The Best Horror Movies for Teens: From ‘Poltergeist’ to ‘Happy Death Day’

Some movies are too intense for young viewers. You have to wait until you’re older to see them. Still, that doesn’t rule out all horror movies. In fact, it’s a rite of passage for young cinephiles to test their mettle with scary movies. Teenagers don’t have to jump into the deep end right away. They can’t anyway since most of the deep end is rated R.

Horror movie Happy Death Day 2U
Jessica Rothe and Babyface | Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures

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There are some horror movies designed especially for teenage viewers. These involve teenage characters, or at least characters close to their age bracket. They have scares just intense enough to honor the horror genre, but not enough to break the PG-13 rules. Here are 10 choices for teen horror fans to tide them over until they can watch the Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th or Halloween franchises.

10. ‘The Gate’ – Unsupervised teen horror 

Every teen enjoys the freedom when their parents go out for the night or a weekend. Sure, they still have a babysitter but it feels a little less supervised. These teens dabble in Satanic passages and open a gate to hell. There are plenty of scary demons in this PG-13 movie. Special effects like faces caving in or bodies bursting into several mini-creatures are sure to haunt teens’ nightmares even without graphic gore.

9. ‘Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark’ – Guillermo del Toro’s teen horror movie

Guillermo del Toro produced this adaptation of the book specifically so teenagers could see it. A group of teens in the ‘60s finds a book that tells personalized scary stories, and they come to life for the teens.

Austin Zajur in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Austin Zajur | George Kraychyk/CBS Films/Lionsgate

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8. ‘Lights Out’ – Do be afraid of the dark 

It’s okay if you’re still afraid of the dark when you’re a teenager. This movie gives you a reason to be. Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) is a malevolent spirit who can only get you in the dark. You’re safe as long as you stay in the light, but when the light runs out…

7. ‘Poltergeist’ – Seriously, how was this PG?

When Steven Spielberg produces a movie from the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, don’t be fooled by a PG rating. Poltergeist is more about a whole family but teens can relate to the ghosts coming after their siblings and parents. Even though there’s nothing to generate a stricter rating, the scary images have been terrifying kids for decades with or without parental guidance.

Horror movie Poltergeist
Oliver Robins and JoBeth Williams | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

6. ‘The Final Girls’ – Teen horror comedy

This horror comedy shows what happens when a group of friends end up in their favorite horror movies. It’s less violent than Scream but still allows them to use their horror knowledge to survive. The Final Girls also has an emotional undercurrent as one girl reunited with her actress mother, but only as her movie character.

5. ‘The Last Exorcism’ – A teenage exorcism

This could be a stepping stone before you jump in the deep end with The Exorcist. Huckster preacher Cotton Marcus (Better Call Saul’s Patrick Fabian) lets a camera crew follow him to show how he can fake an exorcism. He has to step up when teenager Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) is really possessed.

4. ‘Cloverfield’ – Big city danger

These friends were already adults but they’re young enough that teens will still relate to them. Matt Reeves filmed this giant monster attack without graphic violence so kids aren’t restricted. It’s still scary though.

3. ‘Escape Room’ – It’s not a game

An escape room can be a fun activity for teenagers to do together. Just be glad it’s not a real deathtrap like the one in this movie. You’ll feel the burn or the other traps as this escape room is life or death.

2. ‘Happy Death Day’ – Groundhog death

This Groundhog Day horror movie has a young college aged protagonist (Jessica Rothe) who learns to navigate her repeating demise. The sequel is lots of fun too.

Teen horror movie Happy Death Day 2U
Jessica Rothe and Babyface | Universal Pictures

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1. ‘Drag Me to Hell’ – Grueling horror with a little less gore 

Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead horror movies were extreme. His return to the genre was tame enough for a PG-13 but relentless enough to give new viewers a taste of what’s in store when you really explore Raimi. He picked a worthy target too, a bank executive post-housing crisis who gets cursed by a woman whose home she forecloses.