The previous Spooky Views was a small guide to some family-friendly scary movies to watch this Halloween season. These movies have some scares and dark themes in them, but they are (in my opinion) safe to view with the family. As a lover of horror, I am enthralled with stories that scare us individually and collectively. As a member of a family, I am also intrigued with stories about the darkness within familial units. What happens behind the closed doors of the family home and the evil that can come from that collective familiarity.
In that vein, movies where the family is either the victim or the perpetrator of evil and supernatural forces are compelling to me and so here are some great scary movies where the family is definitely the focus.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974
Definitely the gold standard of dysfunctional, evil movie families (in my opinion), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre radically changed the genre of horror films when it debuted. Written, produced and directed by Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist, Lifeforce, The Mangler), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is about a group of friends taking a road trip who find themselves being marked, hunted and slaughtered by Leatherface and his family. Beyond hunting the teens, they discover that the family are cannibals who feed on the people they kill. Given the nature of the story, the essentially bloodless film does a fantastic job of allowing the viewer to create the violence in their own mind thus crafting a vision of horror unique to the individual. The family is perfectly portrayed as being twisted and remorseless and their motivations are brilliantly kept from the viewer.
While the previous film focused on the family as the perpetrators, Hereditary features one of the main tropes of horror which is the family being haunted. Written and directed by Ari Aster, the film features the Graham family. After the recent death of the family’s grandmother, the Graham’s start dealing with strange events happening their home with not only the mother Annie, but with their children Charlie and Peter. The death of one of the children opens the floodgates for family secrets to be revealed and a dark cult to use them to fulfill their dark ritual. The movie has some very dark moments throughout and everything that happens to the family is unexpected and deeply disturbing.
Another family in crisis film that is filled with great horror moments comes from writer and director Jordan Peele. The film follows the Wilson family whose vacation brings them face to face with evil doppelgangers of themselves. As they fight against evil versions of themselves and discover where they came from, doppelgangers of everyone begin to emerge. Calling themselves the “Tethered”, they silently kill the originals in order to be free. There are some fantastic slasher imagery throughout the film and Peele’s visual style creates some brilliantly scary moments as well as fantastic twist at the end that I wouldn’t dare spoil.
The Hills Have Eyes 1977
The next film on my list has a family versus family style story to it as well. Written and directed by horror icon Wes Craven, The Hills Have Eyes follows the Carter family who decide to take a cross-country road trip from their suburban existence and make their way to Los Angeles. After their trailer has an accident in the Nevada desert, the Carter’s find themselves in a fight for their lives against the cannibalistic Papa Jupiter and his twisted, cave-dwelling clan. Cannibalism, assault, mutilation and a secluded area with no escape is the perfect recipe for a scary good time.
The Others 2001
The genre of horror that has always been my favorite has to haunted house stories. I love a single location where the house itself becomes the focus of the supernatural. The Others, written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar takes the classic haunted house story and turns it on its head in some interesting and compelling ways. The story involves the Stewart family and their country house in 1945. The children have a sensitivity to the sun so the house is constantly bathed in darkness. When three people come to the house looking for work, strange things begin to happen in the house. The children believe that the house is haunted and their ultra-religious mother is firmly against the idea. When the truth is finally revealed, the entire film takes another amazing turn.
The Witch 2015
Another period piece makes the list with a film by writer and director Robert Eggers. The Witch takes place in New England in the 1630’s during the height of the Puritan movement. A religious dispute involving the head of the family William and the rest of the settlement causes the family to be banished and isolating them from the rest of the community. When the youngest child is taken while in the care of the teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the family begins to suspect that something evil has descended on them from the woods. Between paranoia and religious repression, the family members turn on each other with Thomasin as the center of their ire until the story culminates on a dark and disturbing revelation. A revelation that is both visually scary and perfectly closes out the film.
A Quiet Place 2018
This post-apocalyptic science fiction horror film co-written and directed by John Krasinski represented a fresh take on the stalking monster film. In the wake of an alien invasion of Earth, the population is all but wiped out by creatures that kill anything that they can hunt through sound. The Abbott family takes precautions to protect themselves as they live on their isolated farm in upstate New York, but tragedy still strikes when the youngest child forgets the rules. To make things more tense, the mother is pregnant and goes into labor when the farm is attacked by the creatures. There are some great action beats and suspense filled moments in the film as well as moments for the family members to deal with their own individual and collective pain.
The Shining 1980
Based on the novel by Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick directs the ultimate haunted house story with a family in peril. Jack Torrence and his family travel to the Overlook Hotel in order for him to be the caretaker during the winter. Snowed in and cut off from the world, the Torrence family begins to experience supernatural horrors from the history of the Overlook made worse by young son Danny’s psychic powers. When the hotel decides to use Jack as its vessel for murder and mayhem, the family is forced to fight both the supernatural and a very human evil if they want to survive.
Directed by and starring Bill Paxton, Frailty tells the story of the Meiks family. When the family patriarch receives a vision he believes comes from God, he enlists the help of his two sons Adam and Fenton to hunt down and destroy people he believes to be demons on Earth. Tension comes from one of the boys who cannot see the visions his father says are real and believes that his father is a serial killer. The movie is innovative both in its structure and story shifting between different time periods until it culminates in one of the best twist endings I’ve ever seen on film.
The Amityville Horror 1979
Another classic haunted house film with a family in crisis, Stuart Rosenberg directs a film supposedly based on the true story of the Lutz family who move into a home in Amityville New York. Unfortunately, the home was the scene of a violent massacre by the son of the previous residents and the father begins to break down mentally the longer they live in the house. The other members of the family also begin seeing strange things in the house and they find themselves fighting not only the supernatural entities in their home, but the dark influence affecting the father George.
These are just some of my favorite scary films about family and I want to know what yours are. Let me know in the comments below.