October is here, and so is the Halloween season. While Michael Myers makes his return to theaters in Halloween Kills and Edgar Wright makes his theatrical foray into the genre with his horror thriller Last Night in Soho, there are plenty of horror films streaming for those who prefer the comfort of staying at home. The freedom to take a bathroom break, especially when a scare can come any minute, is definitely a relief. And pausing a movie to turn on the lights when things get tense and suspenseful is another option to alleviate fears that a movie theater can’t offer for the more squeamish. Still, that doesn’t mean true fans of horror can’t enjoy a good horror flick at home. From a slasher picking off sorority sisters on a college campus one by one, to a horror rom-com that will both fulfill zombie fans wishes and warm anyone’s heart, to the return of everyone’s favorite fear-mongering alien clown terrorizing the town of Derry, Maine, HBO Max has a broad selection of spooky movies to watch this Halloween season.
Black Christmas (2019)
This 2019 film, about a group of young women at a college being hunted down and murdered by unknown assailants during the holiday season, is the second remake of the original 1974 slasher film (there was another one in 2006). While this remake adopts a similar premise, director and co-writer Sophia Takal sought to adapt Black Christmas’s feminist themes for a modern audience. This twist on the Black Christmas mythos is intentional, as the story takes on a more critical lens at the kind of toxic environments and toxic people that develop on college campuses and Greek life. For example, the film’s protagonist Riley Stone (Imogen Poots) is raped by the president of one of the college’s fraternities, but only her close friends believe her. The frat itself has a history of mistreating women, leading back to the university’s founder Caleb Hawthorne. While this history of misogyny is given a supernatural twist, Black Christmas speaks to the systemic issue of toxic patriarchy ingrained in the university system and life.
House of Wax (2005)
Another remake on the list, House of Wax (2005) takes on the same title as the 1953 slasher film. But apart from the title, the 2005 film departs drastically from the original story and characters. Like most horror movie remakes of the 2000s, House of Wax centers its story on a group of teenagers on a road trip who become stuck in the middle of nowhere. The target demographic of young adults is overtly obvious with the casting of CW stars Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, and Paris Hilton as some of the ill fated teenagers. The film includes a pair of creepy twin brothers Bo and Vincent Sinclair (Brian Van Holt) who’ve set up wax figures throughout an abandoned town and run the town’s wax museum. It advances the scares and horrific imagery of melting wax, especially with the advances of special effects since the original, but House of Wax is ideal for those who just want to see teenagers making stupid decisions in the middle of nowhere while being killed off one by one.
Corpse Bride (2005)
Tim Burton has always been synonymous with the Halloween spirit with films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, and Corpse Bride is just as essential. The stop motion animated musical enlists the talents of Burton’s veteran actors, Johnny Depp as Victor Van Dort and Helena Bonham Carter as the titular Corpse Bride, Emily. Victor, who is meant to marry Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), is whisked away to the land of the dead after he accidentally places his wedding ring on the finger of the Corpse Bride, and the rest of the film follows Victor’s attempts to reunite with his true love of Victoria. But Emily is the true protagonist of the film, rather than the villain, and her own story of tragedy and revenge — depicted in the song “Remains of the Day” — is just as alluring. With the animation’s grotesque imagery and Danny Elfman’s hauntingly beautiful score and music, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is a staple on any Halloween film list.
It: Chapter 2 (2019)
Following up 2017’s It, the first part of the most recent adaptation of the Stephen King novel, was no easy task. It was a viral sensation that not only coincided with society’s fascination with killer clowns, but the cast of children won over audiences with their quirks and charm. It: Chapter Two not only had to meet expectations as a sequel to the first film’s success, but the film also had to nail the cast of the child actors’ grown-up counterparts. Fortunately, director Andy Muschietti succeeded in finding actors who believably captured their characters’ younger selves, especially with talents such as James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader. Called back to the town of Derry by the suicide of their friend, the Losers Club, as adults, must finally bring an end to the creature from their past and free the town of its horrific hold. The child actors, including Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, and Finn Wolfhard, also make their return in flashback form, albeit with some uncanny de-aging special effects (it is funny just how fast child actors age within two to three years between films, especially as young teenagers). Of course, the appeal of It has always been the titular clown from outer space played by Bill Skarsgard, whose performance is both fun and eerily creepy at the same time.
Warm Bodies (2013)
At the height of pop culture’s zombie craze, this zombie rom-com gave audiences something different from the regular blood and guts action of the genre. With The Walking Dead on television and released in the same year as the Brad Pitt-led adaptation of the novel World War Z, Warm Bodies — based on the book series of the same name — is a charming, young adult take on a post-apocalyptic world overrun by the undead. What differentiates this story from other zombie flicks is that we get insight into one of the zombie’s inner thoughts (yes, some zombies still have thoughts, as opposed to the “Boneys” who’ve lost all sense of thought and humanity). R (Nicholas Hoult) is our zombie protagonist who narrates and explains what the world has become during the apocalypse, but everything changes when he encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer). Like the Grinch on Christmas, R’s heart begins to beat. For those who tend to shy away from the darker and more violent movies, Warm Bodies is lighter fare that puts its own twist on the zombie genre.
Children can be creepy, and Orphan definitely capitalizes on that inherent fear. Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) adopt a daughter from an orphanage. They choose Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who seems to be a charming and intelligent girl at first. But the more time Esther spends with her new family, the more Kate and John become suspicious of their new daughter. For instance, Esther kills a pigeon in front of some other children. Orphan delivers some truly eerie and haunting scenes, and Isabelle Fuhrman’s performance as Esther is at the center of the horror. Interestingly, Fuhrman will return to the role, as there is a follow-up film on the way. Orphan: First Kill, which has been described as a prequel, has already wrapped filming, and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.
The Invisible Man (2020)
When Universal Studios’ plans for a shared monsters universe fell apart after the lackluster performance of The Mummy (2017), writer-director Leigh Whannell took up the reigns to The Invisible Man with the help of Blumhouse Productions, whose low-budget horror films have been both critical and popular successes. Whannell adapts the Universal monster into the modern era, exploring a woman’s trauma of domestic abuse from a former partner (and his continued abuse as the titular Invisible Man). Elizabeth Moss delivers an exceptional performance as Cecilia, whose trauma and fears are dismissed by those closest to her — an experience of gaslighting that speaks to the real-life horrors that occur for many abuse victims who find themselves in toxic relationships. Whannell’s use of silence and negative space in the film accentuates the suspense, as we the viewers are placed in Cecilia’s shoes, not knowing where the Invisible Man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) can appear at any time. Out of all the films on this list, The Invisible Man benefits the most from an at-home viewing experience. From its settings of close quarters, hallways, and bedrooms, the film is truly a psychological horror that evokes a sense of paranoia and claustrophobia.
BONUS: Cats (2019)
This one is a bit unconventional to watch on Halloween, but if you’re looking to squirm in your seats out of sheer uncomfortability and are looking for some horrific and uncanny visuals, Cats (2019) does just that. From Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper, who was at the helm of the successful film adaptation of the musical The Miserables, Cats is truly the stuff of nightmares. Be prepared to see this star-studded cast — ranging from Dame Judy Dench and Sir Ian McKellen to Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, and Jason Derulo — act like they’re actual cats in CGI-constructed cat costumes. It’s a prime example of how some staged musicals just don’t need to be adapted into a film. Still, the music and singing are some of Cats’ saving graces. But there’s ultimately no saving this film from becoming one of the most horrific films to ever grace the silver screen.
It’s the OG ‘Sierra Burgess is a Loser’, you guys.
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