Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
The dreaded PG-13 rating is something horror fans have argued about since its inception. Created in the early 80s the MPAA ratings came about in response to parents being NEEERRRDS about their kids seeing violence in films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins just to name a few. Side Note: Temple of Doom is my favorite Indy movie. Long story short, horror movie studios had to come up with a way to make more money off their films which meant more butts in theatre seats and alas, PG-13 versions of horror movies were born.
Depending on who you ask, some fans may tell you these movies fail to deliver on the fear and scares of their R-rated counterparts and catered to lesser horror fans aka people who do not love the genre as much as they do. While this may be somewhat true, recent years have brought about a lot of PG-13 horror movies that, while not as scary or filled with f-bombs and naked bits as other films of the genre, manage to be very entertaining due to smart writing and execution. And even hardcore horror lovers can admit, they’re worth giving a look.
So with a Mild Spoiler Warning and a promise to keep thinks teen friendly, here are my picks for Top 10 PG-13 Horror Movies That Actually Work:
The newest one on this list, M3GAN came out this year and took the killer doll trope to all new fun and entertaining levels. It’s also one of those few horror movies where you’ll find yourself rooting for the antagonist instead of the flesh bags that are running around as M3GAN is more about enjoying the evil antics of the killer doll than anything else.
Now unlike the other movies on this list I do think M3GAN would benefit from a R-Rating, if just to see the kills go bigger and more imaginative, but even I can admit it’s one of those horror movies that’s works well as a way to introduce newbies to the genre. and for that alone, it deserves a sassy dance and a robotic high-five.
Further Reading: M3GAN Slays Ev3n with the PG-13 Rating
It may not be considered “horror” by today’s standards, but Tremors does fall into the creature-feature category. And with no less than SEVEN movies in the series, you know the original definitely made an impact with audiences.
Released all the way back in 1990, Tremors starred everyone’s favourite actor Kevin Bacon as a handyman who works in the isolated town of Perfection, Nevada. It’s your typical life for the folks of this sleepy desert town until an unknown creature (later named a Graboid) emerges from the sand to make meals out of anything that’s unlucky enough to be moving. This fun horror comedy takes the groundwork laid by films like Gremlins and Critters to ridiculously entertaining heights. And with Kevin Bacon still interested in making another one, this PG-13 franchise might just be around long after others like it are gone.
Further reading: Tremors: Shrieker Island is a (Slightly) Above Average Monster Movie of the Week
A YouTube short that went viral, Mama caught the eye of none other than Guillermo del Toro and was brought to the big screen by future It Chapters 1 & 2 writer/director Andy Muschietti. Now I know there are a lot of naysayers out there who thought this movie was boring, but I’m not one of them. Instead, I found Mama to be a solid take on the short that plays out like a twisted Grimm fairytale (which is a bit of an oxymoron as Grimm fairytales are as messed up as they come).
The CGI doesn’t work as well when it’s on full display, but the build-up to Mama’s reveal works on every level and the ending is both tragic and sweet. If you’re a fan of Japanese horror which tends to focus more on tension and scares than stabs and slashes, I think Mama might be the kind of fantasy/horror you’ll enjoy.
#7 Lights Out
While names like Mike Flanagan and Leigh Whannel are bandied about as modern-day horror auteurs (deservedly so) David Sandberg is largely unknown to mainstream audiences as he’s relatively new to the big screen. But for those of us who’ve been following his work since his YouTube channel days, we know how talented Sandberg is at delivering authentic horror to teens and adults alike.
One of these examples was his short film Lights Out which was given the feature length treatment for the big screen and released in 2016. It tells the story of a young woman who after moving out on her own is pulled back into the world of her mother’s supposed mental illness when her younger brother reveals Mommy is once again interacting with an entity she calls Diana. Using a gimmick in a smart and creepy way, Diana can only be “seen” and do damage when the lights are out. And PG-13 or not, we can all agree the dark can be an unsettling thing especially when the shadows your jacket haphazardly thrown on a hook takes the form of someone standing in the corner of your room in the middle of the night. C’mon, I know I’m not the only one whose ever had a mild heart attack at two in the morning because of this; let’s just be happy our shadows don’t try to mangle us to death when we turn the lights out.
Like Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Insidious is not as effective the second or third time around. But for those who saw this movie, it’s hard not to give it the props it deserves for delivering some of the best jump scares of the modern horror era. Blending possession and demons with the nightmares of a child that would make Freddy Kreuger smile, Insidious refuses to be hampered by its PG-13 rating and instead employs silence and great camerawork to keep viewers fully engaged.
The sequels, while not quite as good, are still worthy of a look. And as movie series go this block of teen friendly horror films make for a fun marathon viewing, as long as you weren’t planning on sleeping anytime soon.
#5 The Others
While PG-13 may hinder the effectiveness of slashers or action-based horror movies, it tends to be the opposite when it comes to ghost stories. In the hands of a talented director and writer it doesn’t slow them down one bit, and films like The Others are living proof of this. The very talented Nicole Kidman stars as a woman living in an old family house with her two photosensitive children and as the story goes on, she becomes convinced the house is haunted.
Like The Sixth Sense, I think anyone claiming to have figured out the twist in this movie is straight up lying! Or maybe that’s just me being salty but I don’t think so as director/writer Alejandro Amenabar utilises a slow and tense pace with genuinely haunting visuals and solid performances to deliver a ghost story unlike any other. If you haven’t seen The Others I recommend firstly staying away from any sites or videos and just plopping yourself down in a nice dark room and checking it out for yourself. While many a movie has taken this twist and beating it into the ground at this point, you can bet money none have done it better than this one.
Further Reading: Revisiting Supernatural Horror Masterpiece ‘The Others’ at 20
#4 The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Ever since the granddaddy of possession movies The Exorcist was released, every studio and horror creator worth their salt have been trying to catch lightning (or in this case Pazuzu) in a bottle by creating a possession movie as disturbing and terrifying as that one. In may have taken decades but one could argue the PG-13 rated The Exorcism of Emily Rose could stand toe-to-toe with The Exorcist.
It is a slow burn of a movie that utilises a pseudo-documentary-styled storytelling and is inspired by the tragic true story of Annelise Michel, a young woman who underwent a mind boggling 67 Catholic exorcism rites and sadly died in the process. It’s all about the atmosphere of this film which manages to make audiences uncomfortable from beginning to end, coupled with the amazing performance by Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter, REC) as Emily Rose and we’re left with a movie that’s not just hard to watch but one you’ll probably avoid revisiting not because it’s bad, but because it was just that damn good at creeping you out.
Further Reading: Top 5 Exorcism Movies (That Aren’t The Exorcist)
#3 A Quiet Place
Taking a gimmick and making it effective as a horror tool is something genre creators have been playing with since the inception of the horror movie. A Quiet Place is one of those stories that nailed it from beginning to heart stopping end as we follow a family living in a world where alien creatures have the ability to hear a literal pin drop and will devour said pin faster than you can say, “This is the last drumstick in the box of KFC.”
The movie does such an effective job of immersing you into this world of mandatory silence you’ve probably forgotten it’s PG-13 rating, proving you don’t need a ton of blood and gore to deliver a chilling story.
#2 The Ring
Ticking of a couple of boxes in the win column here, The Ring is not only one of the best horror remakes/reimagining ever made, it’s also one of the best PG-13 horror movies out there. A remake of the J-horror movie Ringu, 2002’s The Ring tells the story of a reporter who gets caught up in an investigation that involves a videotape that may or may not be cursed. Spoiler alert: It’s most definitely cursed.
Starting with the choice to tinge the entire movie in the colour green (which makes viewing it feel unnatural) this movie takes a small cast of characters, a creepy video and a pitch perfect pace and delivers the kind of horror movie tailor-made for watching in a dark cinema. I remember watching this with an audience who spent most of the movie either jumping out of their seats or clutching on to the person they came with and hiding their face in their armpits.
Massively successful both financially and critically, The Ring more than proved you can have a great horror movie without the R-Rating attached.
#1 The Sixth Sense
Arguably M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie to date, The Sixth Sense caught exactly everyone who saw it by surprise. Taking the simple concept of a child that can see dead people and adding impactful drama, deeply effective scares and surprising twists that instantly makes the film worthy of a rewatch, it’s even more impressive to realise the film had a PG-13 rating. One of the best of the genre was also meant to be seen by teens and adults alike, and even with a host of modern “cerebral” horror movies coming out after it’s hard not to look back at this and admire how incredible The Sixth Sense was.
So say what you will about PG-13 horror, it’s hard not to admit the successful ones have gone a long way in ensuring big budget studios keep delivering horror content on the big screen. And for that alone I for one hope to see more of them (quality over quantity of course) in the future.
So which of these PG-13 films is your favourite? Any you would add to the list? And you can check out more great horror lists below:
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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