Hi, there, horror fans! Last time we looked at how Hollywood was unafraid to make more experimental horror features in the early 1970s. Although Spielberg’s “JAWS” would lead to studios forever chasing the summer blockbuster, the late Seventies were still an exciting time for horror movies. Foreign filmmakers like David Cronenberg and Dario Argento were developing cult followings. Meanwhile, low budget filmmaking was about to come into its own, as was a certain young horror writer from Maine, New England…
Let’s start our list of late seventies horror with…
The Omen 1976
No-one can doubt the influence of Richard Donner’s by-the-numbers horror movie. With more than just a passing nod to artsy horror masterpiece “The Exorcist”, this is a rip-roaring Hollywood-style horror flick. It boasts some bravura set-pieces, such as the decapitated photographer. With stalwart acting from heavyweights Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Billy Whitelaw, and David Warner, the picture is very believable. But there’s no happy ending here as the Antichrist is born to a powerful American politician. This movie created a profitable and mostly well-made series of sequels that gave the world Sam Neil. It also became the bane of children named Damien everywhere.
George A Romero, back from “Night of the Living Dead”, triumphed again with this underappreciated cinematic gem. It’s a genuinely original take on vampires. Is homicidal young loner Martin a vampire or not? Is he merely disturbed, or is there some truth in his bizarre flashbacks to another time? Terrific, glory, explicit, sensual, thought-provoking and beautifully filmed, this movie features an amazing performance by the underused John Amplas. Overlooked at its time, this has become a true cult classic.
The arrival of a young writer called Stephen King created a reign of terror that is still going today. Hollywood struck gold with King’s curiously brief tale of an alienated young girl with awesome telekinetic powers. Phenomenal directing by Brian De Palma (of “Sisters” fame) catapulted King into the popular consciousness. At one level this is a time-tested tale of an ugly duckling who gets her revenge. But DePalma used split screen and slow motion camera work to viscera effect for the final massacre that is actually too much to fit on one screen! What is mentioned less often is the great cast of actors including Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. This is one horror blockbuster that stands the test of time.
Italian Filmmaker Dario Argento’s most well-known film is about a coven of witches posing as a ballet school in Italy. Some memorable set-pieces elevate this beyond its video-nasty style violence. Argento often treads a fine line between good and poor taste. Here, he manages to keep it on the straight and narrow. It also boasts a great score by the world’s foremost horror band… Goblin!
Dawn of the Dead 1978
Which brings us to George A Romero’s sequel to “Night of the Living Dead”. Where “Night” finished, “Dawn” goes a step further. Civilization is falling into chaos at the hands of the zombie invasion. We begin with some great scenes of things literally going to hell. Four survivors hitch a ride on a helicopter and hole up at an abandoned shopping mall. They soon learn that having everything does not make you happy. A social satire as well as a very frightening movie, the impact of “Dawn” may be diluted now due to dated make-up effects and the current trend for fast-running zombies. But the Romero’s innumerable hordes of shambling ghouls still make for claustrophobic viewing. This movie gave us memorable images like the Hari Krishna zombie, elevators full of undead shoppers, and an eerie kids’ TV theme tune. It also features some great acting from a cast who sadly never went on to stardom. “Dawn” has influenced virtually every horror movie since, including current TV sensation “The Walking Dead” and 2004’s delightful “zombie-rom-com” “Shaun of the Dead”. And come on, don’t you wish you were in that world, just a little bit?
John Carpenter’s film debut is actually not his film debut. That came with sci-fi black comedy “Dark Star” (1974). But he will forever be associated with this low-budget shocker about a psychopath that comes back to a leafy suburb to kill again on the titular eve. The movie made Jamie Lee Curtis a scream queen and cemented the “slasher movie” as a staple of cinema. The slasher movie’s key components of low cost, titillation, and violence was a wining combination, one that survives to this day. Arguably, this is the one sub-genre that has blackened the reputation of horror films, due to the many terrible or poor taste rip-offs branded “video nasties” in the 80s, such as the inept “Driller Killer”. But what makes “Halloween” a lot more intelligent than many of its successors is John Carpenter’s expert direction. He makes every shadow in your living room menacing, every closet or couch the potential hiding place of a madman. So that by the end of the movie your own house is no longer a safe place to hide. For a long time the most successful independent film ever made, “Halloween” is a true horror classic.
The Amityville Horror 1979
Hollywood must have been confused by the success of “Halloween”, if this return to the tried-and-tested haunted house formula is anything to go by. To be fair, it’s a very effective movie. The haunted house is given a twist by adding a bit of demonic possession, as well as copying the “true story” myth from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to give it added credence. But the worrying priest, bleeding walls etc are all things we’ve seen before. A well-made film that spawned innumerable sequels of decreasing quality and suffered the obligatory 21st century “reboot”. But that’s really the only reason it’s here.
Which brings us to the end of the 1970s. If Hollywood was running out of fresh ideas, it found one of its most enduring franchises in this unofficial adaptation of the B-movie shocker “It! The Terror From Beyond Space” (1958). At the time, science-fiction mania was sweeping the world, thanks to the pop culture phenomenon of “Star Wars” (1977) and Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). The time was ripe for a sci-fi/horrror hybrid. Cue Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Schussett’s script of a rather unpleasant alien that stows away on a space ship. A very simple movie, enhanced by amazing visuals and strong actors, this is essentially hide-and-seek on a space ship. The groundbreaking chestburster scene also gave audiences a scare they would never forget. Responsible for a slew of sequels, some better than others, the end of the Seventies showed that horror was still prepared to boldly go where no ghoul had gone before!
Next time… The Eighties arrives!
In which aliens get even nastier, vampires get even cooler, werewolves get even hairier, and a some teenagers have their sleep disturbed on Elm Street. Sweet dreams!