First, there is an unusually high degree of proper curation in the horror category as it appears on HBO Max. The service’s total reach may not be as broad as Netflix’s, but you’re more likely to have heard of these movies. Why?
Because these aren’t trendy straight-to-VOD zero-budget movies with weird, one-word titles like Desolation or Satanic, as you’ll find on Netflix, Hulu, or even Amazon Prime. Instead, nearly everything on this list has been widely distributed.
Classics of international cinema-like Japan’s Kwaidan, Onibaba, and House, coexist with weird early horror films like Haxan or Vampyr. Trollhunter or The Empty Man is indie jewels, whereas Friday the 13th is a series mainstay. The combination of Roger Corman’s schlock with Stanley Kubrick and Guillermo Del Toro’s outstanding works makes for a fascinating horror library indeed.
HBO Max’s horror library is perhaps the most concentrated on older “classics” rather than contemporary releases—which is OK because that section tends to be underrepresented on other primary streaming services.
28 Days Later
In 2002, 28 Days Later resurrected the zombie concept in a way that had never been seen before. No need to tell us; we’re all aware that the “infected” in this film aren’t technically zombies. The term “zombie” is constantly evolving and expanding. Instead of being dead, these “anger virus-infected” creatures are wreaking havoc on everything in their path. Romero’s ghouls have been updated to be more dangerous than ever because they can now run at full speed, making them even more hazardous than Romero’s ghouls.
No other film did for the zombie resurrection what 28 Days Later did for it, sans the humor: the early sequences of Jim (Cillian Murphy) trying to negotiate a deserted London in medical scrubs as fast-moving zombies pursue him can’t be overstated. It’s true that 28 days later is a severe horror picture, reviving the idea that these creatures are real and dangerous.
It’s an example of another 2000s trend: reimagining the fundamental conventions of zombie filmmaking to suit the needs of the film. Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, released two years after this film, has a lot of the DNA of this film, but it also incorporates the more classic Romero ghoul. The concept of a severe zombie film was born out of those two flicks.
Bad Milo! is a ridiculous, enjoyable B-horror comedy, the premise that Troma would have been pleased to make, but here it’s handled slightly (emphasis on “slightly”) more tastefully. It depicts the narrative of a stressed-out man named Duncan, both at home and work, and how his body responds oddly to cope. “
Milo,” as the title suggests, is a diminutive demon that resides in Duncan’s rectum, appearing to exact horrific revenge whenever his mental state deteriorates. You already know what to expect: Gillian Jacobs, Stephen Root, Peter Stormare, and Patrick Warburton are among the cast members who elevate this gross-out comedy above the norm.
Icky as can be, the puppet resembles a newborn from Dinosaurs with sharp fangs and a coat of Vaseline on its skin. This is the kind of movie where you should be able to tell before you even turn it on if it’s something you’re going to love or not.
Here Comes The Devil
This independent Mexican horror movie from a few years ago hasn’t been noticed quite enough yet. It deserves a broader audience because of its genuine shocks and hopeless tone of evil that corrupts innocent in everyday life.
Although it has a low-budget video aesthetic, which is distracting, and there is an almost absurd quantity of often unnecessary nudity, the plot is straightforward and compelling. It can be rather unsettling when it’s at its strongest.
When two pre-teen children are allowed to explore on the cursed ground while their parents are on vacation, the children come back… changed. There is a lot of sexual imagery that is not at all subtle, and Here Comes the Devil shows minimal regard for anyone’s idea of what may be considered inappropriate.
When things turn toward the supernatural, it leans into their perversion. It draws strength from it in sequences that approximate reality, but then it throws the spectator headfirst into a realm of insanity when things take a turn for the supernatural. This movie is disturbing on so many different levels; it’s fantastic.
This was before The Fly, before Videodrome, before Dead Ringers, and long before Naked Lunch, and so everything we love about David Cronenberg is in Scanners, squishy and bulging and also with the slight sparkle of nascent dew. This was before The Fly, before Videodrome, before Dead Ringers, and long before Naked Lunch.
The body’s horror is flagrant, and its tension is visceral. However, Scanners’s benefit is that still so early in his career, Cronenberg had a questionable time trying to find out what kind of films he wanted to produce. The scanner is a film that benefits from this. Cronenberg sprinkles his trademark themes of metamorphosis and transmutation throughout a plot that, at virtually any moment, feels like it may turn entirely on its head.
The genres of the story include a sci-fi thriller, an old-timey cyberpunk, and a grim procedural. A head that would then burst into a spectacular display of brains and bone would be nothing if not a gratuitous sign of genius to come in the future.
There’s something seriously amiss about Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman. No matter how much Christopher Nolan’s character struggles with the question of what is reality and what is fantasy, Bateman is just plain evil. He shows his insanity to those who don’t care or understand it, but that’s understandable given the world in which he exists is just as wrong as his own, if not worse.
In addition, the drug-addled banker has a penchant for inventing new ways to murder. A (nail gun, please?) To add insult to injury, Bret Easton Ellis’ adaptation of Mary Harron’s is a brilliant depiction of corporate soullessness and hatred for wealth.
You might be forgiven for thinking that The Faculty isn’t a Robert Rodriguez film, considering its more traditional setting, closer to a John Hughes film than the pulpy ones that are more typical of the director. On the other hand, if you go back and rewatch the movie today, you’ll see that it’s an outrageously campy production.
Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Jon Stewart, Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek, and T-1000 Robert Patrick are just some of the guilty delights in the cast, which is utterly ridiculous from beginning to end.
Everything goes into a blender and is pureed by Rodriguez. Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thing are both effective horror flicks. At the same time, the sexualization of bargain bin garbage such as Species captures the mid-’90s teen movie image of can Hardly Wait or I Know What You Did Last Summer is also present in the picture…
The Blair Witch Project
In contrast to Scream, the Blair Witch Project reimagined a genre by peeling back the curtains to uncover the inner workings of the horror genre, creating a new manner of presentation and promotion. Look no farther than The Last Broadcast, released just a year prior, to see that recovered footage movies were already famous.
Artisan Entertainment, which distributed the film, cleverly exploited the absence of information about the film to run a mystery internet advertising campaign in those early days of the Internet. As a result of the film’s grainy, home-movie look, the film’s audience was able to experience a terror of reality and “real people” that had never been experienced in the horror genre before.
A well-executed micro-budget independent film could also become a significant box office triumph, as demonstrated by this film. As a result, The Blair Witch Project simultaneously reimagined two distinct subgenres.
James Wan, who specializes in the direction of horror films, is a recognized expert in the portrayal of possession. We see this in the immensely successful Conjuring series, in which many evil spirits use a variety of bodies as puppets. The bad influence of Jigsaw causes his victims to mutilate either themselves or other people in the Saw franchise. Therefore we see this phenomenon portrayed there as well.
Wan has spent his entire career pondering what it is precisely about the concept of possession that causes us to be so profoundly unsettled. Decades after making his start in the film industry, the answer to that question is ultimately provided by Malignant, or more precisely, the concluding minutes of the film.
The story of Malignant centers on a young woman named Madison Lake, played by Annabelle Wallis. After being assaulted by her violent husband, Madison sees recurring visions of a masked monster committing gruesome murders.
It does not take Madison very long to realize that these are not merely visions but things taking place in the world around her. Throughout the most of Malignant, Wan leans heavily on cheesy acting and jump scares to keep the good, if not bordering on boring, tale happily trotting along and its viewers ahead for the ride.
He boldly holds back on exposing the picture’s true genius until the last act, at which point it unexpectedly mutates into a masterclass of mind-bending, absurdist psychological terror. He does this because he wants the audience to be as surprised as possible by the film.
Urban Legend is one of those late-’90’s horror flicks that popped out in the wake of Scream (and its sequels); thus, discussing it would be incomplete without bringing up Scream, as critics did.
However, despite the similarities to Scream 2 (1997), which also takes place on a college campus, Urban Legend is a tribute to the oral tradition of scary stories rather than a tribute to horror cinema.
There are some excellent horror geek cameos, including the obvious Robert Englund as a spooky professor teaching an urban legends class, Brad Dourif as a suspicious gas station attendant, or Halloween 4’s Danielle Harris as a promiscuous and gothic roommate.
Fun, funny deaths based on pop culture can also be found in urban legends, such as the notorious “Pop Rocks and drain cleaner” combination that killed one unfortunate soul. Overall, this is a fast-paced, always-entertaining picture with plenty of red herrings to keep you guessing until it comes to a satisfying ending that, while evident in retrospect, is a lot of fun to see.
In Cronos, his Mexican vampire horror drama debut feature, Guillermo Del Toro’s inventiveness shone through despite the film’s modest budget. Cronos tells the story of an antique shop owner who becomes a vampire-like creature after a 450-year-old mechanical device attaches itself to his arm and refuses to let go, drawing on themes and visual elements that the director has refined in previous films like The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak.
Although he’s an older adult, Cronos’ central character is pleased about his newfound immortality, which necessitates terrible sacrifices. A few days after his change, other parties begin to seek out and snatch up the device, making it appear as if the movie is a sort of vampire crime story. It’s hardly Del Toro’s best film, but it was a strong start for the director.