2018 Spooky Film Recs, Part IV: Family Viewing

For my final “Spooky Films” post, I’m offering some suggestions for family viewing. If you’re new to the blog and have younger children, you might check my 2016 post that includes solidly PG films. If you have tweens and teens interested in watching horror, the following PG/PG-13 options might appeal. Of course, you are the best judge of what your kids can or can’t handle in a scary film.

As usual, all film synopses are from imdb.com.


Spirited Away (2001) — Rated PG
During her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.
You’re all probably way ahead of me on this one. I’d heard about it for years but didn’t think it was my sort of thing. Then I watched with a friend and her kiddos. Gosh! Such a lovely, haunting, and spooky film. “No Face” (seen above in the middle) now numbers among my very favorite film characters. Those in the know — are there any other spooky anime films I should track down?
Watch the trailer / available on DVD only (from various retailers) / Metascore: 96
(the highest IMDB metascore of any film I’ve recommended!)
Goth-o-Meter: medium-ish?


Down a Dark Hall (2018) — PG-13
A troubled teen named Kit Gordy is forced to join the exclusive Blackwood Boarding School, just to find herself trapped by dark forces around its mysterious headmistress, Madame Duret.
This one had me at “all-female boarding school.” Fans of Lois Duncan should get a kick out of it — the setting is properly Gothic and the cast (featuring Uma Thurman with a believable French accent) is strong. The atmosphere oozes with old-fashioned menace, but the students bring a modern edge to the “haunted boarding school” narrative. Lots of drama and even a little romance.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 56
Goth-o-Meter: high


Our House (2018) — PG-13
A young genius accidentally invents a device that amplifies the paranormal activity within his family’s house, possibly bringing back the spirits of loved ones, and unleashing things far worse.
I like a little technology with my ghosts, especially when accidental contact occurs. The pacing in this one isn’t without its problems, but I found the family very appealing and right away I cared about their safety. You might call this a “modern domestic ghost story,” and I like that it offers mystery and chills without going too far with jump scares or violence.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 45
(the lowest metascore of all my recs, but I really did think this was worth watching!)
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high


Beautiful Creatures (2013) — PG-13
Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.
I read this book when it first came out and quite enjoyed it, but the trailers for the film turned me off. It all just looked waaaay over-the-top. But when I was searching for films to watch this year, this one came up again and again as a strong option. After all, it does have an incredible cast–Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Eileen Atkins and Emma Thompson–but it’s Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert who make this movie work. If you can get past Ehrenreich’s Forrest Gump-voiceover at the beginning, you’ll see what I mean. They are both sympathetic and have great chemistry together. Yes, there are outrageous moments in this film, but overall I found it intriguing and satisfying — including the (somewhat abrupt) ending.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 52
Goth-o-Meter: high


Happy Death Day (2017) — PG-13
A college student must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity.
As I’ve said before, I don’t enjoy slasher films unless they are quirky and/or funny. This horror spin on Groundhog Day was exactly what I was looking for. I’ve seen it characterized as “relentlessly violent,” but I assure you that there’s not much blood/gore at all, and though the film does get the pulse racing, the tone is playful. It’s along the lines of the SCREAM movies, but with much less blood.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 57
Goth-o-Meter: low

Here’s a list of other PG-13 Horror options, though I’m kind of horrified that The Ring is included. That one really got to me–I enjoyed it, but it’s more at the “disturbing” end of the spooky continuum. There are moments in that film I wish I could unsee.

Also keep in mind that two of the films mentioned earlier in my 2018 recs are PG-13 — A Quiet Place and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The Endless is unrated, but I think it would be appropriate for teens and mature tweens.

That’s it for 2018, folks! Happy Horror Viewing and REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.

2018 Spooky Film Recs, Part III: Ghost-free Horror

Today you’ll find paranormal, sci-fi, slasher, and post-apocalyptic films, but there’s nary a ghost in the bunch! (As far as I could tell, at least.)

As always, the brief synopses are from imdb.com.


The Ritual (2017) — Rated: TV-MA
A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that is stalking them.
Add a paranormal twist to Deliverance**, set the story in northern Sweden, and you have a very EERIE film! Great cast led by Rafe Spall, but also including Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey’s conniving Thomas) in a strong and sympathetic role.
**Those who have seen Deliverance please note: The Ritual is a freaky film, but not Ned Beatty-in-peril freaky, okay? I wouldn’t do that to you.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 57
Goth-o-Meter: medium


The Endless (2017) — Not rated
As kids, they escaped a UFO death cult. Now, two adult brothers seek answers after an old videotape surfaces and brings them back to where they began.
The director and writer of this film also play the two brothers, and their on-film relationship brought to mind Sam and Dean from Supernatural. I really, really enjoyed this story — so much that I sought out Benson and Moorhead’s earlier film, Resolution, featuring a pair of characters that have a cameo in this film. I’m kinda glad that I watched them in reverse order, and I look forward to more stories from this writer/director duo.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 80
Goth-o-Meter: medium


Better Watch Out (2016) — Rated R
On a quiet suburban street, a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover it’s far from a normal home invasion.
I expected this to be typical slasher fare, but there is a twist — that’s why I’m sharing a clip rather than the official trailer. I typically don’t enjoy slasher films unless they are quirky and/or satirical. This one definitely has its moments.
Watch a clip / Options for viewing / Metascore: 67
Goth-o-Meter: low to medium?


Train to Busan (2016) — Rated TV-MA
While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
This film has appeared on so many “best horror” lists, but I resisted due to zombie fatigue. (I blame The Walking Dead.) However, I finally decided to give it a try, and it might be my favorite spooky film viewed this year. With its nuanced characters, gut-wrenching tension, and impressive special effects, Train to Busan is a fresh and poignant take on the “zombie apocalypse” theme.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 72
Goth-o-Meter: low


The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) — Rated R
A father and son, both coroners, are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman, who was apparently harboring dark secrets.
I can’t think of any other movie quite like this spooky mystery set in a morgue. The chemistry between Brian Cox and Emile Hirsche, playing father and son, was the most appealing thing about it. Since the plot revolves around an autopsy, you know it will be a special sort of gruesome. Consider that fair warning!
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 65
Goth-o-Meter: medium

***You might also consider:

Wildling (2018) — Rated R
A blossoming teenager uncovers the dark secret behind her traumatic childhood.
A new spin on the werewolf story, but perhaps it goes a bit off the rails in the final act? If you watch, I’d be interested to know what you think.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 58

It Comes at Night (2017) — Rated R
Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.
This tense and claustrophobic story probably won’t appeal to those seeking monsters and jump scares. More psychological thriller than horror, this is another film from producer/distributor A24, which also brought us The Witch, Hereditary, and The Blackcoat’s Daughter.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 78

Check back on Monday when I’ll be recommending “family viewing” horror film options. AND REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.

2018 Spooky Film Recs Part II: Ghostly Favorites

In this post I hope to inspire you to watch some ghost films that flew under the radar during the past couple of years. I’ve come to appreciate lower-budget/independent ghostly films because there’s much less reliance on expensive special effects and, in many cases, more appreciation of characterization and tension. If you’ve already seen or plan to watch any of the options suggested here, please let me know what you think!

As always, the brief synopses are from imdb.com.


The Lodgers (2017) — Rated R
1920, rural Ireland. Anglo Irish twins Rachel and Edward share a strange existence in their crumbling family estate.
This was right up my alley in the Gothic department–haunting and atmospheric if not truly frightening. (Seriously, if you prefer a fast-paced story with lots of jump scares, don’t bother with this one.) Charlotte Vega is quite good as dominant twin Rachel, but the true star of this film is Loftus Hall, a centuries-old (and reputedly haunted-in-real-life) Irish country house. While there is a strong fantasy element to the story, the script also takes into account the social and political turmoil in early 20th century Ireland. I would watch this one again–it’s so lovely to look at!
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 52
Goth-o-Meter: very high


Marrowbone (2017) — Rated R
A young man and his three younger siblings, who have kept secret the death of their beloved mother in order to remain together, are plagued by a sinister presence in the sprawling manor in which they live.
Marrowbone offers so many of my favorite things: a gorgeous setting (supposedly the U.S. but actually filmed in Spain), a focus on characterization, moments of sweetness that balance the Gothic peril, and an ending that makes you want to go back to the beginning and watch all over again. (Random observation: this will only resonate with people of a certain age, but to me it’s almost like a horror version of Dear Lola, which was adapted to film as The Beniker Gang.) The film is not without flaws, but it’s very compelling overall and I will watch it again. Stranger Things fans will be pleased to see Charlie Heaton–and to hear his native English accent.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 63
Goth-o-Meter: high


Personal Shopper (2016) — Rated R
A personal shopper in Paris refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who previously died there. Her life becomes more complicated when a mysterious person contacts her via text message.
If you’re looking for a very unique sort of ghost story/mystery, this might fit the bill. It does require patience and an open mind, but the film really is rather fabulous. I re-watched several scenes afterwards and couldn’t stop thinking about it for days–I hadn’t expected to find Kristen Stewart so compelling. (Reviews are all over the place with this one–so it was reassuring that my favorite YouTube film reviewer, Chris Stuckmann, liked it as much as I did).
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 77
Goth-o-Meter: medium (there are Gothic moments in this film, but overall I consider it to be more in the realm of Noir.)


The Keeping Hours (2017) — Rated PG-13
10 years after the death of their son, a divorced couple is suddenly reunited by supernatural events that offer them a chance at forgiveness.
This film must have gone straight to Netflix–it has no reviews from mainstream critics–so I went in with low expectations. You guys! It really got to me. First of all, fans of Lee Pace should watch–he is lovely and will break your heart in the best way. (He’s a native Oklahoman, y’all!) This film derives its eeriness more from grief and longing than jump scares. There are deliciously spooky bits, but nothing to give you nightmares. If you’re anything like me, you’ll cry and find it all very cathartic.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / No IMDB metascore — check Rotten Tomatoes
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high

***You might also consider:

Ghost Stories (2017) — Not Rated
Skeptical professor Phillip Goodman embarks on a trip to the terrifying after finding a file with details of three unexplained cases of apparitions. (Adapted from a play and featuring Martin Freeman in one of the vignettes.)
The three cases are interesting and spooky, but the frame narrative did not work for me.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 68
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high?

A Ghost Story (2017) — rated R
In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.
Not a “thrill-a-minute” sort of ghost movie. It is fascinating and quite moving, but perhaps a smidge pretentious? Your mileage may vary. (There is a cool tribute to Poltergeist at the mid-point. In fact, I was fascinated by this slideshow overview of the writer/director’s influences.)
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 84
Goth-o-Meter: medium

Check back on Wednesday when I’ll be recommending “under the radar” ghost-free horror films. AND REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.

2018 Spooky Film Recs Part I: Mainstream Favorites

Today I launch the 2018 Spooky Film Blog Series with four mainstream favorites released in 2018. Since you’ve probably already heard of them, I won’t write lengthy reviews. I will include helpful links, however, and with my Geeked on Gothic post in mind, I’ll rate each film’s Gothic content using my (incredibly simplistic) Goth-o-Meter.

The brief synopses are from imdb.com.


Annihilation (rated R)
A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.
This eerie and unforgettable example of Scifi horror requires deep engagement from the viewer, but your patience will be rewarded with a mind-blowing finale.
Watch the Trailer / Options for streaming / IMDB metascore: 79
Goth-o-Meter: low


A Quiet Place (rated PG-13)
In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.
This film impressed me with its unusual concept, breathtaking performances, and TENSION. Suitable for viewing with tweens/teens.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / IMDB metascore: 82
Goth-o-Meter: low to medium?


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (rated PG-13)
When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.
I freely admit to having felt a little “meh” when we went to see this, so imagine my surprise when the film turned into a GOTHIC MYSTERY. Lots of fun! My 12-year-old niece quite enjoyed it.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / IMDB metascore: 51 (really?)
Goth-o-Meter: unexpectedly high


Hereditary (rated R)
After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
Hereditary is shocking, scalp-pricklingly creepy, and its slow burn of horror will stay seared on my brain for the rest of my days. That said, I’m aching to see it again, but I may need a buddy to hold my hand!
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / IMDB metascore: 87
Goth-o-Meter: high

Also, keep in my mind that Mike Flanagan’s “modern reimagining” of The Haunting of Hill House has its Netflix premiere on October 12. I love his films–check them out here–but this trailer will boggle the minds of Shirley Jackson fans:


For more context, you might cast a sideways glance at the positive reviews from Variety, Forbes, and Screen Anarchy.

Check back on Thursday when I’ll be recommending “under the radar” ghostly films. AND REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below or in the sidebar and scroll to your heart’s content.

Geeked on Gothic

It’s mid-September and each day we draw closer to the season of ghosts, ghouls, and witches (not to mention sugar hangovers). I must confess, however, that I wrote this post not just to celebrate the season. I’m also hoping for a particular sort of redemption.

Over the years, I’ve talked at great length about Gothic with students, teachers, and librarians. For some reason, however, when I recently was asked by a very nice person — in a non-classroom/conference setting — why I liked Gothic, I FROZE.

My mind emptied of all words.

Today’s post is my way of correcting that particular brain lapse. It also strikes me as an appropriate way to kick off my 2018 Spooky Film Recs blog series. (If you’re new to this blog, click the “spooky film recs” tag at the bottom of this post to scroll through past recommendations.)


As you probably already know, the genre’s name comes from Gothic architecture–castles, cathedrals, abbeys, towers, and crypts–designed to inspire awe and fear. (Cologne Cathedral is a great example.) For the most part, Gothic literature concerns itself with these structures when in partial or total ruin, long after the Medieval period. The literary label of “Gothic” came into being with Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, which was subtitled “A Gothic Story.”

In early Gothic novels the setting was a fortress, secular or religious, located in a foreign land long ago. The villain was an evil and murderous man, the heroine was pious and prone to fainting, and more often that not, a ghost or monster made an appearance. At times, early Gothic was so over-the-top that it strikes us now as rather ridiculous. (And thus it was very easy to parody, as Jane Austen did with Northanger Abbey.) However, these stories paved the way for more subtle offerings in the 19th and 20th centuries.

What really fascinates me about early Gothic literature is how it bridges the gap between the Medieval and the Modern. I see it as a reaction both to the Enlightenment, which lauded Reason and Logic, and Romanticism, which exalted Emotion and Imagination. Gothic celebrates emotional excess while also showing its dark consequences. It offers commentary on rapid social change, the possibilities and dangers inherent in scientific experimentation, as well as the oppressive nature of institutions and mores. Gothic conveys nostalgia for the past and its traditions while also celebrating characters who break the rules and cross boundaries.


What are you hiding in the attic, Mr. Rochester?

Why are Gothic stories still so popular and accessible today? I think Sigmund Freud had something to do with that, as Gothic gave him a visual vocabulary for talking about the human mind. He coined the term unheimlich (“the uncanny,” or literally “unhomely”) to describe something that is mysterious in an unsettling way–familiar yet horrifying at the same time. The attics, labyrinths, and underground vaults of Gothic fiction provided metaphors for repression as heroes and villains struggled between their compulsions and better natures (id and superego). From Gothic literature and Freud we learned that the dark secret, terrible sin, or dead body you’re trying to hide will always return to haunt you, no matter how deeply you bury it.

For me, the best Gothic stories rely on atmosphere, mystery, tension, and dread rather than sudden shocks or explicit violence. My favorite thing about modern Gothic is that the “evil” rarely has a specific external source, and in many cases the hero/heroine may have brought into being, consciously or unconsciously, the very problem that haunts them.

***For a humorous overview of classic Gothic literature, read How to Tell You’re Reading a Gothic Novel

***Also check out this very informative blog post on Gothic Horror and Children’s Books.

My top five Gothic novels:


(Click images for more details from Goodreads)

My top five Gothic films:


(Click images for more details from imdb.com)

***Are you a fan of Gothic? If so, what are your favorite stories, novels, or films?