Hocus Pocus – When I hear the words “children’s Halloween movie,” the very first film to come to mind is Hocus Pocus, a little movie about a group of unwitting kids who release the Sanderson sisters, three hilariously twisted witches, on their small town to wreak havoc and consume the souls of children. As dark as the premise may seem, the movie is still so incredibly fun, with a wild-eyed, buck-toothed Bette Midler as the head witch and an immortal, talking black cat. Kooky and spooky, this is a must for the kids on the most haunted night of the year, not to mention the easiest to find in October on cable TV.
Casper – This live action adaptation of the popular “Casper the Friendly Ghost” TV show is surprisingly self-aware as well as tender and sweet. Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci play father and daughter who move into the mansion haunted by young Casper and his ghastly uncles Stretch, Fatso, and Stinky. Along with being a fun-with-ghosts All Hollow’s Eve feature, it’s also insightful and teaching about coping with the deaths of loved ones, finding your peace, and the deep seeded bonds of friendship.
Coraline – If ever parents wanted to make their child more appreciative of them by way of pop-culture osmosis, Coraline, adapted from the novel by horror/fantasy author Neil Gaiman, would be a great movie of start. It’s the story of a willful young girl who discovers an alternate universe where she always gets what she wants and her “alternate” parents don’t care, in fact they encourage it; but it isn’t long before Coraline uncovers the darker motives behind these other parents. If Tim Burton ever decided to make a movie where he opted for an acerbic and portentous instead of his usual whimsy, Coraline would be the end product.
The Witches – Author Roald Dahl created some fanciful stories about children for children except to say that what made them different was the ever-present undercurrent of something sinister, no matter how small, and the film adaptation of The Witches is a shining if oft forgotten example. The story of a boy on vacation with his grandmother who witnesses a convention of witches and their evil plot to rid the world of children and is subsequently turned into a mouse. Starring Angelica Houston as the head witch, Dahl’s witches are not only evil but also ugly, secretly bald, gangly-toothed, humpbacked hags with spooky glowing eyes. It’s a perfect Halloween film for the younger ones.
Monster House – If I could pick any modern movie to have had around when I was young, that movie would unquestionably be Gil Kennan’s Monster House. It’s about three kids who try to uncover the mystery behind a man-eating house to protect the impending flow of trick-or-treaters from its appetite and save Halloween. As spooky children’s fare goes, this isn’t a silly-fun kind of scary but a scream-inspiring, potential nightmare-inducing thrill ride. It also happens to be, in my opinion, the most successful motion-capture animation film out there, driven by an all-star cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, and Kevin James.
Ernest Scared Stupid – I always loved the Ernest movies when I was a kid, and my favorite (probably because it made the most lasting impression) was this adventure of the eponymous hero who unleashes an army of trolls upon a small town on Halloween. The prospect of being turned into a wooden doll by the evil Trantor from this movie still stirs unsettling feelings in me, but the beloved Ernest P. Worrell is so delightfully goofy and fun I couldn’t help but watch it again and again anyway.
Frankenweenie – Not only is this movie Tim Burton’s most completely realized vision of sweet-whimsy-meets-morbid-fascination since Edward Scissorhands, but it might also be the most kid-friendly movie he’s ever directed. The movie, a black-and-white, plasticine stop-motion reimagining of the Frankenstein story, is about a boy-genius who brings his beloved dog Sparky back from the dead. It’s so thrilling to watch storytelling like this, which balances eerie ghoulishness with sweetness and innocence, making it a perfect movie for children to watch on Halloween that the parents will be able to love too.