We can thank a microwaved puppet for the PG-13 rating.
Well, that and an old lady launched out of a window by a tampered stair lift. Due to the violence in 1984's "Gremlins," the Motion Picture Association of America was compelled to adjust its rating scale. Now, PG is reserved for the tamest of family films.
Most of the time...
Plenty of horror fans scoff at anything rated less than R; a movie can't possibly be scary without buckets of gore and on-screen violence, right?
Au contraire. While explicit, gory violence is certainly terrifying, a story can be truly unsettling and creepy without it. So if you've got a weak stomach or impressionable kids in the room, the following PG-rated films deliver plenty of thrills and chills with little to no blood:
6. "CORALINE" (2009). The first feature film from Laika, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and directed by Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas"), this stop-motion animated fantasy follows the titular 11-year-old heroine as she discovers an idyllic Other World behind a hidden door. But the button-eyed Other Mother isn't what she seems...
As with all Laika features, the character designs in "Coraline" are whimsical bordering on the grotesque. There's a moody, gloomy atmosphere to the real-world scenes, where it's always overcast, while the technicolor Other World is stunning in the way a venomous snake is: it's a bright candy coating belying the deadly bite beneath. And if you've got arachnophobia or feel squicky when it comes to eye stuff, the climax between Coraline and the Other Mother is sure to get you squirming.
5. "THE UNINVITED" (1944). Siblings Rick (Ray Milland) and Pamela (Ruth Hussey) Fitzgerald, on holiday in England, fall in love with the abandoned Windward House and buy it for an unusually low price.
But the charm begins to fade when they sense a presence in the house. After meeting the beautiful Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), who once lived in the home, Rick and Pamela are drawn into her sad story – and uncover the truth behind the haunting.
The first film where ghosts are serious, real entities, not merely hallucination or a hoax, "The Uninvited" is a gorgeously shot gothic thriller with romance, dramatic twists and buckets of atmosphere. Martin Scorsese included it on his "11 scariest horror films of all time" list, and it made a huge impact on a young Guillermo del Toro.
4. "THE HAUNTING" (1963). This first film adaptation of Shirley Jackson's classic novel "The Haunting of Hill House" may not be quite as creepy (or lush) as the recent Netflix mini-series, but it's still a solid chiller.
A quartet of paranormal investigators — Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), heir Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), psychic Theo (Claire Bloom) and high-strung Nell (Julie Harris) — lock themselves into a purportedly haunted mansion to determine whether the rumors are true.
The Rococo-style mansion evokes instant claustrophobia and there are tricky filming techniques that emphasize the increasingly skewed perspective of narrator Nell; the scariest thing by far is watching her mentally unravel. As Scorsese's No. 1 scariest movie, a story packed with suicide and death, can you believe this actually has a G rating?
3. "JAWS" (1975). It was the first summer blockbuster. It made everyone afraid to go into the water. And it's caused catastrophic damage to real-world sharks: "Had I known what sharks are really like in the wild, I never would've written the novel," said Peter Benchley.
Despite the problems it's caused for conservationists, "Jaws" remains one of the greatest creature features of all time, thanks to Steven Spielberg's less-is-more directing, John Williams' iconic score and the combination of actors Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw.
From that opening shocker where skinny-dipper Chrissie is pulled under — the sounds that poor girl makes are a little too real — to the climactic destruction of the Orca, "Jaws" keeps our pulses pounding relentlessly.
2. "POLTERGEIST" (1982). The Freeling family's idyllic life in the suburbs is destroyed when a ghostly entity kidnaps youngest daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke). It'll take all of their determination, and the help of psychic Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), to get the little girl back.
I'm a sucker for "white family refuses to leave their obviously haunted house" stories, and this one set the bar. Pro tip: Never build your house over a burial ground. Nothing good ever comes of it.
Besides the obvious scariness — a guy hallucinates that he rips his own face off; Steven (Craig T. Nelson) faces the demonic Beast head-on; that dang clown doll — there's also the film's cursed status to consider. Co-star Dominique Dunne was murdered by her ex-boyfriend four months after the film's release, and poor Heather O'Rourke died at the age of 12 from sepsis while filming "Poltergeist III." The tragedies definitely give the film a heftier weight in retrospect.
1. "REAR WINDOW" (1954). Photographer L.B. Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart) is housebound with a broken leg. To pass the time, he starts watching his neighbors, sometimes aided by a telephoto lens or pair of binoculars. But when he notices one behaving strangely, he becomes convinced the man has murdered his wife. Did it really happen, or has Jeff's voyeurism gone too far?
Talk about layers; this is a movie that demands repeat viewings to appreciate all the details. The script lays out just enough red herrings to make either option — murderer neighbor or paranoid Peeping Tom — plausible.
Ultimately, we the audience are just as incapable of leaping into action to help Lisa (Grace Kelly) when she's in danger as Jeff is, making his anguish and jittery anxiety ours. "Window" remains one of the greatest movies of all time, and my second-favorite Hitchcock. They don't call him the Master of Suspense for nothing.
• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.