The wheel of content releases continues to turn, and September is a pivotal month for streaming services as they transition towards the horror-packed schedule of Fall. Forecasting this, services such as HBO Max are already gearing up by filling their listings with horror movies aplenty. In addition to existing films being brought to the platform, HBO Max is also releasing new releases in tandem with their theatrical openings. Horror fans and casual viewers alike may feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options available to them. Fortunately, HBO Max has a pretty solid lineup with regards to the horror genre this month. While not every horror flick this September is a world-beater in box office gross or critical success, there are still a few that should intrigue watchers who may not have seen them before. Below you can find a few notable titles in September’s HBO Max lineup. Even if they aren’t your thing, they’re at least worth giving a shot.
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The Evil Dead Series (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness)
Image via Renaissance Pictures
A holy trinity for lovers of B-horror and dark comedy, Sam Raimi’s seminal works influenced the course of horror cinema by way of creative practical effects, disorienting cinematography, a mold-breaking protagonist, and buckets of fake blood. The first work in the series, The Evil Dead (1981), was made on a budget of $90,000 and didn’t initially garner much interest. Fortunately, producer Irvin Shapiro gave it a shot at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, where horror author Stephen King touted the film in Twilight Zone Magazine for its “ferocious originality” and positing that Raimi’s talent was so apparent that “someone unable to get it together might be tempted to wonder if gobbling the man’s fingernails could possibly do any good.” Raimi attributed King’s review to kickstarting the film’s success and saving it from obscurity.
The Evil Dead would go on to earn critical acclaim and become a huge box office hit relative to its shoestring budget. The success of the first film prompted Raimi and Campbell to work together on the sequels Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992). A soft reboot, Evil Dead (2013) featured Campbell and was directed by Fede Alvarez, serving to bring new viewers into the Evil Dead franchise while also progressing the series’ continuity. Additionally, a TV series known as Ash vs Evil Dead (2015) enjoyed a three-year run on Starz. Raimi has also included Campbell in several of his other non-horror projects, such as his Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007) and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), and one member of the duo is scarcely mentioned without the other.
The core three Evil Dead films concern the lovable yet frustratingly knuckleheaded protagonist Ashley J. Williams (Campbell), who is time and time again thrown into classical horror situations against the likes of demons, the undead, and malicious spirits. Although Ash begins as a reluctant survivor of a terrifying incident, over the course of the three films he grows into a horror protagonist who runs into danger, Boomsticks and chainsaws blazing. All three films showcase Raimi’s high-energy directorial style, featuring barreling camera shots, visceral blood and gore, and eerily erratic stop-motion work. All three films have become cult horror hits, and the character of Ash Williams has survived well into the present day, being featured in myriad forms of media.
The Forgotten (2004)
Image via Sony Pictures
For those that are searching for a more mind-bending psychological horror experience, Joseph Ruben’s The Forgotten may scratch an itch and then some. The film was the #1 box office release during its opening weekend despite receiving some less-than-warm love from critics. The film concerns Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore). Telly, a mother who believed her son to have died in a plane crash over a year prior to the film’s events, is hit with a serious case of cognitive dissonance when she is told by her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) that their son never existed to begin with.
Telly is actively grieving before this realization, but her memories don’t align with her husband’s assertations. As she begins to investigate this discrepancy, with multiple corroborations that she is misremembering having a child, Telly struggles with her mental welfare as she continues to dig for a sign that her son was real. Unbeknownst to her, there is more going on than she could ever expect to be aware of, and its on a much larger scale.
Although the twist of this movie banks pretty hard into left field and the third act gets pretty outlandish, the themes of gaslighting and maternal bonds are present throughout. The Forgotten’s message may be muddled somewhat by the scope of its finale, but it still exists there for those who have an interest in it.
Image via Paramount Pictures
While the halcyon days of found footage films are largely in the rearview mirror, filmmakers and studios are guaranteed to bring a few about every year or two. Indie films like The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) showed a different lens can bring some energy into the horror subgenre without breaking the bank. Other movies like Cloverfield (2008) took the blockbuster budget approach to found footage filmmaking with considerable success.
Directed by Matt Reeves and produced by JJ Abrams, Cloverfield details footage recovered by the United States Department of Defense from an area once known as Central Park, New York City. The tape is significant due to its sightings of a case of interest to the government known as “Cloverfield.” Viewers are then shown first-hand found footage accounts of a group of friends attempting to escape New York after a massive creature rampages through the city.
Although Abrams is sometimes sardonically referred to because of his love of large-scale destruction, Cloverfield works particularly well as both a found footage film and as a monster movie. Observational cinema elements reveal parts of the narrative in the camera’s view instead of relying too heavily on dialogue exposition. The situation the primary characters (Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, Mike Vogel) find themselves in carries the panic and confusion of a natural disaster response despite a looming otherworldly creature enacting the carnage.
All in all, Cloverfield isn’t The Blair Witch Project (1999), but it shows that there’s still some juice in the found footage subgenre. For horror fans who may have grown tired of the subgenre, seeing Cloverfield’s bombastic approach to it may be refreshing.
Image via Pathé Distribution
Horror lovers who enjoy a little comedy mixed in with their blood and gore should definitely offer up some time to the European gem Severance (2006). Following the unfortunate trials of sales coworkers for an arms manufacturing company at a Hungarian lodge, the group discovers that their corporate overlords once used the space to test out nerve toxins on Russian war criminals. As expected, the survivors of those corrupt experiments have a serious bone to pick with the company, and by extension the unfortunate souls who find themselves in the lodge.
A planned company team-building exercise turns into a battle for survival, only this one is rife with British one-liners and critique of the military-industrial complex. Fans of horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) may feel right at home with Severance as it presents similar comedic energy placed in a different locale, swapping the ravenous undead for weapon-toting Russian prisoners.
Unlike plenty of horror comedies, Severance still holds up 15 years later.
Image via Warner Bros.
Releasing in the United States on September 10th of 2021, the James Wan-directed and produced Malignant (2021) will be hitting HBO Max to coincide with its theatrical release. The movie will star Annabelle Wallis (Annabelle), Maddie Hasson (God Bless America), George Young (Home), and Michole Briana White (Encino Man). This film will also be Wan’s return to the director’s chair for the first time since he served that role on the set of Aquaman (2018).
Information on the story is understandably light since it has yet to be released, but the film follows a woman named Madison (Wallis), who has waking dreams of terror as she witnesses brutal murders before her eyes. Before long, she realizes that she isn’t simply imagining these murders, they are real-life events that have unfolded. The story was written by Wan as well as Ingrid Bisu (The Nun) and sporting a screenplay by television writer Akela Cooper (Grimm).
The film has been released in France already, debuting on September 1st, but review embargoes remain in place until its complete western release. Wan’s big-budget horror films are a constant fixture in current cinema, and many fans will undoubtedly flock to Malignant to see what he has created next. For those that have enjoyed Wan’s previous work such as the early Saw films, Annabelle and The Conjuring universe, Malignant is highly likely to stay on-brand.
Event Horizon (1997)
The name Paul W.S. Anderson stirs quite a few different emotions for quite a few different people. Many know him today as the eccentric director who spearheads off-the-wall adaptations of video games like Resident Evil (2002), Mortal Kombat (1995), and Monster Hunter (2020). Others know him as the guy who can’t help but cast his wife Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element) in leading roles. Both of these thoughts are pretty on the money, but Anderson also directed a little sci-fi horror flick in 1997 known as Event Horizon.
Though some of its visual effects are pretty rough by today’s standards (or even the late 90s standards), the story itself features some interesting notes and a cast including Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Kathleen Quinlan (Apollo 13), and Joely Richardson (The Patriot) helps elevate the film. Production was notorious for being heavily edited and rushed by Paramount, who were attempting to crunch time in order to have a hit film released ahead of Titanic (1997), and Anderson has voiced his displeasure with Paramount’s hands being too involved in his creative process.
The story and script were influenced by various sci-fi hits across creative mediums, including Warhammer 40,000 while Anderson cites inspiration from Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). The resultant story follows a group of spacefarers who investigate a distress call of a ship with the titular name, quickly unraveling the scene of a massacre tied to the ship’s experimental drive system and a hellish dimension beyond the reaches of space. Insanity ensues, matching psychological horror with the Event Horizon’s eerie set design reminiscent of cathedral architecture.
Though the film was a critical and commercial bust in its theatrical run, it sold surprisingly well on home video and has since become a polarizing cult classic. Paramount even approached Anderson with an offer to restore his original cut for the film, but the excess footage cut from the theatrical version was either lost or destroyed, leaving the original plan for Event Horizon up to speculation and theory.
Event Horizon has its defenders and detractors, and it’s likely worth a watch to see which side you fall on in the ongoing debate, even over a decade after the film’s release.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Image via Universal Pictures
Directed by horror mainstay Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House), Ouija: Origin of Evil is a prequel that critics praised for being better than the original, an odd spot of praise for prequel films in general. Technically based on Hasbro’s brand of Ouija Boards, the film was a significant box office success and is one of the highest-rated entries produced by either Hasbro or Platinum Dunes. The story centers on a family of charlatans who run a fake seance business, introducing a Ouija Board to make their con artistry more convincing and prevent their impending financial ruin. However, they inadvertently invite real danger into their midst when a disaffected spirit possesses the youngest daughter in the family.
Featuring the acting talents of Elizabeth Reaser (The Twilight Series), Lulu Wilson (The Haunting of Hill House), Annalise Basso (Captain Fantastic), Henry Thomas (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), and movie monster savant Doug Jones (The Shape of Water), Ouija: Origin of Evil holds its head above water when compared to rank-and-file supernatural horror movies. The consequences of the possession aren’t discarded in the way that they tend to be in many examples of the genre, and the film does what it needs to transition into the original Ouija (2014) without spending inordinate amounts of time setting it up. The film’s atmosphere, set in the 1970s, is faithfully recreated with Flanagan and the crew using only technology that would have been available during the time period.
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About The Author
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Spencer is a Horror Features Writer for Collider. He is a University of South Florida alum with a major/minor in English and journalism. He previously published sports features, tech repair guides, and blogging content. He lives in rural Florida and is a huge fan of slasher movies, mecha anime, and metal music. He can be found reading, gaming, watching sports, or working on his Gunpla collection when he isn’t writing.
From Spencer Whitworth