Quite a few people responded to my previous cult movie list, which was my top 5 kid-lead 80s movies similar to the new Netflix original series, Stranger Things. That list was made up of kids movies featuring a small gang of kids getting into shenanigans more or less without the involvement of adults. People threw out suggestions for other movies that have kid main characters, but didn’t have the gang or club element of Stranger Things or the movies on my list.
So I decided to compile another list of cool flicks with the similar theme of kid main characters, only this time, I’m listing my favorite horror movies that feature kids as the leads. Part of the uneasiness of these films is the lack of parents around to save the kids from the supernatural and monstrous horrors that they encounter.
As a kid who grew up mostly alone in a big house, I connected to these movies with a razor sharp focus. This was my life. All that was missing for 10 or 12 year old Kevin Strange was for a real monster to come oozing up out of the basement or through the walls. Isolation is a scary thing. Isolation for a child might be one of the scariest things there is.
6. Lady in White (1988)
Lady in White quickly devolves into a tale of isolation and horror when the kid who played Elliot in E.T. (not really but god damn do they look alike. Incidentally, this kid, Lukas Hass was in a movie on my previous list, Solarbabies.) witnesses the ghostly reenactment of the death of a little girl after being locked in a classroom closet after school.
For a movie about a little kid, this flick deals with really heavy themes such as racism and child murder, but at its core is a who-done-it picture as Elliot from E.T. follows a bunch of clues about the little girl’s death and after being haunted by her ghost again and again, eventually stumbles upon the killer.
As with all of the movies on this list, Lady in White really toes that line between being made for kids and simply being about kids dealing with adult situations. Regardless, it’s a pretty cool little supernatural thriller.
5. The Pit (1981)
This might just be the weirdest movie on the list and, unfortunately, one I didn’t see until my mid 20s. I would have adored this movie as a kid because I was just about as weird and introverted as the kid in this movie. I had a TON of stuffed animal toys from the 80s. My Pet Monsters, Boglins. And I talked to them just like he talks to his teddy bear in this movie. Only my stuffed animals didn’t suggest I murder people in cold blood to feed the little monsters in my back yard… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Long story short, 12 year old pervert Jamie Benjamin is left alone with his hot babysitter when his parents go out of town, and he takes every opportunity he can to spy on her, and steal money from her to feed meat to the little monsters that live in the pit behind his house.
Wait, what? Yep. It’s that kind of movie. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out on some bizarre, post-70s no-boundaries kid horror that will leave you scratching your head asking, “How the fuck did this get made?”
4. Troll (1986)
Best known as the Troll movie that came before the worst movie ever made, Troll 2, Troll is actually a really, really cool little monster movie featuring a little kid named Harry Potter (yes really) fighting a wicked little monster.
Directed by John Carl Buechler, (one of the best FX artists of the 80s and 90s, responsible for some of the coolest monster FX from that era including the Ghoulies monsters and the most iconic Jason from the Friday the 13th series, part 7.) Troll would be a kind of forgettable movie if not for the crazy power the monster has to turn people into mythical creatures such as elves, goblins and nymphs. The transformations are horrific and disturbing.
Like most of these flicks, the parents are of absolutely no use and Harry has to trek out on his own and enlist the help of a witch who conveniently lives in an upstairs apartment and knows all about the curse of the Troll menacing the inhabitants of their domicile. Solid flick. Don’t let the awfulness of its sequel turn you off of it.
3. Little Monsters (1989)
Featuring Fred Savage of Wonder Years fame and the seemingly immortal Howie Mandel, Little Monsters embodies everything from the late 80s/early 90s gross out culture and I fucking love it. Seriously, it’s probably in my top 20 movies of all time.
So Fred Savage’s family moves to a new town (the plot of every Goosebumps book) and because reasons sets a complex trap that would make Rube Goldberg proud. Fred catches himself a monster.
Of course the monster ends up being Howie Mandel, bad-ass 80s rebel and troublemaker. Fred and Monster Howie hit it off and become best friends, leading Howie to show Fred the monster underworld and all its crazy rules and peculiarities.
Blah, blah, blah Fred’s little brother is captured by evil monsters and it’s up to Fred, Howie and a few of Fred’s closest friends to invade the monster world and rescue his little brother before they all turn into monsters. Solid flick. Would bang.
2. The Gate (1987)
Another one of my favorite movies of all time, The Gate is a genuinely scary ass movie! This was one of my favorite movies to watch as a kid because really NONE of the weird ass monsters that crawl up from every corner of this poor kid’s house are explained. It’s just horrific monster after horrific monster with no punches pulled just because all the characters in the flick are little kids. My kind of movie!
So lightning strikes a tree behind a kid’s house and opens a portal to a hell dimension because that’s just exactly the kind of shit that happens in the 80s. Something about blood, something about an incantation read aloud and we’re off to the races.
This flick is so hauntingly bizarre. The kid is constantly hallucinating these insane monsters. Even his parents show back up at home (he’s left alone for the weekend with his teenage sister in charge) only to turn out to be zombies instead.
The whole thing culminates with a giant demon appearing in front of the little kid and essentially giving him a high five that results in him having a demonic eye placed in the center of his hand. It’s a really, really fucked up movie. Oh, and the little kid is Stephen Dorff.
1. Invaders From Mars (1986)
Another one of my all time favorite flicks, Invaders from Mars (directed by Tobe Hooper who directed my number 2 favorite movie of all time Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and written by Dan O’bannon of Alien and Return of the Living Dead fame.) encompasses everything that freaked me out as a kid.
Mean teachers, parents who may or may not be who or what the seem and… giant meatball aliens? Yes!
So there’s a meteor shower and a kid named David is seemingly the only person who realizes that this is actually a Martian invasion. Everyone from his parents to his teachers are turned into aliens or controlled by aliens or something. There are weird spinning things in the backs of their necks. It doesn’t really make any sense, but it doesn’t have to because the FX are cool as fuck and the little kid actor seems genuinely freaked the fuck out by all the weird shit going on in the movie.
The only person who believes the kid is the hot school nurse. Together they convince the army to come blow the alien space ship to high fuck and save the planet. There’s a scene where a teacher eats a dissected frog. Awesome.