an attempt to graft them onto his daughter’s, after hers was mutilated in a car accident. The psychological complexity of the three lead characters s rare for a horror movie, as is the beautiful black-and-white cinematography and the matter-of-fact handling of the plot’s more sordid details. Besides retaining much of its original shock value 50 years later, “Eyes Without a Face” also burns its haunting images into your brain forever. The young daughter’s white, expressionless mask was the inspiration for John Carpenter to similarly hide Michael Myers’ face in the original “Halloween.”