The Best Horror Movies on HBO and HBO Max
For when you're in the mood for a good scare.
The greatest horror movies of all time get under your skin with original conceits. They sharpen your paranoia to burrow down into your brain. They grab hold of your heart with iconic imagery—you'll never forget Freddy's claws, no matter how hard you try.
Most of the major streaming services take spooky, scary dramas quite seriously, including HBO and HBO Max, which are able to house a number of creepy classics you can't find anywhere else based on their deals with 20th Century, Warner Bros., and Turner Classic Movies. So switch off the lights, grab a blanket, and hold onto your nearest loved one—these stream-ready horror movies are here to fill your head with nightmares. Have fun!
*Denotes titles available on both HBO and HBO Max
Alien (1979)*With a bunch of blue-collar stiffs just trying to get home, Ridley Scott's 1979 movie is, like many of the best sci-fi films, basically another genre kitted out with science-fiction elements. But what elements they are: that dingy ship, which suggests the future isn't so bright for regular slobs like the crew of the Nostromo, and the vicious killing machine found on a cold, dead planet. That alien, complete with a grossly sexual life-cycle and particularly violent tendencies, is one of the greatest creations in any film, a horrifying representation of all the things we simply have to fight, even when the battle seems futile.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)*This classic creature-feature from director John Landis (The Blues Brothers) is a were-horror that transforms into gut-busting comedy for stretches of pale moonlight. Known for a wicked transformation sequence conducted by makeup maestro Rick Baker, An American Werewolf in London's backpacking buddy duo, played by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, takes the movie to unexpected heights, as they deal with the repercussions of living with lycanthropy. A dizzying, wildly entertaining experience.
The Blob (1958)There's not a whole lot to the tale of a giant glob of goo that lands in a small town and begins devouring everyone, but there's something so damn fascinating about the monster itself that this oldie still calls for your attention. It's still so gloriously gross, it's hard to look away.
The Brood (1979)Body horror purveyor David Cronenberg's The Brood is one distorted film about the monstrous sides of motherhood. Conceptualized as the filmmaker was going through his own divorce, it cozies up to a father (Art Hindle) in distress as his mentally ill wife (Samantha Eggar) seeks treatment from a controversial psychotherapist (Oliver Reed) who supposedly transforms his patients with his mind-and-body-altering practice known as "psychoplasmics." It's not technically a creepy kid movie, but there sure are the creepiest "kids" (AKA inner child/traumas/literal multiplying monsters) you've ever seen running loose and committing murder after murder in this late '70s cult classic. They'll give you the creeps, but even more so, The Brood will leave you feeling sick, thinking about the repercussions of parenthood gone wrong and just how powerful the inner demons left by those relationships are.
Carnival of Souls (1962)This low-budget black-and-white indie didn't make much noise when it was released onto the drive-in circuit in the early 1960s, but it's gone on to become one of the most celebrated horror films of the decade. It's a hallucinatory tale of a young woman who believes she's being stalked by a mysterious man—or maybe she's simply losing her mind. Stick with it through the dry spots because act three is straight-up terrifying, provided you've been paying attention and have all the lights off.
Doctor Sleep (2019)*If you're going to make a sequel to The Shining, here are two essential requirements: Stephen King has to write it, and there's probably nobody better to adapt it than Mike Flanagan, who did a great job with King's Gerald's Game. Here, Flanagan delivers another smart, dark, fascinating adaptation; Ewan McGregor plays the now-grown Danny Torrance—and rather excellently—who is forced to hit the road and do battle with a "shine"-swallowing vampire (Rebecca Ferguson, also great) who's nearly immortal.
Eraserhead (1977)Despite being reviled upon its release, David Lynch's (Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive) Eraserhead is a grotesque masterpiece. About a man (Jack Nance) living in an industrial environment who finds out he's the father of a deformed infant, it's an uncomfortable journey into body horror, as well as the primal fears and anxieties of parenthood, that's made even darker by the accompaniment of Lynch's haunting score. Eraserhead got its cult film status and critical reevaluation playing as a midnight movie back in the day, and it's just as horrific and stunning of a visual experience to watch in the witching hour now. (Plus, you'll be officially clued into what you friends mean when they call something "Lynchian.")
The Frighteners (1996)*Right before Peter Jackson jumped into making The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the filmmaker co-wrote and directed this horror-comedy about a scamming ghost-hunter. It's a lot darker than it first appears, though. At first, it follows Michael J. Fox as a man who develops the ability to speak to the dead when his wife dies in a car crash, and capitalizes on that paranormality by having his ghastly pals haunt homes that he then exorcises. But when a demonic entity comes to town, his own con goes south, and it's up to him to actually get the ghoul gone. The CGI work here may be very '90s, but it's all in good supernatural fun, and once The Frighteners gets dark, it sure does frighten.
Godzilla (1954)The horror of nuclear weaponry is manifested as movie history's greatest monster in the signature science-fiction film from Japan. Monster movies had been around for decades, turning common fears into cinema boogeymen, but there was nothing quite like a giant lizard with radioactive breath and an oddly pleasing roar as a symbol for the dangers nuclear weapons posed to man and nature alike. The fact that Godzilla was such a perfectly designed creature helped, of course. This first film set in motion a series of wildly inventive characters and stories that continue to decimate cities on camera even now.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)*It takes a certain amount of confidence to mount a new version of one of Wes Craven's very best films, and that confidence is what helped Alexandre Aja (High Tension) to modernize this tale of cannibals vs. suburbanites in stark, brutal, and intense fashion. It’s definitely not your average road trip flick, but one with a disturbing it could happen to you quality, and has an especially creepy cast of characters to make the horrors one family encounters especially frightening.
The Invisible Man (2020)*The classic H.G. Wells story gets a modern remake that somehow avoids all the problems that have plagued similar films. Elisabeth Moss delivers a fantastic performance as a woman intent on escaping her abusive boyfriend, only to realize that he's still stalking her. Invisibly. Remarkably intense, consistently clever, and full of characters worth caring about, this is one of the best "studio" horror films in recent years.
It: Chapter Two (2019)*Those adorable but frequently terrified "losers" from It are back—only now it's 27 years later and most of those "losers" have gone on to have relatively happy lives. But unfortunately Pennywise the psychotic (and seemingly immortal) clown is back, which means it's time for a big reunion and a whole bunch of horrifying standoffs between our heroes and the freakish, kid-killing creature. Chapter Two makes for a perfectly horrific double feature with Chapter One, only this time around we have some pretty fantastic grown-ups including the likes of Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and others doing the running and screaming.
Jaws (1975)*"Da-dum… da-dum… da-dum da-dum da-dum!" You know the music. You know the "bigger boat" line. Maybe you even remember that dolly zoom shot of Roy Scheider sitting on the beach with his family when the screams of terror ring out and everyone runs like hell. But no matter how much pop culture chomps on the remains of this classic, there's no stripping this understated, fundamentally humanist monster picture of its primal power. Even in the age of Sharknado and The Shallows, Jaws is still scary, funny, and essential viewing. These are waters you'll want to get back into.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)You don't come across too many horror films that create their very own subgenre, but that's pretty much what George A. Romero's original Night of the Living Dead pulled off. The word "zombie" was around long before 1968, but this was the film that introduced legions of re-animated corpses who wander around in large groups and devour any living human they can get their hands on. The original film remains one of the most influential horror movies ever made, and the sequel is pretty much the Casablanca of zombie cinema.
Ready or Not (2019)*A new bride quickly discovers that all of her in-laws are trying to kill her in order to appease an ancient curse that threatens to destroy their board game empire. The horror-comedy directed by the collective Radio Silence is basically one extended chase scene featuring a nastily colorful collection of villains, but leading lady Samara Weaving and a fun ensemble keep all the plates spinning. Plus, the ending is a freaking blast.
Sisters (1972)Brian De Palma's (Scarface, Carrie) first entry into thrillers may be a low-budget slasher, but there's a lot more to this psychological horror show that meets the eye. A blatant homage to Hitchcock, the film follows a murder and cover-up committed by a young model (and maybe/maybe not her twin sister) played by Margot Kidder and the investigation by a journalist (Jennifer Salt) who witnesses the event through her window across the way. Sisters takes a few turns, but De Palma's stylish split-screen shots and experimental methods to get into his subjects' psyches is a trip worth taking. This madhouse of a horror movie is disturbed in all the right ways.
Us (2019)*The double, the doppelgänger with questionable intentions and mysterious origins, is a potent concept for both horror and comedy. Fittingly, writer and director Jordan Peele uses the device to elicit scares and laughs in Us, his sophomore feature about a family, led by intrepid parents Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) and Gabe (Winston Duke), facing off against their jumpsuit-wearing, scissor-wielding counterparts in the middle of a leisurely vacation. What begins as an unsettling home invasion thriller with socio-political undertones in the vein of Michel Haneke's Funny Games gives way to a more frenzied, twist-filled science-fiction brain-teaser that tunnels deep into feelings of paranoia like an episode of Lost or The Twilight Zone. Peele's theme-park ride sense of pacing, particularly in a mid-movie sequence scored to the music of the Beach Boys and N.W.A., keeps you from questioning some of the leaps in narrative logic. Us explodes in a million directions and raises questions that simply can't be answered. Untethering the ideas becomes half the fun.
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