Five Modern PG-13 Horror Gems

What’s the measure of a good horror film? According to some people, it’s the killer Bs: blood, boobs, and F-bombs (that last one technically starts with an F, but you get the picture). In other words, horror movies need to be rated R, and if they’re just PG-13, there’s no point in even making them.

But if you know your horror history, you know that’s a bunch of hogwash. As I wrote about last week, some of the most beloved genre classics of all time are PG-13 (or even just PG!), so unless you think films like Jaws and Poltergeist are a waste of time, you can’t deny that PG-13 horror deserves some serious respect.

And in this article, I’d like to follow that up with a list of five modern movies that put the nail in the coffin for the “R only” view. Like the PG-13 horror classics of old, these newer films also rely on sympathetic characters, great stories, and sheer creepiness to win audiences over, and they prove without a doubt that there’s more to the genre than just the killer Bs.


A man with a demon behind him

If you’re looking for a PG-13 horror movie that doesn’t skimp on the scares, look no further than the 2010 haunted house gem Insidious. It was James Wan’s warm-up for The Conjuring, and even though that film was rated R for being too scary, a lot of people think Insidious is even more terrifying. I personally disagree, but I won’t argue the point too much.

The eerie imagery in this movie is just about guaranteed to stick with you long after the credits begin to roll, and there’s a jump scare in here that’s a legit all-timer. Hell, even the score will creep you the f*ck out, so this is hands down one of the most effective haunted house films ever made.

On top of all that, Insidious also stands out by ditching the Judeo-Christian trappings of most Western supernatural horror movies and giving us a very different take on the spiritual world. It’s like a breath of fresh air in a subgenre that constantly recycles the same tired tropes over and over again, and that novel lore makes for a unique viewing experience that’s just as intriguing as it is frightening.

The Last Exorcism

A girl kneeling down

Next up, we have The Last Exorcism, one of the best PG-13 horror films that way too many people have never heard of. As its title implies, this is an exorcism movie, but it’s unlike just about anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s about a Christian pastor who finally comes clean and admits that his ministry is a scam, but when he performs one last exorcism to showcase the tricks of his trade, he realizes that he’s bitten off way more than he can chew. 

I don’t know about you, but I think that premise alone is almost enough to land The Last Exorcism a spot on this list. It’s a really unique spin on another subgenre that suffers from a bit too much homogeneity, and thankfully, the execution is totally up to par. Most notably, the story and the acting are absolutely captivating, so your eyes will be glued to the screen the entire time, even when there’s nothing particularly scary happening on screen.

That being said, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. While The Last Exorcism is more interesting than scary, it has its moments of genuine terror as well. They’re simply not the focus. But make no mistake about it, this is a legit horror film, and despite its PG-13 rating, it deserves to be on every genre fan’s to-watch list.

The Visit

A woman striking a creepy pose

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that The Visit saved M. Night Shyamalan’s career. See, when this movie came out, Shyamalan was the laughingstock of Hollywood. Films like Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, and The Happening caused him to lose all credibility as a filmmaker, so nobody expected The Visit to be any good. But to everyone’s surprise, this little movie was excellent.

It’s about a pair of siblings who visit their estranged grandparents for the first time, and soon after they arrive, they realize that there’s something a bit off about the elderly couple. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more about the plot without spoiling the film, but if you haven’t seen it, trust me, it’s intriguing as hell.

In particular, The Visit exhibits what a good friend of mine calls “the unpredictability of human nature.” You learn pretty quickly that there’s not much rhyme or reason to the grandparents’ odd behavior, so you simply have no idea what they’re going to do next. That unpredictability makes for some super tense horror, so despite the movie’s PG-13 rating, it’s way more harrowing than blood and guts will ever be.

A Quiet Place

A man shushing someone

A Quiet Place is quite possibly the best film on this list, and it highlights a somewhat unpopular truth not just about PG-13 horror but about the genre as a whole: it doesn’t have to be scary. If a horror movie tells a great story, that’ll more than make up for the lack of frights, and A Quiet Place is one of this century’s best examples of that.

At its core, this film is all about family. More specifically, it’s about a father’s love for his kids, and it features one of the best cinematic fathers I’ve ever seen. I can’t go into too many specifics without spoiling the super touching ending, but trust me, this guy is a great example of what it means to truly love your children unconditionally.

That being said, A Quiet Place isn’t entirely devoid of horror chops. Even though this movie isn’t exactly scary, it does feature some awesome monsters and a boatload of amazingly tense and suspenseful moments that genre fans are sure to enjoy. It’s just a great viewing experience all around, and it shows that even when a PG-13 horror film lacks the terrifying punch of its R-rated brethren, it can still wow us in other, equally impactful ways.


A doll sitting at a table

From arguably the best entry on this list, we move on to the horror comedy M3GAN, which just might be the most surprising. See, this movie is a slasher, and if there’s one horror subgenre that usually requires an R rating, it’s this one. These films are all about gory kills, so it’s tough to see how they could possibly get by without the blood and guts they’re typically known for.

But if you’ve seen M3GAN, you know it’s not impossible. This movie tells a great story with great characters, and it’s one of the most hilarious horror comedies audiences have seen in a while. In fact, the drama and the humor work so well that the film doesn’t really need any horror at all. The kills are more of a side dish than the main course, so unless you’re just here for the bloody deaths, you might not even notice the lack of gore. M3GAN is that good, and it proves that just about any horror subgenre can work with a PG-13 rating.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters.

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