50 Best Horror Movies Of The 1970s

30. Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (1970)

Director: Jaromil Jires
Stars: Jaroslava Schallerová, Helena Anýzová, Petr Kopriva, Jirí Prýmek

Young Valerie lives with her grandmother. She feels the first stirring of sexual awareness when a carnival parade comes to town and a man presents her with a pair of magic earrings. When her fantasy adventures begin, the line between dreams and reality is blurred.

A work of both visceral immediacy and lingering allure, Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders is a uniquely influential film, one of intoxicating sensation and unconscious immersion – and one, for that matter, often recognized and referenced more than actually seen. Based on a novel by the poet Vítezslav Nezval, the film paints its portrait of a young girl’s sexual awakening in highly allegorical strokes, through a mix of gothic imagery, folkloric cues, and mythic conceits. If you aren’t too anxious about decoding what it all means, you’re likely to be quite entranced.

29. Who Can Kill A Child? (1976)

Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Stars: Lewis Fiander, Prunella Ransome, Antonio Iranzo, Miguel Narros

An Englishman and his pregnant wife decide to go holiday before their baby is born, so they head to an exotic Spanish island that they soon find is fairly deserted. In fact, the only inhabitants they do come across are kids, no older than their early teens. The kids do fun, cute little things such as beating old men to death, using corpses as pinatas, and molesting dead bodies. Luckily for the couple, they don’t catch on to this stuff too early in their trip, so they get a chance to walk around and see the sights. The perfect vacation doesn’t come along every day, you know?

It should be said that this movie works very well at making these seemingly innocent youngsters incredibly menacing and to a degree genuinely frightening. The cinematography in the film is near-perfect, using the secluded and deserted nature of the surroundings to engulf the characters and the far-away shots of the children amassing in the village streets to create dread. The filmmakers picked children who are at once cute and terrifying as we know what lurks behind their smiling faces. Having the protagonists be parents themselves was also a genius move as the horror that adorns their faces goes much deeper than simply fearing for their lives. We see how physically ill it makes them to have to think of children behaving this way, but in order to get back to their own children, they may have to drop all illusions that these kids are in any way innocent. This right here is chillingly creepy and unflinchingly confrontational stuff.

28. Torso (1973)

Director: Sergio Martino
Stars: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson

Someone is strangling coeds in Perugia. The only clue is that the killer owns a red and black scarf, and police are stumped. American exchange student Jane and her friends decide to take a break from classes by going up to Danielle’s uncle’s villa in the country. Unfortunately the killer decides to follow, and the women begin suffering a rapid attrition problem.

Discussions about Italian horror films always involve the following directors: Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci. And for good reason – those guys comprise Italy’s holy trinity of terror. But one of the country’s best scare flicks has always been overlooked and under-appreciated, despite the fact that it’s just as good as any of those filmmakers’ most celebrated movies. The film is Torso, and it’s directed by Sergio Martini. Here, he delivers all of the goods; nudity, violence and some really solid scares. The stylized direction and cinematography really amps up the tension using tried and true gimmicks like point-of-view action and odd angled camera shots. What the film lacks in explicit gore, it more than makes up for it in off-screen carnage and uncontaminated suspense. As the tagline says: “Enter… if you dare the bizarre world of the psychosexual mind.”

27. I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

Director: Meir Zarchi
Stars: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols

I Spit On Your Grave (aka Day Of The Woman) is one of the most controversial cult classic rape and revenge films of all time. The story follows a New York City writer who heads up to a secluded cabin in the woods to write her first novel. While there, she is heartlessly raped by four country boys and left for dead. Surviving the assault, she carefully plots and implements horrific, bloody revenge against her attackers.

I Spit On Your Grave was widely panned and discredited upon its release (Roger Ebert called the movie a “vile bag of garbage”), but the film does have its admirers, and managed to spawn a remake in 2010, and even a few sequels to that remake over the next few years. Those willing to defend the film do so on the grounds that I Spit On Your Grave is as merciless and relentless as the brutal act of rape that it is attempting to portray – raw, bloody, and unflinching. Does that make it a good movie? Hard to say. But a list of ’70 horror movies would certainly feel incomplete without it (you can debate its ranking on the list in the comments below).

26. Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

Director: John D. Hancock
Stars: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor, Mariclare Costello

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a story about a woman named Jessica who is released from a mental institution after a six-month stay following a mental breakdown. Upon her release she retreats to her newly-purchased country house, with her husband Duncan and their close friend Woody, to recover in peace and silence. But a strange girl named Emily is at the farm, too, and it soon becomes obvious that she is somehow related to a young woman who drowned on her wedding day over a century ago. Is Emily a vampiric ghost? Are the hostile townsfolk all zombies? Or is Jessica losing her mind all over again?

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is not a movie that will appeal to everyone. Those looking for shock, gore and quick-paced editing won’t find it here. What the movie does have, however, is a great sense of atmosphere and growing unease. We’re never quite certain – is this all coming from Jessica’s feverish imagination, or are there more sinister doings afoot? And as the plot unfolds, it’s easy to empathize more with Jessica and what she’s going through. In fact, this is one of those movies where the main character is someone you really care about – rare in today’s typical horror movie.

25. The Shout (1978)

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Stars: Alan Bates, Susannah York, John Hurt, Tim Curry

An asylum director begins telling a visitor to a cricket game the story of one of his “better” patients, Crossley who is able to compete. Some time previously, Crossley accosted Anthony, a composer, just after church and was for some reason invited to dinner. Once at the composer’s home, he tells the story of his unusual upbringing among Australian Aborigines, and of the awful and strange gifts this has left him with. Among them is the ability to bring about another’s death by using a certain kind of shout. The next morning, he begins to weave an erotic spell on the composer’s wife Rachel, and then proves his killing ability on a sheep in a field. His influence increasingly disrupts their peaceful lives, until in a confrontation, the composer finds a way to best Crossley – but which results in his being placed in a mental institution.

The Shout is a wonderfully strange and beguiling piece of offbeat cinema that combines the sensibility of surrealist Eastern European film with Australian mysticism and English whimsicality to create a uniquely sinister yet often peculiarly funny one-off work, that continues to be well worth investigating.

24. Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)

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.

23. Deep Red (1975)

Director: Dario Argento
Stars: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Macha Méril

A psychic who can read minds picks up the thoughts of a murderer in the audience and soon becomes a victim. An English pianist gets involved in solving the murders, but finds many of his avenues of inquiry cut off by new murders, and he begins to wonder how the murderer can track his movements so closely.

Deep Red was Dario Argento’s first full-fledged masterpiece, a riveting thriller whose secrets carefully unravel via a series of carefully calibrated compositions that become not unlike virtual gateways into Freudian pasts. Through occasional insert shots of marbles and toy dolls, we see a disturbing glimpse into the killer’s mind. The killings in the film are particularly eerie, due to the killer’s insistence on playing a tape of a bizarre children’s song before each crime. The killer’s appearance is stereotypical of the giallo sub-genre, coming complete with a rain slicker, black leather gloves, and a fedora. The film is also, one could argue, Argento’s most grounded in reality. There isn’t as much loopy logic to follow, as most of the clues, motivations, and suspects are somewhat plausible. Its power lies in both its ability to unsettle and the unpredictable course of events that take you to the edge of your seat in a truly gripping finale.

22. Martin (1978)

Director: George A. Romero
Stars: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Tom Savini

Everyone always associates George Romero with his zombie flicks, but if you ask the director, he’ll say the dark character study Martin is his favorite work. Martin is a young man who believes that he’s actually an aged vampire who must drink blood in order to live. Since he has no fangs, Martin must resort to razor blades to draw blood. A regular caller to a local radio talk show, Martin is encouraged by the ratings-conscious host to persist in his vampiric behavior. Despite his random bloodletting, no one takes Martin too seriously except his grandfather, who knows all too well that a vampire curse has befallen the boy.

So, is he a vampire, or isn’t he? This is the question in this forgotten Romero masterwork. What if a “real” vampire has nothing to do with bats, crosses, garlic and chic black capes? What if the whole “sunlight thing” is just fantasy and vampires are merely immortal beings that need blood to survive, with no special powers at all? Then again, what if there is no such thing as vampires and severely imbalanced and murderous behavior is just that, and any fantasies of being an immortal night-stalker have no more basis in reality than an unrequited love for Jodie Foster or Nikes and Kool-Aid in preparation for Hale-Bopp aliens? Interesting stuff…

21. Zombi 2 (1979)

Director: Lucio Fulci
Stars: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver

Strangers looking for a woman’s father arrive at a tropical island where a doctor desperately searches for the cause and cure of a recent epidemic of the undead. Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters), was the film which revitalized Lucio Fulci’s floundering career, and was the first film on his pathway to being dubbed “The Godfather of Gore” (a title, as mentioned earlier, also given to Herschell Gordon Lewis). It should be noted that George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead was released in Europe under the title Zombi, and although Fulci’s film is billed as Zombi 2, it is in no way related to Romero’s series, being simply a marketing ploy. And an effective one at that.

Cutting to the chase, this film is remembered mostly thanks to two iconic scenes. The first is an underwater zombie vs. Tiger shark fight. This was one of the craziest stunts ever carried out in a zombie picture and was reportedly filmed in an underwater tank where the shark was drugged and the zombie was played by the shark trainer. The second has become legendary in the world of horror, the infamous eye-gouging scene. Everything from the screams of terror to the camera shots of the character’s eye approaching the splinter adds to the tension before we ultimately see her eye get stabbed out quite gruesomely. Great stuff.

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