Last weekend A Quiet Place trounced competition at the box office, and with that the inevitable questions has been drudged up again in many online discussions: “Do horror films need to be R-rated? Don’t all PG-13 horror films suck?” Seeing as how the latest entry into the ring easily made more than Ready Player One (Spielberg’s supposed juggernaut), we here at the site felt it was our duty look back over the years and highlight several of the best examples when it came to PG-13 horror. While there are a few obvious selections here, we made sure to plumb the depths and include classics of yesteryear. Seeing as how adding a ranking system to the list could cause much consternation, they’re presented in no logical order. Trust us, they’re all winners here.
In 2011 Blumhouse Productions was just getting established, with only Paranormal Activity 1 & 2 under it’s belt. The 3rd teaming of James Wan & Leigh Whannell (Saw, Death Sentence) kick started a franchise that in 2018 saw it’s fourth entry hit theaters. The first film though remains one of the best modern films of its kind. Featuring terrifying jumps that have no right being as effective as they should be and a game cast of genre stalwarts and A-list talent. Dare yourself to go into the further alone.
One of the rare films where the remake is actually better than the original. 2002’s The Ring ushered in a wave of American remakes based on Japanese horror films, but still stands on top as the best of them. Gore Verbinski hasn’t quite matched the visuals he has on display here and it’s easy to understand why. Along with a few others on the list, this is a movie where the story enhances the scares that surround it. Just, you know, don’t rent it on VHS. To be safe.
Drag Me To Hell
Sam Raimi took almost a decade-long break from horror, but when he returned, he showed he hadn’t lost a step. In fact, he was able to show he’d learned a thing or 2 in his absence. Drag Me To Hell plays like some demon combination of Hammer Horror and Grindhouse Cinema, mixed with all Raimi hallmarks. There may not be buckets of blood, though all other manner of viscera gets unloaded onto the screen. That’s not to say the film is without it’s fair share of jolts. In addition to well-timed jumps, Raimi crafts one of the best seance sequences in the modern era. To be honest this film has it all: laughs, goats, lamias, gypsies, slime, grave digging and David Paymer. Oh, plus it has one of the craziest and grin-inducing endings in a long long time.
It seem weird to have a zombie film on this list, yet that just means you haven’t seen this great take on a zom-com. Chock it up to a clever swerve by director Jonathan Levine (The Night Before), who not only toys with tropes and cliches of the horror genre, but creates something unique in the process. There’s shambling, brain munching and all the other hallmarks of a zombie flick, losing nothing the process of having rating that’s not R. Oh , it’s also about the healing power of love. It’s almost worth watching entirely for the friendship between Nicholas Hoult and Rob Corddry. Yeah, that sentence feels weird to us too.
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death
This here is a case of “they don’t make them like they used to”. Part ghost story, part vampire flick, but all kinds of intelligent and fun, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a film that needs to be better known. A dream-like and eerie quality hangs over the picture, not just because of its use of fog and shadows. Jessica (Zohra Lampert) travels to a country house with her husband, after being released from a psychiatric institution. Right away something feels off and Jessica starts to have trouble distinguishing between what’s real and what’s fantasy. To say more about the film would be to spoil part of its manic charm. So if there’s one film on this list you owe it to yourself to check out, this is it.
It may feel like the second half of this list is comprised of ghost horror feature and that’s for good reason. A compelling ghost story is made chilly when you believe in the terror that’s haunting the lead characters, even if you can see it yourself. That’s why The Others takes this spot. Without Nicole Kidman front and center, it’s likely no one talks about the movie. The cinematography and production design don’t matter an ounce without her majestic turn as a woman willing to do anything to protect her children. Tension builds along the way, leading to a climax that’s as heartbreaking as it is terrifying.
The Woman In Black
From the 50’s up to the 70’s it didn’t get much better than Hammer Horror. Yet as sensibilities in movie-goers changed, the world moved to more modern terrors. Fast forward to 2012 where the ground was ripe for looking back. The Woman In Black makes a great return to form for the company that made “Victorian Horror” a household name, rather than something to scoff at. Placing a premium on atmosphere, it works it’s way under viewer’s skin, allowing the terror to have that much more of an impact. Set designs are sumptuous and Daniel Radcliffe’s showed he could carry a movie with an entirely different kind of magic. Hammer is dead, long live Hammer.
The Sixth Sense
Everyone knows about The Sixth Sense (save for some millennials and babies). Even if someone hasn’t seen it, they know of it or at worst a single line from it. Not only a phenomenon at the box office, it serves as a gateway film for people who may not entirely be well versed, or willing to jump head first into the horror genre. Arguably the best film in M. Night Shamalyan’s filmography, the story of a little boy who sees ghost and has a strange desire to help them, is just effecting now as it was almost 20 years ago. Mixing the quiet dread of ghost stories, the make-up effect of darker efforts and the twisty narratives that were to become the director’s calling card, it’s a potent cocktail to watch any night when alone. Plus, Bruce Willis is great in it!
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Look at that picture. No, seriously, drink it in for a moment…If you aren’t terrified of clowns, sorry “Klowns”, you just may be after watching this entry. The only film written and directed by creature effects mavens The Chiodo Brothers Killer Klowns definitely falls into the horror/comedy hybrid slot. What may surprise you is how closely it follows the normal slasher model. Switch a few elements with gorier outcomes, or replace the cotton candy cocoons with a gnarlier substance and you have one terrifying film. That doesn’t diminish the film in any way though. A ghoulishly goofy time and a joy for anyone who appreciates practical effects.
Lady in White
Rarely are films able to capture the allure and simplicity of small town life. Transplanting a ghost story on top if it makes logical sense, as the extrodinary invading the ordinary, is exactly why people go to the movies. Lady In White is an extrodinary tale of loss, ghosts, murdee and growing up. The material is decidedly darker than one may expect, but rendered beautifully so that all can enjoy it. The perfect film for when fall comes around.
Out of everything on the list, this one is the most grounded in reality. That just makes it all the more terrifying. Spiders have that effect on people. Steve Spielberg helped put money behind Arachnophobia, supporting his longtime Amblin cohort Frank Marshall in his rare directing gig. It follows the Amblin model to the “T”, which is partially why it’s so effective. There’s a good deal of heart and humor paired with moments of hair-raising terror. While the likes of Burt I.. Gordon and Roger Corman did their thing with giant monster flicks, Arachnophobia proves going small scale and practical can lead to some rather stunning results. More than 25 years later, it remains a rousing good time, proving this one’s go legs…8 of them to be exact (c’mon, be nice).
Of course the master of suspense had to make it onto this list. We’d probably all be fired here if that was the case. While Alfred Hitchcock has had many indelible classics, The Birds taps into audiences fear of the seemingly impossible becoming possible. Nature run amok has never been caputred so succinctly as done here. Answers are scare and don’t really matter. When the world falls apart, all you can hope to do is survive. Hitchcock captures the chaos in glorious widscreen, filling the frame with feathers and impending doom.
HONORABLE PG MENTIONS: It only seemed fair to round things out to a baker’s dozen when covering this topic. After all there was initially a time where PG-13 did not exist. In those halcyon days of yore, a couple PG offerings have stood the test of time. Look anywhere, or ask anyone for some of their favorite horror films and the likes of Jaws and Poltergeist usually pop up next to The Exorcist or Halloween. Those are the obvious inclusions, but dig a little deeper and there’s a few nice surprises. Hell, a few cult classics even show up in the form of It’s Alive, The Cat O’ Nine Tails and the criminally under-appreciated Tourist Trap. If wanting to stay more current, it doesn’t get much better than Laika’s Paranorman, which is fun for the whole family. Just furthering the fact that horror is for everyone.