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The Best Streaming Horror Movies for Young Adults

By Nate Parker | Film | October 27, 2023 |

By Nate Parker | Film | October 27, 2023 |


It’s Spooky Season! The best time of the year, in my opinion. And as parents of a 12-year-old glitter goth, my wife and I are serious about educating her in the ways of scary movies. We’re permissive parents, in that we let her watch almost anything provided at least one of us watches with her. It inspired this list of the best “scary” movies to watch with your kids as we approach Halloween.

These aren’t children’s movies. There are plenty of movies for the nascent horror lover in your life whose age hasn’t yet hit double digits, including but not limited to *deep breath* Little Monsters, Monster Squad, Nightmare Before Christmas, Scooby-Doo, ParaNorman, Goosebumps, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Nightbooks, Hocus Pocus, and a bajillion others. And they’re great! But eventually your own little monster will want something more. Something scarier, bloodier, more mature. That’s where this list of PG-13 and R-rated movies comes in.

Scream was a shot of adrenaline to the 1990s horror scene. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson made something special in 1996, and its story of obsessive men and the women they murder remains relevant today. The series becomes an overdose of nostalgia for parents who forgot baby Timothy Olyphant, Joshua Jackson, Portia de Rossi, Patrick Dempsey, and a slew of others make appearances. Their kids will be entertained or terrified of Ghostface’s blank leer and either way, that’s a sign we’ve done our jobs. And it’s a great opportunity to show your kids what controlling, manipulative boyfriends look like before they start dating. Scream and the first few sequels are on Max, with the rest on Paramount+.

The Babysitter
Mention Samara Weaving’s name and my kid’s eyes light up like it’s her birthday, so expect to see several Weaving entries on this list. Ash vs Evil Dead introduced America to Australia’s finest Scream Queen, but The Babysitter cemented her place in the genre. Middle schooler Cole (Judah Lewis) is hunted by his babysitter (Weaving) and her Devil-worshiping pals. Equal parts gory and funny, the movie’s biggest strengths are great performances by Weaving, Lewis, and Robbie Amell. If your kid can handle the sight of blood, they’ll probably love this one. The Babysitter lives on Netflix.

A new release, Slotherhouse is the dumbest movie I’ve watched all year. That’s not a bad thing, though. This tale of a murderous sloth smuggled into a sorority house in a bid for social media influence has no scares but plenty of laughs, mostly thanks to its puppet killer. It’s so much better than CGI could ever make it. Go into this movie with zero expectations and you’ll have a good time. Slotherhouse crept onto Hulu last week.

Totally Killer
Is this a safe place to say I’ve never been terribly impressed by Kiernan Shipka? She usually sounds like she’s reading off a teleprompter. But her performance in Totally Killer is a different story, as 2023 teen Jamie flees a serial killer and ends up back in the 1980s. Pam Miller (Olivia Holt, last seen by me playing the part of Dagger in Cloak & Dagger), Jamie’s mother, and her teen friends are facing the same homicidal maniac.Apart from a few jump scares and the constant plumes of cigarette smoke there’s not much to find frightening in Totally Killer, except possibly having to explain to your child that yes, teens really were that mean in the 80s and yes, blowjobs were frequently discussed. Take Sarah’s advice and watch it on Prime.

Happy Death Day
What a happy surprise this was. Groundhog Day meets teen slasher seems difficult to pull off. But Happy Death Day manages it, with a Final Girl who experiences her own death over and over again in an endless cycle of murders. Tree is what you could call “a bitch,” which makes unmasking her killer difficult. It’s very PG-13, but manages a few scares along with the laughs. Happy Death Day is worth watching for Jessica Rothe’s performance alone, fiercely funny and confident. Though not currently free anywhere, you can rent it for a couple bucks on Prime. The sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, is equally great and available on Peacock.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil
Everyone knows that when college students run into backwoods hillbillies, grisly deaths are sure to follow. And while that’s true here too, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) aren’t to blame. But try explaining that to the kids or the cops when you look like Leatherface’s cousins. Between gory deaths are a budding romance between Dale and Allison (Katrina Bowen) and a depth of friendship between best buds that give the movie a lot of heart. Tucker & Dale are currently on Peacock and nearly every FAST service out there.

Ready or Not
This tale of Devil-worshipping one-percenters getting what they deserve works on so many levels. Grace (Samara Weaving) is an orphan with the chance to live the life of her dreams when she marries into a wealthy family of game makers. All she has to do is play one little game of hide & seek. Things quickly go from awkward to horrifying, with scares and gruesome kills mixed with some of the darkest humor this side of The Boys. Weaving is at the top of her game as she evolves from betrayed bride to vengeful wraith in her torn wedding dress. It’s funny, it’s scary, it’s a scathing commentary on how the working class is consumed and cast aside by the wealthy. Start preparing your kids for the inevitable class war now and you’ll save time later. Ready or Not is hiding on Prime.

The Blair Witch Project
The original found-footage horror movie that spawned innumerable imitators, The Blair Witch Project is a divisive film in my house. My wife grew up in suburbia and found the entire thing terrifying. I grew up in the woods and, on first viewing, thought the story of 3 clueless film students tromping around the woods in search of a local legend was the dullest movie I ever watched. Pouring rain and weird nighttime noises are just part of the camping experience. As I’ve gotten older I can appreciate the effort that went into it, and its effectiveness for audiences used to streetlights and sidewalks. My daughter’s impression lay somewhere in the middle, and no one can say the last few minutes aren’t creepy as hell. With no on-screen violence, it’s a good place to start introducing your children to psychological horror without having them join the local improv group. The Blair Witch Project is wandering around Paramount+.

IT Chapter 1
If The Blair Witch Project is violence-free, IT Chapter 1 is the exact opposite. From Georgie’s gruesome demise to a bathroom painted blood, IT is unrelenting when it comes to gross-out scares. A solid third of underage viewers should have nightmares after watching Beverly, Bill, and their pals flee Pennywise’s many disguises. And all the movie parents are so bad that the rest of us look great by comparison, so that’s another plus. It’s a touching story of adolescence friendship mixed with pants-wetting terror and its human monsters are as nightmarish as any evil clown, so basically everyone’s teen years in a nutshell. And it manages to be a complete story despite leaving out the underage gangbang Stephen King put in the book. IT is currently making balloon animals over on Max.

Prey is probably more action-sci-fi than horror, but this is my list not yours so hush. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is determined to become a Comanche warrior despite her sex, and gets her chance when a futuristic hunter descends on her 19th century tribe. As her fellow hunters are picked off one by one Naru must break free of tradition to survive not only the alien menace but some equally terrifying French-Canadian fur trappers. Apart from poorly-animated CGI animals there’s nothing I don’t love about this movie, thrilling and tense in equal measure.The all-Comanche dub is a treat as well. The Predator stalks its Prey over on Hulu.

You knew I’d include this. Jaws has ingrained thalassophobia into generations of children and I see no reason to stop now. Chief Brody (Roy Schneider) shares our fear of deep water, but that won’t stop him from hunting down the killer great white stalking his sleepy Cape Cod community. With a stellar cast that includes Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfull, Lorraine Grady, and a mayor who eventually became the template for the modern Republican party, Jaws can be found on Netflix and will make your kids so afraid of sharks they won’t even want to venture into the deep end of a swimming pool.