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
The Amityville Horror (1979)*
In 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family, claiming he heard voices in the family home that convinced him to do it. The following year, the Lutz family moved into that same home and started to experience what can only be explained as a haunting, which is where this nightmarish tale really begins. The film is inspired by unexplainable true incidents in that real, eerie Amityville home on Long Island, and is just one of the many installments of the film series; but the 1979 original is by far the scariest, focusing on the original paranormal events that continues to baffle audiences.
The Blade Trilogy (1998, 2002, 2004)
It's hard to imagine Wesley Snipes' Daywalker, decked out in his Oakleys and leather trench coat, as a character that would fit neatly into the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe. From its vampiric blood rave aesthetic to the icky effects of its hunted revenge, the Blade movies have only grown more impressive with the passage of time. Snipes gives some of his most badass performances, staking vamps and tossing off one-liners with an effortlessly cool demeanor. It remains slick, corporate-approved entertainment with a gonzo, cult-film soul.
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.
The Conjuring (2013)
James Wan scared the shit out of moviegoers and restored faith in horror films when he dramatized Ed and Lorraine Warren's haunted farmhouse visit for the big screen. As the two paranormal investigators (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) go head-to-head with a wicked presence, you'll find yourself audibly yelping and wanting nothing to do with the dark. The impeccably choreographed jump scares are damn good, but the Warrens' nail-biting heroics and the family's intoxicating paranoia woven throughout are even better—proof that big-budget horror flicks don't have to suck.
The Empty Man (2020)*
David Prior's hypnotic, meandering horror movie was not a success when it was unceremoniously dumped into movie theaters toward the end of 2020, but, like the creature that gives the film its name, it gained massive popularity the more people watched and talked about it when it was released on demand. James Badge Dale stars as James Lasombra, a grieving widower who starts investigating the rumors of a local legend or a creature that visits violence upon those who summon it.
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 Evil Dead (1981)
Before Bruce Campbell's Ash was wielding his chainsaw-arm in Army of Darkness and on Starz's Ash Vs. Evil Dead, he was just a good looking guy hoping to spend a nice, quiet vacation in a cabin with some friends. Unfortunately, the book of the dead had other plans for him. With this low-budget horror classic, director Sam Raimi brings a surprising degree of technical ingenuity to bear on the splatter-film, sending his camera zooming around the woods with wonder and glee. While the sequels double-downed on laughs, the original Evil Dead still knows how to scare.
The recipe here is equal parts old-school slasher movie and Freaky Friday remake, with a dash of Carrie and just a hint of Child's Play—playing out as a curse causes a serial killer (Vince Vaughn) to switch bodies with an unassuming, quiet teenage girl (Kathryn Newton). That sure sounds like a lot, but that's what makes this feature from Happy Death Day filmmaker Christopher Landon such a fun watch. The cast is clearly having a blast, and the quick pace and humor makes for a ferocious multi-genre stew.
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.
Horror of Dracula (1958)
The first film that starred Christopher Lee as Count Dracula also revolutionized our image of the most famous vampire in the world, imbuing the character with a dark sexuality and influencing the pop culture vampire mythos (fangs, red contact lenses, wooden stakes) for decades to come. The adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel was so successful that it spawned eight sequels, six of which also starred Lee playing opposite Peter Cushing as Abraham Van Helsing (who was in four), most of which can also be found on HBO Max if you catch Dracula fever.
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.
The creepy clown. The red balloon. This adaptation of what's often considered horror genius Stephen King's biggest, toughest, and most popular books didn't disappoint fans. This film is special, turning the story into one of the creepiest, classiest, most well-received King movies in years, largely due to the talented young cast and their portrayal of how damn frightening adolescence is. Bill Skarsgård will make all of your fears very real as the razor-sharp-toothed Pennywise, but the heartwarming ensemble makes conquering them very possible. IT: Chapter Two is also streaming, so you can make a (very long) marathon of it—although the second installment isn't as good as the first, but you do get to see big names like Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and James McAvoy as the grown-up versions of those adorable kiddos.
James Wan's horror-thriller about a woman who realizes her dreams of a spooky figure violently murdering people are actually happening as she envisions them is by turns effectively creepy, utterly baffling, and absolutely hilarious, with an electrifying third act that plays as its own superhero origin story. The only way to accurately describe this movie's goofy, heightened aesthetic is that it's like a fake movie inside another, much more normal movie, except the fake movie turns out to be the actual movie. From the minute an asylum nurse intones "IT'S TIME TO CUT OUT THE CANCER," you know you'd better buckle up for whatever madness this will turn out to be.
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.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The movie that first unleashed Freddy Krueger on your dreams is a reminder that monstrous designs don't have to be corny. Robert Englund's original version of the character is a sadistic serial killer, plunging his knifed hands into victims, and occasionally blowing them up into geysers of blood. Confront this horror story on an all-too-quiet night.
With creepy kid movies, you usually know what you're getting into, but few are as utterly grim as Orphan. Out of any parents' nightmare, Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard bring home a little girl (Isabelle Fuhrman) who increasingly turns out to be anything but sugar and spice and everything nice. Critics may not have loved this movie when it was released since it's by no means as fun as you might want it to be, but it is a diabolical thriller that if you're looking to be creeped out absolutely does the job.
If you saw Poltergeist growing up, chances are you’re probably equally as haunted by Heather O’Rourke as she is in the film, playing a little girl tormented by ghosts in her family home. This Steven Spielberg-penned, Tobe Hooper-directed (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) paranormal flick is a certified cult classic and one of the best horror films of all time, coming from a simple premise about a couple whose home is infested with spirits obsessed with reclaiming the space and kidnapping their daughter. Poltergeist made rearranged furniture freaky, and you may remember a particularly iconic scene with a fuzzed out vintage television set. It’s may be nearly 40 years old, but the creepiness holds up.
How many exploding heads can you stomach? Scanners will undoubtedly test that threshold for you (though it's not as many as you may think you remember). The sci-fi-body-horror mash-up from David Cronenberg used impressive practical effects for its time to get brain matter and explosions just right in its tale about a small subset of society who have the power of telepathy—some of which are planning to rise up and revolt. The cult film is simply one of the densest sci-fi commentaries of its time, and worth opening your mind up to.
The Shining (1980)
Stephen King hates this psychotropic adaptation of his 1977 horror novel because director Stanley Kubrick took too many liberties. Well, sorry, Mr. King—Kubrick shot a classic. The Shining swaps the book's creaky floor boards and vivid premonitions for silence and a seeping sense of dread. Kubrick preys on his viewers by hanging on the terror—those twins, that wave of blood, the pages and pages of "ALL WORK AND NO PLAY"—and leaving the explanation blank. There are ghosts haunting its every corner of The Overlook Hotel, poisoning Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) until he's pure evil. For all the "Here's Johnny!" spoofs in the word, Nicholson's snarling rendition will always cut like an axe.
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.
28 Days Later (2002)*
This sci-fi thriller from Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) sends Cillian Murphy (Inception, Peaky Blinders) on a life-or-death run through the UK, while a rage-inducing virus turns his homeland, and much of the globe, into a zombified death trap. Murphy wakes from a coma about a month after the initial outbreak in an abandoned hospital, so if you've never seen this movie, you might feel like you're watching a retro version of The Walking Dead's pilot. And as AMC's hit saga also does, 28 Days Later successfully deals with the struggle to survive and rebuild, ultimately giving fans of the genre another story that's at once gripping and fascinating, soundtracked by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Follow up your viewing of A Nightmare on Elm Street with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which is by no means just a meta warm-up for the director's late-career resurgence. By casting the actors from his 1984 original Nightmare on Elm Street as themselves, he finds a surprisingly thoughtful, poignant way back into a franchise that was almost swallowed by camp after years of catchphrase-filled sequels. Funny, subtle, and genuinely frightening, New Nightmare is a work of keen-self-criticism from a genuine master of horror.