50 Best Horror Movies Of The 1970s

10. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright

In this elaborate remake of the 1956 horror classic (which, of course, is based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney), health inspector Matthew Bennell is dispatched to investigate the curious behavior of several San Francisco restaurateurs. He begins to notice that even those closest to him are behaving in a detached fashion. The source of this ennui is an alien attack. He discovers that humans are being replaced by alien duplicates; each is a perfect copy of the person replaced, only devoid of human emotion.

On top of being an engrossing conspiracy thriller, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is also a genuinely creepy film which slyly suggests there is something sinister beneath the surface. Emotionally stirring, visually striking and having not aged a day, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers cries out for individuality in a skewed, nightmarish totalitarian reality. The results are as squirmily potent in [insert current year] as they no doubt were in 1978. Whereas the original film was a Cold War allegory, this film is an allegory of the loss of self in the modern world, and it succeeds on every possible level. If Francis Ford Coppola gave the public Apocalypse Now, director Philip Kaufman, in this film, gave the public Apocalypse Wins, a year earlier. It is a work that is of its time, ahead of its time, and of all time, a rarity, especially in genre films.

9. Don’t Look Now (1973)

Director: Nicolas Roeg
Stars: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania

Following the accidental death of their daughter, John and Laura Baxter travel to Venice when the former is commissioned to start work on restoring a church. Upon meeting two elderly sisters in their new home, Laura is told by the strange siblings that their deceased daughter is not only trying to communicate with them, but that they can communicate with her directly.

Laura is intrigued, but John resists the idea. He, however, seems to have his own psychic flashes, seeing their daughter walk the streets in her red coat, as well as Laura and the sisters on a funeral gondola. As stranger and stranger events start to unfold around him and his wife, he starts to believe what the two sisters are telling him, and the emotional journey that he subsequently finds himself on is one that is absolutely enthralling to watch – an emotional story about coping with loss, fatality, and the premature death of a child.

8. Eraserhead (1977)

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.

7. The Wicker Man (1973)

Director: Robin Hardy
Stars: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt

The Wicker Man tells the story of Sergeant Neil Howie, a devoutly Christian police officer called out to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Once there, he discovers the island’s residents are Pagan worshipers, and things are most definitely not what they seem.

The Wicker Man is one of those films that completely captures you. You identify with Sergeant Howie and his battle to find the truth, and, like him, you are also fascinated by the pagan rituals of the islanders (and their openness to sex and procreation). It’s a heady mix of the desired and the dangerous, and as you move further and further into unfamiliar territory you don’t realize the danger until it’s too late. By then you’re emotionally involved, and the ending is almost too brutal to bear.

6. Suspiria (1977)

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.

5. Dawn Of The Dead (1978)

Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, Scott Reiniger, David Emge

Perhaps contrary to popular opinion, Dawn Of The Dead is rather superior to George Romero’s predecessor, the also brilliant Night Of The Living Dead. By a small margin, but still superior. Dawn was made 10 years after Romero’s first foray into zombie terrain, and the filmmaker decided to change things up. It drops all the characters and the setting of the original (which if you’ve seen Night is no real surprise) and picks up at a point where the zombie apocalypse is very quickly growing out of control, despite the apparent containment of the epidemic at the end of the first film.

Moving from shock horror to more of an action/horror vibe, along with plenty of dark comedy and satire, Dawn’s famous shopping mall setting gave Romero plenty of ammunition for more of his patented observations on the non-zombie real world. Well, the technically non-zombie real world, anyway. Plus, this time we get full-color head-exploding action! Yeah buddy!

4. Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto

A cinematic game changer for sure, Ridley Scott’s Alien took a simple premise and shot for the stars. A ragtag crew of space miners, led by female hard-ass Ripley, gets an order to detour from its trip back home and stop on an uncharted planet, from which a mysterious signal has been received. Once there, the Nostromo crew’s members fall, one by one, to a variety of extra-terrestrial threats. Namely a tall, lanky, reptilian beast with no eyes and acid for blood.

Under Scott’s watch, Alien is full of genuine scares, palpable tension, and dazzling visual effects. And speaking of the FX, the alien’s design, credited to H.R. Giger, is the freakiest of its kind; with a long, jai-alia-racket-shaped head and Velociraptor-like arms and legs, the film’s monster is the stuff of intergalactic nightmares. It’s also the benefactor of one of cinema’s all-time great taglines: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Alien proved that material derided as B-movie fodder could be handled with finesse and glossy production values, without diminishing the thrills or polishing over the hard-edged horror – a feat widely imitated but never surpassed (even by the director himself).

3. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

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.

2. Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes

While it’s often wrongly credited as the first ever slasher movie, there’s no denying that Halloween was the first to really nail it and the one that would inspire the endless stream of low-budget slashers that followed it (a stream that would flow right through to the present day). Its simple premise – a babysitter stalked by a faceless, unstoppable killer – made it easy for the viewer to relate and as such made it terrifying to the teenage audiences that came in droves to see it. Simply put, Halloween changed horror cinema forever.

The film, of course, tells the story of Michael Myers, a young boy who suddenly snaps one Halloween. Putting on a clown mask, Michael grabs a kitchen knife and goes upstairs, stabbing his older sister over and over. When his parents get home and find that young Mike has turned his sister into a human colander, he’s sent to a mental asylum for the rest of his life. Fifteen years later he escapes and returns to his hometown to kill again. Simply put, to call Halloween merely brilliant isn’t giving it enough credit. As a horror film and as a historical milestone that single-handedly shaped and altered the future of an entire genre, it’s downright transcendent. Oh, and it has one of the best boob shots ever!

1. The Exorcist (1973)

Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller

Young Regan MacNeil is a pretty run-of-the-mill 12-year-old little girl; sweet, shy and attached to her mother. Oh except for one little thing, a demon has taken up residence in her body and is causing quite a bit of havoc. Her mother, an actress, Chris, a nonbeliever first turns to scientists and doctors to try to cure her little girl until she ultimately seeks the help of Father Merrin. As Regan begins to get worse she starts to exhibit some rather disturbing behavior, to say the least.

More than 40 years after its original release The Exorcist is still hailed as one of the scariest horror movies of all time and earned the distinction of being the first “true” horror nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award (it lost to The Sting). William Friedkin’s tale of demonic possession was so terrifying, in fact, that cinemagoers were known to faint, vomit and go into hysterics while watching it. As Roger Ebert once wrote: “If movies are, among other things, opportunities for escapism, then The Exorcist is one of the most powerful ever made.” Indeed.

So there you have it, the 50 greatest horror flicks of the 1970s. Are there any movies we missed, or ones you’d like to add to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

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