The Depths Of Obscurity: Sadistic Horror Films from the 1970s
With this second edition of Depths of Obscurity I wanted to get festive. Now, I’m not a horror guy. Most horror flicks just don’t do anything for me. I have a hard time getting scared or disturbed by movies, and in the rare cases where I am, its not a fun movie experience. I’ve never understood the thrill in trying to scare yourself for recreation. I prefer to sleep soundly at night. That being said, every October there are countless horror films on seemingly all the time and I feel obligated to catch at least a few of them. Like a food which I don’t like, I feel if I expose myself to enough of it, my palate may change and someday I might finally start to appreciate the fine art of gore.
In this blog I use the rank filters to scour Flickchart searching for the most obscure lists possible. Lists that are so niche that there exist only a few movies which fall into the specific category. There are many horror related filters available. I could have gone with ‘Costume Horror from the 1950s‘ or ‘Haunted House Films of the 1990s‘, but I decided to go all out and really try to shake myself. Why not go to the origins and see what was the worst of the worst in in the golden age of exploitation. In this post I delve into the twisted world of ‘Sadistic Horror Films from the 1970s‘. This was the birth of the genre that is currently at its peak of popularity with franchises like ‘Saw‘ and ‘Hostel‘ achieving mainstream consumption. Looking at the top Sadistic Horror films of all time, the top twenty are nearly exclusively dominated by movies released in the last decade. In the 1970’s these films were fringe, playing primarily in grindhouses and facing heavy censorship. Today’s audiences are inundated with blood and violence with each successive slasher film trying to outdo the last. As I ventured into this mini-marathon of mutilation, I asked myself: Could forty year old films possibly disturb the mind of a person tempered in modern gore?
There are three movies in this list, none of which crack the Global Top 2000. I decided to start with the most well known, from a director who would go on to become one of the biggest names in horror, with Wes Craven‘s ‘The Last House of the Left‘ (ranked #2,980). Craven would go on to direct several landmark horror franchises such as ‘A Nightmare on Elmstreet‘, ‘The Hills Have Eyes‘ and ‘Scream‘, but it all started with this film. Out of the three, it’s certainly the most accessible – although that’s not saying it’s all too palatable. In it, an attractive teenage girl and her friend decide to go into a bad part of town for a concert when they are abducted by a group of psychopathic escaped murderers who take joy in torturing their captives. While there is some disturbing content, it doesn’t go to outright exploitation. The problem is – it’s not all that scary either. I had a hard time taking the “evil” gang seriously when their personas are so over the top. The borderline comical portrayal of the group clashes with the seriousness of what unfolds. The narrative is clunky and the torture was somewhat tame. Fortunately, there is a fantastic revenge fantasy played out which ultimately saves this from being a complete waste of time. It’s sloppy, but at least there are some memorable moments which make it all worth it.
While all the movies in this category could be considered exploitation films, ‘Bloodsucking Freaks‘ (ranked #8,828) takes this concept to a whole new level. The movie is about an S&M theatre owner who puts on gruesome torture shows for paying audiences. The audience believes that what they are watching is trickery and applaud appreciatively of the bloodbath. Unbeknownst to them, the theatre owner is a lunatic who enslaves women and exploits them for his show. Desperate to be taken seriously, he kidnaps a famous dancer to star in his newest disturbing production. While watching this film I got the eerie feeling that I was supposed to be reveling in the grotesque, sexually infused brutality unfolding. The basic pattern for any given scene was the following: Woman is degraded. Woman is sexually abused. Woman is tortured. Woman screams for several minutes. Woman dies. Evil guy laughs hysterically. It all gets tied together with a disturbingly cheery little-person who carries out the awful deeds. This is the bottom of the barrel of filmmaking, and not something I’m willing to give any credit to. It’s not that I was shocked or disturbed by what I saw, I just didn’t care. At some point while watching this, you have to ask yourself if you are any different than the people in the torture show audience blindly consuming the deranged smut put in front of them. Degradation and mutilation is not something I take pleasure in watching – even if it is just fantasy. However, I will give partial credit for sucking brains through a straw.
Next on the list is ‘The Last House on Dead End Street‘ (ranked #14,083), which is so obscure that at the time of writing this, only eight other Flickcharters have actually seen it. Apparently the cast and crew blew almost the entire budget on drugs, and were high for most of the filming. Now, these types of claims are usually more urban legend than truth, but after watching the film I’d be shocked if they could have made this film sober. It’s a twisted tale of a low-life ex-con who, after failing in the porn industry, switches to snuff films. Determined to make his mark he takes this idea to a disturbing new low and actually carries out the killings and mutilation on innocent victims. Some of the scenes are pretty graphic and I won’t lie, I felt a bit nauseous after watching it. It’s little wonder why the actors used fake names and the director was unknown for over thirty years. Now, I’m not going to blow it out of proportion. There is nothing in it that will shock the most depraved of you out there, but of the three it was certainly the hardest to watch. Again, my biggest problem is that it’s just not scary. Disturbing, yes, but it’s not something thats going to make you want to switch the lights on. Once again – the downfall was the plot, or, lack thereof. It was hard to get a grasp on what exactly was happening, and in the end it just kind of ran itself into the ground. Without a solid story trying everything together, it’s just a montage of unsettling imagery. This doesn’t make for great cinema.
Going into this I was hoping to see some good old fashion gore, and maybe to be surprised with really decent horror along the way. The gore certainly didn’t disappoint, but all three failed at being anything more than forgettable. Granted, they were done with almost no budget and by unknown directors, but I was hoping that at least one would be able to break through my disinterest in the genre with something compelling. However, ‘Last House on the Left‘ was the closest to being an actual complete film and was by far the most chilling. Working with very little, Craven was able to come up with something solid – foreshadowing his future success. Coming in second is ‘Last House on Dead End Street‘, which at least had a couple of interesting scenes even if it ultimately fell apart. Anything is better than the utter disaster of a film that is ‘Bloodsucking Freaks‘. If you are going to sink to that level of exploitation, at least make it interesting. I think that was the common theme among all of these movies. None held my interest. I gave it a shot, but this genre really isn’t my cup of tea. I know there are plenty of horror fantastics out there though, so check a few of these lesser viewed flicks this October and let me know how wrong I am. Both ‘Bloodsucking Freaks‘ and ‘Last House on the Left‘ are available on Netflix Instant, but if you want to catch ‘Dead End Street‘ you will have to turn to a source other than Netflix, since it’s not available there at all.
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Alex as bluevoid on Flickchart, and at his blog – moviefodder.com. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.