Horror is defined as “an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust”. That’s a pretty broad term for the genre we all love so much. Scary is scary, regardless of how much blood is shed.
So, why then, are horror films released with anything less than an R-rating so often met with eye rolls and shrugs from moviegoers? A lot of it has to do with the desensitization of audiences in a day and age where real life horror is all around us and films have pushed the boundaries of taboo and gore about as far as they can go.
But it also seems that there are a lot of people out there who simply believe a film rated less that R cannot be scary. I’m here today to debunk that theory, because it is simply not true.
Long before the current film rating system was put into place, we had a wonderful scale that basically took you from H.R. Pufnstuf films to Charles Bronson’s Death Wish with a whole lot of gray area in between. The PG-13 rating wasn’t introduced until July 1, 1984. So while films like Jaws, Poltergeist and the 1979 television adaptation of Salem’s Lot are all rated PG, you can bet your horror-loving behind that there’s nothing family friendly about these flicks. Just for the record, we’re talking about a severed head floating in the ocean, a young boy being eaten by a Great White shark, a man getting eaten from the feet up by the same shark, a face melting off during a hallucinatory haunting, a mud pool of corpses, and a vampire that is widely considered one of the scariest of all time when discussing those three films. It’s safe to say their ratings would be a little different had they come out a few years later.
Don’t fret, fiends – there are still plenty of movies out there these days that can chill you to the bone without forcing you to show your ID when you go to buy a ticket. Also, let’s keep in mind that horror is a genre that has been kept strong by younger audiences for decades. Oh, to be a twelve-year old smuggling copies of The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street to my buddy’s house again. So wishing away the PG-13 horror film wouldn’t do anyone any good – these are the films that are the building blocks for many young horror fans out there, the films that quench the horror thirst for those in an age bracket that can’t check out the big time horror without a parent’s consent.
The Insidious franchise is one of the most beloved collections in modern horror, with creator/director James Wan infusing the genre with several new twists on the ghost story. Whether it be the use of Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe Through The Tulips or the incredibly unsettling use of a gas mask and View Master, there’s something to creep out just about anybody in The Further. Oh yeah, and don’t forget some genuinely unnerving jump scares. The series has gone three films strong and the fourth installment is highly anticipated.
If I had to pick one PG-13 horror film that I assume was simply not watched thoroughly enough by the ratings board, that would be, hands down, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. It’s a gross, scary and hilarious thrill ride that is downright fantastic in every way possible. Blood, guts and possessed people fly as a young woman tries to rid herself of a gypsy curse.
A close second on that list of PG-13 horror films that definitely could have used another viewing by the MPAA is 2002’s The Ring. An Americanized remake of a terrifying Japanese film called Ringu, this Naomi Watts-led film was directed by Gore Verbinski – the guy who also directed Mousehunt and three of the Pirates of the Caribbean. This horrifying film scared the living hell out of a whole generation of kids, including myself, and it’s hard to really pinpoint what scene was the scariest for me personally. Seeing Amber Tamblyn sitting in the corner of the closet with her face contorted made me sleep with the light on for a few nights, but then there’s the very quick but extremely effective death scene of the horse on the boat and, oh yeah, that tape that kills you in seven days if you watch it all the way through. If you manage to make it through the entire film, you even get treated to this nightmare fuel:
The Mothman Prophecies and The Exorcism of Emily Rose are two films that have a little bit of a documentary feel to them and are led by top tier actors and actresses – Richard Gere and Debra Messing front the Prophecies while Tom Wilkinson and Jennifer Carpenter pour it on thick and heavy in Emily Rose. Both films have genuinely terrifying moments and both also star Laura Linney! That’s winning right there.
If you’re more a fan of moody, atmospheric horror, there’s The Others and the classic The Sixth Sense. Sure, there is still at least one jump scare in both of these films, but it’s the subtle and simmering horror in these two films that really captivate the audience. Director Alejandro Amenabar is said to have based the look of The Others on children’s books from the 1930’s and ’40s. M. Night Shyamalan tore onto the fright scene with The Sixth Sense, which also introduced Bruce Willis to a whole different genre audience. Both are perfect films to watch on a rainy weekend. Just be sure to keep the doors locked and never pee with the bathroom door open.
So whether you are not old enough to get into an R-rated movie on your own yet or you may simply not be a big fan of over-the-top gore, sexuality, violence and terror, there are plenty of PG-13 horror films that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping – and maybe even force you to sleep with a light on.