The 1970s were responsible for so many great and influential horror films, most of which you should have seen at least once if you consider yourself a horror fan. Below I have listed my top ten ‘70s horrors. There are many I left off in the interest of not having a list of 100!
I welcome your comments at the end about what films you wish I had included. I suspect there will be many.
10. Jaws 2
This film does not get enough recognition. Of course it is no Jaws, but the scares are just as good, the deaths are just as good, the storyline nowhere near as stupid as part 3 or 4, which is quite an achievement in a sequel. This film has some great moments such as the kind girl saving Michael and being eaten, Tina the beauty queen who is not in any way the cliché she could have been, watching boyfriend Eddie being thrashed about in the ocean by the killer shark. Nowhere near as well made or as ground-breaking as the original, but still such a great horror in its own right.
9. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
This is how remakes should be done. Set firmly in the ‘70s and embracing all the government-based paranoia of that time, this film is about one the most frightening things anyone can imagine: Someone you love not really being who they say they are — an imposter inhabiting a loved one. Donald Sutherland and Veronica Cartwright and Jeff Goldblum, oh my! Great performances and effects with a truly chilling ending.
Influential, iconic and hugely quotable. Donald Pleasance gives a somewhat theatrical performance here, Jamie Lee Curtis as the original scream queen gives the "good girl/final girl" her all, and the music is simply masterful. However, watching it now, the flaws stand out and it feels somewhat clunky, and some parts are a little mean-spirited. This film is unfairly listed as the first slasher film when that title belongs to a different film. Still a classic horror. See my YouTube episode for more:
7. Last House On The Left
Banned for thirty-some years in Australia, this film lives up to the hype. Brutal, nasty, sad and unshakable. Once seen, this film cant be unseen. Directed by Wes Craven, this film about the revenge of parents on the people that tortured, raped and murdered their daughter is disturbing on all levels. However, some misplaced keystone cop-type scenes and doubtful methods of revenge bring down this movie's score. This film opened a door that wasn’t previously opened and for that I give respect.
6. When A Stranger Calls
Scary as hell, based on an urban myth about a young babysitter receiving threatening calls from a killer that escalates to a truly frightening twist. A tad saggy in the middle, but rounds it up with another dose of genuinely chilling scares at the end. Set-pieces from this film still haunt me, and I love a horror film that stays with me. The little film that could.
The first time I saw this I was terrified and had nightmares for years. A universal fear done to perfection here. Spielberg's direction is amazing. The shark, while clunky, works due to Spielberg's decision to film around it and show less, which became one of the films best assets. Starts with a gutsy death, grabs hold and doesn’t let go. This is smart horror and knows when to let your brain fill in the gaps. Everyone loves Jaws.
4. Black Christmas
THE first slasher film, the first film to have a protagonist discuss abortion as a legitimate option after Row vs. Wade was passed, the first film to use POV shots for the killer. Sadly, it is underrated for such a clever, cool and actually scary horror film. Margot Kidder and her character Barb is the icing on a superbly rich cake. This film is not willing to do work for you and does not spell everything out, which I deeply respect. Well-drawn characters that are not exploited, well-acted, believable deaths, great pacing and good amount of humor that doesn’t cut the horror at all. A must see.
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Yet another iconic film. Stephen King is a genius and this film is just one of many great adaptions of his books. Scoring Oscar nods for both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, this film asks us to question who is the real evil here? The bullies at school? Her religious zealot abusive mother? Carrie herself? I like the ambiguity of this movie — how it allows Carrie to be not black and white, to do some very, very questionable things, but you understand why. It embraces the tragedy in a way the novel demands. The direction is quintessential Brian De Palma and the end shot? Now that’s how you do a jump scare!
2. The Exorcist
One of the first films to show terror in a suburban setting, how evil can creep into the smallest details and fester there. It starts slow and builds dread. One minute, young Regan (Linda Blair) is urinating on the carpet at a party and before you know it she’s masturbating with a crucifix and puking pea soup. Often imitated — and you’d think that would lessen its impact — but the crappy parodies have had no influence on the original, which is just as disturbing, frightening and powerful today as it was in 1973. The subliminal shots of the devil, the priests, the mother, the music — all strokes of genius. A classic and for good reason.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
When I lament the horrors made today, its this film I have in mind. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is layered, full of social commentary, artistic, relentless and filled with nightmarish mind-boggling scenes of terror that are so visceral you can almost taste the air inside that house. This film talks about how we treat animals, family structure, the gas crisis, the employment crisis, the Vietnam war and in no way avoids the gritty, vicious and nasty horror that you just have to expect from a film with this title.
Essentially, teens stumble upon a house full of freaks, one of them has a chainsaw. The final 20minutes are an endurance test and the truest depiction of real terror that I have ever seen on film; the hysteria is earned for sure. Tobe Hooper gives us some superb filmmaking — the sounds, the tracking shots and barely any actual gore are some of its greatest strengths. Immediate, ferocious and full of vitality, Wow, what a great movie!
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So that’s it folks. What do you think? My criteria for the films I chose included ability to scare, influence and quality of production.
See how many of these movies make it on the list of the 50 greatest horrors of the last century:
Tell me your favorites in the comments, I’d love to know your Top 10 ‘70s horrors.