Horror films in 1971 brought us the final two chapters of a classic Hammer vampire trilogy, “the granddaddy” of all slasher flicks, and a kid who became quite friendly with a pack of killer rats. 1972 brought us the debut feature from the late Wes Craven, a splatter masterpiece from Herschell Gordon Lewis, and another kid who becomes quite friendly with a pack of killer rats.
As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1972.
Director: William Crain
Stars: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Denise Nicholas, Thalmus Rasulala
In the 18th Century, Prince Mamuwalde visits Castle Dracula to ask the Count to sign a petition against the slave trade. Dracula turns Mamuwalde into a vampire and chains him into a coffin. In 1972, gay antique dealers bring the coffin to Los Angeles and Mamuwalde pursues the reincarnation of his lost love while spreading vampirism through the city.
Blacula is one of the best known and most enduring films of the blaxploitation subgenre. Although the title may seem overly simplistic and obvious (much like the following year’s imitative Blackenstein), Blacula itself is no joke and is, in fact, a legitimate and even dignified horror film with terrifying scenes and enduring moral questions. This is a strong, smart, eloquent and respectable black man forced to become something he never intended to be due to society and the acts of one rich and evil white guy (exceptionally white, being a vampire and all). Is that laying it on a little thick? Perhaps, but hey, those were the times we were living in.
14. Grave Of The Vampire
Director: John Hayes
Stars: William Smith, Michael Pataki, Lyn Peters, Lieux Dressler
Grave Of The Vampire (aka Seed Of Terror) is a low budget gem from a time when cinematic vampires were migrating from the storm-shrouded castles of Europe into contemporary society. The gothic Hammer style vampire had fallen out of favor, giving way to the likes of Count Yorga, Barnabas Collins, and the aforementioned Blacula. Even Hammer itself brought their trademark monster Count Dracula into modern times with Dracula A.D. 1972 (which we’ll be getting to in a moment). While largely a forgotten film, Grave Of The Vampire has been a favorite among vamp fanatics for years and deserves to be better known.
Kroft, a legendary vampire, awakes from his slumber. Kroft attacks a couple in a graveyard, raping the woman. The product of this unholy mating is a half-human, half-vampire baby boy, bottle-fed on the blood of his now-insane mother (a truly sickening sight) until her eventual death from anemia. As a young man, the son is absolutely tormented by his evil condition – he curses his bloodline and defies his vampire heritage, tracking his father down to the university where he teaches occult sciences. The subsequent duel between father and son vampires is quite gripping.
13. Vampire Circus
Director: Robert Young
Stars: Adrienne Corri, Thorley Walters, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder-Brown
Fifteen years after the people of Schettel freed themselves from the influence of the vampire Count Mitterhaus, they find their village beset by plague and forcibly quarantined by the surrounding towns. Enter the Circus Of Night, who promise “a thousand delights” to the beleaguered villagers. They have a clown, a strongman, acrobats, dancers, and their main act, Emil, a panther who seems to turn into a man. The timing of these gypsy performers appears to be perfect for lifting the spirits of Schettel. However, the Circus has another purpose beside entertainment – vengeance. Emil and the acrobats are vampires related to the Count, and they are here to enact his dying curse – to sacrifice the town’s children in order to resurrect Mitterhaus.
With this premise in place, you can expect Vampire Circus to present plenty of violence. It does, on the part of both the vampires and the villagers. The body-count is high, in fact this is one of the first films since Frankenstein that has monsters killing children, except here it’s actually done on-screen. Erotic, grotesque, chilling, bloody, suspenseful, and loaded with doom and gloom atmosphere, this is the kind of experiment in terror that reinvigorates your love of the scary movie artform. Very underrated also.
12. Night Of The Devils
Director: Giorgio Ferroni
Stars: Gianni Garko, Agostina Belli, Roberto Maldera, Teresa Gimpera
Night Of The Devils is an Italian vampire thriller with a remarkably good pedigree. The script is based on The Wurdalak, a short story by none other than Leo Tolstoy. The central character is the patriarch of a wealthy family who fears that he will show up one day in vampire form. Should this happen, he warns his family not to let him back in his house, no matter how much he begs or cajoles. Not surprisingly, his warnings are to no avail.
A minor masterpiece of Italian horror, Night Of The Devils both harkens back to Mario Bava-based gothic horrors as well as anticipates the gory excesses of latter-day Lucio Fulci. Devils achieves a balanced sense of the unknown, the sympathetic, and the ghoulish, focusing on character to embellish suspense as it creeps around in a most inspired manner.
11. All the Colors Of The Dark
Director: Sergio Martino
Stars: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov, Julián Ugarte
Despite its Italian origins and its non-sensical, wordy title, All The Colors Of The Dark isn’t a giallo. Instead, it’s the distant cousin of the giallo – a “let’s watch a pretty lady go nuts” flick, a type of movie for which the Italians regretfully never invented a word to more concisely describe. In this case, it’s protagonist Jane Harrison losing her mind as she comes into contact with a Satanic cult – an obvious riff on Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. The biggest difference here, however, is that the filmmakers dispense with the subtle, creeping terror of Rosemary, instead constructing a movie almost entirely comprised of the fever-dreamy stuff Polanski carefully parceled out throughout his film.
Say what you will, but it’s difficult to deny how this approach draws you in, even from the opening credits. The film starts on an eerie landscape shot that begins with some faint daylight that fades ever so slowly – by the time the last credit rolls, we’re drenched in total darkness, almost as if we’ve been lulled to sleep. This is wholly appropriate, as the entire movie is essentially us being dropped into a complete nightmare filled to the brim with surreal images that will probably, funny enough, keep you up at night.
Director: Phil Karlson
Stars: Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O’Connell, Rosemary Murphy
As a sequel to the animal-attack cult classic Willard, this oddity of a film tells of the friendship between an ill boy and a highly intelligent rat, Ben – who happens to be the leader of a 4,000 member killer rat pack. Yes, that hit song from Michael Jackson is from this movie, which may provide more insight into the film’s plot.
Overall, Ben, like it’s predecessor, is corny, has cheesy special effects, sub par acting, painful plot holes and is far from terrifying. But that’s all part of its charm. It’s basically a really strange mix of a killer rat picture and Disney-esque kiddie flick. Sure, this movie is in no way perfect, but it is quite entertaining. If you’re looking for scares, you won’t find them here. But if you’re looking for an amusing piece of cinematic madness, you can’t go wrong with this one.
9. Dr. Phibes Rises Again
Director: Robert Fuest
Stars: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Cushing, Beryl Reid
The sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, this film follows the quest of Dr. Anton Phibes to bring his dead wife back to life by retrieving a stolen Egyptian scroll that leads to a life-giving elixir. As Phibes races to obtain the elixir, he must fight off the sinister Biederbeck, who wants the potion for himself.
Essentially, this sequel plays the same as its predecessor. Phibes creates elaborate kill devices to thwart his enemies all while bumbling detectives attempt to stop him. Rises plays for laughs far more than the original, but that doesn’t make the kill sets any less intriguing. There’s a particularly gruesome bit involving scorpions and genitals that’ll make even the hardest viewer squirm. The original is much better, but this is pretty great too.
8. Dracula A.D. 1972
Director: Alan Gibson
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Caroline Munro
Hammer Studios attempted to inject new blood into their Dracula series by setting their next installment in ultra-mod ’70s London, where the Count is revived after 100 years by a gang of devil-worshipping swingers – he takes the opportunity to prey on a descendant of his nemesis, Van Helsing.
Considered by many to be a low point in Hammer’s roster, in reality that’s not the case at all. Dracula A.D. 1972 is a fun, incredibly campy horror show. If the viewer is willing to check their expectations at the door than it is possible to find this film incredibly entertaining, reveling in every “groovy” moment. And luckily we’re not the only ones who seem to think so. Writer Sinclair McKay wrote in his entertaining analysis of Hammer horror’s, A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: “I just have to say at this point – hand held high – that [Dracula] A.D. 1972 is one of my favourite Hammers. This preference can’t be explained, it just is, that’s all. Against all odds, it’s an insanely cheering (and hypnotically watchable) production.” Indeed.
7. Horror Express
Director: Eugenio Martín
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Alberto de Mendoza, Silvia Tortosa
In Manchuria, Professor Saxton discovers the iced, fossilized remains of what might be the missing link between ape and man. After boxing it up in a crate, he hops on a train, where he runs into a colleague, Dr. Wells. Before they’re even able to set off, a curious thief mysteriously dies, his eyes turned a milky, vapid white. Once the train departs the station, the corpse thaws and reveals itself to be an ancient extraterrestrial who can possess his victims and co-opt their husks for its murderous purposes.
Rather perfectly described as Murder On The Orient Express meets The Thing From Another World, Horror Express is a fun, eccentric horror romp. For all the outrageous developments in the screenplay – mesmerism and transference, fiendish alien plots, a devoted monk turned Satanic lackey – Horror Express feels oddly dignified, even conventionally thrilling, and much of that is owed to the legendary performers at its center. On this speeding train to hell, it helps to have steady conductors at the helm.
6. The Gore Gore Girls
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Stars: Frank Kress, Amy Farrell, Hedda Lubin, Henny Youngman
The Gore Gore Girls (aka Blood Orgy) follows a detective on the trail of a serial killer who is murdering strippers in a most egregious fashion. This includes a stripper having her rear end pounded to shreds with a meat tenderizer, another having her nipples cut off while milk squirts all over the place, and a particularly gruesome scene where one gets her face deep fried in a pan of oil. It’s fantastic.
Directed by the “Godfather of Gore” Herschell Gordon Lewis, The Gore Gore Girls is an irreverent slap in the face of all the copycat filmmakers who, at the time, thought they could out-massacre the master. Here, Lewis proved once and for all that while some may have done it better, or cheaper, or more realistically, no one did it with more passion or perverse pleasure.
5. Don’t Torture A Duckling
Director: Lucio Fulci
Stars: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Irene Papas
Children are being murdered in the small town of Accendura. As Italian police, as well as a few reporters, attempt to find the killer and stop these savage crimes, the town begins to fall into panic and paranoia. A number of suspects, mostly female, are paraded before us and yet, one by one, they are discredited and the kids keep dying. Finally, a small girl who doesn’t speak may prove to be the key to the mystery, but can our heroes get to her before the murderer?
If you’re new to the work of Lucio Fulci, Don’t Torture A Duckling is a perfect showcase for the director’s energetic style. Quentin Tarantino has often cited Fulci as an influence. That’s not bullcrap name-dropping: Watch the scene in which angry villagers corner the town witch, brutalizing her while a nearby radio blares some jaunty ’70s rock tune, and try not to think of the ear-slicing set piece QT would stage two decades later in Reservoir Dogs.
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Stars: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Charlotte Rampling, Robert Powell, Barbara Parkins, Richard Todd, Sylvia Syms, Ann Firbank, Barry Morse, James Villiers, Herbert Lom
This horror anthology opens with Dr. Martin arriving at an insane asylum, where he meets the manager of the institution, Dr. Rutherford, who is currently wheelchair bound due to being attacked by an inmate. Dr. Rutherford then informs Dr. Martin that Dr. Starr, the asylum’s previous head doctor, has suffered a psychological breakdown and is currently an inmate at the institution. In order to test Martin’s prowess, Rutherford sends him upstairs to meet the various inmates to see if he can deduce which one is Starr. Guided by the asylum attendant, Max, Dr. Martin meets an assortment of characters who relay their bizarre tales, which serve as our stories in this horror compendium.
The tales in question contain, loosely, such horror staples as animation, reanimation, and killer puppets – though each tale has a uniqueness to them. You may have seen killer puppet films, but probably not one like Asylum’s. They’re doll sized lego-like men with human(ish) heads that move at the speed of a wind-up robot toy. It doesn’t sound terrifying, and it actually isn’t, but it plays really well. The slow speed at which they move almost compels you to get up and help chug it along.
3. The Other
Director: Robert Mulligan
Stars: Uta Hagen, Diana Muldaur, Chris Udvarnoky, Martin Udvarnoky
The atmospheric direction of Robert Mulligan and the first-rate writing of Tom Tryon (based on his own novel) place The Other at a notch above the seemingly endless parade of demonic horror films of the ‘70s. The story takes place on a small Connecticut farm in 1935 and concerns a luckless family that finds itself further plagued by a violent series of mysterious deaths. It seems that the curious fatalities have something to do with Alexandra Udvarnoky’s twin sons – ten year old Chris and Martin. Martin is shy, withdrawn, and somber, while Chris behaves like a normal ten-year-old boy. The question the film poses is which twin is good and which is evil – and has he caused the killings?
The Other is a dark, eerie minor masterpiece that is filled with lasting images: a finger wrapped up in a handkerchief, a boy leaping into a pile of hay with a pitchfork in it, the corpse of a baby drowned in a wine barrel, so on and so forth. It’s a slick, polished, and professional chiller that combines an intriguing mystery with periodic eruptions of bloody violence. It’s wonderful.
2. Tales From The Crypt
Director: Freddie Francis
Stars: Ralph Richardson, Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Richard Greene
Five strangers go with a tourist group to view old catacombs. They do not realize that they are all dead. Separated from the main group, they find themselves in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper (years before HBO’s pun-loving puppet), who details how each of the strangers have died.
The first segment will be familiar to fans of the television series, as it was later remade in the show’s second episode: a woman kills her husband on Christmas Eve, only to be stalked by a murderer dressed as Santa. For the rest of the stories, a man gets in a car accident and faces some horrifying realities, a father and son plot to take down their annoying neighbor, the wife of a ruined businessman is granted three wishes, and residents of a home for the blind exact revenge on their cruel director. All in all, Tales From The Crypt is simply an entertaining dose of old school horror.
1. The Last House On The Left
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Jeramie Rain, Fred J. Lincoln
Based loosely on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, Wes Craven’s The Last House On The Left is an exploitation film that is notorious for its unrestrained violence and sexual humiliation that run rampant throughout. In the film, two young girls, while en route to a rock concert, get kidnapped by four reprehensible criminals. They’re taken into the woods, and forced to perform numerous sexual acts, before ultimately being killed.
Here, Craven made an exceptionally brutal film which doesn’t glamorize violence, rather it seeks to show the true nature of it as horrific and revolting. An ugly, disturbing, passionately conceived cult favorite, The Last House On The Left is much more complex (albeit crudely made) than its controversial reputation would suggest. And all these years later, it’s still quite powerful, unsettling and raw.
Let us know your favorite horror movie of the year in the comment section below.