If you’ve been following the site as of late then you know that we’ve been counting down the greatest horror movies of all time, year by year (each year we rank the top 15). We started with the ’70s because, well, we just wanted to. And now that we’ve made our way from 1970 to 1979 we’ve decided to take the best of the best and compile a huge list of the 50 greatest horror films from the decade of Leatherface and Chestbursters.
Looking back, horror movies of the ‘70s reflected the grim mood of the decade. After the optimism of the ‘60s, with its sexual and cultural revolutions, and the moon landings, the seventies were something of a disappointment. By 1970, the party was over; the Beatles split, Janis and Jimi died, and in many ways it was all downhill from there: Nixon, Nam, oil strikes, glam rock, medallions and feather haircuts. However, when society goes bad, horror films get good, and the ‘70s marked a return to the big budget, respectable horror film, dealing with contemporary societal issues, addressing genuine psychological fears. It’s a glorious time in horror history for fans to reflect upon.
And with all that being said, check out our list of the 50 Greatest Horror Movies Of The 1970s.
50. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)
Director: Dario Argento
Stars: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi
In his debut feature, Dario Argento explores traits, themes and concepts now commonly associated with his blood-soaked body of film work: fetishised depictions of violence and death, identity, gender, Freudian psychoanalysis, paranoia, voyeurism and spectatorship; all played out in the “stranger abroad” story of an American writer who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery in Rome. When he begins his own investigation he unwittingly draws the killer’s attention and must recall a vital clue distorted by memory before his own life is taken.
Visually, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is a marvelous intersection of the skills of director Argento and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The attractive Cromoscope visuals make use of strong compositions emphasizing sinister shadows and menacing silhouettes, but the style is less German expressionism than it is Italian fetishism. The plot and characters arguably come second to the style and atmosphere, but the script, loosely adapted from Fredric Brown’s novel The Screaming Mimi, seductively uncoils as a truly engrossing murder mystery.
49. Daughters Of Darkness (1971)
Director: Harry Kümel
Stars: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau
One of many films at the time 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.
48. Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972)
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 not completely familiar with 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. And 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.
47. The Gore Gore Girls (1972)
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.
46. The Legend Of Hell House (1973)
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.
45. Theater Of Blood (1973)
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.
44. The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Stars: Ingrid Pitt, Pippa Steel, Madeline Smith, Peter Cushing
Based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s pre-Dracula vampire story Carmilla, The Vampire Lovers became the first of a very loose trilogy surrounding the immortal and evil Karnstein clan and their young and voluptuous daughter, Mircalla, alternately known as Carmilla or Marcilla, depending on what guise she feels like going under that day. She uses her feminine and underworldly wiles to get what she truly wants: nubile young women that she preys upon slowly, having them fall deeper and deeper under her sapphic spell. She’s a lesbian, is what we’re trying to say, but she has no compunctions about wooing stupid men in order to get them out of the way of her prizes.
With this premise in place, The Vampire Lovers naturally has some very sexy and hot lesbian action. While it is never graphic nor exploitative in this department, it is certainly very tantalizing. Mircalla biting her victim on her breast instead of her neck is a very proactive twist on vampirism. Another cool twist is when we see Mircalla take the form of a cat. This gives it a nice feminine twist as opposed to the uglier bat usually associated with bloodsuckers in these films.
43. Trilogy Of Terror (1975)
Director: Dan Curtis
Stars: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes
Three stories interwoven together. The first, about a college student infatuated with his teacher. The second, a paranoid tale of two sisters – one good, the other evil, and the third about an African tribal doll that comes to life and terrorizes a woman in her apartment.
The climaxing tale with the fetish doll is the one everyone seems to remember the most, and with good reason. It’s certainly the strangest and most direct of the three, as it’s basically just about our protagonist being assaulted by this weird little doll for no good reason. Indeed, anyone who has seen Trilogy Of Terror remembers the film for one reason and one reason only. It has nothing to do with the music (standard mid-’70s wah-wah), it has nothing to do with the innovative camera work (it’s flatly lit and composed almost entirely of medium shots), and it sure doesn’t have anything to do with those first two segments. No, it’s that damned doll!
42. A Bay Of Blood (1971)
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.
41. The Crazies (1973)
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.