The Top 10 Horror Movies of the 1970’s
Unlike other websites, our Top Ten lists are created from the empirical data of our global rankings decided upon collectively by all the users of Flickchart.
The Seventies are renowned as a decade of artistic growth and experimentation, and the Horror genre in particular benefited greatly from this storytelling freedom. Audiences accustomed to escalating violence on the 6 o’clock news proved not just accepting of, but eager for, films that explored in graphic detail themes and subjects previously considered too unsavory for mass consumption. Horror films became the meeting place between gruesome reality and cathartic entertainment in a world that no longer accepted the chastity and good-always-wins pageantry of the genre’s forbears. In short, Horror enjoyed a renaissance throughout the decade that gave birth to the modern horror film as we know it today. Here are the current Top 10 Horror Movies of the 1970’s, as determined by the Flickchart community.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre loomed large for my generation. It was already entrenched as a notorious film, its very title conjuring gruesome imagery. I didn’t get around to seeing it myself until 2010. I confess, it underwhelmed me. I know all about its place in horror film history and I get why it’s relevant, but I didn’t feel the dread that its fans praise. I saw the characters as nothing more than fodder and I didn’t care when they were picked off one by one. However, I do have a certain vicarious fondness for the film because I love Summer School. – Travis McClain
There really isn’t a Final Girl in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. No, Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) is better described as a person who just experienced the worst day imaginable whose sanity is dangling by a thread. Chain Saw is an ordeal. Unlike later slasher films that favor revelling in the joy of creative kills (in-between shower scenes), here is a motion picture that is all about depicting the raw terror of being stalked and tormented by a maniac. Or, in this case, a family of them. Chain Saw does resemble a slasher flick in some ways, sure, and it also enters into “torture porn” territory toward the end, but it doesn’t succumb to excesses of either genre. It’s savage and brutal without relying on rivers of blood and guts to make its point. Instead, the viewer is assailed with relentless screaming and chainsaw revving that brings home the pants-wetting horror of such a scenario. The ending of the film is total madness. As Sally Hardesty speeds away in the back of the pickup laughing crazily, while Leatherface swings his power tool around like a dervish, I get the impression that she’ll never wake up from her nightmare. – Chad Hoolihan
If Jaws made one afraid to go in the water, then the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers did the same for going to sleep. It easily tops the original 1956 version, but it does it on its own terms. While only keeping the original idea, director Philip Kaufman uses it to go back to the drawing board and tell a modern-day horror story in the big city that gets scarier as the story thickens. The original Invasion was creepy in exactly the same way, but the reason that Kaufman succeeds more so is that he turns this simple sci-fi story into something truly frightening. And just when you think it’s all over, that last shot of Donald Sutherland gets immediately ingrained in your memory, haunting you like very few images have ever done in cinema history. – Nicholas Vargo
What if the person closest to us, the person we love and trust the most, is suddenly replaced by someone who looks, talks and dresses the same… but isn’t quite the same? For me, that’s always been the most frightening element of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It takes one of the most basic of human needs — to connect to another person — and turns it against us. Philip Kaufman amped up the horror element in his ’78 version to a level that emphasizes this destruction of trust. As much as I love the earlier Don Siegel version of this film, Kaufman’s film looks at the stripping of people’s identities with less focus on the sci-fi and more on the horror. Of course, in the last moments of the film, he takes it to its bleakest conclusion. Once the destruction of trust begins, it will never end – and that only makes it all the more terrifying. – Andy Nelson
Losing a child can drive a person crazy, or so states the premise of Don’t Look Now. The movie works more on a psychological level of terror as John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) starts having strange visions of his recently deceased daughter. Director Nicolas Roeg adds a lot of subtlety to this psychic thriller that helps it transcend into more of an allegory about guilt and self-condemnation. I find that horror films tend to work best at this kind of allegorical level. The waterways and architecture of Venice create an eerie and unusual atmosphere for a horror film, and every shot is composed in a way that utilizes the scenery to enhance the foreboding sense of doom. Sutherland and Julie Christie give outstanding performances in what truly is one of the best horror films of the 1970s. – Al Topich
I became a bit of a Nicolas Roeg fan after puzzling through such eccentric, stylized films as The Man Who Fell to Earth and Walkabout. Don’t Look Now, perhaps his most highly regarded work, was the first to leave me disappointed. I slipped into boredom during the famous sex scene (falsely rumored to be real intercourse) between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, probably because neither of them have much personality. I was just watching two naked people I felt no connection to contorting their bodies into a variety of positions (set to an unsexy score). The pair of old English ladies they meet in Venice are more interesting. I could’ve easily sat through a film about them. (NOTE: The climax of the film is also famous, but rather for being WTF? bizarre. A little more of that sprinkled throughout the rest of the film would’ve been nice as well.) – Chad Hoolihan
For the longest time, horror stories were set in remote places where the protagonists would be most vulnerable. The brilliance of John Carpenter’s Halloween is that it all takes place in a perfectly ordinary American suburb. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) was the girl next door…which meant that your next door neighbor could have been the prey for Michael Myers (Tony Moran). Carpenter’s minimalist approach makes the film feel like a reenactment more than a work of fiction, which in turn heightens how realistic the danger feels. You could avoid sharks by not going to the beach, but there’s no obvious way to avoid a psychopath stalking the neighborhood where you live. Halloween is the one film in this list that frighteningly seems more plausible with each local news broadcast. – Travis McClain
Say hello to one of the fathers of the slasher genre. John Carpenter’s Halloween takes away the innocence of a child right away and puts a face on evil – a monster so terrifying, Hell didn’t want him. The creepy, soulless eyes of Michael Myers almost instantly made him a horror movie icon. One of the most memorable scenes is when Michael is admiring one of his freshest kills with a simple head tilt. The film is set in the small town of Haddonfield, IL, which becomes a character itself. As we are introduced to the various people that inhabit the town, the action limits itself to houses right across the street from each other. This gives a sense of being enclosed. There is nowhere else to run. The creepy music is now considered a classic score of the genre. Halloween has now become a timeless movie and a perfect film for the season. Oh, and Michael’s Myers mask is a William Shatner mask painted white – so there’s that, too. – Ryan Hope
There’s weird, and then there’s Eraserhead-weird. The strange, black and white beginning to a career chock-full of oddity and surrealism from director David Lynch cemented his place in horror with a budget under $100k, a deformed mutant baby, and its brutal, tormented protagonist Henry Spencer (Jack Nance). The film’s unrelentingly slow pacing, German Expressionist landscapes, and industrialist scenery only adds to its unnerve as you witness the bizarre, unreal lives of its characters. With a dark ambient soundscape, sexual underpinnings, and nihilistic plotting, it’s no wonder Eraserhead has risen to become a textbook cult favorite. It’s also easy to see the genesis of many of the ideas Lynch would later bring to bear in other projects such as his TV darling Twin Peaks, or his later experimental works such as Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. If you’ve got 90 minutes to kill, and are looking for something to make you squirm and intrigue you in equal measure, you’d be hard pressed to do better than Eraserhead. – Nathan Chase
After producing some of the most unconventional films ever conceived, David Lynch is now considered to be one of the most bizarre figures in Hollywood. If you have ever wanted to take a peek inside the peculiar mind of Mr. Lynch, then I would say Eraserhead is probably the most accurate portrayal that can be imagined. The plot of the film follows no rhyme or reason and is surrealistic in nature as the main character wanders from one strange encounter to the next. Since the plot is almost indecipherable, it is the cinematography that haunts the audience. Each individual image is meticulously crafted by Lynch. He creates an abnormal and grotesque world that disgusts us, yet we can’t seem to take our eyes away from the screen. Even if you don’t understand the movie, Eraserhead will forever haunt your memories. – Al Topich
Dawn of the Dead is an amazing horror film for many reasons. First and foremost, it doesn’t feel like a horror film, which might make it scarier than intended. Secondly, there is much more to the film than gore and death (although there’s plenty of both). This is a film that is as funny as it is scary, but that is thanks to its pointed consumerism which is a perfect ironic counterpoint to the horror. And yet, it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end because you never know if our four heroes will actually be alive at the end. They’re all expendable, and director George Romero reminds us of that fact throughout with beautiful speeches like Ken Foree’s “no more room in Hell” speech, which says much more than just saying it as a matter of fact. Dawn of the Dead is smart horror fare at its absolute finest! – Nicholas Vargo
Flickchart User Comments:
…I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Dawn, after giving it some thought. I’m not sure what pushed me that way. Maybe zombies-in-a-mall is just too cool an idea for a movie for Dawn to lose here. Zombies, mang. They always win, I guess.
damn, a movie about zombies or a bio of a famous musician? zombies win
Harold, Kumar, and NPH are all wonderful, but the zombies in the mall is my favorite zombie movie ever.
“Zombies, mang. They always win, I guess.” Guess so!
An exercise in pure sensory experience, Suspiria’s combination of fantastically gory set pieces and music by the band Goblin add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. The story’s a little too simple and the acting a little unconvincing, but the visceral use of color and music sticks with you anyway. Some of Dario Argento’s films are a bit better all around (Deep Red, for example), but Suspiria holds its place as pure cinema. – Jandy Hardesty
Everybody talks about the slam-bang opening. Yeah, I admit being blown away by the onslaught of baroquely gruesome bloodshed and soul-pounding music that initially sweeps our heroine, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), into the fold. I wasn’t truly converted as a Suspiria fanatic until much later in the film, though. Not until I heard “Hell is behind that door! You’re going to meet death now… the LIVING DEAD!”, and the accompanying swell of wonder and fear I felt waiting for said death to emerge, did I fully realize that I was in the presence of greatness. That still remains one of my favorite movie moments of all time, and the maniacal laugh when that door opens has yet to cease echoing in the darker areas of my imagination. – Chad Hoolihan
3. The Exorcist
Religious horror movies are almost exclusively built around Catholicism, which makes sense for several reasons, but also rarely engages me as I’m not Catholic. The Exorcist, however, questions everything about religion – from whether demonic possession is “real” to whether God even exists. These are near-universal questions. By asking them, the film avoids presenting Father Perrin (Max von Sydow) as a Super-Priest. Even at the film’s conclusion, there’s a sense that there are a lot more questions than answers. I may not buy into possessions or holy water, but I do connect with people who have doubts about themselves and their beliefs. Gawking at possessed Regan (Linda Blair) might be the bait, but it’s the personal drama that makes The Exorcist so compelling. – Travis McClain
My mother is not a sadist, but she did have a perverse tendency to tell us details of disturbing movies she’d seen when we were way too young to hear them. The Exorcist was one such movie, but it’s probably the only one that didn’t disappoint when the adult me finally got around to seeing it. The Exorcist is a triumph of horror special effects — the practical kind, not the digital effects of movies you see today. When the devil spins Linda Blair’s head 360 degrees, or reduces her face to a mess of open sores and shouted rage, it produces a visceral shock that doesn’t soon leave you. Of course, the brilliance of William Friedkin’s film is that it doesn’t have to rely on the overt physical horrors of devil possession to be as disquieting as it is. There may be no more chilling moment than when Regan matter-of-factly tells a party guest “You’re going to die up there” and urinates on the carpet. I don’t think my mom told me about that one. – Derek Armstrong
We may be able to blame Jaws for creating blockbuster culture, but deep down Jaws more closely resembles a thoughtful yet thrilling character-driven piece that happens to feature a giant, man-eating shark. In a movie that begins with beachgoers being picked off by an unseen menace and ends with one man left standing on a decimated boat, the best scene is when the grizzled old shark hunter (Robert Shaw) tells a story of a previous encounter with sharks. Simply sits in the cabin of the boat and tells a story. Because the power of Jaws is the power of dread, of sitting in the dark not knowing when the shark will strike again, just knowing that it will. No other movie has so successfully balanced heart-stopping dread with heart-racing intensity. – Jandy Hardesty
For good or ill, it may have launched the modern blockbuster era, but no one can argue that Jaws did not deserve its success. It’s a perfect storm of performance, mood and atmosphere that few other films can touch. Witness Quint’s chilling tale, or Brody’s tender moments with his son. And, just as with Alien, it was limitations in the technology that contributed to one of Jaws’ greatest strengths: the power of pure suspense. When Spielberg’s malfunctioning mechanical “Bruce” finally rears his ugly head, it doesn’t matter that the shark looks fake. We’ve already spent an entire movie dreading his appearance, and he scares the pants off of us. – Nigel Druitt
“In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream” warns the now-iconic poster tagline. Screenwriter/co-creator Dan O’Bannon was, like me, a Crohnie (he died in 2009 due to Crohn’s disease), and as I watched the film for the first time last year, I was conscious throughout of various allusions to this painful condition he and I shared. Quarantine airlocks? Crohn’s. Aliens overrunning the bowel-like tunnels of the planet? Crohn’s. Alien bursting through a dude’s chest? Crohn’s. The hardest scene for me to watch wasn’t actually the chest-bursting alien. It was that entire passage of Kane (John Hurt) in the infirmary, which called to mind my own hospitalizations. Not many movies are as unsettling for me as is Alien! – Travis McClain
What’s so effective about Alien is its visual aesthetic; despite horribly aged computer screens, the film still looks fantastic today. It benefits from both the way Ridley Scott chose to shoot certain things, and the limitations in late ‘70s effects. No one can discount the horror on Veronica Cartwright’s face as a real reaction during the chest-bursting scene, as none of the cast were told exactly what to expect. The Alien itself is scary precisely by it never being fully revealed. As great as it is that modern effects can create literally anything a director can imagine, Alien is proof positive that sometimes less is more… and it’s all thanks to a troublesome creature suit that refused to move quite the way Scott wanted. – Nigel Druitt
What are your favorite Horror flicks from the Seventies? Sound off!