Get in the spooky spirit while keeping the nightmares at bay

There is lots to love about Halloween—pumpkin carving and an overabundance of candy, just for starters—but I hate horror movies and haunted houses. I know that some people find these things thrilling and fun, but they always end up giving me nightmares!

Now that I am too old to go trick-or-treating, the thing to do at this time of year (besides giving out candy to the trick-or-treaters) seems to be scary movie nights. What’s a girl to do?

If you also dislike horror films, here are some tamer—yet festive—alternatives to the jump scares and hauntings. 

01. The War of the Worlds (1953)

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles aired a radio broadcast adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel, War of the Worlds. The broadcast was so realistic, people across the country panicked, thinking that Martians really were invading Earth—including my grandmother!

My grandmother and her family tuned into Welles’ program late and missed the introduction to the regular program. They thought they were listening to a genuine news report about an alien invasion! So they drove all the way to pick up my great-grandmother and seek safety. Fortunately, my great-grandmother had listened to the show from the beginning and was able to set their minds at ease before any real damage was done.

To commemorate this historic Halloween broadcast, my family always listened to a tape of the radio show in the dark after trick-or-treating.

Our family also loved watching the 1953 adaptation of the story. The special effects in this version were pretty impressive for their time, but are quite dated—which is good news if you are easily scared, like me! I recommend this one as a family film, especially if you also have a family member who can remember “the night that panicked America.”

02. Rear Window (1954)

If you like suspense, then this film is for you. Rear Window is a classic Alfred Hitchcock film featuring my favorite actors, James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Stewart plays Jeff, a journalist who is stuck in his apartment, incapacitated with a broken leg. To keep busy during a hot (and very boring) summer, he takes to observing his neighbors from his living room window—and becomes convinced that one of his neighbors has committed murder.

This movie keeps you on the edge of your seat purely through the quality of the acting and film techniques. If you like a good mystery, this film is for you!

03. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

This macabre comedy was one of my favorites as a kid. Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, who comes to visit his childhood home where his two great aunts live (on his wedding day, Halloween) and discovers something truly horrible: they have a habit of inviting over old bachelors, poisoning them, and burying them in the cellar. Turns out, insanity runs in the family—which might explain why one brother thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt and another is a dangerous criminal.

This dark comedy is absolutely absurd, which is precisely what makes it so fun. Plus, it’s directed by Frank Capra, the director of It’s a Wonderful Life. Trust me, this one is a keeper.

The Giver (2014)

This film, based on the dystopian novel by Lois Lowry, is both exciting and insightful. Jonas is a teenage boy living in a seemingly perfect society. But he begins to question his world’s perfection when he is introduced to the Receiver of Memory, whose job it is to remember the past so that the rest of society can live free of pain. As Jonas begins to seek out the truth about what it means to be human, the community elders realize that he has become a threat to the status quo and must be stopped.

The community in The Giver is frightening—in no small part because of what it teaches us about our own society. With so much to think about, this movie is great to watch with friends who would like to discuss the film afterwards.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

There’s a reason why cable channels marathon these movies every year—the first installation of the Harry Potter series is charming and nostalgic. How sweet is it to watch the Golden Trio meet for the first time? There’s nothing quite like the magic of the first film.

This is a great film to screen if you’re planning on throwing a party. The Internet is full of recipes for butterbeer and other themed treats to serve. (If you’re brave, pick up a pack of Bott’s Every Flavor Beans!) You can also decorate and even create a themed photo booth, if you like to go above and beyond. And if you haven’t taken the Pottermore Sorting Hat quiz, Halloween is the perfect time to do so!

If you would prefer to keep the nightmares at bay this Halloween, enjoy these suspenseful, fun, magical films instead!