The 1970s were a great decade for horror. The “new permissiveness” allowed filmmakers to push the envelope on subject matter, as well as nudity and, of course, gore. Lots and lots of gore.
Making a top ten list is often arbitrary, and this one is no exception, especially considering how many horror flicks were made in the ’70s, a very busy decade for horror. At the time, there were still plenty of drive-ins and grindhouses needing a steady supply of the gothic, the ghostly, and the gory, and filmmakers like John Carpenter, Brian DePalma, George Romero (whose “Dawn of the Dead” is covered on another list, “The Greatest Zombie Movies Ever Made”), and Dario Argento producing masterworks of the genre.
Click HERE for the Austin Classic Movies Examiner’s highly arbitrary list of The Top Ten ’70s Horror Movies.
The Devils (1971)
Director Ken Russell’s greatest achievement, based on Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudon, stars Oliver Reed as Father Urbain Grandier, a licentious priest in 17th century France accused of sorcery by a hysterical, hunchbacked Mother Superior played by Vanessa Redgrave. On orders from Cardinal Richilieu, a creepy inquisitior (Michael Gothard) puts Grandier on trial, and [SPOILER ALERT] ultimately has him burned alive at the stake. With grotesque plague victims, naked nuns, and other sacreligious imagery courtesy of lapsed Catholic Russell. The most horrific thing about The Devils is that it is based on actual historical events.
The Exorcist (1973)
Director William Friedkin’s film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel about a child possessed by the devil scared the crap out of many a filmgoer in its initial release. Again, based on actual events, making it all the scarier. The cherubic Linda Blair is transformed into a pea-soup vomiting she-demon with a head that rotates 360 degrees. Her mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, calls in a couple of priests (Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller) to perform an exorcism. Terror ensues. With Lee J. Cobb.
Highly influential slasher flick with supernatural overtones, as the unkillable Michael Myers escapes from the mental hosptial to terrorize the teens in his old home town. His ultimate prey is his sister, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. With Donald Pleasance and PJ Soles. Later remade by evil auteur Rob Zombie.
Don’t Look Now (1974)
Stylish horror from director Nicholas Roeg about a couple (Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie) haunted by the death of their daughter. Wonderful use of Venice locations, ultra-creepy tone, memorable sex scene.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Grainy, low-budget creepshow from director Tobe Hooper stills packs a wallop. Like “Psycho” before it, this film was inspired by real-life cannibal/serial killer Ed Gein, but instead of downplaying the gruesome details as in Hitchcock’s film, this one turns ’em up a notch or three. Austinite Hooper’s minimalist approach makes the horror all the more unsettling. With Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface, master of the chainsaw and Lord of the Dance.
The Wicker Man (1973)
“Flesh to touch…Flesh to burn! Don’t Keep the Wicker Man waiting!” Anthony Shaffer’s eerie, creepy, and often erotic tale of a Scottish police sergeant (Edward Woodward), who travels to a remote island village, run by Christopher Lee. With Britt Ekland and her body double. Not to be confused with the Nicolas Cage version.
Sisters (1973) and Carrie (1976)
Margot Kidder plays psychotic Siamese twins (well, to be more precise, French-Canadian conjoined twins) in Bian DePalma’s Hitchcock Meets New Hollywood shocker. Sissy Spacek palys the title role in DePalma’s film version of Stephen King’s novel about an unpopular high school girl with telekinetic powers. When subjected to a cruel prank by her peers, she unleashes her savage fury upon John Travolta, Nancy Allen, and Betty Buckley, as well as her mother, a religious fanatic played with relish by Piper Laurie.
The Brood (1979)
Following a bitter divorce and custody battle, director David Cronenberg wrote and directed this psychological shocker about a woman whose rage manifests itself by her giving birth to malevolent dwarves who kill anyone she perceives to be a threat to her happiness. The reveal of her exo-womb is still mighty disturbing. Oliver Reed is her psychotherapist, Dr. Raglan, who inevitably [SPOILER ALERT] dies badly at the hands of the title characters. With Art Hindle.
Dario Argento’s masterpiece, about a girl (Jessica Harper) who attends a ballet school that is actually a coven of evil witches. Doesn’t always make sense, but always creepy and disturbing, with brilliant visual motifs and an unsettling score by the Goblins. The ending isn’t the greatest, but everything leading up to it is unmitigated genius.
The Abonimable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Theatre of Blood (1973)
Two great Vincent Price performances that showed that the old horror vet had a few tricks left up his sleeve. “Phibes” co-stars Virginia North as Vulnavia, while “Theatre of Blood” has an all-star supporting cast that includes Diana Rigg, Robert Morley, and Coral Browne. Campy fun, with some genuine shocks.