The best Amazon Prime Video films for Halloween at half term.
Abominable, Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, The Addams Family, the sublime Singin’ in the Rain re-release… Let’s face it, there are plenty of exciting cinema releases for you and the kids this half term. But cinema tickets aren’t cheap, and you can’t go to the cinema every day. So it’s good to know that, if this October’s half term turns to be as wet and blustery as the past couple of weeks, and you’re already paying your Amazon Prime subscription, there are plenty of what we like to call good movies for kids currently playing on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service.
With Halloween taking place during the October half term this year, Prime’s new raft of movies is geared towards the spooky end of things. Scary movies are even more divisive than regular flicks – some kids want to be terrified, others will scream the house down until you put something else on – so finding something to please everyone is even more of a challenge than usual. The following are chock full of spooky fare, but with a section of gentler flicks for those of a nervous disposition.
1. The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)
Directed by Eli Roth, whose filmography contains some of the least child-friendly movies of recent years (gore-fests like Cabin Fever and Hostel), it’s perhaps unsurprising that his first pre-teen outing is genuinely spine-chilling. Set in 1955, it sees young orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) taken in by his warlock uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) who lives in a spooky mansion that contains a hidden clock that’s counting down to Armageddon. Obviously. Built like a regular horror movie with all the jump scares and none of the gore, this will be a hit with braver kids, but too much for some. Jack Black’s as watchable and funny as ever, building on his School of Rock and Jumanji 2 rep with kids, and there’s sterling support from the mighty Cate Blanchett as a witchy neighbour. Watch it here.
2. Goosebumps (2016)
More Jack Black in this solid film version of the long-running book- and TV franchise. All the horror tropes are here, present and correct but dialled down for the kids. That said, some of my brood found it too much (not my four-year old, mind), especially the murderous ventriloquist’s dummy (bringing to mind the classic 1978 Anthony Hopkins-starring chiller Magic, movie buffs…) and the rampaging werewolf. Zombies though, to this generation brought up on Plants & Zombies and the like, aren’t scary but the comic relief – helped of course by pitting them against Jack Black’s fast-talking hero. Watch it here.
3. Monster House (2006)
A groundbreaking CGI movie in its day (a whole 13 years ago), Monster House has stood the test of time extremely well. It’s far too frightening for younger children – even my fearless four-year old freaked out during the terrifying first 10 minutes, not helped by the fact that a scary old man (voiced by Steve Buscemi) has a heart-attack. But the story is great fun, bringing to mind Eighties classic The Goonies, as a band of kids – misfits of course – take on a haunted house that appears to be possessed by a dead woman. With a cracking script and fantastically funny dialogue to undercut the severe scares, this is a great film for parents to watch while cuddling their terrified offspring. Watch it here.
4. Corpse Bride (2005)
Tim Burton on top macabre form with this stop-motion animation in which Victor (Johnny Depp) is dragged away from his fiancé Victoria (Emily Watson) to the Land of the Dead. There he meets the titular bride, undead Emily (Helena Bonham Carter) who falls for Victor. A madcap and happily disturbing tale, featuring songs from maestro Danny Elfman (the man behind Burton’s masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas), this might prove too slow – and scary – for younger kids but most will be swept along by the sheer power of its weird energy. Watch it here.
5. Dark Shadows (2012)
More Tim Burton, this time a live action outing. Based on a cult supernatural American TV show of the same name that means little to people outside the USA, the movie version weirdly tanked at home but did well across the rest of the world. It’s far from Burton’s best, but there’s still a lot to enjoy here, not least Johnny Depp being – for a change – an utterly beguiling freak. There are plenty of chills and spills and monsters and ghouls for the kids, too, though it really earns its 12-certificate so be warned… For movie buffs, there’s the chance to see Dracula himself, Christopher Lee, in his 200th screen role, as well as the original vampire star of the TV show, Jonathan Frid, who sadly passed away before the film’s release. Watch it here.
6. Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
WARNING – only available on Amazon Prime until 6 November 2019!
A little known child-pleasing gem from 2005, Zathura, as its subtitle suggests, is a space adventure. Its board-game coming to life is very much in the Jumanji mould (unsurprisingly, as it’s based on a book by Jumanji author, Chris Van Allsburg) only with our child heroes flung not into a jungle but far into deep space – in their house! What it lacks in originality, the film makes up for in energy and excitement as spaceships, monsters, marauding aliens and killer robots are all thrown into the mix. With a brilliant central performance from Josh Hutcherson (who’d later find fame as Peeta in The Hunger Games), it’s a not-so-creepy but still thrilling alternative for Halloween. Watch it here.
7. Casper (1995)
A gateway chiller for younger children, this charming ’90s flick sees Casper, the friendly ghost, given a CGI make-over as the famously friendly spook helps his the living family see off his scary ghostly uncles who want all “fleshies” out of the house. There’s not much for accompanying adults to enjoy here, although the cast – including Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci – are excellent. Watch it here.
8. Aliens In The Attic (2008)
A silly but fun adventure in which a group of kids find their boring summer vacation enlivened by the arrival of invading aliens. The peril is minor and the angry ETs more cute than scary, this is one to put on if you have very young kids viewing alongside older siblings and friends up to around 10. Though the youngsters will be entertained, this is perhaps not one to choose if you’re going to have to sit and watch it too – strictly children only. Watch it here.
9. Spooky Kids (2016)
Though far from being a classic, this live action comedy went down well with my tweens. Good looking siblings Blaz and Velana are half-vampire half-witch and, desperate to taste normality, run away from their parents and try to live amongst us mortals. The focus is very much on high school concerns, with romance and bullying high on the agenda, though extra danger appears in the form of a nefarious warlock. But the script is relatively witty and there’s a charismatic turn as The Count from Paul Sorvino, better known as mob boss Paulie in Goodfellas, who apparently did the movie for a reduced fee as he’d harboured a lifelong wish to play Bela Lugosi. Watch it here.
10. Gnomes & Trolls (2010)
Penned by the writing team behind Toy Story, Gnomes and Trolls is a similarly sharp comedy with as many jokes for adults as for kids. Though not quite up the same high standard as the mighty Pixar franchise (but what is?) this is nevertheless a cute and engaging tale of an inventor gnome whose plans to feed the forest’s animals are sabotaged by two greedy trolls. Older, more jaded tweens and teens are unlikely to engage – definitely one for younger children, who will love it. Watch it here.
11 & 12. Clash of the Titans (2010) and Wrath of the Titans (2012)
A double bill of Ancient Greek legends bought into the CGI age by directors Louis Leterrier (The Edward Norton Hulk, and The Transporter) and, for the sequel, Jonathan Liebesman (Battle – Los Angeles), both masters of action. The stories have lasted for thousands of years and engage here as ever, with Sam Worthinghton as demigod hero, Perseus, son of Zeus (Liam Neeson, just about keeping a straight face with the corny dialogue) doing battle with all manner of mythical beasts such as Medusa the snake-headed gorgon. It’s all silly fun, and not a patch on the ‘proper’ Clash of the Titans from 1981 which features Ray Harryhausen’s sublime stop-motion monsters. But for a movie night of swords, sandals, action and adventure, these movie back-to-back will do the trick. Watch Clash of the Titans here. Watch Wrath of the Titans here.
13. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Wes Anderson’s mesmerising take on Roald Dahl’s classic book is a genuinely pleasure to watch, with or without kids on the sofa. The stop-motion animation is first-rate, and the deliberately slow storytelling makes this a much-needed antidote to more high-octane kiddie fare. The script is as witty and lovely as the source material, all delivered by an astonishingly top-notch cast of voice talents including George Clooney as the titular canine and Meryl Streep as his wife. Perfect cinema. Watch it here.
Happy half term, and happy Halloween!
Words: Ian Winterton