With all the great Halloween-related movies currently streaming, it can be determining which horror movies to watch during the holiday season.
However, looking at all the fantastic horror movies that are now available to view on HBO Max at the moment, a serious argument can be made definitively naming it the best streaming platform for all your Halloween-related viewing choices.
Best Horror Movies on HBO Max
Offering a wide array of movies, ranging from darker family-friendly movies like Little Shop of Horrors to more recent, completely chilling horror movies like The Conjuring and It, you can likely watch a horror movie on HBO Max now until the end of the month and still have some films to watch even after Halloween has come and gone.
To help guide you through HBO Max's impressive collection of horror movies, we decided to make a list of the absolute best horror movies currently available on the streaming platform.
In the past, there have been plenty of adaptations based on horror icon Stephen King's many, many, many novels and short stories. After early hits with films like Carrie and The Shining, the '80s and '90s were rife with Stephen King adaptations. Most of them, unfortunately, failed miserably to translate the original source material onto the Big Screen. (The Night Flier, The Langoliers, Thinner, Maximum Overdrive, Silver Bullet, etc.)
In 2017, the long-awaited adaptation of It, arguably King's scariest novel, was finally released, with audiences holding their breath to see if it would manage to follow earlier successes like Carrie and The Shining, or sink in the same manner as 2017's The Dark Tower. Luckily, It would prove to be an overwhelming hit, becoming one of the most successful Stephen King adaptations of all time, and—unadjusted for inflation—becoming the highest-grossing horror movie of all time.
In a storyline that more or less faithfully follows the novel, It follows a group of bullied preteens plagued by a mysterious, shapeshifting, demonic entity (Bill Skarsgård) that preys on children, taking the form of their worst fears.
There are some slight changes from King's novel (including some plotting differences and shifting the story from the 1950s’ to the ‘80s), but the movie still captures the original spirit and tone of the novel, updating it for modern audiences and managing to deliver such a large number of scares throughout, you'll be physically exhausted by the time it's over.
Broken into parts, the 2019 sequel, It Chapter Two, was fairly decent, but it was the first film that won acclaim from critics and moviegoers alike, all of whom praised the movie for its faithfulness to the source material, atmosphere and tone, and the amazing performances of Skarsgård and the child actors involved (especially Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, and Jack Dylan Grazer).
Few horror franchises have remained as consistently entertaining as The Conjuring series. Composed of eight (soon to be 10) feature-length films, as well as five short films and a comic book, the series has performed well in terms of both box office and critical reception over the years, building a fresh, frightening shared universe full of demons, ghosts, and possessed individuals.
While nearly every movie in the hit horror series has its merits and strong points, ultimately, it's the inaugural film that started the entire franchise, 2013's utterly horrifying The Conjuring, that may be the series’ best entry.
Loosely based on the investigations of paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren (whose reports served as the basis for The Amityville Horror), The Conjuring follows the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as they attempt to work with a family who has begun experiencing increasingly disturbing instances of paranormal activity in their Rhode Island farmhouse.
Probably one of the scariest movies released in the past decade, The Conjuring was a huge success upon release, winning acclaim for the tone, atmosphere, performances, and direction. It featured numerous memorable scenes—the basement “clapping” scene and that chilling wardrobe scene, for example—that made for an effectively tense horror movie from start to finish—one that had audiences holding their breath and shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
It's an ingeniously made, ceaselessly terrifying movie, and one that we highly recommend viewing with friends or family (it's way too scary to view on your own).
Trick ‘r Treat
Anthology films are a staple of the horror genre, which makes it all the more heartbreaking with how increasingly rare they've gotten over the years.
After a golden period in horror that saw anthology films like Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Tales from the Darkside, the genre saw a long dry spell full of more or less unremarkable anthology efforts that couldn't match the success of the earlier films it attempted to follow.
It would not be until 2007 that audiences were treated to the fantastic, campy, but still equally terrifying horror anthology they had craved for so long in the form of Trick ‘r Treat.
A film very much in the same vein as the earlier anthology movies of the '80s, Trick ‘r Treat tells four nonlinear, overlapping stories that all share one common trait: each of them involves the appearance of a mysterious masked trick-or-treater who reinforces the “rules” of Halloween.
Like any anthology film, there's bound to be some “favorite” segments audiences gravitate towards more than others. Trick ‘r Treat makes it tough having any definitive favorites, though, delivering not just one or two entertaining segments, but hitting it out of the park will four.
Though it certainly owes some debts to its predecessors like Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat still manages to set itself apart through some clever techniques, including the non-chronological storyline, having characters cross over from one story into another, and the film emphasizing the overall “traditions” associated with Halloween.
Critically praised upon its release, the movie has grown into massive cult status, with particularly positive reception for the acting, twist endings, and each of the four stories themselves, all of which feels like an updated, modern adaptation of an EC horror comic in tone and content.
Like horror anthologies, it's hard to find a decent slasher nowadays—especially one that is based on an original concept, rather than yet another remake, sequel, or prequel to a popular slasher franchise already. In 2020, audiences would finally be treated to a distinctly alternative kind of slasher—one that brilliantly mixed comedy and horror—with Freaky.
In a unique take on the classic Freaky Friday scenario, endlessly bullied high school student Millie Kessler (Kathyrn Newton) finds herself trading bodies with an infamous serial killer, the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn). When she finds out that she has 24 hours before the swap becomes permanent, Millie tries everything she can to change back to her old self.
The central idea for the film is a clever one, and one that the filmmakers more than manage to pull off—thanks in large part to Newton and Vaughn's performances. No doubt it's difficult playing two separate characters within one movie, but Newton and Vaughn each manage to deliver excellent portrayals of both the sympathetic high schooler and the sadistic serial killer.
It's a fun, entertaining, hilarious movie, offers plenty of legitimate laughs and more than a few scares, as well as a much more interesting, comedic twist on the classic slasher film.
Evil Dead II
It's difficult to say for certain which is better: the original Evil Dead from 1980, or its equally impressive sequel, Evil Dead II.
Both films offer plenty of scares, and served as groundbreaking successes that elevated its director, Sam Raimi, from indie filmmaker to a cult horror legend, as well as one of the most successful directors of the 1990s and later—with his Spider-Man trilogy—the 2000s.
Based on popular consensus, though, Evil Dead II seems to be not only the superior film, but the crowning achievement of Raimi's career.
Taking place immediately after the events of the first Evil Dead, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is now the sole survivor of a malevolent force that has killed all of his friends. Alone in a remote cabin in the woods, Ash tries to fight off the evil that is possessing his friends' bodies, while also trying to retain his own sanity against the unending onslaught that is continuously thrown at him.
Upon its release, The Evil Dead was a breakout hit, quickly gaining cult status as one of the most popular franchises in all of horror. While the first movie was strictly rooted in horror with very little to any humor involved, its subsequent sequels began shifting to an increasingly comedic tone, growing more and more outlandish and hilarious with each new film.
If you're looking for a great '80s horror film, go with The Evil Dead. If you're looking for a lighthearted horror action-comedy, we recommend Army of Darkness or the newer series Ash vs. Evil Dead. But if you're looking for a magnificent blend between the two, one that delivers genuine scares and some wonderful slapstick comedy, Evil Dead II is the movie for you.
Body horror (movies that depict disturbing physical transformations and a heavy emphasis on gore) is not everyone's thing—in fact, one can make a case that it's a serious red flag if it is someone's favorite subgenre of horror.
But if there is one director that knows how to make a decent—albeit disgusting—body horror film, it's the man that put the genre on the map, David Cronenberg.
In this 1981 Canadian horror film, a security and weapons company, ConSec, recruits individuals with psychic abilities (known as “scanners”) for their defense program. When a powerful rogue scanner (Michael Ironside) attempts to lead an underground movement fighting for scanners' world domination, ConSec sends another powerful scanner (Stephen Lack) to stop him.
A film fairly early on in Cronenberg's career, Scanners marked a growing maturity in the young director's work. He'd previously made a name for himself with horror movies like Rabid and The Brood, but it was Scanners that began to show the director was capable of balancing numerous ideas and thematic points of interest in his films, ranging from familial troubles (The Brood) to government conspiracies (Scanners).
Cronenberg's talent as a director was always mixing the psychological aspects of his characters with the body horror subgenre he was responsible for creating. Whereas other body horror films might go for cheap, gross-out effects to disturb the viewer, Cronenberg has always excelled in going deeper, exploring his characters’ troubled, balancing his visceral on-screen horror with an introspective psychological aspect as well.
While his films might be difficult to watch at times, Cronenberg has since gone on to achieve notable cult status—especially for his early work throughout the '80s and early '90s, such as this brilliant sci-fi horror film.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
In case you're wondering, yes, you should probably see the original Twin Peaks before you watch this 1992 prequel to the series.
One of the most popular series of its time—and one of the most influential shows ever made—director David Lynch and showrunner Mark Frost's Twin Peaks combined the surrealism found in so much of Lynch's work with a story rooted in local North American folklore and small-town communities. It’s an incredible series that directly parodies the campy, melodramatic tone of numerous soap operas, and brilliantly combines it with the more disturbing elements found in horror and mystery fiction.
In Fire Walk With Me, the film details the last few days of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), a popular, albeit deeply troubled, high school student whose murder sparks the events of the first season and a half of the series.
Like all of director David Lynch's work, it can be tough to accurately describe Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in a few simple sentences. As was the case for the original series, it's a dark, comedic, strange, and foreboding work that has more than a few scenes that will have you lifting your eyebrow, wondering what the hell you just saw.
Maintaining the offbeat deadpan humor of the series as well as the mysterious, surrealist elements that made the show so popular, Fire Walk With Me manages to expand the story of Laura Palmer and the world of Twin Peaks, both in terms of the fictional setting but also the strange, supernatural elements of the series as well.
28 Days Later
If you love zombie movies, you have to watch 28 Days Later. It's required viewing for every zombie fan out there, and—what's more—is probably one of the absolute best, most original entries in the horror subgenre ever.
Waking up from a coma that he’s been in for nearly a month, bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) finds that he is seemingly the only person left alive in London. When he is nearly killed by a group of people infected by a virus that turns them into rage-filled, murdering cannibals, he subsequently joins with a small group of survivors (including characters played by Naomie Harris and Brendan Gleeson) traveling to a military-run safe haven in the countryside.
An overwhelming critical success upon release, 28 Days Later received heaps of praise from critics and horror fans for its inspired approach to the traditional zombie film. The film's positive reception was particularly focused on the performances of the cast (including the three main leads and their co-star, Christopher Eccleston), the fantastic script by Alex Garland, and Danny Boyle's wonderful direction.
It's the movie that reignited the public's interest in zombie films, paving the way for numerous movies, comics, and video games within the subgenre (Shaun of the Dead, the Dawn of the Dead remake, Dead Rising, The Walking Dead, Left 4 Dead, and a whole bunch of other titles with the word “dead” in it).
The Invisible Man
Nobody knew exactly what to expect from the 2020 film, The Invisible Man. From the trailer alone, the film seemed like it would be a largely forgettable film loosely based on Universal's classic horror movies from the 1930s' (as had been the case with 2017's The Mummy.
The film that was actually delivered took absolutely everyone by surprise, offering a wonderfully complex blend of science fiction and psychological horror.
Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is a woman who has barely managed to escape from her wealthy, abusive boyfriend (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Trying to move on from her past trauma, Cecilia's life is once again interrupted by the news of her boyfriend's apparent suicide–although she slowly begins to suspect he's faked his death, has somehow managed to turn himself invisible, and is now stalking her.
After the lackluster critical and financial reception of The Mummy derailed Universal's plans for their proposed Dark Universe (a shared universe that would feature reboots of classic Universal horror films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Bride of Frankenstein), the studio decided to go with a more individualized project centered around an updated version of HG Wells' classic science fiction novel.
Though the film's plot remains significantly different from Wells' original story, it offered a remarkably fresh take on the story's concept, using the narrative device to depict the continuing trauma associated with domestic abuse.
It's a horror movie that hits a little too close to home with its subject matter at times and can be uncomfortable for some viewers due to its real-world implications (domestic abuse obviously being such a serious issue), but still remains an incredible first-rate horror movie.
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Little Shop of Horrors
Admittedly, Little Shop of Horrors may be more rooted in comedy than it is horror, but either way, this 1986 cult classic has probably one of the darkest plots of any musical comedy out there.
Based on the 1982 off-Broadway show of the same name (itself based on a Roger Corman horror-comedy), the plot of the film follows a meek, mild-mannered florist, Seymour Krelboyne (Rick Moranis) who finds a strange plant that quickly makes him a star celebrity of his New York neighborhood. When the plant becomes sentient and begins demanding that Seymour feed him humans to satisfy his seemingly insatiable appetite, Seymour realizes how dangerous his beloved plant truly is.
Little Shop of Horrors is an odd, off-kilter movie that manages to blend dark comedy with horror extremely well. The movie never truly delves into full-on “horror” like other musical horror movies (Sweeney Todd, for example), instead relying on light-hearted jokes that poke fun at the B horror and sci-fi movies of the 1950s'.
The real charm of the film lies with its great soundtrack, complete with a “Greek chorus” of talented singers (Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, and Tisha Campbell) who provide much of the narration and framing of the film. Other stand-out performances include Moranis's nerdy protagonist, and Steve Martin's hilariously sadistic dentist, who shares a memorable scene with a masochistic patient played by Bill Murray.
It's a great time to be a fan of horror. With the numerous entertaining horror movies currently streaming, there is no shortage of horror films well worth your time watching. When it comes to the streaming service to look on, there is no better platform out there that offers such a wide selection of fantastic horror movies than HBO Max right now. From comedic takes on slasher films to brilliant science fiction horror adaptations, HBO Max is currently streaming some of the best horror movies available online right now.
For other horror film recommendations that you can find currently streaming on HBO Max, we also highly suggest seeing the original Amityville Horror, The Brood, Poltergeist, and slightly less scary “family-friendly” spooky movies, The Witches (one of the most intense children's movies ever) and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.