by Coop Cooper
The 80’s was a cinematic golden era for scary PG films, especially before the PG-13 rating changed the landscape of kid/teen-friendly horror movies. Here are a few of the greatest, scary PG movies of that decade:
“The Watcher in the Woods” (1980) – One of Bette Davis’ last films, this Disney-produced movie follows two sisters who attempt to uncover the secret behind the girl ghost who is haunting their home in the English countryside. This is one of Disney’s edgier films from the 80’s which also produced “The Black Hole” and “Tron”.
“Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983) – One of the most frightening PG movies ever made, this anthology film features four tales, the scariest of which is an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” about a creature who destroys airplanes in mid-flight.
“The Dark Crystal” (1982) – A dark fantasy film starring a cast entirely made up of Muppets, this is Jim Henson’s edgiest film project. A long-rumored sequel is supposedly currently in development.
“Escape to Witch Mountain” (1975) – The only G-Rated Disney movie in the list features two kids with supernatural powers on the run from scientists who want to study them and locals who regard them as witches. It was followed by a sequel, “Return to Witch Mountain” (1978) starring Christopher Lee and Bette Davis.
“V” (1983) – Technically a TV miniseries, “V” shocked the world with its storyline about human-like alien invaders coming to Earth ‘in peace’, only to be revealed as a race of conquering reptiles with plans to strip the planet’s resources and package humans as food. It was followed by another miniseries in 1984, a short-lived TV series and a lackluster reboot in 2009.
“Labyrinth” (1986) – Another Jim Henson fantasy film stars rocker David Bowie as ‘The Goblin King’ who steals the baby brother of Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) who must traverse a maze full of Muppet monsters before her brother is turned into one. Great music numbers highlight this dark fairy tale.
“Goonies” (1985) – More of a suspenseful adventure film, the Goonies are group of friends who find an old pirate map which might lead them to treasure to help save their town from demolition. Hot on their trail are a trio of murderous mobsters who want the treasure for themselves. Watching this suspense comedy is considered a rite-of-passage for preteens even to this day.
“Gremlins” (1984) – Technically a Christmas-themed horror film, a teenage boy receives an alien pet which requires strict rules for its care. If these rules are broken, the pet multiplies into thousands of evil monsters that revel in wreaking havoc. The 2015 film “Krampus” is this film’s spiritual successor.
“Beetlejuice” (1988) – This Tim Burton classic stars Michael Keaton as an obnoxious evil spirit who attempts to scare off a family of New York yuppies from a country home which is also inhabited by a kindly ghost couple who only want to live the afterlife in peace and quiet. A rumored sequel is supposedly still in development.
“Ghostbusters” (1984) – The ‘greatest supernatural comedy ever made’ follows a trio of wisecracking scientists who create a ghost-capturing business only to discover they are the only ones who can save the world from an indestructible demon god. The 2016 remake can’t hold a candle to it.
“Poltergeist” (1982) – Considered the “Star Wars” of haunted house movies, this film focuses on the Freeling family who enlist the aid of scientists and a psychic to retrieve their youngest daughter who has disappeared inside of their house which is besieged by evil spirits.
Honorable mentions: “Lady in White” (1988), “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1983), “Mr. Boogedy” TV (1986), “Little Monsters” (1989), “The Woman in Black” TV (1989), “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” TV (1981), “The Day After” TV miniseries (1983), “Under the Mountain” TV (1982)
The best PG-13 horror movies from the 80’s: “Monster Squad” (1987), “Critters” (1986), “Dreamscape” (1984), “The Gate” (1987), House II: The Second Story (1987), “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986), “Night of the Comet” (1984), “Cat’s Eye” (1985), “Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985)