Starter Horror: Kicking it Up a Notch with PG-13 Horror

The transition from PG to PG-13 horror can seem like quite a leap if not done properly. There are some good PG-13 movies out there. Those ones will scare the pants off you and might cause someone to step away from the genre just as they were getting into it. Here at The Void of Celluloid, we want to level the playing field so that everyone can learn about and appreciate the genre. This is part two of our Starter Horror series, you can find part one here.

With the step to the greater beyond comes a jump in time as well. PG-13 didn’t exist until Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which released in the mid-eighties. Funnily enough, the aforementioned Gremlins kind of led the charge on that one due to some traumatized kiddos. Have no fear though, there are some gems in the genre that are perfect for ramping up to the classics that we’ll discuss in the final part of the series. You can check out my commentary about PG-13 horror here.

Things to take note of: The big step

PG horror bans a lot of things so the transition may seem a little intense. PG-13 horror contains blood and more violence than eyes may be used to–hence the discretionary warning that comes with the genre. Therefore, please be advised that while you might want to make the horror loving buddy out of your eight-year-old kid, some of this content is too intense for them. Let your kid be a kid for a while longer–then you can expose them to the darkness and make them into cool young adults once they come of age.

The Sixth Sense: PG-13 Horror
The Sixth Sense is also a great pick for a PG-13 horror film.

As for the adult audience coming to this for guidance, PG-13 horror films are ripe for the taking when it comes to scary movie nights with friends or Halloween parties. Don’t go in alone if you think it might be too intense for you. Have a scream and a laugh with a buddy and note that these movies are meant to scare you. Don’t be embarrassed if one of them riles you up a bit too much. You’ll learn what subgenres you like and don’t like on this journey.

Horror COmedy anyone? Tremors

This is a prime example to introduce people to the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Tremors is one of those movies that many consider to be a comfort film. It’s funny, ridiculous and has an impressive monster that everyone should be familiar with: the Graboid. It is definitely funnier than it is scary, but there is quite a bit of blood, guts and carnage that edges this into this category. On top of some on screen kills that are pretty brutal, this film is a perfect mix of comedy and horror that will test the waters gently if one is ready for more intense films.

Tremors: PG-13 Horror

This film spawned several sequels, but we can ignore that if we don’t desire campiness–all of them don’t live up to this one. Therefore, this is a perfect film to show the potential of franchises and see how one feels about the cheesiness the genre can provide. Not all horror sequels are equal, though–we can get into that another time. This film has the constant intensity of a typical horror movie with bits of comic relief thrown in. A perfect soiree for a newcomer after they’ve taken their baby steps.

An Introduction to Atmospheric Horror: The Others

There are two paths a horror movie can take: short term scare or long term. The long-term scare is what usually garners horror films critical acclaim. Enter another modern classic, The Others starring Nicole Kidman. Atmospheric horror plays primarily in the suspense genre, much like the classic Hitchcock movies. When atmospheric horror is mild, it is the most accessible form of horror movies and deserves appreciation even from non-horror fans.

The Others (2001) - IMDb

The Others is simply a ghost story with killer twists and turns. It has its mild scares, but its atmosphere it creates and the pit of dread it plants in its viewers are what makes it a horror movie. Much like movies such as The Haunting (1960) or The Sixth Sense, the story is rich around the scares. If you prefer the slow build up to a major twist rather than the traditional horror movie rollercoaster, then make atmospheric horror movies your go to. Trust me, though, there are strictly atmospheric horror that are not for the faint of heart, so make sure you tread lightly and prepare yourself.

Insidious: The top Tier PG-13 Horror Movie

As I’ve stated before in previous articles, Insidious is the pinnacle of PG-13 horror. It will scare the daylights out of you. With little to no blood but effective jump scares, James Wan knocks it out of the park. This film sparked the PG-13 horror craze of the early 2010s. The ghosts in here are nightmarish. Also, there is something incredibly atmospheric about the Further. This purgatory-like dimension adds something to the film that makes it stand out amongst other films of its kind.

Insidious (2010) directed by James Wan • Reviews, film + cast • Letterboxd

Insidious remains one of the more intense starter horror movies, but it is a sure sign that someone is ready for the next step if they genuinely enjoyed it and found the scares exciting rather than traumatizing. This film has sequels–the third one is a really solid prequel–and will have a new installment out this year, so if one wants to stay in the tamer category, go on with the franchise and support the new one in theaters when it comes out. Nothing beats a good theater experience, especially for a horror movie.

What’s next?

That wraps up my three picks for starter PG-13 horror movies. As I can’t stress it enough, horror should be respected and appreciated by all, but one does not need to indulge in it if they are not into the feeling of getting scared. Horror movies function off adrenaline rushes. Some people aren’t into that sort of thing. Others might want to take a stab at it but haven’t had the priming of becoming a horror appreciator: acknowledging that it is all fake and all in good fun. Much like roller coasters, horror induces a shock that should follow with a flabbergasted chuckle.

The final part will focus on three classics that are good for starters–not necessarily going to throw them in the deep end with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That will be the final part of this series. I hope this is a good guide to those who are curious or to parents who aren’t sure how to introduce their kids. Nobody wants nightmares.

Thanks for spelunking this void with me. If you’re new to the Void of Celluloid, welcome. Feel free to spelunk some other voids while you’re here and follow me on other platforms by clicking the buttons below. We post regularly and stay up to date about what’s going on in horror today, reflect on what went on yesterday, and plan for a better, horror filled tomorrow. See ya next time.

The Revival of the PG-13 Horror Flick and its Subtle Fall

What usually illustrates the horror genre is three things: blood, guts and gore. It seems like an impossible feat to remove these things, but nothing garners more money than a PG-13 rating rather than an R. Is that the only reason PG-13 horror movies are made, or is it for accessibility reasons?

A PG-13 rating for all genres implies that teens can go see racier movies without adult supervision or that parents feel a little more okay taking their kids to movies, which can result in a bigger box office. It’s actually rare for an R movie to supersede the top box office spot from movies with other ratings. We are going to go back to the beginning of the rating’s history and how PG-13 horror began before starting in on the money effects.

The Beginning of the PG-13 Horror Flick

The PG-13 rating is a recent addition, with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom being the first movie that had people questioning its PG rating. Apparently, ingesting monkey brains and watching a dude’s beating heart get ripped out was too intense for younger audiences. The majority opinion however was that it didn’t deserve an R rating. Therefore, the MPAA compromised on an in between rating. Later that year Red Dawn became the first movie to receive the PG-13 rating. More movies started adopting the rating to avoid giving their movie an automatic R.

Pg-13 horror: Night of the comet

The first horror movie to garner the PG-13 rating was Night of the Comet, a brilliant zombie satire released in 1984. With some scares and very little gore, this one has became fairly popular with its home video release. Having this film the standard for PG-13 horror should’ve led this genre to a good start, and instead, it allowed for some shoddy–yet comedic–excuses for horror. While there were some cult classics such as Little Shop of Horrors and Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the introduction of the PG-13 rating also gave us flops such as the Troll franchises and the Critters franchise.

No big names took on the PG-13 challenge, surprisingly. That is due to theater culture in the 1980s. Most theaters were still showing one movie at a time. Big names such as Cineplex and Regal were just getting started. It was extremely expensive to run a multiplex. Finally, the video store was extremely popular and would be until streaming was established. Therefore, there was no box office “risk” in making an R-rated movie. That changed in the 1990s, when most major cities had a multiplex in town and the movie industry started to churn out content a little faster.

The shift in theater culture

The 1990s brought us amazing films varying all genres, and many enjoyed them in the theater. It’s not that home video wasn’t popular, it still reigned as the most accessible way to see new movies. The film industry’s advertisement tactics shifted towards pushing a theatrical run. Especially with film epics such as Titanic and Jurassic Park, a theatrical screening was the “right way” to see these movies. This is when advisory ratings became correlated with box office.

In the 1990s, there are only three R-rated movies in the top 20 films by box office, and among those 20, there is only one horror film. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense was the 7th highest grossing film of the 1990s and remains the 2nd highest grossing horror film, only second to the 2017 adaptation of It. This formed an equation for many studios that PG-13 horror makes more money than R horror. While that is true on paper, The Sixth Sense was an anomaly that was high grossing and also critically acclaimed, as it is well written, directed and acted. We cannot say the same for the majority of PG-13 horror in the early 2000s.

The Race for Box Office Success

Not all hope is lost for 2000s horror. In fact, a large chunk of films are actually good movies. A favorite of mine that I watched as a starter horror film is The Others, which kicked off the decade in such a brilliant way (imo, it has a better twist than The Sixth Sense). We also have The Exorcism of Emily Rose, an amazing court thriller with horror sprinkled here and there. However, this was also the decade of half baked remakes of Asian horror. This is a highly hot take, but The Ring and The Grudge do not even touch their original content in regards to quality.

These movies became so popular because they were accessible through their PG-13 rating. They tamed down the original story. In regards to these film, it is purely the look of them that makes them so appealing. Everyone was a sucker for blue filter, as it made films seem edgier than they were. With a few exceptions, a lot of the films followed the same format and all were met with moderate box office success, however the quality became more and more diluted. They also became more predictable, which many filmmakers combatted with spurts of creativity, as discussed in my former article Creative Kills: What Makes It Pop. All of this regurgitation and financial strife of the R-rated film escalated once streaming services quickly replaced the video rental shops in the later 2000s, which came to a glorious head in 2010.

The Renaissance of PG-13 Horror and its fall

PG-13 horror changed forever in the year 2010. Before this year, PG-13 horror felt like a normal R-rated horror film. Instead it turned it down a couple notches. In 2010, James Wan shook up what it meant to make a PG-13 horror film with Insidious. Insidious remains one of the greatest horror films of all time, because it is still effectively scary, but it is a film without gore. PG-13 horror seemed very half and half, toning down how scary it was to stuff in mildly horrific images. This film is nothing but scary and competes with the R-rated classics of the 80s and 90s. This allowed for a lot of other films to come out of the woodwork as the decade went on.

Insidious | Netflix

James Wan went back to his R-rated roots however with The Conjuring, which with its financial success spawned a whole franchise. As I stated earlier, It: Chapter One is the highest grossing horror film of all time, which is another R-rated success. Once more, PG-13 horror lost its quality when R-rated movies actually started garnering financial success. Still, the movie industry makes half baked PG-13 horror films for a quick buck. Non-restricted films allows teenagers and such to go see a scary movie. A crowd looking for cheap thrills (not so cheap anymore, given theater prices) doesn’t necessarily care about the quality of the film. Cheap jumpscares usually leads to a pretty penny.


Despite all of that, we are still in a sort of PG-13 horror renaissance. A Quiet Place is one of the most financially successful horror films, and its sequel was just as successful and critically acclaimed. However, the R-rating does not damn a movie’s box office anymore. Most of the time, an R-rating is due to language more than anything, except for horror films. Most horror fans willingly seek out something not tamed down. That leaves the question open as to what happens to what we know as starter horror. Will we have new horror films we can show younger audiences to get them started? Perhaps not, but there are plenty past starter horror classics. I much rather rewatch those rather than watch the film industry continue rehashing them.