25 best horror movies on HBO Max if you don’t want to sleep tonight

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23 de abril de 2021

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Put on some flip flops, leave your cellphone at home, and wander alone into a dangerous place the town weirdo definitely warned you about, because it’s time to get scared! 

Right now on HBO Max, the horror category is an embarrassment of terrifying riches with top-shelf selections available from every decade of horror history. You’ve got 2000s tank top horror next to 1980s slashers next to 1950s camp and more. It’s rad.

There’s so much great stuff to choose from, here are a whopping 25 of the best horror movies on HBO Max. Take your time and pick something perfect, but honestly you can’t go wrong.

25. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Grab your dirtiest rain coat and scariest hook, because it’s the Fourth of July in Southport! This schlocky 1997 offering from director Jim Gillespie is full of bad acting, worse writing, and some of the most outright unlikable victims in all of horror. So why recommend it? 

First, there’s an inherent enjoyment to this cast, comprised of ’90s darlings Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. They bounce off each other in a way that’s unique to this specific era of movie, and just too earnestly goofy to pass up.

And second, it’s freakin’ I Know What You Did Last Summer. Whether you’ve seen the ridiculous story of a fisherman out for revenge against some idiot teens or not, it has been mimicked and parodied ever since its release. It’s one of those foundational flicks you just need to make time for. 

How to watch: I Know What You Did Last Summer is now streaming on HBO Max

24. Scanners (1981)

Get your mind blown by Scanners. (See what I did there? Cause it’s about people’s heads exploding?) In writer-director David Cronenberg’s super goopy sci-fi nightmare, Earth must contend with a super-powered group of people capable of telepathy and psychokinesis — and the bad dudes who want to use that power for evil. It’s no The Fly, The Dead Zone, or even Shivers. But it’s the best body horror on HBO Max right now. For more Cronenberg, HBO Max also has The Brood.

How to watch: Scanners is now streaming on HBO Max

23. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

Gremlins will always be among the best holiday horror films, but as a matter of general scary viewing, its sequel is actually better. (Hard to believe it can get better than a gremlin in a microwave, I know!) Gremlins 2: The New Batch follows everyone’s favorite high-maintenance pets as they once again get wet, stay up after midnight, and torment the local citizens. Oh, and did I mention they’ve mutated? Director Joe Dante returns for an extremely amusing addition that goes further, faster and with way sillier special effects than the last Gremlins outing. 

How to watch: Gremlins 2: The New Batch is now streaming on HBO Max

22. Willard (1971)

OK, hear me out. This 1971 tale of a troubled young man wielding a violent horde of loyal rats as a weapon against his suburban enemies isn’t going to be for everyone, and I get that. It never gets tense or gory enough to be compelling in the way most horror fans love, and its plot isn’t particularly clever or intriguing. But there’s just something magical about watching lead Bruce Davison snap his fingers and have the production’s professionally trained rat cast pull off teeny tiny stunts in the name of terror. This is a great pick if you love campy horror, shag haircuts, or rodents.

How to watch: Willard is now streaming on HBO Max

21. The Lost Boys (1987)

Follow director Joel Schumacher on a dark, hilarious, and remarkably stylish adventure into teenage vampirism with The Lost Boys. As a matter or storytelling, the tale of new-in-town brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) facing off with a gang of bloodthirsty vampires isn’t particularly good; there are cohesion problems, some clumsy scripting, and an overall pacing issue that plagues nearly every scene. 

Still, it’s got one hell of a vibe that’s earned the project a cult following. I mean, it has teen vampire Kiefer Sutherland and frequent, vicious use of the word “bloodsucker.” What more could a horror fan ask for? 

How to watch: The Lost Boys is now streaming on HBO Max

As any self-respecting horror fan knows, Stephen King’s terrifying tale of an ancient being-turned-killer clown was first adapted into an excellent 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry. HBO Max has that project available as well, but considering this is a best horror movies list we’ll be honoring the Andy Muschietti-directed 2017 adaptation starring Bill Skarsgård instead.

Set in the small town of Derry, Maine in 1988, It follows a group of middle school-aged friends reeling from the recent disappearances of other neighborhood kids. It’s something that happens in Derry mysteriously every 27 years… Soon, they’re up against the evil Pennywise in a circus-like onslaught of petrifying pranks. It’s a great adaptation of a genuinely frightening story. Even better, it has a 2019 sequel that’s almost as good and also streaming on HBO Max.

How to watch: It is now streaming on HBO Max

19. House (1977)

Reader, cue up House and avail yourself of one of the weirdest and most wonderful viewing experiences out there. 

Sometimes listed as Hausu, director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s surreal 1977 horror comedy is a whirlwind of spectacular and bizarre images unlike any other title on this, or frankly any, list. Running just under an hour and a half, it’s a breezy jolt of strange beauty and intense dread that uses dreamlike images to tell the story of six girls as they’re eaten by a house. Yeah, it’s something.

How to watch: House is now streaming on HBO Max

18. The Blob (1958)

Mark my words, anyone who reduces director Irvin Yeaworth’s iconic The Blob to “just a B-movie” hasn’t actually seen it. An astounding feat of filmmaking for the time, that maintains a surprisingly watchable flow 63 years later, The Blob is a solid selection for anyone seeking that classic scary movie vibe. Stand by helplessly as intergalactic goo terrorizes the citizens of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Then, be genuinely impressed by how the ’50s townspeople manage to corral the thing through smart, sensible sci-fi means. Nice job, humans!

How to watch: The Blob is now streaming on HBO Max

Scream is one of those landmark moments in horror history that can be used to define everything that came before and after it. Directed by A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Wes Craven, the story of scream queen Sidney Prescott, played by Neve Campbell, teeing off with masked murderer Ghostface is full of tense turns, sensational kills, and the best jokes about horror movies ever made. 

Supporting performances from Courteney Cox, Rose McGowan, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Skeet Ulrich, and more offer a solid throwback viewing that doesn’t compromise on quality. This is a genuinely good movie, even if the self-referential comedy from Craven can get a little exhausting. 

How to watch: Scream is now streaming on HBO Max

16. Death Becomes Her (1992)

This 1992 Robert Zemeckis-directed black comedy may not qualify as an out-and-out horror movie, considering even its darkest moments are outrageously funny. Still, dazzling performances from Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis, plus enough gross-out zombie comedy to make you flinch at least once, make Death Becomes Her a must-watch whenever possible.

Streep and Hawn star as Madeline and Helen — “Mad” and “Hel” for short, as one of the film’s most iconic gags will remind you again and again. They’re feuding frenemies whose overlapping interest in men, like Willis’ plastic surgeon character Dr. Ernest Menville, and egregious vanity land them in the clutches of an immortal socialite, played by Isabella Rossellini. It’s a fun one, sure to leave you quoting its best lines and plotting Death Becomes Her Halloween costumes.

How to watch: Death Becomes Her is now streaming on HBO Max

15. Little Shop of Horrors (1986) 

If a talking plant wants to drink your blood, please be sure to watch Little Shop of Horrors before you oblige. Seriously, it doesn’t end well.

Directed by Frank Oz, this 1986 film adaptation of the 1982 musical is an uproariously good time. From its Academy Award-nominated special effects to Steve Martin playing a dentist from hell (opposite a very horny Bill Murray, mind you), this story of an alien race of man-eating houseplants descending on Earth isn’t strictly scary but it’s too good to not recommend. The songs are catchy, what gore there is is super satisfying, and I mean, c’mon, killer plant. You’ll love it.

How to watch: Little Shop of Horrors is now streaming on HBO Max

14. Magic (1978)


“There was never me, only us.”

Most people think of Hannibal Lecter as Anthony Hopkins’ best horror performance, and while I can’t deny how good he is in Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins truly won my heart in Magic

Directed by the late Richard Attenborough (who, yes, is the older brother of nature documentarian David Attenborough), this 1978 psychological fright fest sees Hopkins play a magician and ventriloquist whose relationship with his dummy Fats takes a turn for the terrifying. Based on a novel from The Princess Bride‘s William Goldman, Magic is a tightly told nightmare with a creepy doll at its center that could rival any Chucky or Annabelle. 

How to watch: Magic is now streaming on HBO Max

13. The Craft (1996)

Making friends in high school is always tough. But it’s especially tough when they’re murdering other students, pressuring you into dark magic, and like, putting snakes in your house and stuff. 

In this 1996 flick from director Andrew Fleming, Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Rachel True, and Neve Campbell star as a coven of teen witches who get in over their heads when they invoke an ancient spirit. Among the most beloved of feminist horror films, The Craft isn’t flawlessly executed but its nuanced approach to girlhood has earned it a vibrant cult following of which this writer is proudly a part. While you’re at it, check out The Craft: Legacy. It’s not on HBO Max, but I personally stan.

How to watch: The Craft is now streaming on HBO Max

12. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

The 21st century hasn’t been kind to werewolves. Between Taylor Lautner in the Twilight saga and What We Do in the Shadow’s werewolves-not-swearwolves, horror’s fuzziest shapeshifters have been defanged beyond recognition in recent years. So get back to the monsters’ hair-raising roots with An American Werewolf in London. 

Writer-director John Landis, who helmed National Lampoon’s Animal House and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video among other things, brings true craftsmanship to a simple story of backpacking tourists attacked by a mysterious creature. This one may churn your stomach with its practical effects and squishy sound design. Oh, and there’s a lot of nudity. 

How to watch: An American Werewolf in London is now streaming on HBO Max 

11. The Exorcist (1973)

It’s hard to overstate just how revelatory William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was for 1973 moviegoers.  We’ve all heard the stories of people fainting in theater aisles, but to actually imagine a viewing experience so intense your body nopes the hell out of there? Sounds incredible. 

The Exorcist hasn’t aged so well as to give modern viewers that experience; the first act is especially slow with an extended opening archaeology sequence that never fails to put yours truly to sleep. However, tremendously committed performances from Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow, and a 14-year-old Linda Blair, paired with some gnarly special effects, make it a timelessly excellent piece of horror. It tells the tale of a little girl taken over by an ancient demon, but you know that already. It’s a classic for a reason. Good luck with that crucifix scene.

How to watch: The Exorcist is now streaming on HBO Max

10. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

"If you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the world."

“If you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the world.”

Image: tristar/getty images

Director Adrian Lyne’s notoriously jarring psychological horror film isn’t the kind of joint you want to revisit too many times, lest you yeet yourself into an existential crisis. That said, if you’re unfamiliar with the truly extraordinary Jacob’s Ladder, it’s worth seeing at least once as a matter of cinematic and philosophical education. (Seriously, this movie quotes Eckhart.)

Academy Award winner Tim Robbins stars as Jacob, a Vietnam veteran grappling with post traumatic stress and the death of his young son, played by Home Alone-era Macaulay Culkin, from before the war. That torturous experience soon devolves into an even more hellish one as Jacob loses touch with reality and ultimately must fight to reconcile what’s true and what isn’t. This is arguably the most outright scary title on this list, so act accordingly.

How to watch: Jacob’s Ladder is now streaming on HBO Max

9. Poltergeist (1982)

Ah, yes. It’s the Steven Spielberg-written horror classic that hasn’t be scary for a while, but never fails to entertain with its practical effects, campy dialogue, and nostalgic quality. Directed by Tobe Hooper, the story of the Freelings is a timelessly solid one: A suburban California family enjoys a relatively quiet life until their adorable daughter Carole Anne, played by the late Heather O’Rourke, starts talking to “TV people.” Come for the promise of nostalgia, stay for all the and saying “They’re heeere” over and over again. *

How to watch: Poltergeist is now streaming on HBO Max

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Oh, Freddy, you old so-and-so! 

The inaugural outing of the Springwood Slasher, written and directed by terror titan Wes Craven, is among the sillier supernatural nightmares out there. And yet, there’s no denying the charm that comes with rewatching the imaginative havoc wrought by this venerable, villainous heavyweight. 

Kick back and relax as Mr. Krueger, played by Robert Englund, terrorizes teenagers unlucky enough to live in his zip code. You’ll enjoy dreams that are real but sometimes not, fashion decisions that didn’t even make sense then, tongues coming out of telephones, and more. Sweet dreams!

How to watch: A Nightmare on Elm Street is now streaming on HBO Max

7. Saw (2004)

Do you want to play a game? Well, nearly the entire Saw franchise is now streaming on HBO Max so I hope so. Every title, minus the the Spierig Brothers’ 2017 pseudo-reboot Jigsaw, is available to watch, and while I’d recommend binging all of them ahead of Spiral‘s premiere in 2021, the original Saw is the only one that can truly qualify for a “best of” list. 

In this 2004 low-budget flick from James Wan and Leigh Whannell (the final scene of which you’ve almost definitely seen or at least heard about by now), Whannell and Cary Elwes play two dudes who wake up in a super gross bathroom. Let’s just say things, uh, go downhill from there. 

Whether you love or hate where the franchise ended up, Saw changed the game for 2000s horror and continues to influence and fuel the modern scary movie boom as we know it. 

How to watch: Saw is now streaming on HBO Max

6. The Conjuring (2013)

It’s the suburban Rhode Island haunting that started the entire Conjuring Universe. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson star as married paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (who were real people, by the way) in a jump scare-filled seance that holds tight from start to finish. Having already honed his craft through projects like Saw, Dead Silence, and Insidious, director James Wan proves to be an especially skilled scarer in this outing. If you’re looking to get rattled, this is the pick.

How to watch: The Conjuring is now streaming on HBO Max

5. Jaws (1975)

The only horror movie I know of with a ride at Universal Studios, an installation at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and alleged evidence of an actual murder, Jaws is legendary in myriad ways. Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller offers a masterclass in tension building, telling the frightening story of three men hunting a great white shark off the coast of the fictional Amity Island. 

Cue this one up and you’ll get all the joy of those classic moments — like “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” and “Smile you son of a-” — as well as the sentimental satisfaction of watching a top-tier title in all of cinema. For more fun, take time to research Jaws‘ sordid production history. 

How to watch: Jaws is now streaming on HBO Max

4. Eraserhead (1977)

God, Henry is just so fucked. The directorial debut of walking-talking id David Lynch, Eraserhead follows the poor guy, played by Jack Nance, as he wanders through a surrealist blend of horror and humor, featuring an alien baby, sperm monsters, a lady with big ol’ cheeks, and more bizarre characters. The plot has been interpreted as a representation of Lynch’s own fear of being a parent, with Henry serving as a kind of placeholder for Lynch himself. It’s fascinating, freaky, and really fun.

How to watch: Eraserhead is now streaming on HBO Max

3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a Simon Pegg vehicle. Directed by Edgar Wright and co-written by Pegg and Wright, Shaun of the Dead follows a pair of wildly ill-prepared Brits as they attempt to navigate the zombie apocalypse. It’s sometimes called the best horror comedy of all time, and with good reason. It’s the movie that first united Pegg and The World’s End co-star Nick Frost, plus it has some of the punchiest, most memorable jokes in the genre. “And the front door is open, AGAIN!”

How to watch: Shaun of the Dead is now streaming on HBO Max

2. The Shining (1980)

The legacy of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece precedes it. There’s the electricity between actors Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, revisited repeatedly by film scholars as a toxic artifact of ; the Overlook Hotel’s iconic imagery, reflected and even copied in ; the fascinating conflict the adaptation spurred between Kubrick and author Stephen King, a kind of that never fails to intrigue fans of either; and plenty more, like, oh say, all those .

But, when choosing whether or not to cue up this classic, remember: The Shining is above all a great scary movie. Truly, one of the best. Regardless of importance or prestige, the story of Jack Torrance turning on his family in an empty, icy hotel is timelessly terrifying with entertainment value to spare. It’s superlative as a matter of craft, yes, but there’s also an intangible insidiousness to it that never fails to frighten. If you like horror, The Shining is always expecting you. *

How to watch: The Shining is now streaming on HBO Max

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968) 

Visionary of the zombie apocalypse George A. Romero tops this list with his most iconic film: Night of the Living Dead. This 1968 classic makes for a great watch — not only as a standard-setting staple of cinema, but also as a vehicle for terror that gets under your skin and festers there. Expertly executed from start to finish, this bleak tale of strangers versus an army of the undead needles at you in a way that’s still tough to shake more than 50 years later. *

How to watch: Night of the Living Dead is now streaming on HBO Max

Asterisks (*) indicate the entry comes from a previous Mashable list.

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