Author - James Powell

Scary Movies for Kids 4 to 10 Years Old

If you’re a fan of horror movies, you probably want your sons and daughters to be interested in the genre, too. But it’s not always easy to determine what’s appropriate these days. Especially when, out of nowhere, a seemingly innocuous movie blindsides you with a surprisingly dark and intense scene.

I’ve been watching age-appropriate scary movies with Daxton, my 7-year-old son, for awhile now, testing the waters to see what he’s up for. My goal is to slowly feed him more mature frights as he gets older, but without ever going overboard and giving him nightmares. My hope is that he learns to enjoy horror movies as much as I do, and that, eventually, we can head to the theater and watch them together.

Based on the questions I get, I’m not the only one with that goal. And it’s clear that not everyone knows where to start. That’s why I’ve put together a short list of introductory “horror” films for kids of different ages. This list doesn’t include all of the family-friendly scary movies out there, they’re just some of my favorites.

It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (4+)

pumpkinThis one’s a classic that turns 50 this year. Some might call it old fashioned, but maybe that’s what makes it so wonderful for the family to watch together. When I was a kid, watching this was an annual tradition in our house, and I’m sure that tradition continues in many houses each October. In the show, Linus sits in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night, waiting for the Great Pumpkin, hoping he’ll bring toys like Santa Claus does. Consider watching it after you visit the pumpkin patch each year.

Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (5+)

ichabodposterOkay, I’ll admit, this one might be difficult to sit through for some parents. If you decide to watch this, and it’s definitely worth watching, consider skipping over the Mr. Toad section entirely. It’s a bore. As for the Ichabod segment, it’s an old Disney movie with themes and jokes that are out-dated and corny. Some might even call them semi-offensive. But it’s all worth it for that ending. The moment in which the Headless Horseman chases down Ichabod is pure, classic horror. The chase is filled with spooky sounds and visuals that will have a lasting impression on young minds. It’s a short sequence, too, so it’s a great introduction to the elements of a good scary movie.

Monsters, Inc. (5+)

monsters_incC’mon, Monsters, Inc. isn’t scary, right? But it fits nicely on this list for a couple of reasons. First, it features all sorts of monsters. Sure, they’re cute and cuddly most of the time, but in some scenes, they’re rather sinister. Which leads us to the second reason it’s on the list: the scenes in which the monsters scare unsuspecting kids can be rather frightening. But what makes this so wonderful for younger kids is that those moments are followed by humor and even love. The movie has just enough frights to be a good warm-up for scary movies to come, and Randall (Steve Buscemi) provides a great introduction to the whole monster sub-genre.

Labyrinth (6+)

labyrinthSure, to you and me, this movie looks a little dated, but it’s still loads of fun for the kids (and honestly, for me, too). Jim Henson’s monsters are a real treat, even by today’s standards. And believe me, there are plenty of monsters to enjoy…they’re around every corner. But instead of frightening, most are soft and silly instead of spooky and intense. Be warned, though, there are some darker themes that you might want to be aware of. For example, the Goblin King (David Bowie) abducts a baby and plans to turn him into a goblin. That might be traumatic for sensitive kids. Luckily, it’s all done with a relatively light touch. I’m not sure my son even noticed any of the darker themes…not when there were so many cool creatures and spectacles to marvel at.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (7+)

etposterE.T. The Extra Terrestial is an absolute classic in my book. And based on my son’s reaction, it is for him, too. He absolutely loved it. It’s a great family monster movie, even if you don’t really consider it a monster movie. There are some darker moments toward the end, what with E.T. dying and all. Not to mention the authorities invading their home in hazmat suits. But the action, the fun, and the heart-warming nature of the film overcome anything that’s too heavy. While not exactly a scary movie, Halloween plays a crucial role in the film, which should be enough to give it a spot on your annual October movie list.

Monster House (8+)

monsterhouseThis movie is fantastic! I loved it. But, to be honest, I let Daxton watch it a year too early. The opening scene really spooked him. We watched it not long before his 7th birthday, and he wasn’t ready for the loud, fast-paced, and surprisingly scary opening scene. Luckily some humor starts to pop up in the film after the opening and things even out some. I should note, however, that Old Man Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi again) is nasty. I wouldn’t be surprised if most kids found him to be the scariest part of the movie. The ending does get pretty dark, too, and it touches on themes that will turn off some parents.

Coraline (9+)

coralineposterLike many modern movies that try to walk a balance between scary and family-friendly, it’s tough to pin down an appropriate age for Coraline. For the most part, 7-year-olds won’t be too scared by the story, the animation, or any of the earlier scenes. There are moments that build up suspense and include some surprises and jump scares, sure, but for the most part, it’s not a cover-your-eyes-and-hide-under-the-blanket sort of movie. However, the themes are a bit more mature than I anticipated. Especially the central themes of being disappointed by your parents or wanting a better life, which leads to Coraline’s parents being captured by the evil other mother. That’s something not all young kids will want to see.

ParaNorman (10+)

paranormanHere’s another movie that, for the most part, is fine for kids 7 and older. Norman sees dead people, which might not be appropriate for all kids, but it’s still a well-told, fun little movie. The action scenes are more exciting then they are scary. But then the ending come along, and boy is it intense. In the climax of the film (spoilers ahead), we learn that little girl was killed by a court of elders who thought she was a witch. That’s when the movie turns darker than anticipated, both thematically and visually. There are 10 minutes or so of some pretty heavy stuff. Sure, everything ends well, but a few scenes are traumatic enough that you should consider holding off on sharing ParaNorman with your kids until they’re a little older.

Summary

Okay, that’s it. My favorite scary movies for kids ages 4 to 10. There are plenty of other great movies to consider, such as Frankenweenie, or maybe even Gremlins. Perhaps I’ll write up a longer, more comprehensive list someday. For now, the list you see above are my favorites that I recommend for you and your kids. I’m sure you’ll find something here to share with your family this October.

Wait. What The About Nightmare Before Christmas?

the_nightmare_before_christmasAlmost every list of family-friendly scary movies is going to include The Nightmare Before Christmas. But for me, it just doesn’t fit. Not for kids anyway. Sure, the movie’s tone is fine for a 6 or 7 year old. There’s nothing all that scary until the end, and there are much darker, scarier scenes in other movies on my list. But honestly, I’m betting that most kids have checked out long before those scenes show up because of the plodding pace and overwhelming amount of dialog. Sure, the design is spectacular, which makes this one fun to look out, but if your kids aren’t engaged, there’s not much for them to enjoy here. My son certainly grew bored with it quickly, and by the end, all he had to say was, “It looked cool, but it was boring.”

Name the Host for the House of Fear

When I chose House of Fear as the name for my series of scary comics for kids, I knew I wanted a host to introduce each story. Using a host reminds me of my favorite horror comics from the 50s, which had memorable hosts like the Crypt Keeper and the Old Witch.

I decided the character should be a butler who takes care of the House of Fear. In each issue, he’ll invite young readers to sit back and enjoy another spooky tale. Of course, he can’t be any ol’ butler. He needs to be creepy. Ugly even. So when I asked James Hislope to present designs, I suggested he make the butler “nasty looking….balding, but with some wispy hair flopping around for effect…probably a nasty wart/mole of some sort.”

As you’ll see, James designed one heck of a creepy dude.

Our host has a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on. For our introduction pages, he’ll present his “warmer” side. As you can see in the first image below, which will become the introduction page to The Curse of Cottonwood Ct., he’s just an old butler welcoming kids to listen to a scary story.

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But after the story is complete, he shows his nasty side. In the image below, which appears immediately after the comic pages, he’s telling kids to scram. He’s got to chop down the trees surrounding the House of Fear before they overpower the demons in the haunted house. (His actions tie directly to the comic book, so if you haven’t read it yet, download it here.)

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We know what the host looks like. And we know he’s got a nasty split personality problem. Now we just need a name.

I’ve narrowed it down to two names: Boyle and Graves.

Both Boyle and Graves are great names for a butler. They work well for someone who sneaks around cemeteries at night, too. Plus, they both provide subtle references to something creepy and scary, which kids will get a kick out of.

So which do you like? What do your kids think? Boyle or Graves? In the end, there can only be one host for the House of Fear, so let me know what you think.

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Editing, Kids Comics, and Lovecraft

I love to write stories. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, doing my best to mimic Edgar Rice Burroughs with some outlandish rip-offs. What many don’t know about me, however, is that my first love is editing.

When I was younger, it was all about making a writer’s sentences grammatically correct. English grammar was my thing. I understood it and had a knack for helping others get over their grammar hurdles. As I developed as an editor, it was more about helping the writer get sentences to flow and work with each other in a way that made for smooth, easy reading.

As time went on, I gravitated back to focusing on the story. I can’t tell you how rewarding and fun it is for me to help a writer make his story truly sing.

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So when I began developing the ideas behind TEN31 Publishing, I knew I wanted to invite other writers to create comics with me. To tell stories that I would edit and publish, but stories that were 100% the writer’s own. That way I can balance both loves, writing and editing, and do so by collaborating with others to make exciting comics.

One of the writers I talk with frequently is Brandon Barrows, a comic and prose writer from Vermont. Our conversations were helpful during the early days of TEN31 planning, and I knew I’d want him to write a script for me. Unfortunately, he wasn’t terribly keen on the idea of writing for kids, an audience he never really considered for his work. But that wasn’t going to stop me from asking him to do it anyway.

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Brandon digs H.P. Lovecraft. A lot. I know this because he’s written a collection of comic stories and prose stories filled with weird Lovecraftian horror. So I figured maybe I could entice him to write a Lovecraft tale for kids. I pitched the idea and he was like, “No way” and “How would that even work?” His response made sense because, let’s face it, Lovecraft isn’t for kids. I pressed harder, though, coming up with random (and bad) ideas about a cute, almost cuddly Cthulhu overtaking a small town.

Luckily, he didn’t take me up on any of those ideas. But Brandon is a creative writer through and through, which means he came up with something much, much better called THE GRUMPLEDOWNS GANG AND THE CASE OF THE MAIL-ORDER SHOGGOTHS. He sent me a script and I loved it. It was exciting and fun. It had thrills. It had monsters. It was scary. And yep, it had a hint of Lovecraft. All perfectly situated for the 7+ age group.

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His script was probably the easiest I’ve ever edited. Sure, I pushed him to make it better. That’s what editors do. But Brandon took my suggestions and not only ran with them, but improved upon them, too. Within a week, he had locked down on one hell of a comic story. One that, when published, will make kids second guess going to their school’s Halloween party.

The panels you see in this post are from Brandon’s upcoming TEN31 comic, with amazing art by Rafael Loureiro. Below are the full page images.

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House of Fear Title Designs

We’ve settled on the title design for our series, House of Fear, and I think Matt Krotzer, our letterer and designer, nailed it. The design is an effective one: simple, creepy, and classic. Reminds me of my favorite horror comics from the 50s and 60s.

Although the main title appearance won’t change from issue to issue, the intro text along the top will change from time to time. I’ve included a few samples below.

This first one will be the standard design for our comic book covers. The “Tales From” text indicates that the series is an anthology format, telling readers that they can expect stand-alone stories.

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There are no plans to number our issues, at least on the cover. However, with this second design option, I think the “Welcome to” does a nice job of indicating that this is the first issue, enticing readers to pick up the book. I’ll probably also use this design for convention signage.

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This third design won’t adorn any of our covers. However, I do see it as a sticker I give kids who’ve read one of our comics. It’s a sort of badge, indicating that you were able to overcome your fears and survive a scary story. I’d also love to hand out small versions of the stickers to kids who make their way through my garage haunt each Halloween.

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Naturally, the main part of the design will be used often all by itself, without intro text along the top. And it’s possible we develop other text, too. It’s nice to have options.

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Why Scary Comics for Kids?

I’ve been asked several times lately why I decided to create a line of scary comics for kids. The story is pretty simple, but there’s more to it than simply liking to make comics and also liking kids.

I’ve been writing and editing comics for about ten years now. It’s been more a hobby than a full-blown passion, something I did from time to time when the urge struck. A few years back, however, I decided I wanted to be a little more serious about it. I promised myself I’d write and produce at least one new comic every year. That’s certainly not a lofty aspiration, but with a young son and a full-time job, the goal fit into my time and money constraints.

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About this time last year, I had written the first draft of a 150-page graphic novel. One that I absolutely couldn’t stop thinking about. A story that had me excited to take my writing to the next level. One night, after tweaking my script in a way that had me more enthusiastic than ever, I went upstairs to get my son ready for bed.

At the time, Daxton hadn’t yet turned six. I found him in his room, flipping through my earlier comics, THE BOY WHO WANTED WAR and WATCH YOUR STEP. I don’t consider either of them adult comics, but they both have themes and key scenes that aren’t meant for kids. So despite letting him look through them many times, I had never read them to him.

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“Dad, will you read me one of your comics?” Daxton said, as I was getting him into his pajamas.

“Sorry, kiddo. I still don’t think you’re old enough for those. Want to read Spider-Man? Or Scooby-Doo?” His disappointment was immediately apparent. That was something I wasn’t ready for. My son, my biggest fan, was devastated as only a 5-year-old can be, because he couldn’t read something his dad wrote.

“No,” he said, putting all the sadness he could muster into that one little word. He was quiet as he hopped onto the bed. He normally gets very talkative and energetic at bedtime, so his calm was rather unusual.

We had discussed why I wouldn’t read him the comics before, and I didn’t want to rehash the conversation just before bed. So I tucked him in, letting him ponder his little boy thoughts as I turned out the light. I leaned in and kissed him on the forehead, telling him to sleep well. As I turned to leave the room, he said, “Dad?”

I could tell he was struggling with something big, and that he was summoning all of his courage to ask me about it. “What’s up?” I asked.

“How come you never make comics I can read?”

His words hit me like a physical blow. Here he was, the love of my life, practically crying because his dad wouldn’t make a comic that he could read. Several responses rushed through my mind, but nothing felt right. So I said, “Sorry, Daxton. Maybe someday.”

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I didn’t write again for two months. My graphic novel script, while still alive in my head, just didn’t instill that passion in me anymore. How could I write yet another comic that my son couldn’t enjoy? How could I be proud of something that my own son couldn’t be proud of, too?

Not long after, inspiration struck. See, my son was born on Halloween, and we had begun to watch kid-friendly scary movies and before bed, I’d read him some not-so-scary ghost stories before bed. So I decided that I would write a scary comic for my son. Something age-appropriate, but just spooky and fun enough to get him excited about reading. Maybe so much so that he’d want to share the comic with his friends.

And that’s how THE CURSE OF COTTONWOOD CT. was born. I even had Daxton help write the story. He came up with the ghost story theme, some character names, and the ending was all him. I have to tell you, working on a comic with my son, and later reading the printed copy with him on the floor, was one of the best experiences of my life. Seeing the hint of fear in his eyes, and the thrill of reading a spooky story with his dad, is a memory I’ll cherish forever.

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