By George Bate
Spooky season is still a few months away, but that doesn’t mean your summer viewing has to be scare-free. Although HBO Max has some of the most known and acclaimed horror films available on its service, such as 28 Days Later, American Psycho, and The Blair Witch Project, the streaming service is also home to an array of overlooked frightening tales that deserve more attention. Let’s take a look at what overlooked horror gems are streaming now on HBO Max.
Antlers is a supernatural horror film from director Scott Cooper, known for helming Crazy Heart, Black Mass, and Hostiles. The film was originally scheduled to be released on April 17, 2020, but was delayed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several more delays meant Antlers flew under the radar, which is a shame because it’s a fantastic horror film. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, Antlers follows a school teacher (played by Keri Russell), who grows concerned about a disturbed student of hers, unaware of an evil presence that lives inside his house. Antlers is a meticulously crafted horror film. Both tonally and aesthetically dark and gritty, Cooper’s film is one of the best installments in the body horror genre for some time. Antlers also uses its more overt horror elements to delicately touch on themes related to drug addiction and child abuse. To top it all off, the creature effects are stunning.
The Dead Zone
David Cronenberg directed this 1983 horror/thriller based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. The film follows Christopher Walken’s character Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who awakens from a coma to discover he has psychic powers. While not as overtly scary as other films on this list, The Dead Zone plays into the occult excellently. There is a mundane, everyday quality to the supernatural elements that Cronenberg weaves into the film, and Christopher Walken plays such a genuine protagonist. Amidst the myriad of Stephen King adaptations and 80’s horror classics, The Dead Zone is often unfortunately forgotten.
The Empty Man
Another horror film that flew under the radar due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Empty Man is the most abstract film to feature on this list. Written and directed by David Prior in his directorial debut, the film follows an ex-cop (played by James Badge Dale), whose investigation into the disappearance of a missing girl puts him on a collision course with a mysterious cult. The Empty Man had an unfortunate journey to release. Filmed all the way back in August 2017, poor reception from test screenings meant that 20th Century Studios lost faith in the commercial appeal of the film. Coupled with the pandemic’s strain on the movie industry, The Empty Man eventually (and quietly) made its way into movie theaters on October 23, 2020, but only grossed $4.8 million. Despite initially negative reviews from critics, The Empty Man has since gained a cult following – Prior’s film is an unsettling, abstract, and slow-burn horror film that won’t appeal to everyone.
Sensing a pattern here? Freaky is yet another horror film that was disappointingly overlooked due to pandemic-related delays and releases. Freaky is a twist on the comedy Freaky Friday and marks one of the most creative installments in the slasher sub-genre of horror to date. The film follows a teenage girl (played by Kathryn Newton), who switches bodies with an imposing male serial killer (played by Vince Vaughn). Freaky is a rare blend of horror and comedy that excels in both genres. Vaughn is hilarious and steals just about every scene he is in. Director Christopher Landon leans into his Happy Death Day sensibilities in delivering a horror film that won’t outright scare many, but is the sort of well-crafted slapstick horror the genre needs once in a while.
Malignant is another film on this list that has gained somewhat of a cult following. From director James Wan, the film stars Annabelle Wallis as a woman who, after suffering abuse at the hands of her partner, begins to have visions of people being murdered that disturbingly come true. Malignant is a wild ride to say the least. It sports an absolutely bonkers and hilarious twist, and ultimately proves to be as scary as it is silly.
The Night House
From director David Bruckner, The Night House follows Beth (played by Rebecca Hall), who starts to have visions of a presence in her home following the unexpected death of her husband. Hall delivers a mesmerizing central performance in a movie that is more likely to unsettle audiences than scare them. It’s an emotional and atmospheric horror tale that deserves more attention.