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Are Your Kids Ready For A Grown-Up Horror Movie? Try This '80s Classic

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Knowing how and when to boost your children up to the next level of maturity in terms of the things they're watching and reading is always tricky. Kids mature at different levels and different paces, of course, and what's completely comfortable for one kid might fill your kid with anxieties and fears you didn't even know they had. Throw in the prospect of watching something scary, and you've got a whole new batch of nerves to untangle.

We, of course, can't tell you exactly when your individual child is ready to make the leap from spooky movies for kids to full-on horror cinema. That's totally up to you, but when you're ready to introduce your child to something that even horror-addicted grown-ups find frightening, we do at least have a particular recommendation.

Let's talk about Poltergeist!

What is Poltergeist?

The brainchild of producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg, director Tobe Hooper, and screenwriters Michael Grais and Mark Victor, Poltergeist is a film that benefits from very straightforward narrative roots. It follows the Freeling family – father Steven (Craig T. Nelson), mother Diane (JoBeth Williams), and children Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) – as they settle into a new house in a new real estate development. Everything is fine and comfortable until strange things start to happen around the house. What begins with Carol Anne talking with static on the TV set soon turns into something dark, and the family is forced to contend with violent supernatural forces that threaten to consume them.

Everything about this premise is relatable, and it's built on a very simple fear, one that haunted house stories have been exploiting since time immemorial: That the very place we consider safest in the whole world, our own home, could turn against us. It's a film that wraps its characters and its audiences in all the modern creature comforts, from cozy bedrooms to glowing TV sets, and then turns them into objects of terror through liberal use of ghost effects of every conceivable shape and size. In other words, it's something a young viewer can understand just as well as an adult.

How Scary is Poltergeist?

Looks pretty PG, right? Well...

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When it was released in 1982, Poltergeist earned a PG rating from the Motion Picture Association! But bear in mind that we're talking about a 1982 PG rating, given at a time before PG-13 was invented and launched in 1984. That means that some elements of the story could veer a little into PG-13 territory (Poltergeist's sequels were rated PG-13), so keep that in mind when watching with your kids.

So, what kind of content are we talking about here? Well, there's some adult language and a little bit of getting high (the Freeling parents enjoy smoking the good stuff in their bedroom when the kids are asleep), but most of the more mature content of the film fits squarely into horror territory. It's a movie jam-packed with creatures, specters, and frightening elements, and the movie doesn't waste a second in laying all of that out.

In terms of those horror elements, what freaks your kid out the most will vary depending on the kid. In one of the film's most famous scenes, a terrifying clown doll comes to life and tries to strangle one of the Freeling kids. In another, skeletons rise up out of the family's under-construction swimming pool. In still another, a member of a crew of paranormal investigators hallucinates that he's peeling his face off in a mirror. So make no mistake, there's a lot of darkness here, and some of it might have your kid ducking under a blanket, depending on their disposition. But there's a good reason why Poltergeist, and its scares, might be a great fit for budding horror fans anyway.

Why is Poltergeist a Great Horror Movie for Young People?

Nothing more scary than too much screen time, right?


Horror gives us a lot of things as viewers, but on a very basic level, it's a genre that gives us a lesson in courage. We see scary situations presented to us in a fictional context, and while our heart rates might rise and our hands might creep up toward our eyes, we're still safe in our theater seat or on our couch. The danger is never real, and yet by the end, we still feel like we've gone through something, however shallow the experience might actually have been. In that way, we can get just a little more brave through our experiences with horror stories that can't actually hurt us.

This brings me to one of the best things about Poltergeist, particularly if you're considering it as a movie to show your kids: No one dies. The Freeling family goes through something incredible, something supernatural and dark and truly scary, and they all make it out the other side with a wild story to tell and a new beginning. If you're trying to introduce horror films to children in a way that's comfortable and that teaches them that they can make it through something, a film in which every major character makes it out alive is a great place to start. But even beyond that, Poltergeist is just plain fun. The characters are memorable and relatable, the scares are offset by humor, and even the horror elements veer into pure fantasy adventure territory at times, as the Freelings basically try to keep on living in a home that's quickly transforming into an amusement park ride of sorts.

So, if it's time for your kid to graduate to more mature horror movies, Poltergeist is a great place to start. If they're ready, and they have a good time, we promise it won't be the last time they'll want to watch horror movies with you.

Poltergeist (1982) is streaming on Max.

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