Last time we saw how horror movies changed in the 1960s, from classic Gothic horror like the Hammer films and Roger Corman’s Edger Allen Poe adaptations to pessimistic modern horror stories like “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Night of the Living Dead”. This time we turn out attention to the 1970s – possibly the most exciting time for horror since the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s.
During this decade, Hollywood proved it was willing to take risks with stories, to go places they had never gone before. Add to this a new tide of horror authors who wanted to update the Gothic horror staples of vampires and werewolves, including a certain Stephen King, and you have a decade of some of the greatest horror movies ever made. In fact, there are so many great horror movies of the Seventies that I’ve had to split this post up! So here are what I think are the most influential horror movies from 1970 to 1975!
A Bay of Blood (1971)
One feature of early 1970s cinema is the debt it owes to cinema verite. Even Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” owes a debt in places to this documentary-style of film-making. The trend suited low-budget movie-makers and would lead to the infamous slasher movie. The start of that craze can be found here. Part Italian giallo, part murder mystery, “Bay of Blood” was made by Mario Bava, a film-maker who deserves far more recognition than he has enjoyed. A number of potential heirs and heiresses to a fortune are invited to the titular Bay. They then try to kill each other off in various gory and brutal ways. Boasts some bravura set–pieces. The octopus is a great surprise also!
You’ll never play the banjo again. Disturbing hi-jinks in America’s backwoods when some city slickers cross paths with the twisted locals. John Boorman’s gripping horror-thriller features a young Burt Reynolds. Copied many times, sometimes humorously, sometimes not.
This is a movie which probably needs no introduction from me. A supernatural chiller directed by William Friedkin and based on the best-seller by William Peter Blatty, itself based on a supposedly real event. It broke all records when released and became notorious not just for fainting audiences, but for the treatment its stars were subjected to. Today, it’s been copied so many times that it may have lost its power to shock. It has directly influenced every exorcism movie since, as well as forming the basis for the dubious Leslie Nielsen comedy “Repossessed”. Still, as a meditation on the power and seductiveness of evil, it’s compelling.
Brian DePalma’s first movie. So demented it’s terrific. Margot Kidder stars as a pair of French-Canadian Siamese twins that were separated with horrific consequences. This is a movie that seeks to turn horror tropes and clichés on its head. Its twists keep going right to the end. It is also part of the illustrious mad-doctor movie that became popular with “Eyes Without A Face” and keeps on going today with movies like “Hostel” and the distasteful “Human Centipede” films.
The Wicker Man 1973
The world’s first horror musical! Fantastic British chiller starring Edward Woodward as a religious police officer who goes to investigate a disappearance on a remote Scottish island where paganism is rife. Although it was remade poorly, this really is a one-of-a-kind movie. Music by folk-rock band Pentangle serves as an atmospheric soundtrack to what is probably the bleakest ending ever.
Black Christmas 1974
This expertly-made psycho-thriller started the old gag that the killer is making phone calls from inside the victim’s house.A killer is stalking a sorority sisterhood. Margot Kidder again resurfaces, this time as the victim. A genuinely disturbing movie in some places and a forerunner of the teen slasher movie that was to come.
Texas chainsaw Massacre 1974
Another 70s shocker that has lost most of its power due to continually being copied. It’s hard to imagine the modern psycho-killer movie without TCM. This brutal film began the “endurance horror” craze and took the idea of murderous hillbillies one step further. You actually see very little gore in this movie. But audiences were convinced they saw more, such was the power of suggestion. Today, its ferocity is hard to understand, but on release this was one of the movies that changed the horror landscape and paved the way for the “video nasties” of the 1980s.
Deep Red 1975
Dario Argento’s best movie. This is a true giallo film — a type of Italian thriller that closely identifies with the killer and features elaborate set-pieces. David Hemmings is the American out of his depth who witnesses a murder in Rome. Or did he? A superb mystery with some excellent death scenes. Probably the finest giallo movie ever made.
This unsettling sex horror (is that even a genre?) signalled the arrival of Canadian body horror maestro David Cronenberg. The residents of a luxury apartment building are attacked by repulsive turd-shaped parasites that drive the into a sexual frenzy. This is a movie that is bound to deeply disturb anyone remotely normal. Which of course, is great. The body-horror genre has its roots in the Atomic bomb era of the 1950s and the plethora of paranoid B-movies where the main character was mutated by radiation. Cronenberg made that fantasy disturbing reality, which would lead to many other movies in that genre, such as Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” and Cronenberg’s own “The Fly” in the 1980s, as well as direct homages such as 2006’s “Slither”.
The daddy of summer blockbusters. “Jaws” rewrote the Hollywood paradigm for making movies and still rules the waves. Okay, so the shark looks a bit rubber now. But thanks to a mechanical failure, Spielberg has given us one of the best (and most quotable) thrillers ever made. The movie’s success would lead to other popcorn movies like 1977’s “Star Wars”. As we know, these movies would influence the box-office for decades to come. Not for much longer would studios take a gamble on artistic and risky fare. Eventually, this would lead to the cut-and-paste plots of most big-budget movies today. In a way, “Jaws” sounded the death-knell of the kind of low-budget film-making that created so many different kinds of horror movie in the 1970s.
1975 – 1979!
Telepathic teenagers go on a rampage, zombies go for a morning stroll in a supermarket, a particularly unpleasant alien hitches a ride on a passing spacecraft, and a certain Michael Myers decides its time he went home…