These 5 PG-rated horror films were shockingly cleared for (almost) all audiences, despite pushing the envelope way beyond the confines of what is appropriate for impressionable audiences. Genre films have always been at the center of both censorship and controversy in their quest to scare and shock. From regional distributors cutting film prints, to decency complaints, to the arbitrary alphabet soup that is the MPAA. Moral outrage is often at the center of many a savvy filmmaker’s marketing campaign. However, these five films are the exceptions that prove the rule, by being far more shocking than their ratings would suggest.
This 1979 PG horror proto slasher sees a carload of lost teens break down near an old roadside museum, where the proprietor is just a shade too solicitous. Stranded, and ignoring the warnings to stay inside the museum at night, a killer begins hunting the group down, one by one.
Both the museum and the seemingly abandoned house next door are full of oddly life like mannequins. Everyone has had the sinking feeling that they are being watched, or that they saw an inanimate object move in their peripheral vision. Tourist Trap cleverly incorporates supernatural elements to make that universal anxiety a reality. An amazing score heightens the tension ever further, with strings and sighs and muted mumbling serving as a Greek chorus to the doll masked killer.
Though we can never see his eyes, the killer’s mask reveals just enough that we can see his lip licking leer as he stalks the girls of the group. We see his hands shake as he sensually caresses the face of another of the doomed travelers, suffocating her under layers of plaster. With the constant undercurrent of chattering madness and sexual menace, when a female character gets a rather pedestrian bloody death via hatchet, it’s almost a relief. The director of this film (David Schmoeller) has gone on record stating he never let his son watch it, and he can’t understand how Tourist Trap passed as a PG horror film. Anyone who takes the time to hunt this movie down will likely agree with him.
This 1973, regionally released, Ted Post directed B-movie has a base plot straight out of a Golden Age of Hollywood melodrama. A social worker is called in to investigate the Wadsworth family. Mrs Wadsworth is a single mother to two adult daughters, and a boy who is only ever referred to as “Baby”.
What cements this film’s rightful place as a horror flick (and inclusion on this list) is that the titular baby is a 21 year old mentally disabled man in diapers and angora romper suits. Baby’s family is not only responsible for his stunted state, they are heavily invested in keeping him that way for the sake of his disability checks.
The concept alone is more than enough to disqualify this as all ages fare. Where it becomes baffling in legendary proportions lies in how much further the film is willing to go. Baby is punished with a cattle prod, incest is heavily implied, and there is a bloody custody battle to the death between Baby’s bio family and his assigned social worker. This all culminates in a twist ending that somehow succeeds in making the film even more deeply disturbing in retrospect.
Set in the post Depression era,1972’s The Other introduces Niles and Holland Perry, a pair of 13-year-old twins. A series of bizarre and tragic accidents plagues their otherwise bucolic family farm. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that the boys have been taught some very dangerous games.
An adaptation of a Thomas Tryon novel, the literary source material and careful choices of director Robert Mulligan are likely what saved this film from closer scrutiny. Atmospheric set pieces rest amongst lush, warmly lit scenes that would not be out of place in a coming of age drama or a daytime soap.
The pace picks up in the final act of the movie, and as the source of the family’s troubles is revealed, we get a child’s eye view of everything from dismemberment to infanticide, all the more shocking due to the eerie restraint that preceded it. The final twist likely won’t be a revelation to modern audiences, but the grim nature of this PG horror will be.
The Psychopath/Eye For An Eye
Regionally released under 2 different titles in 1973, The Psychopath is a one of a kind revenge film. Tom Rabbey is the puppeteering host of a popular children’s television show, who also does charity work for local hospitals. When he discovers some of his fans are coming from abusive homes, Mr. Rabbey takes justice into his own hands.
Tom Basham’s portrayal of Mr. Rabbey is all heavy eyeliner and fey gentility, until it’s time to finish off an abusive parent with rolled eyes and the gnashing of teeth. He’s a stunted man child clearly on edge, even his puppet shows are oddly violent. What this film lacks in gore, it makes up for in sheer viciousness as abusers are gleefully dispatched with baseball bats, lawnmowers and various other household objects.
This is the sort of lurid technicolor trip that could only have been made in the 70’s. With the whom to root for waters muddied by a borderline pedophile, inept police and cartoonishly abusive parents, the bizarro pitch black ending feels more deserved than it likely should for something this shoddily made. When this little seen film inevitably gets restored and rereleased on DVD and Blu-ray, maybe the online movie databases will finally stop categorizing it under the “kids” heading.
This 1982 haunted house classic follows the Freeling family’s trials when their suburban dream home turns out to be haunted. What at first seems harmless, becomes dire when the spirits kidnap the youngest member of the family, Carol Anne.
While nowhere near as extreme as director Tobe Hooper’s previous horror hit (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Poltergeist was awarded an R when it first was submitted to the MPAA.
Writer/producer Steven Spielberg stepped in to appeal, arguing that there was little overt violence or gore. Poltergeist not only got a PG certification, but it got to keep all the child choking clown dolls, treetop kidnappings, facial flesh rippings, and floating backyard corpses in the final print.