15 Best Horror Movies of 1971

Bay Of Blood Poster
Horror films in 1970 brought us the debut feature of Dario Argento, lesbian vampires and several classic performances from Christopher Lee. 1971 brought us the final two chapters of a classic Hammer vampire trilogy, “the granddaddy” of all slasher flicks, and more Christopher Lee.

As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1971.

15. The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave (1971)

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

Director: Emilio Miraglia
Stars: Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Enzo Tarascio, Giacomo Rossi Stuart

Taking place in a swinging ‘70s London, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave tells the tale of Lord Alan Cunningham, a nutso wealthy playboy, living in an enormous mansion. Cunningham’s redheaded wife has died, so now he has a habit of bringing strippers and hookers (beautiful redheads, of course) home for some kinky fun in his torture chamber, sometimes ending in murder. Later, our mentally ill rich kid meets a luscious blonde named Gladys at a party, instantly falls in love with her, and gets hitched, thinking it will be the solution to all his mental issues. But he continues to endure haunting hallucinations of his late wife, and more people end up dead around the Cunningham estate.

The scenario presented here is typical giallo, filled with planet-sized plot-holes and ridiculous red-herrings, but the filmmakers fuses it with Gothic horror devices that turn the whodunit into a dark fairytale: like an S&M version of Roger Corman’s Tomb Of Ligeia meets Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Béte on an acid trip.

14. The Nightcomers (1971)

Marlon Brando The Nightcomers

Director: Michael Winner
Stars: Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham, Thora Hird, Harry Andrews

Most horror fans will be familiar with the erotically charged predecessor of this film The Innocents, based on the famous Henry James novel Turn Of The Screw, about a young governess for two children who becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted. This film made ten year later is an “origin story” that takes place before The Innocents giving us the backstory of the haunted children and repressed dead governess.

On its own terms, this is an interesting and disturbing film that plays much better if you can forget the pretense of its being a prequel. Frankly, there are enough deviations between this film and the original that merely changing the characters’ names and making a few tweaks in the script would have taken away the onus of this being a run up rather than its own story.

13. Don’t Deliver Us from Evil (1971)

Deliver Us From Evil Girls

Director: Joël Séria
Stars: Jeanne Goupil, Catherine Wagener, Bernard Dhéran, Gérard Darrieu

Don’t Deliver Us from Evil centers around the lives of two girls, Anne and Lore, living at a convent boarding school. The two girls climb under their bed sheets and read erotic novels in secret by torchlight and long to rebel from the boring routine of boarding school life. They become increasingly rebellious as the term wears on, and their realization of the hypocrisy of the nuns and priests that serve as their teachers grows with every passing day. So, naturally, they each take a vow to sin and to serve Satan.

Both scathing and poetic, the intimately disturbing story and confident direction of this warped bit of celluloid psychosis manages in a delicate balance between excess and social critique to be both terrifying and tender. Thumbing its nose at convention and then-common dictates of good taste, this torrid coming of age story dares to be amoral while treating its characters and approach maturely. This movie sheds innocence as easily as skin as two believably depicted girls on the verge of womanhood trade school-girl innocence for the pursuit of decadence.

12. Lust For A Vampire (1971)

Yutte Stensgaard Vampire

Director: Jimmy Sangster
Stars: Yutte Stensgaard, Michael Johnson, Ralph Bates, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh

Lust For A Vampire was Hammer’s second installment of their infamous Karnstein Trilogy, loosely based on the J. Sheridan Le Fanu novella Carmilla. It was preceded by The Vampire Lovers and followed by Twins Of Evil. Though considered to be one of Hammer’s lesser efforts (the other Karnstein installments are much better), Lust still ranks high on the guilty pleasure level, and it still packs the right amount of atmosphere and eroticism that we’re used to in a Hammer flick.

In this film, Count Karnstein, through a magical ritual, relies on the feedings of the newly re-fleshed and voluptuous vampire Carmilla for his own sustenance. This keeps her very busy indeed. She finds a ready supply of victims at a girls’ finishing school. Her troubles begin when two male teachers from the school decide to investigate.

11. The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

Christopher Lee Doll

Director: Peter Duffell
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Nyree Dawn Porter, Denholm Elliott

Paul Henderson is a film star who disappears after renting an eerie old house. Inspector Holloway is in charge of the mystery and inquiries at the town’s police station where, the local police sergeant begins to explain the house’s horrible history, and so begins the film’s four interwoven tales.

1) A hack novelist encounters a strangler who’s the villain of his books, leading his wife to question his sanity, 2) Two men are obsessed with a wax figure of a woman from their past, 3) A little girl with a stern, widowed father displays an interest in witchcraft, and 4) An arrogant horror film actor purchases a black cloak which gives him a vampire’s powers. Each tale brings something to the table, and the overall picture is vigorous fun.

10. The Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971)

Demon Bones

Director: Piers Haggard
Stars: Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Barry Andrews, Michele Dotrice

In 17th century England, a young farmer accidentally digs up a strange skull in a field. He informs a local judge, but by the time they investigate, the skull has disappeared and the village is beset by a number of strange occurrences. A young woman goes mad, people begin sprouting claws, and many of the local children begin to behave very oddly, turning away from the pastor and his Christian teachings. Their group, led by a lovely young woman named Angel, begins targeting and killing non-believers. The judge is called back to deal with the supernatural evil that has gripped the town.

Blood On Satan’s Claw is the second of the three movies which almost entirely constitute the mini-genre now known as “folk horror” – sandwiched between Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General in 1968 and The Wicker Man in 1973. The film provides a microcosm of a world in the grip of mass hysteria, in which witches and devilry lurk around every corner. But while other films of the time suggest that accusations of witchcraft are bogus, fuelled by malice, greed, group neurosis or shameless attention-seeking, here the Devil is all too real.

9. Short Night Of Glass Dolls (1971)

Jean Sorel

Director: Aldo Lado
Stars: Ingrid Thulin, Jean Sorel, Mario Adorf, Barbara Bach

Imagine you are found lying prone in a park. As you come to your senses, you realize that you are utterly paralyzed, unable even to blink, breathe or twitch. You are mistaken for dead. You watch in horror as you are taken to a hospital, your vitals are read and come up blank and you are then transferred to a morgue. Only your anomalous body temperature and absence of rigor mortis gives the doctors any clue that you are not yet ready to be buried. Will it be enough to save you? As you scream within your head to be acknowledged as alive, you cast back into your memories. How did arrive here? How did you come to be this way? This is the horrifying position that our protagonist Gregory Moore is placed into.

It requires a certain level of patience to be rewarded by this movie; the pace is stiflingly deliberate and the toing and froing of Gregory’s flashbacks are a little disconcerting. However, the palpable tension of his plight and the fact that there’s nothing he can do to alert anyone to the fact that he’s very much alive, are terrifically involving, leading to those film-watching scenarios that have you scratching a non-existent itch when insects are on-screen or gasping for air when someone is drowning.

8. Countess Dracula (1971)

Ingrid Pitt Countess Dracula

Director: Peter Sasdy
Stars: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Sandor Elès, Maurice Denham

When, in a fit of ire, the ageing Countess Elizabeth lashes out at her inept maid, she inadvertently discovers that the virginal girl’s blood harbors properties able to restore her youthful beauty. Slaying the girl and bathing in her blood, Elizabeth deigns to assume the identity of her own daughter, Ilona, who has not been seen at the castle since being shipped off to boarding school as a child. But no sooner has Elisabeth met and fallen in love with handsome soldier Imre Toth, than she realizes that the regenerative effects of the maid’s blood are far from permanent and she is only able to sustain her façade by seeking fresh donors to fend off her true, haggard appearance. Finding a willing accomplice in her faithful companion, Captain Dobi, the slaying begins.

Countess Dracula is very loosely based on the real-life exploits of Elizabeth Báthory, a 17th century Hungarian countess who is reputed to have bathed in the blood of 600 young woman in an attempt to stay young and beautiful. Her story and life have inspired many other horror films (most recently being Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon) and even songs by metal bands such as Venom and Bathory (they even named themselves after her). This Hammer horror flick is an enjoyable take on her.

7. Daughters Of Darkness (1971)

Delphine Seyrig Countess Bathory

Director: Harry Kümel
Stars: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau

Here we go again: Another film based on the exploits of Elizabeth Báthory, this time the countess is portrayed as a vampire, though not in the traditional way. We never see fangs, they don’t melt in the sunlight and they don’t sparkle when the moonlight hits them. No, the vampires in Daughters Of Darkness are too chic for that sort of thing. These vampire vixens worry more about how they’re going look and what they are going to wear before they indulge in their bloodlust.

Here, Báthory has with her a beautiful young companion and a legendary legacy of perversion. But when the two women seduce a troubled newlywed couple, they unleash a frenzy of sudden violence and depraved desire that shocked both art house audiences and grindhouse crowds worldwide at the time. Daughters Of Darkness makes decadence drolly enchanted.

6. Willard (1971)

Willard Rats

Director: Daniel Mann
Stars: Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Sondra Locke, Ernest Borgnine

A social misfit, Willard is made fun of by his co-workers, and squeezed out of the company started by his deceased father by his boss. His only friends are a couple of rats he raised at home, Ben and Socrates (and their increasing number of friends). However, when one of them is killed at work, he goes on a rampage using his rats to attack those who have been upsetting him.

Willard in many ways serves as the forerunner for both the glut of natural horror/ animals attack films (i.e. Night Of The Lepus) and social outcast gets revenge films (i.e. Carrie) that were so popular during the ‘70s and the film manages to deliver well on both of these differing elements. Sure it is ultimately more of a social outcast gets revenge film than a natural horror film, but it should satisfy fans of both. Overall this is a highly enjoyable and well-made film – a killer classic with teeth.

5. Twins Of Evil (1971)

Twins Of Evil

Director: John Hough
Stars: Peter Cushing, Kathleen Byron, Mary Collinson, Madeleine Collinson

This excellent addition to Hammer’s Karnstein series ends the trilogy on a major high note. Twins Of Evil combines vampirism with elements of the witch hunts that reached a frightening degree of “popularity” in the 17th century. The result is a dark, sometimes seething effort that presents a world where innocence attempts to escape both a fanged, libertine maw and the flames of false persecution.

In this iteration the Karnsteins are still very much alive, as Count Karnstein lords over the Central European Hamlet bearing his family name. An eccentric gentleman, he spends his days mostly holed up in his castle, attempting to recapture the glory of his forbearers by dabbling in black magic and Satanic rituals. A sacrifice of a local village girl ends up resurrecting Karnstein’s most famous relative, Carmilla, who awakens long enough to make out with him and turn him into a vampire. Meanwhile, a local puritan leader has been leading a crusade against the local contingent of witches, and his recently-orphaned twin nieces are drawn into the fray when they arrive in town.

4. Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

Vampyros Lesbos

Director: Jesús Franco
Stars: Soledad Miranda, Dennis Price, Paul Muller, Ewa Strömberg

Plagued by arousing nightmares of a sexy brunette enticing her into her bedroom, Linda Westinghouse is shocked to find that her new client, a dancer named Countess Nadine Carody, is actually the woman in her dreams despite having never seen or met the woman before. Nadine mesmerises Linda as she falls under her spell but could there be more to Nadine than meets the eye?

Essentially a lesbian themed retelling of Dracula, Vampyros Lesbos is a project widely considered to be a highpoint in schlock-master Jess Franco’s lengthy career. Erotic, exotic, unrivalled, say what you want about Franco, it cannot be denied that with Vampyros Lesbos the director puts an entirely new spin on Bram Stoker’s well-trodden classical tale – a pyscho-sexadelic celebration of soft-core lesbianism and vampire lore.

3. A Bay Of Blood (1971)

Brigitte Skay The Bay

Director: Mario Bava
Stars: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Camaso, Anna Maria Rosati

An elderly heiress is killed by her husband who wants control of her fortunes. What ensues is an all-out murder spree as relatives and friends attempt to reduce the inheritance playing field, complicated by some teenagers who decide to camp out in a dilapidated building on the estate.

Though rarely acknowledged by the mainstream press, A Bay Of Blood (aka Twitch Of The Death Nerve) is now regarded by most of the horror community as the progenitor of the slasher wave from the ’80s (with Steve Miner’s Friday The 13th Part II suffering the most direct accusations of, ahem, “direct inspiration”). However, Mario Bava’s film is a more clever, subtle, and visually sumptuous affair than your standard stalk and kill yarn; even with limited means he conjures up a swirling symphony of poetic images. The cheeky gore effects still shock today, including an unforgettable facial machete application, a unique shish-kebab variation, and a startling beheading, all laced with some ’70s-styled helpings of nudity and sex.

2. Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

Jessica Lake Scene

Director: John D. Hancock
Stars: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor, Mariclare Costello

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a story about a woman named Jessica who is released from a mental institution after a six-month stay following a mental breakdown. Upon her release she retreats to her newly-purchased country house, with her husband Duncan and their close friend Woody, to recover in peace and silence. But a strange girl named Emily is at the farm, too, and it soon becomes obvious that she is somehow related to a young woman who drowned on her wedding day over a century ago. Is Emily a vampiric ghost? Are the hostile townsfolk all zombies? Or is Jessica losing her mind all over again?

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is not a movie that will appeal to everyone. Those looking for shock, gore and quick-paced editing won’t find it here. What the movie does have, however, is a great sense of atmosphere and growing unease. We’re never quite certain – is this all coming from Jessica’s feverish imagination, or are there more sinister doings afoot? And as the plot unfolds, it’s easy to empathize more with Jessica and what she’s going through. In fact, this is one of those movies where the main character is someone you really care about – rare in today’s typical horror movie.

1. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Dr Phibes

Director: Robert Fuest
Stars: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas

Doctors are being murdered in a bizarre manner: bats, bees, killer frog masks, etc., which represent the nine Biblical plagues. The crimes are orchestrated by a demented organ player with the help of his mute assistant. The detective is stumped until he finds that all of the doctors being killed assisted a Dr. Vesalius on an unsuccessful operation involving the wife of Dr. Phibes, but he couldn’t be the culprit, could he? He was killed in a car crash upon learning of his wife’s death…

Possessing a particularly gleeful and nasty sense of humor, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, set in the mid ‘20s, comes across almost like a live action version of the artwork of Edward Gorey, not just in the film’s mix of dark comedy and clever shocks, but also visually as well. There is just something about the film that lifts it out of horror picture banality. It could be the ingenious deaths, the collective performance of the cast, the art deco surroundings, but perhaps it is mainly down to the film not taking itself too seriously. This leads to an amusing script and one of the best films of its ilk. It’s great.

Let us know your favorite horror film of the year in the comment section below.

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