The 50 Best Horror Movies on HBO Max Right Now (Dec. 2022)

Movies Lists hbo max
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 50 Best Horror Movies on HBO Max Right Now (Dec. 2022)

The first thing one notices, looking at the horror genre as it exists on HBO Max, is that there’s an unusual level of genuine curation involved here. The overall scope of the service might not be quite as broad as something like Netflix, but you’re likely to have heard of far more of these films. That’s because unlike the horror selections of Netflix, Hulu or (especially) Amazon Prime, the bulk of the selections here aren’t made up of modern, straight-to-VOD, zero-budget productions with vague, one-word titles like Desolation or Satanic. Rather, almost everything here received a wide release at some point.

That makes for an interesting horror library indeed, one that balances total schlock from Roger Corman with acclaimed works by the likes of Guillermo Del Toro and Stanley Kubrick. There are strange, foundational early horror films, such as Haxan or Vampyr, along with classics of world cinema like Japan’s Kwaidan, Onibaba and House. There are also indie gems like We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. Plus: The Exorcist and The Shining!

Regardless, of all the major streamers, HBO Max likely has the horror library most focused on what you’d call older “classics,” rather than newer releases—fine with us, considering that segment tends to be less well represented.

Here, then, are 50 best horror movies streaming on HBO Now. You may also want to consult the following horror-centric lists:

The 100 best horror films of all time.
The 100 best vampire movies of all time.
The 50 best zombie movies of all time.
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time
The best horror movies streaming on Netflix
The best horror movies streaming on Hulu
The best horror movies streaming on Shudder
The best horror movies on Amazon Prime


1. The Exorcist

the-exorcist-poster.jpg
Year: 1973
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Linda Blair, Ellyn Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Jason Miller
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

The Exorcist is a bit of a safe pick, but then you wrestle with whether any other film on this list is more disturbing, more influential or just plain scarier than this movie, and there simply isn’t one. The film radiates an aura of dread—it feels somehow unclean and tilted, even before all of the possession scenes begin. Segments like the “demon face” flash on the screen for an eighth of a second, disorienting the viewer and giving you a sense that you can never, ever let your guard down. It worms its way under your skin and then stays there forever. The film constantly wears down any sense of hope that both the audience and the characters might have, making you feel as if there’s no way that this priest (Jason Miller), not particularly strong in his own faith, is going to be able to save the possessed little girl (Linda Blair). Even his eventual “victory” is a very hollow thing, as later explored by author William Peter Blatty in The Exorcist III. Watching it is an ordeal, even after having seen it multiple times before. The Exorcist is a great film by any definition. —Jim Vorel


2. The Shining

the shining poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 1980
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Rating: R
Runtime: 142 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

As an aural-visual experience, The Shining is likely the single most distinctive horror film ever made. Its droning soundtrack, innovative Steadicam shots and singular images, like that of the two little Grady girls standing in the hallway, beckoning to Danny, are instantly recognizable even to people who have never explored horror cinema. Its most famous sequences, such as Danny scrawling “redrum” on the wall or Jack chopping down the bathroom door to get to Wendy, are so deeply embedded in pop culture at this point that references to them will be easily understood until the end of recorded history. At the same time, though, The Shining also still rewards scholarly analysis of its elements that are less known to the casual cinemagoer, such as Kubrick’s unique use of dissolves layered on top of one another to create composite images, or the seemingly purposeful continuity errors that pop up in a handful of scenes. These small details have for decades fueled mysteries and conspiracy theories about the director’s true intent, as was captured beautifully in The Shining documentary Room 237 by Rodney Ascher. Watching that film, one begins to understand how a movie such as The Shining can draw forth deep, primordial responses from its audience, such as the all-consuming need to understand. It is telling that, unlike some of the other great horror films on this list, The Shining saw few attempts at what you’d call direct imitation in the years that followed. It was too much the product of an auteur mind to be so easily unwrapped and reverse engineered; nor was its initial reaction entirely positive, contrary to what you might now assume. It was and remains an exceptional film of great beauty, coldness, precision, calculation and yes, fright.—Jim Vorel


3. The Witch

the-witch.jpg
Year: 2016
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

From its first moments, The Witch strands us in a hostile land. We watch (because that’s all we can do, helplessly) as puritan patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) argues stubbornly with a small council, thereby causing his family’s banishment from their “New England” community. We watch, and writer-director Robert Eggers holds our gaze while a score of strings and assorted prickly detritus—much like the dialogue-less beginning to There Will be Blood —rise to a climax that never comes. It’s a long shot, breathing dread: The wagon lurches ever-on into the wilderness, piling the frontier of this New World upon the literal frontier of an unexplored forest. It’s 1620, and William claims, “We will conquer this wilderness.” Eggers’ “New England Folk Tale” is a horror film swollen with the allure of the unknown. To say that it’s reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, which take place 70 years after the events in the film, would be an understatement—the inevitable consequences of such historic mania looms heavily over The Witch. All of this Eggers frames with a subconscious knack for creating tension within each shot, rarely relying on jump scares or gore, instead mounting suspense through one masterful edit after another. The effect, then, is that of a building fever dream in which primeval forces—lust, defiance, hunger, greed—simmer at the edges of experience, avoided but never quite conquered. But what’s most convincing is the burden of puritanical spirituality which blankets the film’s every single moment, a pall through which every character—especially teenage Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy)—struggles to be, simply, a regular person. There is no joy in their worship, there is only gravitas: prayers, fasting, penitence and fear. And it’s that fear which drives the film’s horror, which eventually makes even us viewers believe that, at the fringes of civilization, at the border of the unknown, God has surely abandoned these people. —Dom Sinacola


4. King Kong

king-kong-1933-poster.jpg
Year: 1933
Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

There had been monster movies or “creature features” before Kong, but it became the key reference point for that entire film demographic from the time of its release until the genre underwent an atomic-age reimagining with the likes of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953 and Them! in 1954. Likewise, it set the bar on its special effects at such a high level that in many instances, shots and sequences from King Kong weren’t suitably duplicated for decades to come. Much of the credit belongs to pioneering stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien, who was inventing new techniques on the set of Kong on a daily basis, laying a foundation for an entire field of visual effects that are still being refined by studios such as Laika today. Those techniques were likewise carried on and further refined by O’Brien’s arguably more famous protege, Ray Harryhausen, who used them to great effect in the second golden age of the monster movie, from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Kong, though, stands as an unparalleled achievement for its time—far grander and more ambitious in scope than most anything you can compare it to back then. On one hand it’s a rollicking adventure film, with a classic “journey into the unknown” plot that is still being recycled for modern monster installments like Kong: Skull Island. At the same time, though, it was likewise an interesting experiment in genre-blending—an FX-driven adventure-drama film with horror elements and no clear-cut, traditional “antagonist.” Carl Denham might fit the bill, but he’s better described as a naive dreamer with stars in his eyes, oblivious to the ethical quandary of shanghaiing a huge beast to display in the middle of New York City. Kong, meanwhile, is a misunderstood creature, operating on the sense of self preservation he learned in a home where he’s only ever known a daily fight for survival against a neverending stream of monsters. The film’s empathy for Kong, and its condemnation of the hubris that led to his ascent of the Empire State Building, are what helped make the story such an emotionally affecting classic. —Jim Vorel


5. Kwaidan

kwaidan-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1964
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Stars: Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Katsua Nakamura, Osamu Takizawa, Noboru Nakaya
Rating: NR
Runtime: 184 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Ghost stories don’t get much more gorgeous than the four in Masaki Kobayashi’s sprawling Kwaidan. Between two acerbically political and widely lauded samurai epics, Hara-kiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967), Kobayashi led what was then Japan’s most expensive cinematic production ever, an anthology film with its parts loosely connected by Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales and Kobayashi’s intuitive penchant for surreal, sweepingly lush sets. In “The Black Hair,” a selfish, impoverished ronin (Rentaro Mikuni) abandons his wife to marry into wealth, only to realize he made a dire mistake, plunging him into a gothic nightmare of decay and regret. “The Woman of the Snow” follows a craftsman (the always welcome Tatsuya Nakadai) doomed to have everything he loves stolen from him by a patient bureaucratic specter. The movie-unto-itself, “Hoichi the Earless,” pits the titular blind monk musician (Katsua Nakamura) against a family of ghosts, forcing the bard to recite—in hushed, heartbreaking passages on the biwa—the story of their wartime demise. Rapt with indelible images (most well known, perhaps, is Hoichi’s skin completely covered in the script of The Heart Sutra to ward off the ghosts’ influence), “Hoichi the Earless” is both deeply unnerving and quietly tragic, wrung with the sadness of Kobayashi’s admission that only forces beyond our control hold the keys to our fates. The fourth, and by far the weirdest, entry, “In a Cup of Tea,” is a tale within a tale, purposely unfinished because the writer (Osamu Takizawa) who’s writing about a samurai (Noboru Nakaya) who keeps seeing an unfamiliar man (Kei Sato) in his cup of tea is in turn attacked by the malicious spirits he’s conjuring. From these disparate fairy tales, plenty of fodder for campfires, Kobayashi creates a mythos for his country’s haunted past: We are nothing if not the pawns of all those to come before. —Dom Sinacola


6. Godzilla

godzilla-criterion-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1954
Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Sachio Sakai, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi, Akira Takarada
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Early in Godzilla, before the monster is even glimpsed off the shore of the island of Odo, a local fisherman tells visiting reporter Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai) about the play they’re watching, describing it as the last remaining vestige of the ancient “exorcism” his people once practiced. Hagiwara watches the actors “sacrifice” a young girl to the calamitous sea creature to satiate its hunger and cajole it into leaving some fish for the people to enjoy—at least until the next sacrifice. Ishiro Hondo’s smash hit monster movie—the first of its kind in Japan, the most expensive movie ever made in the country at the time, not even a decade after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is, after 20-something sequels over three times as many years, a surprisingly elegiac exorcism of its own, a reminder of one nation’s continuing trauma during a time when the rest of the world jonesed to forget.

As J Hoberman describes in his essay for the film’s Criterion release, much of Honda’s disaster imagery is “coded in naturalism,” a verite-like glimpse of the harrowing destruction wrought by the beast but indistinguishable from the aftermath of the Americans’ attacks in 1945, especially when the U.S. and Russia, among other powers, were testing H-bombs in the Pacific in the early 1950s, bathing the Japanese in even more radiation than that in which they’d already been saturated. And yet, Godzilla is a sci-fi flick, replete with a “mad” scientist in an eye patch and a human in a rubber dinosaur suit flipping over model bridges. That Honda handles such goofiness with an unrelentingly poetic hand, purging his nation’s psychological grief in broadly intimate volleys, is nothing short of astounding. Shots of Godzilla trudging through thick smoke, spotlights highlighting his gaping maw as the Japanese military’s weapons do nothing but shock the dark with beautiful chiaroscuro, have been rarely matched in films of its ilk (and in the director’s own legion of sequels); Honda saw gods and monsters and, with the world entering a new age of technological doom, found no difference between the two. —Dom Sinacola


7. Night of the Living Dead

24. night of the living dead (Custom).jpg
Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Judith O’Dea, Duane Jones, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Judith Ridley, Keith Wayne
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 96 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

What more can be said of Night of the Living Dead? It’s pretty obviously the most important zombie film ever made, and hugely influential as an independent film as well. George Romero’s cheap but momentous movie was a quantum leap forward in what the word “zombie” meant in pop culture, despite the fact that the word “zombie” is never actually uttered in it. More importantly, it established all of the genre rules: Zombies are reanimated corpses. Zombies are compelled to eat the flesh of the living. Zombies are unthinking, tireless and impervious to injury. The only way to kill a zombie is to destroy the brain. Those rules essentially categorize every single zombie movie from here on out—either the film features “Romero-style zombies,” or it tweaks with the formula and is ultimately noted for how it differs from the Romero standard. It’s essentially the horror equivalent of what Tolkien did for the idea of high fantasy “races.” After The Lord of the Rings, it became nearly impossible to write contrarian concepts of what elves, dwarves or orcs might be like. Romero’s impact on zombies is of that exact same caliber. There hasn’t been a zombie movie made in the last 50-plus years that hasn’t been influenced by it in some way, and you can barely hold a conversation on anything zombie-related if you haven’t seen it—so go out and watch it, if you haven’t. The film still holds up well, especially in its moody cinematography and stark, black-and-white images of zombie arms reaching through the windows of a rural farmhouse. Oh, and by the way—NOTLD is public domain, so don’t get tricked into buying it on a shoddy DVD. —Jim Vorel


8. Eraserhead

eraserhead-poster.jpg
Year: 1977
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allan Joseph
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

It can be a painful experience to watch a film and have no idea what it’s about—to have the film’s meaning nagging at the core of you, always out of reach. Yet, that’s exactly the molten, subterranean fuel that pushes David Lynch’s visions forward, and with his debut, the perplexing and terrifying Eraserhead, the director offers no consolation for the encroaching feeling that with him we’ll never find any sort of logical mooring to keep our psyches safe. A simple tale about a funny-haired worker (Jack Nance) trundling nervously through a phantasmagoric industrial landscape, in the process fathering a mutant turtle-looking baby who he’s left to raise after his new wife abandons her “family,” Eraserhead is an astounding act of burying independently-minded cinematic experimentation in the popular consciousness. You may not know much about Eraserhead, but you probably know what it is. And whether or not it’s a meditation on the horrors of fatherhood, or a glimpse of the weird devolution of physical intimacy in a dying ecosystem, or a groundbreaking work of DIY sound design, or whatever—Eraserhead is a black hole of influence. It’s gross, it’s soul-stirring, it’s a visceral nightmare, and to this day, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Which may or may not be a compliment. I can’t be sure. —Dom Sinacola


9. The Fly

the-fly-1986-poster.jpg
Year: 1986
Directors: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Between The Blob, The Thing and The Fly, the ’80s were a magical decade for remaking already iconic ’50s horror/sci-fi movies. The original Kurt Neumann/Vincent Price version of The Fly is sometimes waved away as nothing more than a “camp classic,” but it’s a substantial film that is often more mystery than it is horror—a tightly focused narrative hinging around the question of why a woman has confessed to messily crushing her husband to death in a hydraulic press. Vincent Price is as entertaining as the fly-crossed scientist as you would no doubt expect him to be. The Cronenberg version, like the remake of The Blob, takes that basic premise and dresses it in both gallows humor and body horror, as Jeff Goldblum’s researcher literally watches pieces of his body gelatinize and melt away in front of him. As “Brundle” he’s great, full of manic energy, ingenuity and eventually insectoid-enhanced physicality. Along with The Thing, the film is one of the last great hurrahs of the practical effects-driven horror era, featuring some of the more disgusting makeup and gore effects of all time. After seeing a man-sized Brundlefly vomiting acid, it’s difficult to ever look at a common housefly in the same way again. —Jim Vorel


10. Young Frankenstein

young_frankenstein_poster.jpg
Year: 1974
Director: Mel Brooks
Stars: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr
Rating: PG
Runtime: 105 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

One of the best comedies of all time and one of the 10 or so films I can quote almost entirely from memory, Young Frankenstein is a classic of the genre. At once a spoof of traditional Universal horror films and a loving tribute, Mel Brooks and his immensely talented cast have created a timeless film. It follows Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (played by Gene Wilder) as he finally gives into continuing his grandfather’s (the Frankenstein) experiments. A classic for all ages, Peter Boyle’s take on Frankenstein’s monster is more playful than scary—after all, it’s hard to see a kid being terrified by a tap-dancing monster, even if he is “puttin’ on the ritz.” —Mark Rabinowitz


11. Les Diaboliques

les diaboliques poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 1955
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Stars: Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Simone Signoret
Rating: NR
Runtime: 107 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques through the lens of the modern horror film, especially the slasher flick—replete with un-killable villain (check); ever-looming jump scares (check); and a “final girl” of sorts (check?)—one would not have to squint too hard to see a new genre coming into being. You could even make a case for Clouzot’s canonization in horror, but to take the film on only those terms would miss just how masterfully the iconic French director could wield tension. Nothing about Les Diaboliques dips into the scummy waters of cheap thrills: The tightly wound tale of two women, a fragile wife (Véra Clouzot) and severe mistress (Simone Signoret) to the same abusive man (Paul Meurisse), who conspire to kill him in order to both reel in the money rightfully owed the wife, and to rid the world of another asshole, Diaboliques may not end with a surprise outcome for those of us long inured to every modern thriller’s perfunctory twist, but it’s still a heart-squeezing two hours, a murder mystery executed flawlessly. That Clouzot preceded this film with The Wages of Fear and Le Corbeau seems as surprising as the film’s outcome: By the time he’d gotten to Les Diaboliques, the director’s grasp over pulpy crime stories and hard-nosed drama had become pretty much his brand. That the film ends with a warning to audiences to not give away the ending for others—perhaps Clouzot also helped invent the spoiler alert?—seems to make it clear that even the director knew he had something devilishly special on his hands. —Dom Sinacola


12. Onibaba

onibaba-poster.jpg
Year: 1964
Director: Kineto Shindo
Stars: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sat?, Taiji Tonoyama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 102 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba will make you sweat and give you chills all at once, with its power found in Shindo’s blend of atmosphere and eroticism. It’s a sexy film, and a dangerous film, and in its very last moments a terrifying, unnerving film where morality comes full circle to punish its protagonists for their foibles and their sins. There’s a classicism to Onibaba’s drama, a sense of cosmic comeuppance: Characters do wrong and have their wrongs visited upon them by the powers that be. (In this case, Shindo.) But what makes the film so damn scary isn’t the fear of retribution passed down from on high, it’s the human element, the common thread sewn in a number of modern horror movies where the true monster is always us. Did demons, or demonic idols, foment the civil war that serves as Onibaba’s backdrop? Are spirits culpable for the ruthless survivalism of the film’s two main characters? Nope and nope. Put a checkmark next to “mankind” in reply to both questions, and then wish that demons and spirits were real, because that’d be preferable to acknowledging reality. Back a human into a corner, and they’ll throw you into a ditch, leave you for dead and steal your shit, and what’s more unsettling than “better you than me” as a guiding principle for living? —Andy Crump


13. The Omen

the-omen-1976-poster.jpg
Year: 1976
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Gregory Peck, Harvey Spencer Stephens, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

In the canon of “creepy kid” movies, the original 1976 incarnation of The Omen stands alone, untainted by the horrendous 2006 remake. It has a palpable sense of malice to it, largely because of the juxtaposition of restraint and moments of extremity. Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens) isn’t this little devil boy running around stabbing people, he’s full of guile, deceit and, scariest of all, patience. He knows that he’s playing the long game—it will be years and years before he achieves his purpose on the Earth, which gives him the uncomfortable attitude of an adult (and a pure evil one) in a child’s body. The film is brooding, sullen, broken up by staccato moments of shocking violence. In particular are the infamous scene wherein a sheet of glass leads to a decapitation, or the fate of Damien’s nurse in the film’s opening. The Omen can genuinely can get under your skin, especially if you’re a parent. —Jim Vorel


14. Eyes Without a Face

eyes-without-a-face-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1959
Director: Georges Franju
Stars: Édith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Francois Guerin
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

I remember seeing my first Édith Scob performance back in 2012, when Leos Carax’s Holy Motors made its way to U.S. shores, in which she donned a seafoam mask, every bit as blank and lacking in expression as Michael Myers’, in the film’s ending. I thought to myself, “Gee, that’d play like gangbusters in a horror movie.” What an idiot I was: Scob had already appeared in that movie, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, an icy, poetic and yet lovingly made film about a woman and her mad scientist dad, who just wants to kidnap young ladies that share her facial features in hopes of grafting their skin onto her own disfigured mug. (That’s father of the year material right there.) Of course, nothing goes smoothly in the film’s narrative, and the whole thing ends in tears—plus a frenzy of canine bloodlust. Director Franju plays Eyes Without a Face in just the right register, balancing the unnerving, the perverse and the intimate, as the most enduring pulpy horror tales tend to do. If Franju gets to claim most of the credit for that, at least save a portion for Scob, whose eyes are the single best special effect in the film’s repertoire. Hers is a performance that stems right from the soul. —Andy Crump


15. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

body-snatchers-1978-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1978
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

There’s no real need for the film’s credit-limned intro—a nature-documentary-like sequence in which the alien spores soon to take over all of Earth float through the cosmos and down to our stupid third berg from the Sun—because from the moment we meet health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and the colleague with whom he’s hopelessly smitten, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), the world through which they wander seems suspiciously off. Although Philip Kaufman’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers begins as a romantic comedy of sorts, pinging dry-witted lines between flirty San Franciscan urbanites as Danny Zeitlin’s score strangely lilts louder and louder overhead, Kaufman laces each frame with malice. Oddly acting extras populate the backgrounds of tracking shots and garbage trucks filled with weird dust fluff (which we eventually learn spreads the spores) exist at the fringes of the screen. The audience, of course, puts the pieces together long before the characters do—characters who include Jeff Goldblum at his beanpole-iest and Leonard Nimoy at his least Spock-iest—but that’s the point: As our protagonists slowly discover that the world they know is no longer anything they understand, so does such simmering anxiety fill and then usurp the film. Kaufman piles on more and more revolting, unnerving imagery until he offers up a final shot so bleak that he might as well be punctuating his film, and his vision of modern life, with a final, inevitable plunge into the mouth of Hell. —Dom Sinacola


16. Cat People

cat-people-1942-poster.jpg
Year: 1942
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Stars: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Tom Conway
Rating: NR
Runtime: 73 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

To this day, it doesn’t seem entirely fair that so much credit for Cat People is almost universally given to producer Val Lewton, rather than director Jacques Tourneur or writer DeWitt Bodeen, but it’s true of the entire run of low-budget horror films that Lewton produced at RKO. Regardless, Cat People was a populist hit in its day before being reevaluated decades later as a landmark of ’40s horror. In stark contrast to Universal’s monster movies of the same era, it leans on suspense and carefully constructed shots rather than Jack Pierce makeup to make an impression. The story of a young Russian immigrant (Simone Simon) with a dark family past, Cat People combines aspects of film noir and mystery movies with Hitchcockian suspense, while pioneering several staple tropes of horror cinema that have been used hundreds, if not thousands of times since. In particular, the scene with a young woman walking home on a dark night, stalked by an unseen presence, builds to an unexpected conclusion that must have made audiences in 1942 come jumping out of their seats. —Jim Vorel


17. Barbarian

barbarian-poster.jpg
Year: 2022
Director: Zach Cregger
Stars: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

The deceptively simple premise of Barbarian, the horror debut from writer/director Zach Cregger, is enough to induce genuine goosebumps. However, Cregger takes a creepy idea and concocts a breakneck tale of unyielding terror, giving audiences whiplash with each unpredictable revelation. When Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her Detroit Airbnb on a forcefully stormy night, she finds that there’s no key in the encrypted lockbox to let herself in. After calling the host proves fruitless, she suddenly sees a light turn on through a front window. Tess frantically rings the doorbell, and the recently roused Keith (Bill Skarsgård) awkwardly answers the door. Realizing they accidentally double-booked the same rental for the next few days, Keith immediately insists that Tess get out of the rain and take the bedroom for the night (of course, he’s totally content with taking the couch). Surprisingly, she agrees. Though few viewers would likely make the same decision as the film’s protagonist, Barbarian wastes no time creating a thick sense of dread that clings until the credits roll. To divulge any further details of the film’s plot would thwart the winding, increasingly shocking narrative crafted by Cregger. With each terrifying reveal feeling fresher and freakier than the last, it’s encouraged to go into Barbarian with as little background and context as possible. Even citing Cregger’s horror references would serve to unnecessarily hint at jarring shifts in the film’s story, though comparisons to the work of fellow horror filmmakers James Wan, Tobe Hooper and George Romero are particularly apt. Barbarian offers up plenty of food for thought in its rancid banquet from hell. It’s got a biting socially-conscious undercurrent that addresses the bleak reality of existing as a woman in the U.S.—both past and present, whether residing in manicured suburbs or “shady” inner-city neighborhoods—even successfully weaving in a #MeToo subplot that doesn’t feel one-note or cursory. Even more impressive, Cregger incorporates this throughline with a heavy dose of humor, no doubt aided by his tenure as a member of IFC sketch comedy show The Whitest Kids U’ Know. Barbarian offers a fascinating take on the oft-unspoken claim men have long believed they have over women’s bodies. It does an excellent job at juxtaposing banal excuses for gendered violence with ghoulish, heinous ploys to strip women of their bodily autonomy (and their very humanity), exposing the malevolent nature of this deeply ingrained cultural misogyny. With the wounds still raw from the recent repeal of Roe v. Wade, Barbarian’s fixation on the omnipresent threat of rape in our society hits as hard as it (hopefully) ever could. Never relishing in the very brutality that it denounces, the film has its heart in the right place. It refuses to depict sexual violation on screen, cleverly illustrating the pervasiveness of this miserable reality without exploiting it for shallow shock value. Yet, even with the best of intentions, Barbarian will mercilessly run you through the wringer, letting these fucked-up facets of America absolutely ravage the screen—and your sanity—for 102 remarkably tense minutes.—Natalia Keogan


18. Green Room

green-room.jpg
Year: 2015
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

What’s perhaps most refreshing in Green Room is writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s lack of interest in the kind of moralizing that made his last film, Blue Ruin, ultimately seem conventional. Instead, Saulnier simply presents us this nutty scenario without feeling the need to lard it up with anything as cumbersome as topical commentary or moral ambiguity. He proceeds to wring as much tension and suspense from its pulpy retro plot as possible, adding a few entertaining grace notes along the way, which can best be seen in its performances. In the ensemble-based Green Room, Saulnier revels in the contrasts of personalities and styles: band bassist Pat’s (Anton Yelchin) Bill Paxton-like desperation, for instance, set alongside the weary, near-drugged-out deadpan of Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the woman whose murder sets off the film’s violent chain of events; or the imperial calm of Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the ruthless leader of the band of white supremacists who attempt to kill Pat, Amber and the rest. It’d be a stretch to call these characters three-dimensional, but nevertheless, under Saulnier’s writing and direction, they all manage to stand out just enough as individuals for us to become emotionally involved in their fates. Meanwhile, Saulnier supports these characters and plot turns with filmmaking that is remarkable for its economy and patience. D.P. Sean Porter gets a lot of mileage out of the cramped quarters and grimy lighting of the bar, lending its wide (2.35:1) frames an appropriately nightmarish feel amidst many suspenseful set pieces. In those ways, the lean, mean Green Room stands as one of the best B-movie genre exercises in many years. —Kenji Fujishima


19. The Curse of Frankenstein

curse-of-frankenstein-poster.jpg
Year: 1957
Director: Terence Fisher
Stars: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee
Rating: NR
Runtime: 83 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

The film that birthed the stylistic idea of “Hammer Horror” and brought back the greatest of the Universal Monsters to the mainstream: It’s Curse of Frankenstein. And it’s difficult to do justice to how important a moment this was for the future course of horror history, the effective launching point of a second Golden Age of serious monster movies. In the ’40s and ’50s, classical horror had been in decline, co-opted by comedies such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein or the burgeoning science fiction genre. It was Curse of Frankenstein and Hammer’s subsequent Dracula and Mummy follow-ups that convinced audiences the old monsters could once again be treated as the stuff of nightmares, and they did so by infusing the old black-and-white specters with opulence, cleavage and pulses of Technicolor blood that brought shock and titillation back to the genre. Unlike the Universal series, the Hammer Frankenstein films make no qualms about the identity of the true villain—it’s the Doctor himself, played with petulant verve by the great Peter Cushing. He morphs into something of an antihero throughout the sequels, but this imperious Frankenstein, who thinks he simply knows better than the foolish, close-minded villagers impeding his work, is the obvious spiritual forebear to Jeffrey Combs’ Herbert West in Re-Animator. Christopher Lee’s monster, on the other hand, is an afflicted creature without the soul or humanity of Karloff’s iconic creation. We fear him, and pity him, but this is Cushing’s time to shine and revel in his own crapulence. —Jim Vorel


20. Horror of Dracula

horror-of-dracula-poster.jpg
Year: 1958
Director: Terence Fisher
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gouch, Melissa Stribling
Rating: NR
Runtime: 82 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Horror of Dracula is either the second or third most iconic “classic vampire” film ever made, trailing only the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula and possibly the original Nosferatu. But really, if you were going to put together the ultimate, time-spanning Dracula film, you’d choose this version of the vampire, as played by the regal, intimidating Christopher Lee at the height of his powers. Horror of Dracula is simply a gorgeous movie, with lush, gothic settings—crypts, foggy graveyards and stately manors—photographed with the Golden Age charm of Technicolor. It has the best version of Van Helsing ever put to film (the aquiline, gaunt-looking Peter Cushing), some of the best sets and an omnipresent feeling of refinement and grandeur. Dracula, as played by Lee, is a creature of dualities—preferring to use very few words and simply influence through his magnetic presence, but also just moments away from leaping into action with ferocious animality. Along with Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula is the film most responsible for the late ’50s to early ’70s revival of classic gothic horror via Hammer Film Productions in the UK, which would produce dozens of takes on Frankenstein, The Mummy, and no fewer than eight Dracula sequels. The first, however, is unquestionably the best—so effective that it typecast Christopher Lee as a horror icon for decades, exactly as Dracula did to Bela Lugosi. —Jim Vorel


21. Predator

41-starz-predator-poster.jpg
Year: 1987
Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura
Genre: Action
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

A slasher film where battle-hardened soldiers replace the traditional nubile teens. Sounds like a recipe for a good time. And, indeed, Predator delivers on all fronts, from its cheesy approximation of “manly” dialogue (“I ain’t got time to bleed”) to the dated-yet-still-impressive special effects to the abundance of gory, creative violence. Subsequent installments in the sci-fi franchise have never truly captured the original’s meathead appeal. Besides, as any frequent viewer of VH1’s I Love the ‘80s can attest, the decade just wouldn’t have been the same without it.—Mark Rozeman


22. The Conjuring

conjuring.jpg
Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding me of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel


23. Ugetsu

Ugetsu285x400.jpg
Year: 1953
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Stars: Mitsuko Mito, Masayuki Mori, Eitaro Ozawa, Kinuyo Tanaka
Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

During an incredibly prolific point at the end of his career, Kenji Mizoguchi released Ugetsu between The Life of Oharu (1952) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), only three years before his death. Like in those two films, Mizoguchi set Ugetsu in feudal Japan, using the country’s civil war as a milieu through which he could explore the ways in which ordinary people are kept from seeing to their basest needs, ground instead to dirt by forces far beyond their control. So it goes with two couples: Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), a potter hoping to profit from wartime, and his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka); Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) and Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), who rightly indicts her husband’s dreams of being a well-decorated samurai as foolish, especially considering that Tobei shows no signs of physical mettle, let alone a brain with any sense of militaristic prowess. Ignoring both their wives’ grave concerns and the ecliptic tide of war, the two men set out to make one last big bid for fame and fortune, setting out only to find a country haunted, literally sometimes, by casualties. Ugetsu is a lushly elemental film, epitomized by Mizoguchi’s long takes and aloof mise-en-scene, highlighted the callousness of what he was trying to capture. Seamlessly shifting between ethereal setpieces—the iconic rendezvous between boats, set amidst a hellish waterscape of mist and portent is perhaps the crux around which the film unwinds—and grittier clusterfucks of mass pain in progress, Mizoguchi conjures up a sense of inevitability: No matter how much these characters learn about love or family or themselves, they are doomed. Misery unfolds supernaturally and pointlessly in Ugetsu—so much so that by the time anyone’s noticed that tragedy’s struck, it’s already well-burrowed into the bones of those at its mercy. —Dom Sinacola


24. The Lure

the-lure-2015-poster.jpg
Year: 2015
Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska
Stars: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska
Rating: NR
Runtime: 92 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

In Filmmaker Magazine, director Agnieszka Smoczynska called The Lure a “coming-of-age story” born of her past as the child of a nightclub owner: “I grew up breathing this atmosphere.” What she means to say, I’m guessing, is that The Lure is an even more restlessly plotted Boyhood if the Texan movie rebooted The Little Mermaid as a murderous synth-rock opera. (OK, maybe it’s nothing like Boyhood.)

Smoczynska’s film resurrects prototypical fairy tale romance and fantasy without any of the false notes associated with Hollywood’s “gritty” reboot culture. Poland, the 1980s and the development of its leading young women provide a multi-genre milieu in which the film’s cannibalistic mermaids can sing their sultry, often violently funny siren songs to their dark hearts’re content. While Ariel the mermaid Disney princess finds empathy with young girls who watch her struggle with feelings of longing and entrapment, The Lure’s flesh-hungry, viscous, scaly fish-people are a gross, haptic and ultimately effective metaphor for the maturation of this same audience. In the water, the pair are innocent to the ways of humans (adults), but on land develop slimes and odors unfamiliar to themselves and odd (yet strangely attractive) to their new companions. Reckoning with bodily change, especially when shoved into the sex industry like many immigrants to Poland during the collapse of that country’s communist regime in the late ’80s, the film combines the politics of the music of the time with the sexual politics of a girl becoming a woman (and the musicals that exploit the same). And though The Lure may bite off more human neck than it can chew, especially during its music-less plot wanderings, it’s just so wonderfully consistent in its oddball vision you won’t be able to help but be drawn in by its mesmerizing thrall. —Jacob Oller


25. Häxan

haxan-criterion-cover.jpg
Year: 1922
Director: Benjamin Christensen
Stars: Clara Pontoppidan, Maren Pedersen, Oscar Stribolt
Rating: NR
Runtime: 107 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

A truly unique silent film, Häxan is presented as both a historical documentary and a warning against hysteria, but to a modern audience it plays with a confounding blend of genuine horror and humor, both intentional and not. Director Christensen based his depictions of witch trials on the real-life horrors codified in the Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th century “hammer of witches” used by clergy and inquisitors to persecute women and people with mental illness. The dreamlike—make that nightmarish—dramatization of these torture sequences were almost unthinkably extreme for the time, leading to the film’s banning in the U.S. But put simply: There’s iconography in Häxan that grabs hold of you. Puffy-cheeked devils with long tongues lolling lazily out of their mouths. Naked men and women crawling and cavorting in circles of demons, lining up to literally kiss demonic asses. Scenes of torture straight out of Albrecht Dürer woodcuts or Divine Comedy illustrations. The grainy silence of black and white only makes Häxan more otherworldly to watch today—it feels like some kind of bleak Satanic relic that humankind was never supposed to witness. This is one silent film you won’t want on with children in the room.

Häxan is also an oddball testament to one of the enduring qualities of human nature, which is our tendency to be snarky assholes in our appraisal of previous generations. Christensen’s film often points a finger at the “superstitious” and “religious fanatic” persons of 1922 with a modern sense of cynicism and superiority in its implication that society had long since grown past such things. Obviously, almost 100 years later, we know this is not the case: We’re still deeply informed by the dusty trappings of religion and supernatural superstition, just as Christensen’s contemporaries were. Watching Häxan, then, becomes a different kind of warning: to not think too highly of our own sophistication, or make the assumption that we have in some way evolved from what we once were. People, as it turns out, have always been this way, and may always be. —Jim Vorel


26. Vampyr

vampyr-poster.jpg
Year: 1932
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Stars: Julian West, Maurice Schultz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Henriette Gerard
Rating: NR
Runtime: 73 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

While wandering the countryside, a naïve young man with a propensity for the occult stumbles upon a castle where he learns that the owner’s teenage daughter is slowly descending into vampirism. Upon seeing the village doctor trying to poison the girl, the boy intervenes and complications, naturally, ensue. Notable as being one of the few early vampire movies not even passingly based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Vampyr nonetheless brought very little joy to its creator, legendary Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer (he of The Passion of Joan of Arc). Forced to shoot the production in three different languages (French, German and English), Dreyer’s first sound film experience was a proverbial trial by fire. To add salt to the infuriating production, the film was released only after some fairly heavy censoring. The reception was no less brutal, with critics delivering scathing reviews. As the years have passed by and an appreciation for Dreyer has grown, however, so has an appreciation for the film, with many modern critics citing its subversive take on sexuality to be years ahead of its time. Shot with the delicacy and elegance of a dream, Dreyer quickly plunges the viewer into an expressionistic hellscape of shadows and dread. Though it may be a bit slow for some audiences, even with a sparse 73-minute runtime, Vampyr is a intense mood piece that picked up where Nosferatu left off. —Mark Rozeman


27. Hausu

hausu-poster.jpg
Year: 1977
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Stars: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka
Rating: NR
Runtime: 88 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Oh, how to describe Hausu? Anyone who has seen this crazed Japanese mishmash of horror, comedy and fantasy knows this is no easy task—it’s simultaneously as simple as saying “It’s about some girls who go to a haunted house,” and much more complicated. Hausu has often been described as being “like Jaws, but with a house,” but the comparison isn’t exactly accurate—where Spielberg’s film is classic adventure, Obayashi’s is like a bad acid trip, sporting trippy, day-glo color schemes and mind-bending visuals. Animated cats, disembodied flying heads and stop-motion monsters are all par for the course as Hausu goes for the jugular, seemingly trying to overwhelm the viewer with an all-out assault on the senses. As a piece of modern camp spectacle it’s top tier, but it would be a shame to overlook the genuinely imaginative visual effects and how they would seem to presage the likes of Evil Dead 2 in the years to come. If there’s another film where a woman is eaten by a living, evil piano, I haven’t yet seen it. —Jim Vorel


28. Insidious

insidious-poster-inset.jpg
Year: 2010
Director: James Wan
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 103 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

A couple years before he essentially perfected the modern, big-budget haunted house movie via The Conjuring, Insidious was the film where James Wan proved once and for all that his genre success in the original Saw was no fluke. It’s a film that benefits from an audience’s low expectations for its complexity—the viewer goes in assuming that they’re seeing the same basic haunting/possession/poltergeist-type story they’ve seen before, and Wan then dazzles them with a mythos that is considerably more detailed (and batshit) than what they expected to receive. So too does the film benefit from a few key performances, whether that’s Patrick Wilson as the anxious father (and secret font of psychic energy) searching for his son, or the utterly essential Lin Shaye as the knowledgeable demonologist who is the family’s only hope. The near-starring role of Shaye really is something worth acknowledging, as the presence of older women as stars/protagonists in the horror genre is close to nonexistent—the Insidious series managed the odd task of taking a character who was in the supporting role of Zelda Rubinstein in Poltergeist and somehow turning her into the legitimate hero of the franchise. Today, the film still holds up well enough, undone a bit by its sequels’ insistence on constant canonical retconning, but featuring jump scares (especially that red-faced demon) that are as effective as anything in their era. —Jim Vorel


29. The Craft

the craft poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 1996
Director: Andrew Fleming
Stars: Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 101 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

The Craft is one of those touchstones of ‘90s, teen-friendly horror (see: I Know What You Did Last Summer) that has blossomed into the ranks of “cult films” in recent years, whether or not it really deserves the nostalgia. You can at least admire its deft evolution of John Hughes-era high school movie tropes, presenting an almost Mean Girls clique of girls with the added fun of witchcraft, although the inspiration might be more accurately attributed to the likes of Heathers. This film came along during that brief, odd period of the ‘90s when “starring Fairuza Balk” was not an altogether weird thing to see on a movie poster, and it’s a better, quirkier film for it. We all know where the story is going, once these gals start dabbling in witchcraft for the causes of popularity and petty revenge—nobody gets away with being this bitchy in fiction. It’s hammy, and melodramatic, and protagonist Robin Tunney is easily the least interesting of her own clique, and yet The Craft is still oddly watchable today. It’s a well-preserved time capsule of a very specific moment in the twilight of the MTV Generation. —Jim Vorel


30. Scanners

scanners.jpg
Year: 1981
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Michael Ironside, Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Lawrence Dane
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Everything to love about David Cronenberg rests squishy and bulging in Scanners—but this is before The Fly, before VIdeodrome, before Dead Ringers, and long before Naked Lunch—and so everything we love about Cronenberg is in Scanners, squishy and bulging and also with the slight gleam of nascent dew. To be sure, the body horror is egregious, and its tension visceral, but the bonus of Scanners is that, still so early in his career, Cronenberg had an obviously dubious time trying to figure out what kind of films he wanted to make. Sci-fi thriller, old-timey cyberpunk, grody procedural—Cronenberg litters his typical themes of transformation and transmutation throughout a story that, at practically any moment, feels like it could turn completely on its head. A head which would then, in a firework of brains and bone, explode—nothing if a gratuitous sign of genius things to come.—Dom Sinacola


31. American Psycho

13. american psycho (Custom).jpg
Year: 2000
Director: Mary Harron
Stars: Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Justin Theroux, Willem Dafoe, Chloë Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon
Runtime: 96 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

There’s something wrong with Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)—really wrong. Although he writhes within a Christopher Nolan-esque what-is-a-dream conundrum, Bateman is just all-around evil, blatantly expressing just how insane he is, unfortunately to uncaring or uncomprehending ears, because the world he lives in is just as wrong, if not moreso. Plus the drug-addled banker has a tendency to get creative with his kill weapons. (Nail gun, anyone?) Like anybody needed another reason to hate rich, white-collar Manhattanites: Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ is a scintillating portrait of corporate soullessness and disdainful affluence.—Darren Orf


32. Little Shop of Horrors

little-shop-horrors-poster.jpg
Year: 1986
Director: Frank Oz
Stars: Rick Moranis, Ellen Green, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, James Belushi, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 94 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Rick Moranis shines as nerdy, milquetoast florist Seymour Krelborn, whose Venus Flytrap-esque plant Audrey II requires human blood to survive. The audience sees Krelborn juggle success with his own plant’s insatiable appetite, and we get some big laughs along the way with help from Steve Martin, Bill Murray and The Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs as Audrey II, complete with an array of bombastic musical numbers. Although the idea of a killer plant and some questionable language might raise a few eyebrows, the film’s light-hearted attitude and fantastic musical moments make Little Shop of Horrors a great selection for horror-seeking young people. Compared with the 1960 original from Roger Corman, it’s a far more slick and humor-laden presentation of the same story. —Tyler Kane


33. Doctor Sleep

doctor-sleep-poster.jpg
Year: 2019
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis
Rating: R
Runtime: 152 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

That Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining, adapted from King’s own novel, is almost its undoing. Every beat or reference that hearkens back to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece has either no narrative purpose or needlessly re-contextualizes a work of art. Do we really need an on-the-nose monologue handholding the audience through Jack Torrence’s motivations behind being an alcoholic? Did we really need to know that the ghosts in The Overlook had the power to cross into the land of the living because then-five-year-old Danny Torrence’s super telekinetic shining midichlorians were so off the roof that the evil spirits fed off of his spiritual essence, referred to as “steam” without a hint of self-aware humor? “Redrum,” the blood torrent from the elevator and various other references are only that; a supporting character’s office is designed to look exactly like the office from the beginning of the original for no discernible reason. A “famous” ghost from The Shining is not only referenced in dialogue, but later shown delivering his catchphrase —just in case you forgot. When it lays its own path is when Doctor Sleep, well, shines. That is, at least as a schlocktacular bit of horror/adventure goofiness about the adult Danny Torrence (Ewan McGregor) and a teen (Kyleigh Curran) with even more extra supreme shining powers battling a coven of child murderers who stay immortal by ingesting children’s “steam.” As seen in The Haunting of Hill House, writer/director Mike Flanagan knows how to blend spectacle with in-depth character detail, and Rebecca Furguson has a blast imitating an old school Disney villain as the leader of the “steam” addicts. As a Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep is embarrassing. If approached as a standalone batshit crazy Stephen King epic, you can do a whole lot worse. —Oktay Ege Kozak


34. Last Night in Soho

last-night-in-soho-poster.jpg
Year: 2021
Director: Edgar Wright
Stars:Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp
Rating: R
Runtime: 116 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Ever since his career took off two decades ago, Edgar Wright has remained one of the only directors to completely master the art of making movies fun. Indeed, each of his feature films deliver pure, uproarious enjoyment. And in his newest film, Last Night in Soho, he leans into the magnetic quality that reminds us that this is an Edgar Wright film. From the laugh-out-loud zombie hijinks in Shaun of the Dead that makes it impossible to look away, to the flashy videogame effects that make Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a stimulating, immersive experience, Last Night in Soho combines all the components that make his previous films click to create a uniquely engrossing viewing experience. Last Night in Soho follows Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), who moves to 2010s London from the English countryside to study fashion. While there, she begins having vivid nighttime visions that transport her back to her neighborhood in the 1960s. Eloise appears in her visions as Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a glamorous aspiring singer who lived in the same apartment as Eloise in the ‘60s. But what starts as a flashy ode to the dazzling nightlife of old Soho quickly spirals into a riveting, pulse-raising murder-mystery. While all of his films have a distinct visual style—rapid editing, whip-pans, and dolly zooms—Last Night in Soho does something a little different, and pulls from the Italian giallo horror subgenre’s extreme, bright colors and theatrical sets, which gives the films a dreamlike quality. Wright pays homage to the king of giallo himself, Dario Argento, borrowing bold visual elements from his films like Deep Red and Suspiria (the use of knives as mirrors, a fixation on the color red). But he isn’t interested in only riffing on one genre: He also pays tribute to noirs, notably Roman Polanski’s psycho-thriller Repulsion, which also follows a woman who experiences frightening hallucinations rooted in a fear of men. Given the connection Wright makes both with older films and with his audience, when things get scary for Eloise and her dreams start to turn into blood-soaked nightmares, the moments of horror are that much more effective. Wright makes sure that even when we’re watching people get hacked to death, or faceless men chase our protagonist, we’re having fun while doing it. One notable sequence, for example, sees Eloise racing through the streets of London trying to dodge the zombies chasing her—with ‘60s pop music blaring in the background, because why not? Last Night in Soho culminates as a chic and dynamic expression of Edgar Wright at the height of his powers. Even in the moments of the film that don’t quite work, it’s impossible to forget who the filmmaker is, through his signature humor, seductive framing and camerawork, and agile editing. That singularity makes for an experience I don’t think anyone is immune to. —Aurora Amidon


35. The Faculty

the faculty poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 1998
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett, Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Robert Patrick, Usher Raymond
Rating: R
Runtime: 104 minutes

Watch on HBO

It’s sort of easy to forget that The Faculty is a Robert Rodriguez movie, given its more conventional setting—more John Hughes than the pulpy backdrops that usually accompany Rodriguez films. But if you actually go back and rewatch the movie today, wow is it a colorfully cheesy spectacle. The cast is a bunch of guilty pleasures—young Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett as dopey high school students, Jon Stewart as a nerdy science teacher, Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek and T-1000 Robert Patrick as aliens masquerading as teachers, it’s just absurd from top to bottom. It combines elements of both effective sci-fi horror films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thing with the sexualization of bargain bin trash such as Species, while simultaneously capturing the mid-’90s teen movie aesthetic of Can’t Hardly Wait or I Know What You Did Last Summer. Rodriguez just dumps it all into the blender and hits puree. —Jim Vorel


36. Carnival of Souls

carnival of souls poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Stars: Candace Hilligoss, Herk Harvey
Rating: PG
Runtime: 80 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Carnival of Souls is a film in the vein of Night of the Hunter: artistically ambitious, from a first-time director, but largely overlooked in its initial release until its rediscovery years later. Granted, it’s not the masterpiece of Night of the Hunter, but it’s a chilling, effective, impressive tale of ghouls, guilt and restless spirits. The story follows a woman (Candace Hilligoss) on the run from her past who is haunted by visions of a pale-faced man, beautifully shot (and played) by director Herk Harvey. As she seemingly begins to fade in and out of existence, the nature of her reality itself is questioned. Carnival of Souls is vintage psychological horror on a miniscule budget, and has since been cited as an influence in the fever dream visions of directors such as David Lynch. To me, it’s always felt something like a movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Rod Serling would no doubt have been a fan. —Jim Vorel


37. Malignant

malignant-poster.jpg
Year: 2021
Director: James Wan
Stars: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Before anything else, horror director James Wan is a master of depicting possession. Of course, we see this in the prolific Conjuring series, where countless bodies are puppeteered by evil spirits. We also bear witness to it in the Saw franchise, where the sadistic influence of Jigsaw possesses his victims to mutilate themselves or others. The entirety of Wan’s career has pondered what it is exactly about the idea of possession that shakes us to our very cores. Decades after his cinematic debut, Malignant, or, more specifically, the film’s final moments, finally answers that question. Malignant follows Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis), a young woman who, after being attacked by her abusive husband, becomes regularly consumed by visions of a hooded figure committing grisly murders. It isn’t long before Madison discovers that these aren’t just visions—they’re happening in real life. For much of Malignant, Wan relies on campy acting and jump scares to keep the solid, if not edging on unimaginative, story happily trodding along, and its viewers with it. He confidently holds back on revealing the film’s true genius until the final act, at which point it unexpectedly mutates into a masterclass of mind-bending, absurdist psychological horror. —Aurora Amidon


38. Gremlins

gremlins.jpg
Year: 1984
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, Dick Miller
Rating: PG
Runtime: 106 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

In the same vein as Die Hard, Joe Dante’s Gremlins is a yearly Christmastime argument waiting to happen: Both are annually tossed onto “best Christmas movie” lists, but when it comes to the latter, at least, those debates often overlook the dark comedy of an expertly crafted ‘80s horror film from Dante at the height of his powers. Taking the lessons he learned as a ‘70s Roger Corman protege, Dante borrows character actors like Dick Miller to create a cynical, biting rebuke of maudlin sentimentality and children’s entertainment. The film’s surprising counterpoint between comedy and graphic violence was a source of consternation that led directly to it being in the early class of genre films that led to the PG-13 rating, but its more important impact was shaping the aesthetic of nearly every horror comedy to come. —Jim Vorel


39. Cronos

cronos-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1993
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Even working with a small budget in his first feature film, the vitality of Guillermo Del Toro’s imagination was immediately on full display in Cronos, his Mexican vampire horror drama. Reflecting themes and visual elements that the director has continued to refine in The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak, Cronos is a simply told but visually striking story about an antique shop owner who is slowly and unwittingly transformed into a vampire-like creature after a 450-year-old mechanical device clamps onto his arm and refuses to let go. At first he enjoys the new vitality of the transformation, before other parties come hunting for the device, turning the movie into almost a vampire crime story, as it were. Regardless, Cronos features a very sympathetic vampire at its core, an old man who is simply thrilled by what at first appears to be a new lease on life but eventually requires deadly sacrifices. It’s certainly not Del Toro’s most spellbinding feature, but it was an excellent debut. —Jim Vorel


40. It

it-2017-poster.jpg
Year: 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Stars: Jaeden Martell, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer
Rating: R
Runtime: 135 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Whereas the relative disappoint of 2019’s It: Chapter 2 was somewhat expected, given that most readers and horror geeks have always been far more fond of the front half of Stephen King’s novel than the second part of the story starring the Loser’s Club as adults, the sheer, exhilarating success of the first half of Andy Muschietti’s retelling of the story still took the world by surprise. This was the big-budget, beautifully cast and genuinely disturbing take on It that some had thought impossible, driven by a fantastically alien performance by Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, a “dancing clown” that is hiding a much more unknowable, exotic form of evil than the jokester played by the equally great Tim Curry in the 1990 TV adaptation. Perhaps it’s the strength of King’s elemental story, but everything in this first It film just works, from the camaraderie of the Loser’s Club to their satisfyingly visceral final confrontation with Pennywise—and the film looks great throughout. Sadly, it wouldn’t be able to maintain that momentum in the more staid second half of the story, but it does little to diminish the effectively spooky vibe cast by the 2017 film. Perhaps it’s best to simply treat it as a stand-alone story. —Jim Vorel


41. The Hitcher

hitcher-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1986
Director: Robert Harmon
Stars: C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rutger Hauer
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

Watch on HBO

In horror films, there’s something alluring to a relentless and unstoppable killer whose motivation is only to destroy innocent life with nihilistic, almost supernatural fervor. Part of the reason the original Halloween is still so frightening lies in its chillingly effortless ability to present Michael Myers as a figure of death itself: no reason, no rhyme, he won’t stop until you stop breathing. The original The Hitcher operates on many of the same levels, as the simplicity of its premise about a couple (C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who takes on a dual role, as the top and bottom halves of her body) hounded by a murderous maniac hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer) takes full advantage of the unresolved mystery surrounding the killer’s motivations. (Transform the truck from Duel into Rutger Hauer, and you get The Hitcher.) Director Robert Harmon’s film casts an appropriately icky, low-grade aura, perfectly fitting the killer’s philosophical point-of-view, an aesthetic approach that eludes the makers of the ill-fated 2007 remake, which looks too glossy to work on a visceral level. Also, with all due respect to Sean Bean, he’s no Rutger Hauer. —Oktay Ege Kozak


42. The Brood

the-brood-poster.jpg
Year: 1979
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Even by the standards of David Cronenberg, The Brood is a particularly nasty piece of work. This is a meanspirited and misanthropic yarn that blends body horror and science fiction into a new-aged parable of revenge and repressed rage, erupting forth whether we want it to or not. The titular “brood” are a deformed band of what look like dwarf-like children, created not by mad science but new-age psychobabble—a woman turns her latent anger, fear and mental illness into a physical product, which becomes a series of small, psychically linked killer dwarves who are sent out to destroy those who caused her grief. Totally absurd? Oh, 100% accurate, but also just as deeply off putting as you’d expect the work of Cronenberg to be in so many cases. It’s a messed-up metaphor on the destructive power of pent-up bitterness, inspired by Cronenberg’s own rancorous divorce. —Jim Vorel


43. The Ruins

the-ruins-poster.jpg
Year: 2008
Director: Carter Smith
Stars: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey, Shawn Ashmore, Joe Anderson
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

The Ruins is a swift and vibrant tale that’s been impressively concocted from recycled material. It’s a collage of pasted pieces, but it proves once again that the flow of a dance is not always in its originality but in its grace. The plot follows four beautiful Americans—two guys and two girls—vacationing in Mexico when they decide to take a trip off the map to see a rumored archaeological dig. Blah, blah, blah. The film doesn’t waste much time explaining the unnecessary lore, but it carefully lays out the important details—the maps, the jeep, the personalities, the locations. After some efficient setup, things quickly get creepy, then gross, then both creepy and gross. Director Carter Smith alternately reconfigures his elements—torches, pulleys, out-of-control plants and backwoods emergency surgery—for a series of increasingly gruesome, weirdly creative set pieces. It’s the kind of film that Sam Raimi might have directed 20 years ago, except that Carter plays it straight, even though he seems to assume the audience won’t, offering them ample opportunities to shriek and hoot at the wounded heroes. (Screenwriter Scott B. Smith wrote Raimi’s film A Simple Plan, and cinematographer Darius Khondji has shot films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Michael Haneke and Wong Kar-Wai. This helps.) Just when The Ruins begins to feel too inert, too tied to its little mound, too hemmed in by an intractable problem, it leaps free of its bounds. —Robert Davis


44. The Conjuring 2

conjuring-2-poster.jpg
Year: 2016
Director: James Wan
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente
Rating: R
Runtime: 134 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

The film is a blast as a funhouse-style genre exercise, but there’s very little holding it all together. If The Conjuring offended some with its historical revisionism, at least that film had cohesion. The Conjuring 2, meanwhile, plays with themes that never wind up being fully developed. Once the Warrens come to the Hodgsons’ aid, Ed explains that wicked spirits have a particular affinity for negative energy, and tend to manifest when bad things happen to people in their lives. “They like to kick us when we’re down,” he tells Peggy, and the Hodgsons are indeed down by anyone’s definition. Their home is deteriorated: The walls are peeling, the woodwork is cracked, and the cupboards are bare of biscuits. But matters of economy and class are window dressing. The film’s core is Janet’s overwhelming sense of loneliness. As the primary target of her family’s supernatural tormentor, she has become totally isolated from her friends at school. We don’t really see that, though. We just hear about it. The film’s script, penned by returning twin sibling screenwriting duo Chad and Carey Hayes, plus Wan, plus David Leslie Johnson, puts more emphasis on Lorraine’s premonitions of Ed’s death in an instance of just-too-muchery. —Andy Crump


45. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

were-all-going-to-the-worlds-fair-poster.jpg
Year: 2022
Director: Jane Schoenbrun
Stars: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers
Rating: NR
Runtime: 86 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair isn’t straightforwardly a “horror” movie—even if the title reads like an invocation chanted by hypnotized cultists doomed to whatever fate awaits them at the fairgrounds. That, of course, is more or less exactly what it is, as evinced in the opening sequence, where young Casey (Anna Cobb) recites the phrase three times while staring wide-eyed at her computer monitor. Innocent enough, if firmly eerie. Then she pricks her finger with a button’s pin about two dozen times in rapid succession and streaks her blood on the screen (though just out of the audience’s line of sight) to conclude the ritual. All that’s left is to wait and see how joining in this online “game” changes her, as if undergoing a Cronenbergian rite of passage. What writer/director Jane Schoenbrun wants viewers to wonder is whether those changes are in earnest, and whether changes documented by other participants in the “World’s Fair challenge” are legit or staged. They’re unreliable narrators. To an extent, so is Casey—insomuch as teens stepping into the world solo for the first time can be relied on for anything resembling objectivity. There’s also the question of exactly where Casey draws the line between truth and macabre make-believe, and of course whether that belief is made up. Maybe there really is a ghost in the machine. Or maybe a life predominantly lived in a virtual space—because physical space is dominated by isolation and bad paternal relationships—naturally inclines people toward delusion at worst and an unerring sensation of disembodiment at best. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair concludes with ambiguity and atmospheric loss, as if we’re meant to consider leaving childhood behind as a form of tragedy. Spoken in Schoenbrun’s language, that process is painful, transformative and—first and foremost—an internal experience regardless of the movie’s stripped-down visual pleasures. Outside forces influence Casey, but Casey ultimately controls the direction those forces take her. In a way, that’s empowering. But Schoenbrun belies the collective dynamic implied in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’s title with Casey’s lonesome reality.—Andy Crump


46. My Bloody Valentine

my-bloody-valentine-1981-poster.jpg
Year: 1981
Director: George Mihalka
Stars: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Don Francks, Cynthia Dale, Alf Humphreys, Keith Knight, Patricia Hamilton
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Practically every holiday of note got their own quasi-slasher film in the wake of Friday the 13th, but it’s the Valentine’s Day entry that stole our hearts. This film is the archetype for just about every early ’80s slasher from top to bottom: “Anniversary of the day it all happened” setting, wronged antagonist returning decades later, masked killer, horny teens, and red herrings aplenty. It was infamous at the time for its gore, but audiences never knew the half of it in 1981—if you watch this film today, it’s imperative that you obtain the 2009 uncut version (not the 2009 remake), which adds back in a ton of footage from the gory death scenes, especially the bit in the showers when one particularly unfortunate girl gets her head impaled by a spout, which then gets turned on. Suffice to say, it’s not pretty. Beyond the gore, there’s something inherently likable about My Bloody Valentine’s particular brand of familiarity—it feels like the cinematic equivalent of a letter in the mail from an old friend. This is basically slasher comfort food—the good kind. —Jim Vorel


47. Mimic

mimic poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 1997
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Josh Brolin, Giancarlo Giannini, Alexander Goodwin, F. Murray Abraham, Charles S. Dutton
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

It’s so very tempting to want to write a revisionist history of a film such as Mimic, 20 years after it was initially released to mixed and negative reviews. Just about any film from Guillermo del Toro, after the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water, will attract a few impassioned defenses as a “lost classic” if you look hard enough—even this one, about giant, mutated cockroaches in the New York sewers who have evolved to blend in among humans. The truth is, though, that Mimic does not represent a fully formed del Toro as the auteur we know him today—the film contains some of his stylistic flourishes and fascination with the macabre, but he was by no means given free rein to create the derelict insect society that no doubt haunted his dreams. Mimic is a studio potboiler, and a decent little thriller, with a better than average cast who are let down by a script that feels like its first priority is appeasing the multiplex crowd, wrapping itself up in a neat little package in the process. If you let del Toro produce the same film today, it would surely have ended up as something far more esoteric, and ultimately more memorable. —Jim Vorel


48. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

gremlins-2-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1990
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zack Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Robert Prosky
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 107 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Joe Dante didn’t want to make a sequel to Gremlins. The first film exhausted him and was wrapped up so nicely, he didn’t see a need to carry the story forward. The studio, however, refused to give up and, out of desperation, gave him complete creative control. They sure got what they paid for, as the cult classic sequel throws absolutely everything at the viewer with zero interest in whether it will stick or not. It’s a slapstick comedy wrapped up in cartoonish violence and some sharp-edged satire about corporations and capitalism. Oh, and there’s a cameo by Hulk Hogan to boot. —Robert Ham


49. The Field Guide to Evil

field-guide-to-evil-poster.jpg
Year: 2018
Directors: Ashim Ahluwalia, Can Evrenol, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franza, Katrin Gebbe, Calvin Reeder, Agnieszka Smoczynska, Peter Strickland, Yannia Veslemes
Stars: Birgit Minichmayr, Claude Duhamel, Jilon VanOver, Fatma Mohamed, Niharika Singh
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Most horror anthologies benefit from having some kind of unifying theme tying their stories together, and The Field Guide to Evil can boast an attractive central conceit: It’s a set of eight tales that are all grafted together from folklore and the campfire warnings of eras past, in locations all around the globe. It makes for a haltingly effective assembly of pastoral folk nightmares, unfortunately undone to some extent by its inconsistency. Still, there are properly unnerving sights here, as well as some beautifully cinematic ones. In Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s “The Sinful Women of Höllfall,” the Austrian countryside is itself a star, as the dark and morose short (which really describes this anthology as a whole) features some incredible forested scenes, benefiting greatly from some superb location scouting in the telling of its tale of a conservative society punishing aberrant attractions among the local youth. So too is Can Evrenol’s minimalist “Al Karisi” segment likely to stick in one’s mind, as a young woman fears her newborn child will be abducted by a Turkish childbirth demon. Shockingly brutal in spurts, in violence both overt and implied, the dread induced by “Al Karisi” feels very much like the product of the same mind that gave us Baskin. —Jim Vorel


50. The Blob

the-blob-1958-poster.jpg
Year: 1956
Director: Irvin Yeaworth
Stars: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howland
Rating: NR
Runtime: 86 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Alternatingly described as either a parable on creeping Communism or simply a good excuse for some necking at the drive-in, 1958’s The Blob fits neatly regardless into the era of atomic monster creature features that began roughly with 1954’s Them!. It has elements of the “us vs. them” counterculture films to come, with its “teen” characters (Steve McQueen was 27 at the time) being the immediate suspects of civil unrest according to local law enforcement, rather than the gelatinous alien blob slithering around town. It was made for a pittance of a budget, but the special effects hold up surprisingly well even today, especially in the iconic sequence in which The Blob attacks a “Midnight Spook Show” theater full of the target demographic. Still, in the years that followed, the film was likely best remembered for spawning Burt Bacharach’s novelty hit “Beware the Blob,” until Chuck Russell’s slick 1988 remake infused it with a whole new level of gross-out gory violence. Both films capture the same justified teenage fear of authority; the choice is only a matter of how viscerally you want to watch someone’s face get dissolved. —Jim Vorel

More from hbo max