I know there are a lot of people out there who will tell you that a horror movie can’t be good unless it has a hard R-rating attached to it. But what if I were to tell you that you don’t need blood and guts to make a terrifying horror movie? In fact, a lot of the movies of this list, like A Quiet Place, have given me far more disturbing dreams than your Texas Chainsaw Massacres or your Nightmare on Elm Streets.
And that’s because all the movies on this list are PG-13 and practically bloodless. What makes them scary then? Well, a number of things really, be it tone, atmosphere, storylines, you name it. But while I know a popular horror convention these days is jump scares, I’ve tried to steer away from movies that only rely on that tired trope. Don’t get me wrong. There will be some jump scares in these movies. But I think the ones in the following films that I've listed here have earned them. In other words, they don’t feel cheap like in some other movies. So, without further ado, let’s get creeped out together, people.
A Quiet Place (2018)
John Krasinski directs and stars in this post-apocalyptic horror movie about blind alien creatures with tremendous hearing. His real-life wife, Emily Blunt, also stars in the film as his fictional wife as they try to protect their children in this terrifying world. It’s a mostly quiet film, but it doesn’t last, of course.
A Quiet Place is tense as hell, and from the very beginning, you know it’s not a film that’s messing around since anybody could die. And I mean anybody. But the violence is not played out or gruesome. And you grow close to the Abbott family, so the thought of seeing any of them die is very distressing throughout. There’s a sequel on the way… sometime... and the film ends with a cool revelation. Just be prepared to cry.
It director, Andy Muschietti, made his directorial debut with this super creepy supernatural horror movie. Starring Jessica Chastain, Mama is about a maternal spirit that follows two children to a new home and sticks around to protect them. But by protect them, I mean haunt the ever living crap out of people with her ghostly form.
Mama has some disturbing themes, like familial murder, but it never really shows too much. It instead relies on ghostly scares, like this one scene with a long-haired ghost running across the room in a weird, unnatural gait. There are definitely some jump scares to be had, but they work and stick with you long after you’ve been shocked.
Gretel & Hansel (2020)
The most recent film on this list, Gretel & Hansel is a movie that relies almost purely on tone and visuals to bring about its frights. It’s the classic story of a brother and sister who go to a witch’s house, but this version has a little twist and gives a lot more focus on Gretel (played by Sophia Lillis) who deserves to have her name go first in the title. And Alice Krige is utterly terrifying as the witch. Too bad the movie is just a tad slow at parts.
The film does go into some dark territory (I mean, even the Grimm’s Fairy Tale is about killing kids), but again, it’s a lot more about tone than anything else. It has a creepy vibe that sneaks up on you, but it’s a lot slower paced than most of the other movies on this list, so keep that in mind.
The Others (2001)
The Others is like OG PG-13 horror. It’s a supernatural period piece starring Nicole Kidman about a woman and her two children who are living in a haunted house. Or is it? If you haven’t seen it already, I’ll leave it at that, but you’re in for a treat if you aren’t aware of its many twists and turns.
The Others is a ghost story through and through and one that takes its time to spook you. I’m usually not a fan of haunted house movies, but The Others is special since it’s as psychological as it is horror. And I’ll never forget that line, “I am your daughter.” It still gives me the willies.
The Woman in Black (2012)
British outfit, Horror Films, brought us this period piece ghost story (Noticing a trend?), which is actually a remake of a 1989 picture of the same name. This version stars Daniel Radcliffe as a young father who goes to a village and encounters a ghost that goes after children.
Like The Others, The Woman in Black relies more on scaring you with its supernatural elements rather than gore or blood. This is interesting, since Hammer developed a name for itself back in the ‘60s with bloody movies like Horror of Dracula and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. Not so with this relatively tame (and spooky) horror flick, though. This one is gore-free!
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is fascinating since so much of it takes place in the courtroom. That’s because a lot of it is told in flashback, as this is the story of a young woman who was thought to be possessed by a demon and was given an exorcism, only to die not too much soon afterward.
Though it’s not a full-blown horror movie (or even a full-blown possession movie), the scenes of the actual exorcism itself are what earn this film its PG-13 rating. But it’s only in bits and pieces. Still, out of the films on this list, this is probably the closest one to being in R-territory, since the exorcism scenes are a tad graphic. Stay away if demonic possession is what scares you the most.
The Ring (2002)
Gore Verbinski directs The Ring, which is based off of a Japanese horror film titled Ringu. Naomi Watts plays a journalist who is investigating a video tape that kills you a week after watching it. Endless nightmares ensue.
I’m not going to lie, if you were to ask me what scares me the most, I would undoubtedly say distorted faces, and young women with long black hair. And this movie has both. There really isn’t any blood to speak of in this film, but it's still terrifying. You’ll never look at a TV screen the same way again.
The Grudge (2004)
Another J-horror picture like The Ring, I actually find The Grudge much, much scarier. It’s about an exchange student (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar ) in Tokyo who’s cursed by a terrifying dead woman and her child. It’s also directed by the same man who directed the Japanese original, Takashi Shimizu, so that’s pretty cool.
Remember what I said about distorted faces and young women with black hair? Well, this movie has it tenfold. I couldn’t sleep for weeks after watching this movie. Again, there’s no violence. Just supernatural frights. Still, I can’t even with this film. I just can't even.
What are your feelings on astral projection? Because that’s the main conceit in this horror film directed by our modern day horror legend, James Wan. Starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, Insidious is about a little boy whose body is hijacked by evil spirits and brought to another dimension.
You know, now that I think of it, I feel like most PG-13 horror is supernatural horror, and Insidious is no different. Steer clear of this movie though if you’re afraid of old women, since this film has one scene that I really can’t get out of my head, even ten years later. It involves an old woman in some pictures. Again, bloodless horror, but terrifying all the same.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Remember when people were calling M. Night Shyamalan the next Alfred Hitchcock? Well, The Sixth Sense is single-handedly the reason why. One of the only horror movies ever nominated for Best Picture, The Sixth Sense stars Bruce Willis as a child psychologist and Haley Joel Osment as a boy who can see ghosts.
You’ve probably already seen this movie already, but if you haven’t, you’re lucky. The Sixth Sense is yet another supernatural thriller, but one that pushes the idea to new heights. There are some truly creepy visuals, but never to the extent that it strays outside of its PG-13 boundary.
As I hope I’ve proven in this article, just because it’s PG-13 doesn’t mean it can’t be scary. I think a lot of it all depends on whether you think ghosts are creepy or not though since a great majority of the films on this list stray toward supernatural horror. But if that does scare you, then these movies will give you the creeps! Here’s to sleepless nights and things that go bump in the dark.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.