Horror films in 1976 brought us the son of Satan, and the worst (and most bloody) prom night in the history of cinema. 1977 brings us one of the best adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a Dario Argento masterpiece, and a killer armpit vagina.
As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1977.
15. The Child
Director: Robert Voskanian
Stars: Laurel Barnett, Rosalie Cole, Frank Janson, Richard Hanners
Alicianne arrives to fulfill her new position as the governess of a little girl who has recently lost her mother. Young Rosalie Nordon lives with her father and older brother in a rambling country home situated next to a forest. A cemetery is also located nearby, the very one in which her mother has been buried, and Rosalie has been making strange nocturnal visits to the graveyard. It seems Rosalie hates everyone, and plots their deaths, usually at the hands of her “friends”: zombies that prowl the local woods, and that she has somehow befriended by bringing them kittens to eat. She apparently wants to kill everyone who was at her mother’s funeral, since she has a ‘hit list’ sketch she made of the service and places an X over everyone’s face when she kills them.
The Child (aka Zombie Child) is a peculiar combination of horror themes, a mash-up of many styles and ideas. What starts looking like a standard supernaturally possessed child film evolves into a non-traditional zombie film. Clichés are deposited from multiple angles; Halloween, a creepy child with telekinetic abilities, Jack O’Lanterns, lightning storms, maniacal laughter (at a hilarious story about the death of a troop of boy scouts), zombies and even murderous scarecrows. It shouldn’t work yet it does. Even Rosalie is not a naturally creepy looking kid but she still manages to achieve creepy quite well.
Director: Mario Bava
Stars: Daria Nicolodi, John Steiner, Ivan Rassimov, David Colin Jr.
Dora Baldini moves into a house with her huband Bruno and her young son Marco. The house used to belong to her and her first husband Carlo before his suicide. While Bruno is away from home for long periods, Marco starts to act very strangely towards Dora and she starts to have strange nightmares…
Shock (aka Beyond The Door II) is the last directorial effort from cult figure Mario Bava, before he died of a heart attack in 1980. And as a Bava film, Shock actually stands out for a number of reasons. In addition to an apparent push for a more modern horror film, there’s also a little more restraint from Bava’s characteristic visual style, although there’s still plenty of beautiful stuff to look at, and a little more focus in telling a story rather than bedazzling with colorful sets and lavish gothic cinematography. Yet, don’t get it twisted, Shock is still full of stylish touches and nuances. Shock is an offbeat and genuinely suspenseful psychological tale with more than enough interesting touches and genuine scares to make it worth watching… and (no pun intended) a truly shocking finale!
13. The Car
Director: Elliot Silverstein
Stars: James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, R.G. Armstrong
Opening with a quote from top banana at the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey (who has a technical advisor credit here), and a score comprising of a theme lifted from one of the more diabolical sections of Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, The Car unequivocally lays its cards on the table regarding the origins of the film’s mechanical menace. It seems that Beelzebub likes nothing better than spending his days away from the office tearing up the dusty highways of Utah in a black Lincoln Continental looking for pedestrians to run down.
Surprisingly, nearly forty years after its release, The Car still holds up well. Admittedly, it does suffer from a bit of clunky dialogue, and hits the brakes too often (pun intended) for scenes of cops planning roadblocks and patrols, but it is still very much enjoyable. It boasts some great cinematography, lots of cool stunts, and a Shining-esque score that helps build a little tension when Satan’s Lincoln materializes out of the desert. It’s great.
12. Kingdom Of The Spiders
Director: John “Bud” Cardos
Stars: William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode, Lieux Dressler
William Shatner’s career wasn’t exactly soaring when he agreed to star in the low-budget 1977 horror film Kingdom Of The Spiders. A decade after Star Trek (and two years before Star Trek: The Motion Picture), Shatner was barely staying afloat with TV guest appearances and the occasional B-movie. His turn as a podunk veterinarian beset by arachnids wound up being one of the most substantial roles he’d have between stints as Captain Kirk. And darned if Shatner isn’t thoroughly ingratiating in Kingdom Of The Spiders, playing a beer-drinking, cowboy-hat-wearing, clear-headed man of science who has to be convinced that a nest of DDT-enhanced tarantulas poses a threat to every mammal in the county. If Shatner felt the least bit embarrassed about what his life as an actor had come to, he certainly didn’t show it.
Kingdom Of The Spiders is not a greatly technically proficient film, but it is good exploitation schlock without question. Mostly because it has an exploitable premise and the framework of two great films – Jaws and The Birds- to rip off. The difference between The Birds and this is that Hitchcock was taking something generally benign and turning it into something deadly, while in Spielberg’s tale, people could stay away from open waters if they so chose. With spiders, they are everywhere, and everyone has had an experience with them, from walking into a web unintentionally to having one come up a drain. And that’s why the film is effective; it gets to the creepy crawlies. Such gives the film an immediacy that enhances the mostly pedestrian filmmaking.
11. Eaten Alive
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, Robert Englund
So how do you go about successfully following up an instant classic like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? Some would argue that director Tobe Hooper never really has but in 1977 his next project following that landmark film was another grubby little shocker set in the deepest, darkest backwoods of Louisiana, albeit a grubby little shocker with a different kind of bite to it.
After an uncomfortable run-in with randy redneck Buck (a pre-Freddy Krueger Robert Englund), prostitute Clara is given directions to a hotel where she can pull herself together after her ordeal, but when she arrives at the Starlight Hotel she is greeted by the curmudgeonly Judd who introduces her to his pet crocodile in a most unfriendly manner. This is because Judd is slightly unhinged and before long more guests arrive, giving Judd the chance to sharpen up his scythe and slice them up into pieces for his reptilian friend to feast on. Where will it end…?
10. Jungle Holocaust
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Stars: Massimo Foschi, Me Me Lai, Ivan Rassimov, Sheik Razak Shikur
Ruggero Deodato’s first foray into cannibal country (before his later, much sicker Cannibal Holocaust) is one of the finest examples of Mondo cinema, deftly juggling shocking violence with social commentary and still managing to be consistently entertaining. It’s not a film for the squeamish, but, then again, squeamish people don’t seem to frequent horror websites, so by all means, dig in!
Jungle Holocaust tells the story of an oil prospector named Robert Harper who, along with a couple others, lands in the middle of the jungle. Before you can say “what’s cooking,” Robert runs afoul of a cannibal tribe that proceeds to capture and humiliate him, which ranges from being stripped naked to having his penis fondled (seriously) to witnessing the fine delicacies of cannibalism. There are also assorted moments of rape, animal death, and hilariously dubbed voices as well. This is a cannibal movie after all, what else would you expect?
9. Shock Waves
Director: Ken Wiederhorn
Stars: Peter Cushing, John Carradine, Brooke Adams, Luke Halpin
Vacationing teenagers get stranded on a remote island where a reclusive Nazi has been bringing soldiers back to life. Yes, that’s right — Nazi zombies. And not just Nazi zombies. Underwater Nazi zombies. Ding ding ding! We have a winner!
Quietly intense with dreamy hallucinatory images that at times feel strangely like mirages, Shock Waves quickly takes hold of you then slowly tightens its grip. Director Ken Wiederhorn allows his camera to act almost voyeuristic as it creeps through the trees to spy on the zombies that pop up from the murky water. They are presented as paranormal specters that are silhouetted by the blinding sun reflecting off the water. At times, we see them from an extreme distance, marching in formation and turning to barely acknowledge their gaunt commander as he pleads with them to stop their meaningless slaughter. It’s these scenes that will make you fall in love with Shock Waves, the film just subtle enough while every once in a while, getting right in our faces so we can see its soggy decay. We never see any scenes of mass carnage, the zombies preferring to drown their victims instead of gnawing at their flesh and sucking on their entrails. That fact that the film remains eerily tranquil throughout, never getting frantic or hurrying is what really makes this film such an effective little adventure.
8. Demon Seed
Director: Donald Cammell
Stars: Julie Christie, Fritz Weaver, Gerrit Graham, Berry Kroeger
Based on the novel of the same name by Dean Koontz, Demon Seed concerns the imprisonment and forced impregnation of a woman by an artificially intelligent computer. With its far fetched premise, the film had a mixed reaction from both critics and audiences. Although the film has aged some it is amazing to see that a number of the ideas that it ambitiously addressed are still quite prophetic and on point. This film not only envisioned people living in houses almost completely controlled by computers, it also envisioned how intertwined our lives would become with smart technology and what an alienating effect it would have on all of us.
Demon Seed is one of those films that will either fascinate or alienate its audience with few in between. The film is a blend of science fiction and horror – a fascinating brew of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Demon Seed is a true unappreciated classic. It is involving, intelligent, farsighted, and very scary. To find a movie with all those traits in today’s lowest common denominator cinema would be as miraculously as the immaculate conception itself.
7. Count Dracula
Director: Philip Saville
Stars: Louis Jourdan, Frank Finlay, Susan Penhaligon, Judi Bowker
There have been countless adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Some of them are more watachable than others, some border on the unbearable, and a few even cross that border and are less undead than they are just dead. This 1977 TV movie, produced by the BBC is one of the better versions. Perhaps even the best.
For those familiar with Stoker’s novel, this adaptation follows the book quite closely in most respects. Jonathan Harker visits the Count in Transylvania to help him with preparations to move to England. Harker becomes Dracula’s prisoner and discovers Dracula’s true nature. After Dracula makes his way to England, Harker becomes involved in an effort to track down and destroy the Count, eventually chasing the vampire back to his castle. It’s true, this might not be the iconic vision of this story. It isn’t the blockbuster vision of the 1992 version nor is it the rich gothic horror achieved by Hammer. It is, however, a fine production, one that will appeal to novel purists certainly, but one that should find its way onto the viewing lists of all genre fans.
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan
Young Rose is involved in a motorcycle accident, and has experimental surgery performed in order to save her life. However, she develops a taste for blood. Her victims grow in number as well as madness, turning the city into chaos.
David Cronenberg had a most interesting act to follow with his 1975 directorial debut Shivers. And boy did he deliver. Rabid is an unconventional vampire film that showcases its director’s distinct aesthetic signature, which includes disturbing, highly memorable visuals that depict deformed human flesh, body transformation and/or mutation, bodily fluids, disease and a plethora of symbolic sexual imagery. The strength of Cronenberg’s sophomore effort lies in his ability to use these unnerving visuals to not only frighten his audience, but to also express deeper themes and ideas within the story. Indeed, after the shock tactics of Shivers, this venture into body horror is very much more subdued, but holds up astonishingly well for all the reasons aforementioned.
5. The Sentinel
Director: Michael Winner
Stars: Cristina Raines, Ava Gardner, Chris Sarandon, John Carradine
Alison Parker is a successful but neurotic model and commercial actress; despite that success and her seemingly healthy relationship with attorney Michael Lerner, she can’t shake her traumatic childhood. When her father succumbs to cancer, those memories come rushing back and drive her further into neurosis. While she and Michael have lived together for over a year, she decides to seek out her own apartment, and her search yields her a massive apartment with a deal that’s too good to be true. Once she meets the odd neighbors (which include a catatonic priest who peers at her from the uppermost floor) and experiences a series of apparent hauntings, she begins to learn exactly why the place was such a steal.
One of the more unique offerings from the demonic horror cycle of the time, The Sentinel doesn’t actually confine itself to one sub-genre. Instead, it acts as more of a grab bag of ’60s and ’70s obsessions that makes it the successor to everything from The Exorcist to The Devil Rides Out. One can see all of the elements from the big American Satanic trio here: the opening with some ominously intoning Vatican priests echoes The Exorcist and The Omen, while the director returns the sub-genre to the suffocating confines of an apartment building, à la Rosemary’s Baby. The director also successfully replicates the overbearingly ominous tones of those films as well; while its mystery is compelling, The Sentinel is fuelled by an otherworldly sinister feeling.
4. The Hills Have Eyes
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Susan Lanier, Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, John Steadman
The upper crust Carter family is traveling on vacation towing a travel trailer from Ohio to Los Angeles. On the way, the family insists on seeing a silver mine in the Nevada desert as part of their trip. An hysterical old man at a petrol station tells them not to go there, but of course our intrepid family ignore him and end up with a broken car in the middle of nowhere. They end up in the hands of mutant, redneck cannibals who survive in the barren area by preying on unsuspecting families like the Carters. After a night of extreme violence at the hands of the cannibal family, the remainder of the Carter family decide to take revenge on the rednecks which leads to even greater bloodshed.
After 1972’s Last House On The Left director Wes Craven didn’t make a horror film for five years, perhaps drained by filming the unrelentingly grim Last House and the controversy that followed it. In 1977 he returned to the horror genre with The Hills Have Eyes. This, while still certainly grim in places, doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of depravity that Last House achieved, and is all the more re-watchable for it. This is one satisfying piece of pulp.
Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Stars: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara
Seven schoolgirls encounter a malevolent force in an isolated old mansion. As this entity picks them off, one by one, the survivors struggle to unearth a mystery which stretches back decades, hoping they may find a way to live through what was supposed to be an idyllic weekend in the country. Cue the inventive death scenes, cue the gore.
Any simplified plot summary of Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 classic is bound to sound this commonplace, this trite. What such a bare synopsis fails to capture, though, is the sheer weirdness of this movie, the cinematic anarchy Obayashi unleashed on audiences in the guise of a spooky tale. House is equal parts goofy kids’ movie and gory horror flick. And any movie where, say, a girl comments on the “naughty” movements of her disembodied legs as they wriggle under the lid of a piano she’s playing with her chopped-off fingers gets points for originality. If you crashed a teenage girls’ pajama party after necking some bad acid, this is probably what it’d feel like.
Director: Dario Argento
Stars: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé
Suzy Bannion is a naïve young American ballet student who arrives in Munich one ominously windy night to enroll in a prestigious dance academy. At the entrance of the academy, she briefly crosses paths with one Pat Hingle, an expelled student seen leaving in fear. When Pat is gruesomely murdered that same night, it provokes Suzy and fellow student Sarah to investigate. As they piece together the many shady occurrences in and around the academy, Suzy gradually comes to the realization that the school is in fact a cover for a particularly evil coven of witches.
Dario Argento’s kaleidoscopic classic Suspiria is not set in our world. It takes place in a world of vibrant expressionism – of harsh reds, blues, yellows and greens; of imposing and fantastical architecture and labyrinthine interiors. It’s a world where a heavy rainstorm means that sinister forces are at work and maggots in the attic mean that something ugly is lurking just beyond the pretty surfaces. Making only as much sense as it needs to, the film is a modern-day fairy tale of the darkest variety and more than earns its reputation as one of the creative peaks of Italian horror, as well as ‘70s horror in general.
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates
Henry Spencer is a hapless factory worker on his vacation when he finds out he’s the father of a hideously deformed baby. Now living with his unhappy, malcontent girlfriend, the child cries day and night, driving Henry and his girlfriend to near insanity.
Eraserhead is a film of disturbing beauty and harsh reality. These two things may seem to cancel out, but in the talented hands of director/writer David Lynch, the film takes us on a twisted carousel trip through the human psyche and the troubled conditions of the soul. Too often cast aside as simply a “weird movie,” Eraserhead is a true visual masterwork that deserves the appreciation of its audience that will ostensibly lead to a further appreciation of life itself. This admiration can be gained by a close analysis of the film’s most constant themes and metaphors that show how the film’s content is pertinent to events in our own lives. The bizarre images that warp the screen are moving pieces of art that invoke strong mental responses in the viewer. The interpretations are endless and half the morbid excitement is in attempting to piece everything together to fit into the film’s puzzle-like framework. Perhaps one day the ultimate interpretation of Eraserhead will rise from the shadowy ashes. Until that time, let us open our minds, invite the ghosts of our past to join us, and take a long journey down that utterly beautiful and completely terrifying road known as Life.
What was your favorite horror movie of 1977? Let us know in the comment section below.