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Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He’s the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and the former TV comedies guide for About.com. He has written about movies and pop culture for Syfy Wire, Polygon, CBR, Film Racket, Uproxx and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year. Read more…
With its mix of recent releases, blockbuster franchises, and classic movies, HBO Max has a wide selection of films for any occasion, and that includes Halloween. Here are the best Halloween movies to watch on HBO Max.
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How scary can a reddish gelatinous mass really be? In The Blob, the answer is “not very scary,” but this 1958 monster movie is still fun to watch. Steve McQueen makes his feature-film debut as Steve Andrews, a teenager who spots a meteor crashing outside his small town.
Inside the meteor is the titular blob, which grows exponentially as it kills and absorbs various town residents. The special effects are charmingly dated, and there’s some unexpectedly sharp commentary in the scenes of the arrogant adults dismissing the teens’ blob-related concerns.
Idiosyncratic director Terry Gilliam created his most mainstream movie with The Brothers Grimm, starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as the legendary chroniclers of fairy tales. Gilliam’s movie reimagines the brothers as roving 19th-century con artists, who use their tales of the magical and mystical to swindle naïve peasants.
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So they’re unprepared when they come up against an actual supernatural threat. Gilliam brings his signature off-kilter whimsy to a rollicking, effects-driven action movie, with elements of the dark and twisted.
Abandoned by its studio and scorned by critics and audiences during its 2020 theatrical release, David Prior’s The Empty Man has built up a cult following in the short time since. Contrary to its title and marketing, this isn’t a derivative teen horror movie about an urban legend. There’s a story passed around about the titular boogeyman, investigated by the main character, a tortured ex-cop played by James Badge Dale. But it’s only a small part of this epic, strange movie that’s more concerned with the malleable nature of reality than with jolting viewers.
Cleverly combining the subgenres of the body-switching movie and the slasher movie, Freaky stars Vince Vaughn as a hulking serial killer who inadvertently switches bodies with a perky teenager played by Kathryn Newton. The actors get lots of comedic mileage out of playing each other’s characters, and director and co-writer Christopher Landon plays with the familiar elements of both subgenres to entertaining effect. It’s surprisingly sweet for a horror movie, while still packing in plenty of thrills.
Horror comedy Gremlins is part of the grand tradition of Christmas horror movies, but its story of mischievous critters wreaking havoc on an idyllic small town is perfect for Halloween, too. Director Joe Dante evokes old-fashioned monster movies in his depiction of the devious green creatures running amok in the fictional town of Kingston Falls. Gremlins mixes monster mayhem with sardonic humor, and it even captures a bit of the Christmas spirit, to send viewers from one holiday season into another.
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A precursor of sorts to supernatural sitcoms like Bewitched, René Clair’s effervescent romantic comedy I Married a Witch stars Veronica Lake as a witch who falls in love with the descendant of a family she cursed centuries earlier. Lake brings a goofy yet sensual presence to the witch Jennifer, and Fredric March is her perfect match as smitten politician Wallace Wooley. The movie is full of amusing magical misunderstandings on the main characters’ road to romantic bliss.
A low-budget Roger Corman movie became a stage musical that then became the movie musical Little Shop of Horrors. All of them are about a sentient plant named Audrey that hungers for human blood. Nerdy Seymour (Rick Moranis) tries to placate the plant while wooing his human co-worker, also named Audrey (Ellen Greene). The songs are catchy, the animatronic plant is a marvel, and the story is dark and grotesque while also strangely heartwarming.
Still one of the most popular costumes on Halloween, Freddy Krueger has never been more terrifying than he is in Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Before becoming a quippy pop-culture icon, Freddy (played by Robert Englund) began as a lurking presence in the dreams of teenagers in the placid small town of Springwood, Ohio.
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But when Freddy harms them in their dreams, they get hurt or even die in real life. Craven taps into primal fears for this horror classic, led by a fantastic performance from Heather Langenkamp as brave, determined teenager Nancy Thompson.
Dismissed by studio executives and denied a planned theatrical release, Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat still became a perennial Halloween favorite. Dougherty brings a nostalgic feel to the anthology-style movie featuring several intersecting horror stories set on Halloween in a small Ohio town.
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The movie has a dark sense of humor and focuses more on spooky atmosphere than on gory kills. Mischievous masked kid character Sam, who passes through all of the stories, has become a bit of a horror icon thanks to this movie’s cult following.
Both versions of The Witches are available to stream on HBO Max, so parents can scare their kids with two different takes on Roald Dahl’s classic novel. Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 version is superior, with a gloriously unsettling performance from Anjelica Huston as the hideous leader of a secret society of witches.
Robert Zemeckis’ 2020 take on the material, starring Anne Hathaway, relies more on CGI and wackiness, but both movies feature the disturbing, darkly funny story of a boy turned into a mouse as he attempts to stop the witches from eliminating every child in the world.
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