Planning a Scary Movie Night for Mormons

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Directions to Halloween Movie Night carved in Pumpkins

Hosting a scary movie night can be one fun way for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to enjoy the Halloween season. But planning the night may prove difficult.

Perhaps you aren’t sure where to look for horror films that live up to Latter-Day Saint standards. Or, maybe you don’t generally watch scary movies but know you may end up watching one with friends.

Since many films in the horror genre today contain much graphic and disturbing content, Latter-day Saints may find choosing a scary movie to match the holiday spirit of spooks and specters very difficult.

However, a scary movie night can be fun and  even uplifting. But as either a host or viewer you need to be prepared.

In this article you can find tips for:


How to Plan a Scary Movie Night

Festive Halloween Snack Table
Creepy decorations and snacks can make for a fun, spooky environment at the party.

Last Halloween my wife and I planned a scary movie night with other couples in our stake. Prior to our arrival we settled on a movie and made arrangements to acquire a copy of that film. But once we arrived at our friend’s house one member of the group voiced a concern about viewing the selected film.

Wanting to accommodate everyone we tried to choose another family friendly scary movie. But after much debate we settled on an animated film that was not scary at all. The night ended up rather disappointing for everyone—except for the member of the group who was uncomfortable with the first film.

One of the most important things in preparing for a scary movie night is in creating the right environment.

Planning an event isn’t difficult, we do it all the time as Latter-Day Saints. But smaller more intimate gatherings—such as a Halloween movie night—require careful and detailed planning. Careful planning will help you to not run into any issues as my wife and I did at our party last year.

Picking the right movie, having good snacks, and creating the right ambiance with decorations will make all the difference in the comfort and enjoyment of your guests. So here are some ideas to help plan out your evening.

1. Picking a Date for a Scary Movie Party

You’ll want to pick a night that works for everyone you are planning to invite. If one or more of the attendees has children you will probably want to have the scary movie night on a separate evening from Halloween. That way those attendees can take their children out trick-or-treating on Halloween proper.

2. Choosing Halloween Snacks for Guests

Choosing snacks and organizing a snack table is always fun. Food can make the environment more enjoyable and comfortable for all present. Some great ideas for snacks include popcorn, pretzels, and boxes of theater style candies.

There are many easy options for making Halloween treats. Another fun option is to have each person attending bring one Halloween themed snack to share.

3. Decorating for a Halloween Movie Party

Appropriate Halloween decorations can help the mood and theme of the party. You can even choose to tailor the decorations to the specific type of horror movie your watching.

For example, if your group is watching the 1931 version of Dracula starring Bella Lugosi, you could have decorations in a vampire theme to match the mood of the film. Or, if you haven’t settled on a specific movie, simply go with the classic Halloween theme.

Ghosts coming out of a pumpkin patch

4. Picking a Scary Movie for an LDS Audience

The most important choice in planning a scary movie night is selecting the scary movie. Scary movies are often more controversial than other genres of film and therefore require more vigilant scrutiny when selecting one for a party.

I know many Latter-Day Saints who are constantly trying to find a good scary movie for Halloween. And when we say “good” we don’t mean that it scares your pants off. We mean “good” as in family friendly scary movies and clean scary movies.

In order to effectively select a good scary movie you have to know your personal standards as well as the individual standards of each person coming to the movie night.

So how are we as Saints supposed to find scary movies that will be fitting for the holiday season, well suited to our specific group of friends, and still be up to the standards we are expected to uphold?

Consider using these three elements—to help decide what film to watch at a scary movie night: Church standards, the film’s content, and your personal standards.

LDS Standards for Scary Movies

As members of the Church we are taught from our youth to study and pray concerning the media we consume. Only on rare occasions has the Church given a specific statement on what is and what isn’t okay for consumption.

The Saints are instead given guidelines—which are grounded in the Gospel—and then taught to exercise self-discipline within those bounds. We are expected to judge our media consumption according to personal revelation and the spirit.

Church members often site the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet when choosing movies or other media. It is often my first reference when choosing a scary movie for Halloween. In the pamphlet the Church maintains a positive outlook on media while also giving warnings and guidelines for choosing media:

Horror-Quote

These guidelines for choosing appropriate media are clear and straightforward yet general enough to provide for personal freedom and judgment:

Do not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in anything that presents immorality or violence as acceptable.

The Church Leaders give us these specified guidelines and then expect us, as diligent followers of Christ, to use that information to make righteous choices of our own. Because of this freedom for personal application, there is a wide range of ideals on what is appropriate and what is not. What may be the opinion or view of one Latter-Day Saint may be very different from another.

The use of the Church standards as presented in “For the Strength of Youth” is an important and appropriate starting place when finding a horror movie, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in our media decisions.

Look Into the Content of the Movie

MPAA Rating System Infographic
Use the MPAA rating guidelines as a starting place when picking a scary movie.

But even when we know the Church standards, we still need to know what the film content is to compare it to. Taking the time to research and understand what a film has to offer, both in content and theme, is crucial.

The Motion Picture Association of America, also known as the MPAA, is easily the most well known and well used resource for film selection. Created in 1968 in order to help parents pick appropriate films for their families, the MPAA gives a specific rating to each film released in America: G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17. According to the MPAA website:

Ratings are assigned by a board of parents who consider factors such as violence, sex, language and drug use and then assign a rating they believe the majority of American parents would give a movie.

There are a few guidelines given to the participants on the rating board, but overall the rating is up to the discretion of the rating board assigned to each film.

The MPAA is by no means a perfect rating system. The difference of opinion, experience, religion, and moral belief between board members plays a role in the final rating a film gets. Additionally, The selection of participants on the board can change from film to film thus giving a different outlook, and potentially different rating, depending on each film’s content.

In addition, the PG-13 rating wasn’t introduced until 1984. So be careful with films from before that time rated PG. They may more closely resemble today’s PG-13 films.

Lastly, the MPAA doesn’t often rate content on how frightening or scary it is. They judge movies based on the amount of violence, language, promiscuity, and drug use in the film. The MPAA also doesn’t give specific details about what any one film may contain.

Movie Preview Green Rating Screen
Besides a small blurb below the rating there is hardly any indication of specific content in a film.

The MPAA rating system is a good starting ground for understanding the content in a scary movie, but it may be best to not use alone.

Thankfully, with the blessing and availability of the internet, Church members have the ability to research exactly what type of content is in any given film. Following are a few great resources that will come in handy when picking a scary movie for a party. These may also be good resources for those living outside the U.S. without the MPAA rating system.

The Internet Movie Database

The Internet Movie Database, also known as IMDB, is a good starting ground for researching film content. IMDB has a listing for most films to come out of Hollywood as well as many independent films. Most of the listed movies on this website have a link on their information page labeled: “View content advisory.”

Under this link you can find a list of what type of offensive content may be present in the film. The content page even has a list of potentially frightening or intense scenes.

However, not every movie has as a fully detailed content warning. Any IMDB user can go in and add to or take away from the content page, just like a Wikipedia article. This causes possible discrepancies in the content warnings; therefore, IMDB isn’t 100% reliable.

Kids-in-Mind

A second and more detailed option for content research is Kids-in-Mind. Each entry on Kids-In-Mind separates the content for each movie into three easy-to-understand sections: Sex & Nudity, Violence and Gore, and Profanity. Each of these sections has a rating from one through ten on how strong the content presented is.

The website discusses possible frightening scenes and even has a short section that lists any potential discussion topics and themes the film may convey. Kids-in-Mind’s collection of movies isn’t as comprehensive as The Internet Movie Database, but they are a more in-depth resource if  the movie you are seeking is listed.

Common Sense Media

And the last—and possibly most helpful—resource is Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media has most of the movie listings that IMBD does but goes into greater depth on the details of the movie.

The website focuses on six different areas of offensive content: Violence; Sex; Language; Consumerism; and Drinking, Drugs, & Smoking. In each category they give a rating of one through five on how strong the specific content is.

Different from other resources, Common Sense Media also has a rating of one through five for areas concerning Positive Role Models and Positive Messages within the movie. The website goes into great detail about all of these areas and exactly what to expect when watching any given film.

Additionally the films are given an average age that Common Sense Media feels is appropriate for a movie. One of the best elements of Common Sense Media is the video reviews. On many of the entries there are videos where one of the website’s staff members discuss the film, what it has to offer, and any offensive content present.

Determine Personal Standards for Scary Movies

Movie Preview Green Rating Screen
When choosing a scary movie know your personal standards and your group’s standards.

About a year and a half ago I did a poll that involved around fifty participants—most of them teachers and students from BYU-Idaho—asking what their opinion and comfort level was with horror movies.

There was a significant number of participants who said they enjoyed horror films and found them to be an exhilarating form of entertainment.

But even among fans of the horror genre there was a wide range of comfort levels expressed with any particular type of horror film. Many people enjoy movies about ghosts and haunted houses but aren’t comfortable with stories involving the Devil. Others would rather watch a movie about a serial killer or madman but prefer any murders to be light on the blood and gore.

In either case it is the personal preference and standard of the individual that brings them to their final conclusion about what they are and are not comfortable watching.

Using the resources given above, Latter-Day Saints can begin to decide if a horror film is best fit for their personal standards.

The best way to choose a film is to know what you yourself are comfortable with and doing the research to see if a film fits within that comfort zone. Knowing your personal preferences before choosing to attend a scary movie party is respectful to the others attending the party.

Couple Screams and Throws Popcorn During Movie

If you are hosting a scary movie party you won’t have to only gauge your own comfort level, but you have to understand what others in your viewing group are comfortable with. Being sensitive to both is important when picking an enjoyable movie for Halloween night.

What specific ideas or themes scare each person? What disturbs them? Make sure to understand everyone’s feelings in order to prevent any awkward situations. This way the evening will be more enjoyable for the whole group.

Uplifting Elements of Horror Films

Horror-Elements

So far, we’ve mostly looked at the things to be careful of in scary movies, but horror films can have very positive elements, making them not just okay, but moral and entertaining. Here are three uplifting elements to look for when choosing a film:

It is my personal standard that horror films have a significant role to play in our media. I, as a Latter-Day Saint and a horror writer, believe that horror films can be both moral and entertaining. A moral horror film is made up of three things:

1. Horror is about Human Emotion and Experience

First, horror is about human emotion. Fear is an emotion we feel just as much as joy, happiness, or sadness. We watch a comedy to laugh, a drama to cry, a romance to feel love and connection. Similarly we watch a horror film to experience fear.

If a film is going to focus on horror it should also show real human emotions and experience. It should not trivialize our experience and reactions involving fear.

2. Horror is about Humanity and Mortality

Second, horror films should be about humanity. We are all fallen and mortal, thus each of us is destined to make mistakes throughout our lives.

As humans what is it that we fear? Why do we fear it? And most importantly, how do we deal with fear? A horror film must address these types of questions but is not obligated to answer them.

3. Horror is about Redemption and Punishment

Lastly, all horror should be about either redemption or punishment.

In good horror films there is something wrong in the world. This is because a character in the story has sinned or made a mistake. The end of a horror film should address that sin or mistake with either an ultimate punishment for the sinner or a redemption of the sinner. Often times a good horror film will use both elements in its finale.

If the film doesn’t have these elements then I would view that film as vulgar and immoral, even disturbing. I’m aware of my own limits based on these personal standards.

Scary Movies to Consider

Horror-Appropriate
There is a large selection of appropriate scary movies to choose from.

With these elements together—Church standards, film content standards, and knowing your groups personal standards—you can pick a horror movie that will make your Halloween season an enjoyable one. Below are 13 horror movies that I have personally watched and enjoyed and may be good options for your group on Halloween. Most of these have also been suggested to me by other Latter-Day Saints. Just make sure you take time to research the content for each of these films to know if they are for you.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
(1966 – Rated G)

Summary: A newspaper typesetter named Luther wants nothing more than to be a full-time reporter. But the only way the owner of the newspaper will let him become a reporter is to get a good story, and in order to get his story he wants Luther to spend a night in the abandoned Simmons Mansion on the dreaded anniversary of a murder and suicide that took place inside the house.
Perfect For: Kids, teens, and adults who love old funny movies.
Watch Out For: A few mildly creepy scenes.
Full Parents Guide

Hocus Pocus
(1993 – Rated PG)

Summary: When a teenager named Max accidentally lights a cursed candle he awakens a clan of witches from the days of the Salem Witch Trials. These witches are out to steal the youth from all the children of Salem. It is up to Max to find a way to finally stop them before it is too late.
Perfect For: Preteens and fun-loving adults.
Watch Out For: Mild innuendos and references to the occult
Full Parents Guide

House on Haunted Hill
(1959 – Not Rated, PG equivalent)

Summary: Fredrick Loren, a wealthy millionaire, has invited five random strangers to a “haunted house party.” He is offering each of them $10,000 each if they can only survive until morning. Little does Fredrick know that his party is far more than he planned for when the ghosts start appearing and the murders start happening.
Perfect For: Older teens and adults who enjoy old movies.
Watch Out For: Mild blood and gore, references to ghosts and brutal murders, some chilling imagery.
Full Parents Guide

Gremlins
(1984 – PG)

Summary: A teenage boy named Billy gets a new pet for Christmas, a fuzzy and cute little creature called a Mogwai. What Billy doesn’t know is that if he doesn’t follow the pet care rules that the Mogwai will multiply. And after midnight they will all turn into evil green gremlins!
Perfect For: Pre-teen boys
Watch Out For: Lots of creature gore
Full Parents Guide

Something Wicked This Way Comes
(1983 – PG)

Summary: Based off the Ray Bradbury book, two young small town boys are excited when an off season carnival comes to town. Against the warnings of others they run off to see the attractions. They soon find out that the carnival’s owner, Mr. Dark, is far more evil and sinister than they could ever imagine.
Perfect For: Pre-teens to adults
Watch Out For: Some serious themes concerning coveting, greed, and punishment. Some mild frightening imagery.
Full Parents Guide

Watcher in the Woods
(1980 – PG)

Summary: A young girl moves to an old country home where she begins to experience frightening visions and encounters related to an occult ritual performed in the house’s past. This old Disney film was so frightening that the filmmakers had to film a new ending.
Perfect For: Pre-teens to adults
Watch Out For: Mild frightening imagery, themes of ghosts and possession.
Full Parents Guide

Clue
(1985 – PG)

Summary: Based off of Parker Brother’s best selling board game, Clue has an all star cast of strange and murderous suspects attending a party at the secluded Boddy Mansion. As members of the household begin to die off one by one the remaining guests must find out who the murderer is before they become the next victim. With more elements of mystery, this creepy mansion story is a popular choice for many groups on Halloween.
Perfect For: Older teens and adults
Watch Out For: Strong adult themes and innuendos.
Full Parents Guide

The Haunting
(1999 – PG-13)

Summary: The Haunting, based off of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, is about a woman named Elanor who is down on her luck and joins a rigorous sleep study in order to make some extra cash. What she doesn’t know is that the sleep study is being held at Hill House, a mansion with a dark history. And the sleep study is simply a cover up for the doctors true intentions.
Perfect For: Older teens and adults
Watch Out For: A disturbing scene of gore, strong references to the occult.
Full Parents Guide

The Others
(2001 – PG-13)

Summary: A single mother lives in a secluded and extremely dark mansion with her children who are allergic to sunlight. The new servants try to warn her of the horrible things to come. As strange and frightening things begin to happen the secrets of the house and its past are revealed.
Perfect For: Older teens and adults
Watch Out For: Frightening and intense scenes involving ghosts and the occult.
Full Parents Guide

House at the End of the Street
(2012 – PG-13)

Summary: When a single mother and her daughter move into a country home they learn the dark past about the house next door. It seems the entire family was murdered except for one son. He remains in the house and has more secrets to hide than anyone knows.
Perfect For: Mature older teens and adults
Watch Out For: Scenes of moderate violence and torture, disturbing themes.
Full Parents Guide

The Uninvited
(2009 – PG-13)

Summary: A young girl returns home after months of therapy in an asylum. When she gets home her sister informs her that their single father has been dating a new woman. The two girls do some investigation and believe the woman is a serial killer. (I can not recommend this movie enough. It is one of the best PG-13 horror films from the last ten years.)
Perfect For: Mature older teens and adults
Watch Out For: Some strong violence and gore, sexual references, some language, and disturbing themes.
Full Parents Guide

1408
(2007 – PG-13)

Summary: A horror writer, played by John Cusack, stays in an allegedly cursed hotel room for inspiration for his next book. Soon he finds himself in a whirlwind of psychological horror as the evil in the room plays with his mind and memory. 1408 is based off a short story by Stephen King.
Perfect For: Mature older teens and adults
Watch Out For: Some strong violence and gore, and strong language.
Full Parents Guide 

Night of the Living Dead
(1968 – Not Rated, PG-13 equivalent)

Summary: Most likely the darkest film on this list, Night of the Living Dead follows a group of strangers who hole up in an abandoned farmhouse for the night as they try to fend off hordes of zombies.
Perfect For: Mature older teens and adults
Watch Out For: Some strong violence and gore, mild nudity, and mild language.
Full Parents Guide 

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it is great starting place. There are many other options for scary movies out there.

Do you have other fitting scary movies you would add to this list? Do you have a method for picking scary movies? Or do you have spooktacular ideas for planning a scary movie night? Let us know in the comments below!

Noah has been a member of the LDS faith all his life, being raised in a devout LDS family. He believes in the power of writing to uplift and enlighten those of the LDS faith as well as those of other faiths and beliefs. Noah and his wife live in Rexburg, ID, where he is studying creative writing and publishing at Brigham Young University Idaho.