People love horror movies. As much as they fail to accept it when a discussion about cinema’s horrific impact comes up, one can’t think about movies without the horror genre involved in some way. If cinema is like a stimulus, horror movies have to be the greatest catalyst to get a reaction out of a viewer. Are you looking for a good old-fashioned scare-fest while sitting on your couch? HBO Max can be your next big destination for horror movies.

The streaming service has a stacked-up catalog of horror movies from all possible eras. The following list mostly looks at those Horror Movies on HBO Max that, in some way, defined the genre.

1. Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Classic Horror Movies on HBO Max - Eyes Without a Face

The horrors of the French horror movie, Eyes Without a Face were not met with universal acclaim when it was first released. So much so that it got into controversies with the censor board – in spite of dumbing down considerably on the gore, letting go of an incredibly unhinged character found in the novel by Jean Redon, and shifting the dark tone into one that feels poetic to a fault.

However, for critics and audiences who followed through with the film’s subsequent release and re-release, the horrific tale of obsession and guilt felt like a double-edged sword. Following Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur), who decides to victimize young women so that he can remove their faces and graft them over his daughter Christiane’s (Édith Scob), Eyes Without a Face is an instant classic because it manages to unnerve and captivate without resorting to bloodshed.

Similar to Horror Movies on HBO Max – Eyes Without A Face [1960] Review

2. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Based on the 1960 novel of the same name, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is famously known as the movie that birthed the psycho-biddy genre. Playing with the idea of fame and success leading to paranoia and insanity, Robert Aldrich’s path-breaking horror movie starred Bette Davis & Joan Crawford, two renowned Hollywood actresses well know for their real-life rivalry as two sisters who are at odds with each other because their lives did a reversal and one become more famous than the other.

But it’s not just the real-world parallel that makes the film so intriguing but it’s how Aldrich blends the twisted nature of the human condition to really shows its more monstrous turns that are amped by jealousy and half-realized dreams. The fact that it ably blends horror, comedy, and darkly chilling turns makes for a fascinating watch. Even though the melodrama might feel a little over the top now, the campy inclinations make it all the more unforgettable.

3. Onibaba (1964)

Japanese horrors have had a long tradition of scaring the shit out of people. While the contemporary horror scene in the country has descended more into the jump-scare-heavy narratives, the old-school Japanese horror movies, especially the jidaigeki’s (period horror movies), fashioned the lure of sex, violence, and impulses to explore more deeply rooted social problems.

With Onibaba, director Kaneto Shindô follows two women who trap and kill samurais returning from the war in order to sell their belongings and make a living for themselves. While one of the women gets involved in a bought of passion with a neighbor, the other gets tangled in the web laid down by a mysterious and masked samurai whose returns threaten their business and their existence in general.

Onibaba can be broadly categorized as an erotic horror film, but its tangential imagery and ominous atmosphere make its social relevance much more powerful than its genre inclination usually offers.

Similar to Horror Movies on HBO Max – 10 Must-See Japanese Horror Films

4. Kwaidan (1964)

Classic Horror Movies on HBO Max - Kwaidan

Masaki Kobayashi’s 1964 anthology film ‘Kwaidan’ borrows its title from the Japanese word that translates to ‘ghost stories.’ Thereby serving us a platter of four folktales, each of which are different from one another, but are carefully woven into the same enchanting thread that often hypnotizes the viewer into believing the unbelievable. Using color to an unfathomable extent, director Kobayashi’s horror film is an artistic triumph.

While Kwaidan can’t really be put under the traditional horror movie cannon, it is a supernatural mystery that mystifies. The four stories, namely “The Black Hair,” “The Woman of the Snow,” “Hoichi the Earless,” and “In a Cup of Tea,” are all narrated by an unidentified narrator who seems to be the only omnipotent body; almost as if God or the Devil are telling these tales to you. I suppose the real horror of Kwaidan for me personally comes from the point that it says that beyond our own world – an afterlife, if you may, is as haunted as this one.

5. Wait Until Dark (1967)

Audrey Hepburn has been established as the bonafide charmer of 60s Hollywood. When we talk about her, we usually begin with the Breakfast at Tiffany’s and end with straightforward melodrama like My Fair Lady. However, very few people talk about the 1967 film ‘Wait Until Dark’ when we talk about Hepburn’s best performances. That doesn’t mean her turn isn’t of any value in the film. On the contrary, it is her role as a helpless young woman that makes Terence Young’s directorial even more effective.

To put it in a bracket, Wait Until Dark is essentially a home-invasion movie, maybe the first of the many that American cinema is still obsessed with. The story involves the recently blinded woman who is terrorized by a trio of thugs. The reason why the spin-chilling premise of the film works is because of Young’s exceptional plotting. He slowly establishes character arcs while guiding us into a tense narrative of survival. Making Wait Until Dark an essential horror-thriller.

Similar to Horror Movies on HBO Max – Wait Until Dark [1967] Review

6. The Exorcist (1973)

The year was 1973, and The Exorcist was finally released in theatres after tessellating in production hell for months. Director William Friedkin and his treatment of the crew would lead him to cancellation now, but back then, it also led to people calling the film ‘Cursed.’ That is to say that Friedkin’s constant denial of indulging with the studio by casting real priests for the parts, transforming the set to a zero-degree environment, or basically allowing the schedule to go beyond the specified dates transformed it into not just one of the greatest horror movies of all times, but also a pop-culture phenomenon that makes it unforgettable.

From a time when demonic possession was not a thing that was portrayed so vicariously on screen, The Exorcist follows the life of a movie star who moves to Washington, D.C., for a new film with her young daughter. Soon after, the daughter starts experiencing incidents that none of the doctors are able to explain. Someone suggests an exorcism, and the mother decides to take the route of faith, only to find themselves dealing with the devil. In 2022, the movie might not be as scary as it used to be, but its definite meditation on the struggle between good and evil makes for a terrifying watch, nonetheless.

7. Eraserhead (1977)

Classic Horror Movies on HBO Max - Eraserhead

Talking about going through production hell, American surrealist David Lynch had to wait years before his directorial debut could actually go out into the world. The reason was Lynch unable to get funding for such an obscure project up until Sissy Spacek decided to go out of her way to fund the production. Now a cult classic, Eraserhead was partly shot in David Lynch’s very own stable, where he and sound designer Alan Splet battled within themselves to produce the unique soundscape the film features so heavily.

Talking about the film itself, everyone – from film analysts to Lynch himself, have allowed it to grow into pop culture without giving it a concrete meaning. The film follows Henery Spencer, an industrial worker who happens to find himself in a literal nightmare when he is forced to take care of a deformed child. Using soundscape and an atmosphere of absolute dread, this non-traditional horror movie is all about sex and the threat that the burden of responsibility leaves upon us.


8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Classic Horror Movies on HBO Max - Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Not to be confused with the 1956 film of the same name, Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers – based on Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers follows a San Franciso health inspector named Elizabeth, who slowly unpacks the fact that fellow humans are secretly being replaced by alien duplicates who are the exact replica of their human self but are entirely devoid of any kind of emotional connect.

Shifting the setting in the original film, which was set in a small town to the city of San Francisco, Kaufman broadens the scope of the film itself. While the metaphors of group thinking being replaced by individual choices were light-weighted in the earlier version, this one crafts an expert alien invasion narrative and rigs it in a complex, political subtext, making the horror more pertinent and unnerving.

9. The Shining (1980)

Classic Horror Movies on HBO Max - The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining is considered to be such a masterpiece because of the lack of trust it instills in the viewer. With three primary characters we see throughout the narrative, the story, and the many bends of the Overlook Hotel, a lack of trust permeates through all of them. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is not just an unreliable narrator; he is also someone who doesn’t just stumble onto the secrets of the Hotel but is led towards it due to the madness that isolation brings to many of us.

Danny (Danny Lloyd) is not just psychic because of his trauma but due to his inability to really believe in what’s right and what’s wrong. And Wendy, who supposedly feels like the only sane one, cannot foresee beyond what Danny’s perception makes her see. The Shining is also terrifying because Kubrick leaves us with a vision of absolute chaos, which is often scarier than the ‘ghostly’ ones.

Similar to Greatest Horror Movies on HBO Max – All Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked from Great to Greatest

10. A Nightmare at Elm Street (1984)

Classic Horror Movies on HBO Max - A Nightmare at Elm Street

One of the first movies that spawned numerous sequels, giving birth to the term we now famously know as ‘movie franchise,’ the original A Nightmare on Elm Street still stands tall. One of the major reasons why this Wes Craven movie is such a classic is the way it uses its simple premise and the added bonus of sprinkling the supernatural over the slasher genre with incredible results.

Following a bunch of Midwestern teenagers who somehow get trapped in a cat-and-mouse game when a disfigured mangler (famously known as Freddy Krueger) starts haunting them in their dreams. The catch here is their dreams, and the repercussions of this game are seen in reality, where they are unable to really run away from him. This initiates Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her boyfriend Glen (played by Johnny Depp in his first film role) to solve the puzzling phenomenon of the killer doing the killing.

A Nightmare of Elm Street is instantly iconic for how it treads the slasher genre into fresher grounds and establishes a movie villain that still terrifies movie-watching audiences.

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