Are you looking for a good scare tonight? HBO Max boasts a wide variety of horror films perfect for the Halloween season. The streaming service’s library combines the early fundamentals of Vampyr (1932) with more modern flicks like Malignant (2021). There are also countless classic franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street as well as small indies like The Blair Witch Project (1999).
With such a diverse collection of movies, there’s bound to be something for everyone! Here, we count down the top 10 best horror films on HBO Max. To better represent what the site has to offer, this list focuses slightly more on horror classics than newer releases.
10. The Conjuring (2013)
James Wan may be one of the great horror directors working today. Previous to The Conjuring, he started the Saw and Insidious franchises, creating popular series that maintain his creative horror sensibilities. The franchise explores the real-life cases of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) with the first film focusing on a family who move into a haunted farmhouse. Although many horror fans have seen similar films to this one, Wan subverts his scares just enough to keep things interesting.
9. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project is a fictional story following three college students investigating the Blair Witch legend. As they journey into the woods, they find the legend to be real. For better or worse, the film has brought about two decades worth of found footage films. It’s not the first example of the genre, but it was the first promoted to a wide audience through a viral campaign on the early Internet — at the time, viewers were under the impression that the movie might be real. Thus, The Blair Witch Project was not only innovative in terms of horror filmmaking, but also horror movie advertising.
8. 28 Days Later (2002)
28 Days Later was somewhat of a renaissance for zombie films. Although the citizens of Great Britain technically are infected by the Rage Virus rather than zombies, the movie had a significant influence on the genre by updating the fears of classics from filmmakers like George Romero to the modern day. The opening scene where Jim (Cillian Murphy) roams around an empty London to Godspeed You! Black Emperor is iconic, and the running zombies are terrifying. As a pandemic movie, this certainly hits different 20 years later.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) in A Nightmare on Elm Street is the villain in one of the three major slasher horror series (along with Halloween and Friday the 13th). With this collection of films being the latest chronologically, director Wes Craven was able to take the foundations of the slasher and infuse his own grim sense of humor into it. The movie’s critical acclaim and box office success led to a franchise of six sequels, a TV series, and a 2010 remake. The first film is more grounded — the later entries in the series go for more of a comedic approach — and include real scares. The true horror comes from the film’s exploration of dreams as it’s where we’re at our most vulnerable.
6. The Fly (1986)
This wouldn’t be a top 10 horror list without mentioning a David Cronenberg film. The body horror director loosely based his movie on a 1958 film of the same name. It follows a scientist (Jeff Goldblum) who slowly turns into a fly after an experiment goes badly. This is one of Goldblum’s best performances, full of frenzy and physicality. The practical effects and makeup used for Goldblum’s fly transformation is extraordinary and is one of its last instances in prominent Hollywood films.
5. House (1977)
The film production company, Toho, came to Obayashi and requested he make a film like Jaws (1975), which had seen huge results at the box office. The result was House, which follows a girl (Kimiko Ikegami) and her friends visiting her aunt’s home in the country. There, supernatural events occur as the girls are devoured by the haunted house one by one. Although the film is known for its wacky special effects, it incorporates more serious themes of postwar trauma and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It received negative reviews upon release, but has recently garnered a cult following.
4. Eraserhead (1977)
Eraserhead is director David Lynch’s debut work. It’s a surrealist horror film about Henry Spencer, a man (Jack Nance) struggling through the anxieties of fatherhood. However, instead of a human baby, the child looks like an alien. The movie is puzzling, fascinating, and ultimately, terrifying. Lynch doesn’t provide the audience with much to work off of regarding plot, instead favoring experimentation to elicit a wide range of feelings from the audience. It’s a great introduction to the rest of Lynch’s filmography and a terrific horror movie for those looking for a more dreamlike viewing experience.
3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is the most important zombie film and the one that started the craze for the genre into the ’70s. It created the perception of zombies that we still hold to this day — reanimated corpses that feed on human flesh. Every zombie film that has come after it has taken from its ideas in some way. It was also a triumph in independent, small-budget filmmaking. The film is also still relevant today with Romero including sharp social commentary on race relations in America.
2. The Shining (1980)
The Shining begins as Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) brings his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), to the Overlook Hotel. Nicholson’s descent into madness is one of the best performances in horror film history. The famous “Here’s Johnny!” line and the scene with the Grady twins standing in the hotel hallway are known to those who haven’t even seen the film. There is no other horror film that induces the same amount of obsessive theorizing and analysis about what the director Stanley Kubrick was attempting to convey.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist centers around the demonic possession of a young girl (Linda Blair) and her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and two Catholic priests’ attempt to save her through an exorcism. This movie is ranked number one because it may be the most terrifying and disturbing on our list. The film was a cultural phenomenon with viewers fainting or vomiting to scenes as well as reported heart attacks. The clamor over the film led it to be one of the rare horror flicks that received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.