50 Best Horror Movies Of The 1970s

40. The Sentinel (1977)

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.

39. Tales From The Crypt (1972)

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.

38. Piranha (1978)

Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies-Urich, Kevin McCarthy, Barbara Steele

Two teenagers are out exploring one night, and they come across an abandoned military compound that happens to have an artificial pond. An obvious invitation to skinny dip, the two kids waste no time in jumping right in. It seems pretty harmless until something in the water begins to eat them alive! Since the kids never came back home, Maggie McKeown is sent to find them, and she hires a local backwoods resident, Paul Grogan to guide her. They both come across the military compound, which is crawling with all sorts of mutated creatures, the results of failed experiments. Maggie decides to drain the pond to see if the two kids’ bodies turn up, and she unwittingly unleashes a swarm of killer piranha into the local river and lake system. There’s both a campsite and a resort nearby, so both Maggie and Paul have to warn everyone… if only the military (who wants to cover up the experiments) will let them!

In the wake of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975 came countless man vs. nature flicks with everything from bunny rabbits to frogs having us mere humans running for the hills. Joe Dante’s B-movie classic Piranha is considered one of the best imitators, primarily because of its tongue-in-cheek approach and its deliberately campy writing and casting (the Jaws video game appearance was a nice touch as well). And let’s all take a moment to appreciate the tagline: “Then… you were shocked by the great white shark – Now… you are at the mercy of 1000 jaws!”

37. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Director: Charles B. Pierce
Stars: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, Jimmy Clem

Set in the small town of Texarkana on the Texas/Arkansas border in the 1940s, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is something of an oddity. In addition to being presented in a pseudo documentary format, interspersed with a newsreel style narration from Vern Stierman, the film also sets itself apart from other slasher movies of the period with some ill-judged attempts at humor – the comic relief presented here only dissipates any tension built up in previous scenes.

The film’s good points, though, far outweigh its flaws and the best thing about it is the actual man who made the town dread sundown, a silent psycho who specializes in attacking young couples late at night, his face always covered in a burlap sack, with holes crudely cut so only fleeting glimpses of his eyes are ever visible. Birthed at the beginning of a genre boom known for churning out derivative masked killer movies, it’s moderately remarkable that The Town That Dreaded Sundown is as unique as it is. It’s a chaotic blend of slapstick, slaughter, police procedural, and true-crime melodrama. Sundown certainly isn’t a landmark achievement, but it also isn’t a forgettable footnote in the annals of horror history, or even a “so bad, it’s good” romp. Rather, its midnight movie cult status is well-earned simply for being so difficult to quantify under any universal standard of film criticism. There really isn’t another film quite like Sundown. And that’s saying something in this genre.

36. The Last House On The Left (1972)

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.

35. Shivers (1975)

Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Barbara Steele

There’s a streak of slyly black humor running through body horror master David Cronenberg’s debut film, Shivers (aka The Parasite Murders, aka They Came From Within). Its premise, about slug-like parasites that turn the occupants of a luxury apartment block into sex-obsessed maniacs, appears to have been conceived specifically to provoke as many people as possible. But while its story elements are straight from schlock horror – there’s a mad scientist, rubbery monsters, lashings of gore and some suspect acting – there’s still that hint of intelligence and satire that would soon become synonymous with Cronenberg’s name.

Painstakingly thorough and ripe for dissection (see the amazing documentary The American Nightmare for proof of this), startlingly confronting and yet positively alluring, this is a film some still might say is ugly and pointless, but the rest of us can appreciate as an all-time classic shocker – featuring a bathtub scene that will leave you staring at your drain in trepidation for days. Oh, and did we mention the ending? One of the greatest of all time.

34. Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

Director: Alfred Sole
Stars: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula E. Sheppard, Brooke Shields

It’s generally a bit of a taboo in film to combine children with murder. Usually that means filmmakers are wary of killing a kid in a movie – that’s crossing the line – but it also works the other way too. Alice Sweet Alice isn’t scared of such taboos: not only does it include a child being killed mere minutes into its runtime, its entire plot also revolves around the notion that another child may be the one doing the killing.

The child in question is the titular Alice, a badly-behaved 12-year-old girl who constantly bullies her younger sister Karen. With her parents divorced and her dad out of town, it’s perhaps understandable that Alice isn’t getting along with her sister or her mother. It’s not long, however, before things go seriously out of control… and the fun begins.

33. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Jeramie Rain, Fred J. Lincoln

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 The 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 palatable for it. This is one satisfying piece of pulp.

32. Rabid (1977)

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.

31. The Brood (1979)

Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Henry Beckman

Dr. Hal Raglan, a psychotherapist, uses “psychoplasmics” which allows negative emotions to cause a patient’s body to undergo physical change. For his patient Nola Carveth, whose anguish comes from the removal of visitation rights to her young daughter, the result is parthenogenetic reproduction (insect like reproduction where unfertilized eggs develop into lifeforms) creating mutant children (monstrous asexual, color blind, toothless and navel-less little scamps) who have a telepathic bond with their mother. Whenever mommy is upset, the mutants go on a rampage.

Shedding the grindhouse skin of his early films for a cool-clinical sheen, David Cronenberg, with The Brood, presents a bad dream that’s guaranteed to generate recurring nightmares. The horrors are simultaneously literal and allegorical, springing from a deep emotional well that transcends the bounds of conventional drama. This is Cronenberg’s Kramer Vs. Kramer – although that particular picture never featured dwarfish homicidal psychopaths amongst its methods for bridging irreconcilable differences.

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