Horror films in 1972 brought us the debut feature from the late Wes Craven, a splatter masterpiece from Herschell Gordon Lewis, and a kid who’s a little too friendly with a pack of killer rats. 1973 brings us a man who gets turned into a snake at the hands of a mad scientist. a George Romero non-zombie classic, and a demonically possessed little lady masturbating with a crucifix.
As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1973.
15. Don’t Look In The Basement
Director: S.F. Brownrigg
Stars: Rosie Holotik, Bill McGhee, Annabelle Weenick, Gene Ross, Camilla Carr
Nurse Charlotte arrives at the Stephens Sanitarium shortly after Dr. Stephens suffers an accident at the hands of an axe wielding patient. The assistant director of the facility briefs Charlotte on her duties, and the patients.
Said patients include a lobotomized and childish man named Sam who enjoys popsicles and his plastic toy boat, a nymphomaniac and schizophrenic named Allyson, an emotionally dependent woman named Jennifer, an octogenarian woman named Mrs. Callingham who spouts bizarre poetry and mistakes flowers in the garden to be her own children, a juvenile prankster named Danny, a shell-shocked Sergeant who lost his mind after accidentally killing his men in Vietnam, and the crazed judge who seems incapable of speaking in anything other than courtroom jargon. As you can imagine, Charlotte doesn’t exactly have a smooth go of it. Don’t Look In The Basement (aka The Forgotten) is a smirking, sweaty, “inmates have taken over the asylum” riff on unqualified lunacy.
14. Flesh For Frankenstein
Directors: Paul Morrissey, Antonio Margheriti
Stars: Joe Dallesandro, Udo Kier, Monique van Vooren, Arno Juerging, Dalila Di Lazzaro
In Serbia, Baron Frankenstein lives with the Baroness and their two children. He dreams of a super-race, returning Serbia to its grand connections to ancient Greece. In his laboratory he builds a desirable female body, but needs a male who will be superbody and superlover. He thinks he has found just the right brain to go with a body he’s built, but he’s made an error, taking the head of an asexual aesthete. Meanwhile, the Baroness has her lusts, and she fastens on Nicholas, a friend of the dead lad. Nicholas forms an agreement with the Baroness to sexually satisfy her (something which the Baron is apparently not achieving).
Most famous for its act of necrophiliac love towards a gallbladder, Flesh For Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein) is truly a bizarre cinematic misfit. It is quite gruesome and deals with dodgy deeds such as incest, but the horror of the film is greatly tempered by lots of humor, campness and a totally over the top approach to the subject matter.
Director: Bernard L. Kowalski
Stars: Strother Martin, Dirk Benedict, Heather Menzies-Urich, Richard B. Shull
Set near a sleepy college town, the ridiculously titled Sssssss follows the shady exploits of Dr. Carl Stoner, a brilliant and well-respected herpetologist specializing in snakes. He’s currently in need of further funding and an assistant (because his previous one totally, certainly left because of an “illness in the family”), so he hits up the local college and eventually presses promising student David Blake into service. Along with Stoner’s daughter Kristina, the two experiment on snakes, working to extract venom in order to develop antibodies to counteract the poison. Unbeknownst to David, however, Stoner harbors hidden, sinister ambitions involving snake and human genetics – and he’s the main subject.
When Kevin Smith released his now-notorious horror comedy Tusk, many reviewers took issue with the ludicrous premise in which a mad scientist takes it upon himself to transform a man into a walrus. Apparently none of these critics had ever seen this little piece of cinematic madness, because if they had, they might have recognized that the premise of Smith’s movie had been covered nearly 30 years earlier, only with a snake instead of a walrus. It’s a weird endeavor for sure, but as humans-being-turned-into-animal movies go, you can’t go wrong with this one.
12. Scream Blacula Scream
Director: Bob Kelljan
Stars: William Marshall, Don Mitchell, Pam Grier, Michael Conrad
In this sequel to 1972’s blaxploitation-classic Blacula, a member of an American voodoo cult revives the fanged Prince Manuwalde, only to become his slave. Manuwalde then puts the bite on various victims, but finds himself fixating on a pretty young woman named Lisa, a voodoo princess whom he believes can finally put his soul to rest.
The original Blacula was a perfect fusion of horror and blaxploitation, and this follow-up is fairly solid in that respect, though it does lean heavily towards just being a classical horror film since it’s mostly stuffed up in a huge, gothic mansion and full of voodoo juju. But that being said, Scream Blacula Scream looks and feels like a blaxploitation picture whenever Mamuwalde leaves his house, whether it be for a gratuitous (and gratuitously funky, much to the dismay of two white patrons) party sequence or for a stroll down the streets of L.A. The latter sequence is arguably the most fun to be found in either Blacula movie, as Mamuwalde encounters a couple of street pimps, whom he dares to kick his “black ass” – an exchange that ends with a couple of carved jive turkeys.
11. And Now The Screaming Starts
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Stars: Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Stephanie Beacham
It is England, 1795. Young Catherine has come from London to get married to Charles Fengriffin at his county estate. Unfortunately for her she is raped by an unseen spirit on her wedding night, thus losing her virginity in the way she least expects. Furthermore, she is having visions of an eyeless man at the window, a severed hand creeping around, and harbors a dark fascination for the painting of Charles’ grandfather. After a local stethoscope enthusiast confirms Catherine’s pregnancy, he falls victim to the Fengriffin curse whilst trying to explain the whole sordid affair to visiting shrink Dr. Pope. It is now up to Pope to do all he can to get to the bottom of all of this.
And Now The Screaming Starts (aka Bride Of Fengriffen) is a movie thick with atmosphere that really needs to better appreciated. You have creepy paintings, creepy woodsman, full moons, old graveyards, ferocious dogs, howling wolves, and a great maniacal grave desecration. And then there’s the two main villains, a horny, one-handed, eyeless zombie ghost and a severed hand that knows Jedi mind tricks.
Yes, let’s do this. Let’s give this solid little horror flick a HAND!
10. The Baby
Director: Ted Post
Stars: Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, Marianna Hill, David Mooney
Ann Gentry is a social worker who has a keen interest in the Wadsworth family, particularly their son who is simply known as Baby (not to be confused with our favorite female psychopath Baby Firefly). He’s a grown man whose development has been stunted by his abusive mother and sisters. If Baby ever gets out of line and even shows hints of cognizance, he’s greeted with a cattle prod and shoved into a closet. It’s pretty easy for Ann to see that something is amiss, so she tries to free Baby from the madhouse.
In short, if you only see one movie about a man-baby cared for by strong, eccentric women and kidnapped by a well-meaning social worker for ulterior motives of her own, make sure it’s this one and not Adult Baby Fetish 5: Oops I Crapped My Playpen. This movie is absolutely gaga. Or should that be goo-goo-gaga?
9. The Vault Of Horror
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Stars: Terry-Thomas, Tom Baker, Daniel Massey, Curd Jürgens
Initially billed as a sequel to 1972’s Tales From The Crypt, The Vault Of Horror is also a horror anthology based on stories from the EC Comics series written by Al Feldstein. Five men enter an elevator that takes them to the basement. There they find they are unable to reenter the elevator or exit the basement, but noticing the fine collection of free booze, they decide to kill some time, wait to be rescued and share their recent nightmares. The stories revolve around vampires, bodily dismemberment, east Indian mysticism, an insurance scam, and an artist who kills by painting his victims’ deaths.
Yup, they definitely saved the best story for last. Drawn and Quartered follows a struggling artist who seeks revenge on a trio of art merchants who cheated him out of a hefty chunk of change. Traveling to the voodoo-rich sectors of Haiti, he returns with the ability to draw anything he chooses and then have whatever mutilations he inflicts upon those drawings occur in real life. The artist then proceeds to take his revenge, though he soon regrets having drawn a self portrait.
8. Messiah Of Evil (1973)
Directors: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz
Stars: Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang, Anitra Ford, Royal Dano
A horror gem by the writing and directing team behind Howard The Duck? Hard to believe, but Messiah Of Evil (aka Dead People) is the genuine article, a largely forgotten early ’70s classic filled with moments that are so uncanny, the term “Lynchian” would be perfect had the David Lynch brand been invented in 1973.
A small coastal town in California is the setting for this odd, creepy story. When Arletty arrives, looking for her father, she quickly learns little is as it seems. Beneath the idyllic seaside village, a rot has begun to take hold. Folks speak in guarded, awkward tones, they spend endless hours on the beach at night, staring off into the ocean. Some have even developed a taste for raw meat. When she meets the town drunk and a trio of prying tourists, the sinister history of the town starts to reveal itself.
7. The Legend Of Hell House
Director: John Hough
Stars: Roddy McDowall, Gayle Hunnicutt, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill
Written by the legendary Twilight Zone writer and author of I Am Legend, Richard Matheson, based on his own novel Hell House, The Legend of Hell House follows a group of researchers who spend a week in a purportedly haunted English manor in which previous investigators were killed.
This may sound like a million other haunted house movies you’ve come across in your lifetime but don’t fret, this entry of the sub-genre is certainly a cut above the rest. Frankly, it’s a movie that puts most modern spook house pics to shame. Strong performances and the horrific interiors of the house itself make this one worth watching, but it’s the downright absurd and exhaustively quotable conclusion that makes this a film to remember.
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, William Finley
Alfred Hitchcock is often cited as one of the most influential directors of all-time, and that’s a fair claim. But, few directors actually follow his form, at least not in the overt way that Brian De Palma does. A shameless Hitchcock adherent, De Palma’s career was dogged with accusations that his films were little more than Hitchcock imitations. Looking at a film like Sisters, a psychological horror film about a woman with a split-personality who murders her lover (and is seen through a window by a reporter), it’s easy to see why some might harbor that opinion of De Palma. The Hitchcock tropes are all there, true, yet the film indeed has a life and a style of its own.
Here, De Palma shatters genre lines, blending crime and horror and suspense and comedy and surrealism into some potent noir cocktail. The director makes nods to Vertigo, Psycho, and Rear Window and features a Bernard Herrmann score, but Sisters never feels derivative of Hitchcock. He leaves us unsettled in a wholly original way. Sisters is a terrifically smart piece of craftsmanship that keeps slithering out of your grasp – a compulsively addictive viewing experience.
5. The Crazies
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Lane Carroll, Will MacMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lynn Lowry
George A. Romero returns to Night Of The Living Dead turf in this quirky end-of-civilization thriller. The paranoid scenario involves a government-engineered killer virus which is accidentally released into the water supply of Evans, Pennsylvania, driving most of the inhabitants stark-raving mad and forcing the declaration of martial law as the entire town is placed under quarantine. This does not sit well with the locals – even those who have not yet been contaminated who consider the military mobilization tantamount to war.
The underlying cynicism and despair about individual initiative and governmental intervention reflect the social insecurity of the period when The Crazies was released. The senseless prolongation of the war in Vietnam and the decay of urban centers gnawed at the public mood, leading not to renewed social activism, but to the self-defeating narcissism that typified the latter years of the ‘70s. Romero’s horror films have always illustrated a mood of entropy. The monsters he conjured may have been figments of his imagination, but they drew attention to very real horrors. And, at a time of reality-TV presidential campaigns and daily Zika virus scares, the fabricated panic of The Crazies feels more than a little close to home. Okay, that’s exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.
4. Theatre Of Blood
Director: Douglas Hickox
Stars: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry, Harry Andrews
Tired of scathing reviews, failed Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart takes out his revenge on the critics who he blames for his deteriorated career. When he is overlooked in favor of a blue eyed boy newcomer for a prestigious critics award he sees this as the last straw. In an elaborate plan he fakes his own death and then rises from beyond his fictional grave to kill off all those he sees as responsible.
With the help of his doting daughter Edwina, and a group of friendly meth drinking tramps he has picked up on the way, Edward’s vengeance comes in the form of murders which revolve around scenes from famous Shakespeare plays. Each execution is delivered by Lionheart with the accompaniment of a gloriously hammy recital of the words of Shakespeare, as each of the critics meet a dastardly demise. For anyone who’s ever wished ill on a pundit (we know you’re out there), our protagonist’s merciless antics should strike a gleeful chord.
3. Don’t Look Now
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Stars: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania
Following the accidental death of their daughter, John and Laura Baxter travel to Venice when the former is commissioned to start work on restoring a church. Upon meeting two elderly sisters in their new home, Laura is told by the strange siblings that their deceased daughter is not only trying to communicate with them, but that they can communicate with her directly.
Laura is intrigued, but John resists the idea. He, however, seems to have his own psychic flashes, seeing their daughter walk the streets in her red coat, as well as Laura and the sisters on a funeral gondola. As stranger and stranger events start to unfold around him and his wife, he starts to believe what the two sisters are telling him, and the emotional journey that he subsequently finds himself on is one that is absolutely enthralling to watch – an emotional story about coping with loss, fatality, and the premature death of a child.
2. The Wicker Man
Director: Robin Hardy
Stars: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt
The Wicker Man tells the story of Sergeant Neil Howie, a devoutly Christian police officer called out to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Once there, he discovers the island’s residents are Pagan worshipers, and things are most definitely not what they seem.
The Wicker Man is one of those films that completely captures you. You identify with Sergeant Howie and his battle to find the truth, and, like him, you are also fascinated by the pagan rituals of the islanders (and their openness to sex and procreation). It’s a heady mix of the desired and the dangerous, and as you move further and further into unfamiliar territory you don’t realize the danger until it’s too late. By then you’re emotionally involved, and the ending is almost too brutal to bear.
1. The Exorcist
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller
Young Regan MacNeil is a pretty run-of-the-mill 12-year-old little girl; sweet, shy and attached to her mother. Oh except for one little thing, a demon has taken up residence in her body and is causing quite a bit of havoc. Her mother, an actress, Chris, a nonbeliever first turns to scientists and doctors to try to cure her little girl until she ultimately seeks the help of Father Merrin. As Regan begins to get worse she starts to exhibit some rather disturbing behavior, to say the least.
More than 40 years after its original release The Exorcist is still hailed as one of the scariest horror movies of all time and earned the distinction of being the first “true” horror nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award (it lost to The Sting). William Friedkin’s tale of demonic possession was so terrifying, in fact, that cinemagoers were known to faint, vomit and go into hysterics while watching it. As Roger Ebert once wrote: “If movies are, among other things, opportunities for escapism, then The Exorcist is one of the most powerful ever made.” Indeed.
Let us know your favorite horror movie of the year in the comment section below.