Horror films in 1973 brought 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. 1974 brings us killer ants, one of the few good horror musicals ever made, and a family that would love to have you for dinner… quite literally.
As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1974.
15. Sugar Hill
Director: Paul Maslansky
Stars: Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley, Zara Cully
As the Blaxploitation movement frequently crossed over with the horror genre, it perhaps made the most sense that it’d eventually tackle zombies. Though we now see zombies as a colorless undead, their roots are very African, a product of that culture’s voodoo superstitions. Those are the types of zombies that populated cinema for nearly forty years before Romero helped to introduce our more modern, flesh-eating conception in 1968, and 1974’s Sugar Hill goes back to those voodoo fueled undead that were often employed as minions of evil in early cinema. The fact that they were often black adds a particularly interesting racial dimension that makes them a natural fit for something like Blaxploitation flicks, which were often as politically subtle as a hammer.
When her boyfriend is murdered by gangsters, our hero Sugar Hill decides not to get mad, but BAD! She entreats voodoo queen Mama Maitresse to call on Baron Zamedi, Lord of the Dead, for help with a gruesome revenge. In exchange for Sugar’s soul, the Dark Master raises up a zombie army to do her bidding. The bad guys who think they got away clean are about to find out that they’re dead wrong (pun definitely intended).
14. House Of Whipcord
Director: Pete Walker
Stars: Barbara Markham, Patrick Barr, Ray Brooks, Robert Tayman, Penny Irving
In an abandoned prison located in the English countryside, there’s a couple of sadistic older women who have turned the building into a phony correctional facility for corrupt young girls. The leader of the facility is an elderly blind man who is mentally in a different century, believing he’s some sort of judge that determines the life or death of imprisoned women. His wife, the reincarnation of the devil himself, and her son, Mark E. Desade, are major sadists who purposely get the imprisoned girls in trouble so they can get off on their punishments, particularly flogging. Mark lures sinful women from the city by offering to bring them to his beautiful home in the countryside (aka the abandoned prison). This story focuses on a French model, Anne-Marie DeVarnet, who is Mark’s latest prey.
It would be easy to mistake House Of Whipcord as just another Women in Prison film. While it bears some common threads, this film transcends the basic WIP narrative into something far more. It is true there is nudity, whipping and women held against their will, but the film is not titillation for titillation’s sake. Instead the film projects something dark, resonant, and gloomy – opting for drama with a strong essence of the horrific and none of the overt lesbianism and erotic elements of some of the other prison set films of this period. On this basis House Of Whipcord stands out as something memorable, haunting and one of the best examples of the period.
13. Phase IV
Director: Saul Bass
Stars: Nigel Davenport, Michael Murphy, Lynne Frederick, Alan Gifford
An unknown cosmic event hits the Earth. Predicted to have almost cataclysmic results, the effects to the planet seem insignificant. However, the rays from space have an extraordinary effect on various species of ants. They begin to think, make plans and eventually wage war with mankind. An ecological imbalance is discovered in an Arizona desert location with the eradication of beetles, scorpions and spiders – creatures that feed on ants. Two scientists are dispatched to an isolated location specially built so as to study the escalating and potentially devastating problem in an effort to quell the onslaught of this new super intelligent breed of ant. Yes, this is a movie about killer ants… but not in the way you may think.
A lot of people lump Phase IV in with the Mother Nature’s Revenge movies that were being made around this time, but that’s not really appropriate. There’s no revenge going on here, nor anything that would allow a person to say that we brought it all on ourselves – hell, there isn’t even any toxic waste lying around for the ants to consume! What we’re dealing with here is just the emergence of a new species capable of out-competing us in the great struggle for survival. For that very reason, Phase IV seems like much more serious and intelligent a movie than, say, that one about killer frogs.
12. Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell
Director: Terence Fisher
Stars: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith, David Prowse
Though their reign as the Empire of British horror had surely diminished by the time of its release in 1974, Hammer Film’s Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell marked a return to their familiar gothic traditions. Saddled with an absurdly low budget (about $230,000, not much more than the first Hammer Frankenstein film) and varied scripting problems, Frankenstein seemed destined to share the same fate as Hammer’s misguided efforts to keep the blood flowing in its Dracula films. But where that series unwisely attempted to transport the Count to swinging London (in Dracula A.D. 1972), the universe of James Bond (The Satanic Rites Of Dracula) and even 19th century Hong Kong (Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires), Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell is Hammer horror at its most pure. It’s a legitimate, nostalgic swan song, and a much better film than its reputation would suggest.
The film deals with the Baron hiding out in an insane asylum, so that he may continue his experiments with reanimating the dead, along with inmate Dr. Helder, who has been institutionalized for conducting such experiments. It’s a fitting end to the series and a recommended film that would stand quite well if watched alone.
11. From Beyond The Grave
Director: Kevin Connor
Stars: Peter Cushing, Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Donald Pleasence
From Beyond The Grave is an anthology of four stories written by British author R. Chetwynd-Hayes connected by use of an antique shop. The stories include The Gate Crasher about a man who purchases a mirror at the shop that is a portal to underworld, An Act Of Kindness about an unhappy family man who befriends a veteran and his daughter, The Elemental about a man who has a chance meeting with a medium who tells him he’s got a demon on his shoulder, and The Door about a man who purchases an ornate door for his home and finds out that said door opens to another dimension.
Amicus Productions released several anthology horror films during the ’70s and for many this is considered the best (not to denigrate the others mind you). From Beyond The Grave has a rather nasty and gloomy atmosphere that’s simply more effective than the jump scares or visceral horror of today. The best segment is The Gate Crasher which is very similar to Julia’s plot in Hellraiser. It involves a man who buys an antique mirror and a spirit who requires blood in order to return to the land of the living.
10. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter
Director: Brian Clemens
Stars: Horst Janson, John Carson, Shane Briant, Caroline Munro
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter follows the exploits of Captain Kronos, a swashbuckling vampire hunter who comes to the aid of his old friend Dr. Marcus, after receiving word that he is in need of his expertise. It seems that a local village has recently been plagued by a series of unusual murders, and Kronos and his trusted hunchbacked assistant Grost believe it is the work of vampires. Concocting a string of tests and narrowing down the playing field, Kronos and Grost close in on the killer, but all is not what it seems in this sleepy unsuspecting town. With the help of a beautiful outcast named Carla, Kronos and Grost just might have what it takes to take down this ever illusive monster and save the villagers from certain doom.
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter was originally planned as the first in a new series of films from Hammer Studios. Unfortunately, the film didn’t do well at the box office and no further entries in the series were made. This is a shame. Filled with well choreographed sword play, excellent sets and locations, a first rate cast and a surprisingly original story, this is one of many Hammer Studios classics that deserves a second look.
9. It’s Alive
Director: Larry Cohen
Stars: John P. Ryan, Sharon Farrell, Andrew Duggan, Guy Stockwell
Lurking in the back of every expectant parent’s mind is the dread that their new child will be a little… off somehow – sick, deformed, psychotic or maybe even Satan incarnate, here to herald the end of the world. It’s Alive taps into that fear. In fact, the filmmakers pushed that fear to its extreme, taking the core of the Frankenstein story (as hinted at in the title) and producing the first mainstream American picture about the horror of childbirth. It was also, so it seems, the first film centered upon a murderous and bloodthirsty infant.
In short, a newly born baby slaughters five doctors and nurses in the delivery room, before escaping into the night. As the parents struggle to cope with why they’ve given birth to a monster, the police try to track “it” down. The newborn craves milk, toys, and its parents. If anything gets in its way, well, you can probably figure out the rest…
Director: Pete Walker
Stars: Rupert Davies, Sheila Keith, Deborah Fairfax, Paul Greenwood
Frightmare (aka Cover Up) focuses on Jackie, a young woman left to care for her wayward teenage sister Debbie, and who struggles to cope. On top of her problems with Debbie’s nightly escapades and foul mouth, Jackie is also bound by a burden of family duty she can tell no one about. Her parents Dorothy and Edmund had once spent 15 years in a mental institution after it was discovered that mother Dorothy was using tarot readings as a lure for unsuspecting victims to be brutally murdered. When she ate their flesh, her poor, misguided husband Edmund helped her cover up her crimes out of blind love, seeing her as not responsible for her actions. And even though the two have since been declared sane and fit to return to the community, Jackie is not convinced Dorothy has changed her ways.
Frightmare is a very effective British chiller and may stand the test of time as director Pete Walker’s crowning glory. Props must also go to writer David McGillivray – a man who wrote so many Britsploitation classics with style and panache. And let’s also take time to appreciate the character of Dorthy, who is simply magnificent, especially when she is armed with a power drill!
7. Deranged: Confessions Of A Necrophile
Directors: Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby
Stars: Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson, Robert Warner
If not for serial killer Ed Gein, the horror genre would be missing some of its most important films. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and Silence Of The Lambs, just to name a few, are partially based and/or have characters based on the legacy of Plainfield, Wisconsin’s own “Mad Butcher.” But one movie that’s often left out of the group is Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen’s Deranged. This movie is a direct reflection of the life of Ed Gein, from his mother’s death to his arrest. And as they say at the beginning of the film, only names and locations have been changed.
In the film, Ezra Cobb, is a mama’s boy in all the wrong ways. After losing his Bible-thumping mother, Ezra decides the only way to soothe his fractured soul is to dig up dear old mom. Disappointed in her deteriorating appearance, Ezra becomes obsessed with taxidermy in hopes of repairing the rotting corpse. He eventually turns to darker methods of “preservation.”
6. Dead Of Night
Director: Bob Clark
Stars: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Jane Daly
Dead Of Night (aka Deathdream) is a interpretation of The Monkey’s Paw, a short story by W. W. Jacobs. We follow Christine and Charles Brooks, your typical middle-American family who have just been told of their son Andy’s death in Vietnam. Christine, hit hard by the news, refuses to believe it; later we witness her sitting in the dark loudly praying for his safe return. Later in the night, her wish is granted – Andy returns home to everyone’s pleasant surprise. But Andy is not himself – he is withdrawn and hardly talks at all. He also has a few side-effects from his ordeal, like not having a heart beat and occasionally killing people and injecting their blood so his flesh doesn’t fall off. It seems that either Andy is an undead zombie, or this is the most acute case of post traumatic stress disorder anyone has ever seen.
Dead Of Night is probably one of the most depressing horror movies ever made. But in this case, that’s a good thing. The film is also very, very deliberately paced. It’s soaked in atmosphere and it oozes dread. Youngsters today will probably find the picture too slow and boring, but you really should give the movie a chance. You very rarely see horror movies like this nowadays: thoughtful, atypical and aimed at mature audiences.
Director: José Ramón Larraz
Stars: Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Murray Brown, Brian Deacon
This spare, moody story concerns a pair of two beautiful bloodsucking enthusiasts who haunt an abandoned castle and the English country side around it. They prey on passing motorists, whom they seduce, and murder. One such victim is Ted. There is a strange bond between him, and the older of the two woman, Fran. She is unwilling to slaughter him outright, and keeps him alive to serve her sexual and sanguinary needs. Though he is free to leave in daylight, when the woman are nowhere to be found, he finds he can not bring himself to leave. His presence begins to threaten the relationship between Fran, and the younger and more blood-hungry Miriam. Meanwhile, there is that nice English couple camping on the castle grounds, who are trying to figure out just what is going on in that supposedly empty castle.
Vampyres is equal parts bloody gothic horror and soft core erotic spankfest, and, while it is often compared to Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos, this is a much more satisfying, competent, and coherent movie. The film is beautifully shot, with the autumn forests of England serving as a suitably forbidding backdrop. The performances of the two leads is extremely erotic and effective. They’re much more than slinky sex kittens, here, and, the fact that the film also features some genuinely frightening moments (the frenzied manner in which the girls feed is quite disturbing) is the icing on the cake.
4. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
Director: Jorge Grau
Stars: Cristina Galbó, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy, Aldo Massasso
In 1974, the modern zombie genre was still very much in its infancy. Nestled right in the newborn craze’s soft spot is this curio from Spain known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Actually, it’s also called Don’t Open The Window, Do Not Speak Ill Of The Dead, The Living Dead, and The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue – which is the most curious title, as none of the zombie action takes place in Manchester. In total, the film was released under more than 15 different titles internationally. Wowzers.
In the film, a cop chases two hippies suspected of a series of Manson family-like murders; unbeknownst to him, the real culprits are the living dead, brought to life with a thirst for human flesh by chemical pesticides being used by area farmers. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is one of the earliest gore-fest zombie flicks, and has a pleasant distinction of being one with some professional quality. In some 40 years of filmmaking, director Jorge Grau has only two horror films under his belt (the other being The Legend Of Blood Castle in 1973), and he thankfully did it justice with this undead entry.
3. Phantom Of The Paradise
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham
Made in the coke-bloat years of prog rock, this horror musical mashes up Faust and Phantom Of The Opera to produce a weirdy-beardy story about a composer who is lured into cooperating with a sinister record producer only for the sinister record producer to betray him, steal his music, get him thrown in jail and eventually try to wall him up in a room in his enormous house.
Phantom Of The Paradise doubles down on the winking intertextuality that has always characterized director Brian De Palma’s cheekiest work. The film’s broad-strokes indebtedness to its thematic forebears is noticeable enough to be spotted through the blinkered monocular gaze of the Phantom’s helmet. And with its riotous Psycho “shower scene” riff, De Palma crams a plunger over the puss of detractors who dismissed him as little more than a discount-Hitchcock rehash slinger. This is De Palma pouring the new wine of his formal inventiveness and anti-authoritarian irreverence into the old bottles of archetypal myths, and it remains a supremely entertaining anomaly within his filmography, yet entirely emblematic of his filmmaking sensibilities.
2. Black Christmas
Director: Bob Clark
Stars: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon
Although Halloween is credited as the film that kicked off the slasher genre and Friday The 13th is the considered the one that inspired a slew of imitations, Black Christmas pre-dates them both by nearly half a decade. This makes it all the more impressive, then, that despite being one of the earliest proper examples of the genre, it remains one of the better slasher movies 40-plus years after its original release.
Black Christmas opens with someone approaching a sorority house. We don’t know who. He watches as the drunken sorority sisters and their boyfriends are having a little fun before the holidays. The figure moves up the side ladder, crawling through to the attic window of the house – no one is the wiser. A phone rings downstairs. It’s him again! The moaner! All the girls are listening in. The caller is intense, holding nothing back. In an eerie, distorted falsetto voice, he calls the girls “pigs” and threatens to “lick [their] pretty piggy c*nt[s].” After being challenged by one of the girls, he ends the call with a simple, monotone threat – as if using his regular voice: “I’m going to kill you.” Thus, the wheels are in motion for one of the all-time great whodunit horror mysteries.
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Paul A. Partain, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal
In short, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a genuine classic of the genre, a punishing, unrelenting nightmare that never allows viewers even a moment of sanity or security. The film can, and will, be reinterpreted by critics and theorists for decades to come. Though, the movie tells a fairly simple tale at heart. A group of five teenagers driving through rural Texas happen upon a deranged, cannibalistic family. Psychological terror and chainsaw mayhem ensue.
In the years since Texas Chain Saw first hit theaters, there have been countless imitators, sequels and reboots. Yet as loved and influential as the original classic has been, many who would seek to emulate its vision seem to overlook its true strengths. Oh, and Leatherface is still one of the greatest antagonists in horror history – watching him swinging that chainsaw around is almost hypnotic.
What was your favorite horror movie of the year? Let us know in the comment section below.