An Incomplete History of Horror Films Part IV.

My Incomplete History of Horror is back and this time, its the 70s. I love 70s horror films, so this one is going to be a big entry.

A new wave of horror movie was on the horizon as the 1970s rolled around. There was still room for some of the classics as Hammer films continued with their Dracula series (as well as others). But the 70s built on the films of the 60s like Psycho where the bad guy was just that… a guy. This time around, the entire family was brought in to be the monster; father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter, any and everyone was fair game now. Horror movies ‘inspired’ by real events began to appear and there were great advancements in technology and make up effects too. Writers and directors began to push the limits of what could be seen on the big screen, many of them even pushed things a little too far…

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The Wizard of Gore (1970): Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis who is often called; “the Godfather of Gore” and credited with creating the ‘Splatter’ sub-genre of horror film. A magician, Montag the Magnificent performs gruesome mutilation tricks on ‘volunteers’ who always walk away from the performance, but also later end up dead. A TV talk-show hostess begins to investigate the magician and suspects him as the killer.

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Herschell Gordon Lewis was known as “the Godfather of Gore” for a damn good reason, this film is gory and then some. The acting is terrible and the plot can be cumbersome, but its still an absolute riot of a gore-fest. If you want deep characters and a meaningful story then you wont find it here. But what you will find is a blood soaked, car crash of a horror movie. It difficult to watch, but impossible to look away.

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The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971): Starring Vincent Price and directed by Robert Fuest. Dr. Phibes supposedly died in a car crash after learning of his wife’s death during an operation in hospital. Four years later and the doctors that performed the fatal operation are turning up dead in strange circumstances based on the ten plagues of Egypt. Dr. Phibes is back and extracting his revenge.

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Vincent Price is just amazing here and plays the part of a heartbroken, vengeful man like no other. The sets and costumes are a beautiful throwback to art deco of the 1920s when this film is set. There is also a wonderful dark, British humour flowing through the whole movie that never feels out of place. The deaths are very creative and quite surprising with an ending that leaves it open for a sequel… and a sequel we got too. Dr. Phibes Rises Again,(1972) is not quite a great at this film but still worth checking out as a marvellous double feature.

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Reazione a catena (1971): AKA; A Bay of Blood, Twitch of the Death Nerve or Blood Bath is an Italian horror directed by Mario Bava. A wheelchair bound heiress is murdered by her husband in her mansion, who in turn is killed by an unknown murderer. News of the murders gain the interest of four local teenagers who break into the seemingly deserted mansion only to find the murderer is still there.

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As mentioned in the part III, its often said that Peeping Tom (1960) was the first film that put in place many of the tropes of the ‘slasher film’. This film is the birth of the modern ‘slasher’ and main influence for Friday the 13th (1980). You have the teenagers, the stalking killer and the gruesome deaths. In fact, some of the death sequences in this film were ‘borrowed’ by Friday the 13th and its sequels. This is an awesome and little known film well worth watching as the story is not quite as straight forward as it first seems that’ll leave you trying to second guess who the killer is in this blood soak orgy of violence.

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The Last House on the Left (1972): From the legendary writer/director Wes Craven comes one of the most infamous and controversial horror films ever made. Mari Collingwood is turning seventeen and she plans on going to watch her favourite band in concert with her friend. The two set out to the gig, but on the way they cross paths with a gang who recently escaped from prison lead by Krug Stillo.

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This film is notorious for many reasons. It was hugely controversial when it was released and was heavily cut or even outright banned in some countries. Its a brutal, hard to watch picture as the torture and torment the girls go though is shown in great detail, plus there is the overly long rape sequence. Its a rough looking film that has an almost documentary style and feel about the whole thing. Overall, the film is hardly what I would call ‘good’ as there are many, many problems with it (mainly the ‘comic relief’ cops). But I would describe this movie as a flawed masterpiece. It a low budget, cheap schlock film that tries its hardest to shock and shock it does do. One of the first films that pushed the limits of what could be shown in movies during the 1970s.

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The Exorcist (1973): Based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty and directed by William Friedkin. Chris MacNeil and her pre-teen daughter Regan, live a quiet life in Georgetown. After playing with a Ouija board, Regan begins to display unusual behaviour which slowly gets worse and worse as Regan transforms from a sweet and innocent young girl into a foul mouthed, violent child. As if someone or something is controlling her.

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Let me just get this out of the way first. The Exorcist is my all time favourite horror film. You say to me ‘horror film’ and The Exorcist instantly pops into my head. It featured such strong and iconic imagery like the exorcist arriving at the house shot in silhouette or Regan in full possession (see above). Then there is the often overlooked sound design of the film and the incredible music of Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, watch this film with a good surround sound system for the full effect. This is a true horror film in every sense of the word. William Peter Blatty wrote the novel after being inspired by true events, and this film sparked off a trend in movies that were ‘based on true events’ through the 70s. I simply can not recommended The Exorcist enough. Over the years there have been multiple different cuts of the movie with added/alternate scenes, but any version you watch (as long as its not a edited for TV one) will be well worth checking out.

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Theatre of Blood (1973): From director Douglas Hickox and starring Vincent Price. Edward Lionheart is an actor who is continually berated and overlooked by critics and denied a prestigious acting award. He attempts suicide by driving his car into the river Thames but is saved by a a group of homeless people. Lionheart returns to extract his revenge on the critics by murdering them in ways inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.

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This could pretty much be described as Dr. Phibes 3 as the plots are very similar. Only this film is much more violent and gruesome than the two Dr. Phibes films as the death scenes are much bloodier and creative. It interesting how Vincent Price is playing a character similar to himself as he was an overlooked actor for years and didn’t really become famous until much later in his life. You can really tell Price had a great time playing this part with all the disguises he wears and characters he gets to play. Plus the fact he also does a fair bit of Shakespeare along the way too. If you enjoyed the Dr. Phibes films but crave something a little more bloody, then this is the film for you.

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Black Christmas (1974): AKA; Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House. One of the forerunners of the ‘slasher’ sub-genre, directed by Bob Clarke. During a Christmas party, an all female sorority receive strange phone calls from somebody called Billy and things slowly get worse after one of the girls goes missing.

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Panned by critics when first released, but this film has gone on to become a cult classic and much loved among the horror fans of today. A wonderful and moody picture that is shot well and offers plenty of creepy/scary moments. The film also has a really good sense of humour with many memorable funny lines, even the tagline is pure genius; “If this picture doesn’t make your skin crawl… it’s on too tight.” You can really see where films like Halloween (1978) got their ideas from, in fact Halloween was originally planed as a sequel to this film. Its a well balanced mix of thrills, horror and comedy, some great and atmospheric cinematography and topped off with a moody musical score. Watch this one late on Christmas Eve.

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The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974): Hammer films team up with the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio and mix classic horror with Kung-Fu. Directed by Roy Ward Baker and Chang Cheh. Dracula is asked to help bring back to life the legendary Golden Vampires in China. Van Helsing is giving a lecture at a Chinese university and learns of Dracula’s plans so sets about to stop not only Dracula but also the legendary Golden Vampires.

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Though the 70s, Hammer films began to loose popularity as their films became tired, over produced and the quality began to decline. The rise in popularity of Kung-Fu films at the time lead to the idea of trying to breath new life in Hammer productions by melding their classic Dracula series with Kung-Fu. While Peter Cushing returned in the role of Van Helsing, Christopher Lee chose not to reprise the role of Dracula and stepping into the fangs is John Forbes-Robertson. This film is as bad as it is great, you still have some of that famous Hammer horror style but now thrown into a Shaw Brothers Kung-Flu flick. If you want Kung-Fu vampires, then you’ll not get much better than this effort. Its a bad film, but one of those good/bad films that is still worth watching for some stupid fun.

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): One of the most seminal horror films not only of the 70s, but ever. Directed by Tobe Hooper and featuring the legendary Gunnar Hansen playing the role of Leatherface. Five friends are travelling around the back roads of Texas where they come across a strange hitchhiker who they quickly get rid of. Later, they run out of gas and look for help at rundown house where they meet Leatherface.

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The ad campaign for this film and the film itself claimed the events in the picture really happened. They didn’t, the characters and story are 100% fiction but the film is very loosely inspired by the infamous killer, Ed Gein. Still, this film is one of the greats of horror cinema. There are scenes in this movie that are just burnt into my subconscious forever, that dinner table sequence for one is still as effective and disturbing today as it was in 1974. This is a very slow burning film but in a good way as the plot unfolds and you learn about Leatherface and his family. A true horror film that terrifies through its style and tone more than blood and gore.

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Jaws (1975): The 70s just kept churning out classic after classic horror film, directed by Steven Spielberg. Its summer on Amity Island and the tourists are turning up in droves. After Sheriff Brody investigates what he believes is a shark attack, he tries to shut the beaches down in an attempt to enforce public safety. Local businesses and Amity’s Mayor fear they will lose money and persuade Brody to keep the beaches open, a decision that leads to death and a fight to kill the shark.

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I wrote a behind the scenes look at Jaws that you can read here. Jaws is one of the biggest and most famous films ever made, it created the ‘summer blockbuster’ and went on to become a successful franchise. A horror film with a difference as it almost goes back to the classic 40s/50s era of monster movies, but manages to keep things very grounded and real at the same time too. A tense and scary thriller/horror that delivers on every level from great acting, amazing directing and a theme tune that will stick in your head forever. The king of shark movies that has often been imitated, but never bettered.

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Trilogy of Terror (1975): A made for TV anthology horror movie. Directed by Dan Curtis and starring Karen Black who appears in all three of the stories playing different parts. The three stories are; Julie where a teacher is drugged, rapped and has sexual photos taken while she is unconscious. She is blackmailed by the photographer but he doesn’t realise that Julie had the upper hand all along. Millicent/Therese is a tale about two sisters, one sister believes the other is pure evil and kills her. But things are not as straight forward as it seems. The final story is Amelia who after returning home from shopping trip. She unwraps her latest purchase, an African Zuni doll.

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Trilogy of Terror is an often overlooked/forgotten film that deserves more credit. The first two stories are the weakest of the three, but they are still good yarns none the less. But the best is definitely saved for last. The TV movie budget means you don’t get to see any glossy, big movie effects or production here but the film still manages to pull off effective effects work with its meagre budget. Karen Black is amazing in all three of the tales playing different parts and is perfect casting. A little known film worth a view of you like anthology horror films.

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Communion (1976): AKA Holy Terror and Alice, Sweet Alice. Directed by Alfred Sole and featuring Brooke Shields. Alice is a problematic twelve year old girl living with her divorced mother. The mother tends to give more attention to her oldest daughter, Karen over Alice. When Karen is found dead the number one suspect is the 12 year old Alice as more bodies begin to turn up, but could she really be capable of murder?

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This film was originally shown as Communion at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1976 but legal issues prevented the movie from being released and Columbia Pictures eventually dropped it entirely. Then Allied Artists brought the picture for distribution and released it as Alice, Sweet Alice in 1978. Paula Sheppard who plays the 12 year old Alice was actually 19 when she made this film and this is also the very first film appearance of Brooke Shields. An effective and tense horror film that uses the Catholic religion as its backdrop. The film is little known and hard to come by today, but if you can find a copy then I recommend this one.

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Carrie (1976): Another all time classic form the 70s, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name and directed by Brian De Palma. Carrie White is an awkwardly social teenager raised by her overtly religious mother. Carrie is bullied at school and this bullying crossed with Carrie’s coming of age triggers a hidden talent.

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Carrie is often thought of as being one of the best books Stephen King ever wrote and Brian De Palma does a great job of bringing that book to the big screen. Sissy Spacek as Carrie is just amazing and she was nominated for the best actress Oscar in 1977. The film also marks an early appearance for John Travolta. The film is another one of those slow burners, but it all builds up to one of the most iconic and famous climaxes in a horror film. De Palma was clearly inspired by Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) as whenever Carrie uses her power, you get the infamous music cue from the shower scene and Carrie attends Bates High School. A case of one of the best ‘borrowing’ from one of the best.

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The Omen (1976): Directed by Richard Donner and written by David Seltzer, starring Gregory Peck. Robert Thorn is the US Ambassador to Great Britain. He has a wife, great job, money and a lovely home but he doesn’t have a child. When his wife, Katharine, has a stillborn child, Robert agrees to take the newborn child of a mother who died during childbirth without telling his wife of his decision. The child he ‘adopts’ turns out to have very interesting parentage.

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A fantastic story of thrills and horror that takes us all over the world. The film is dark and moody with plenty of scares and shocks as the arrival of the possible Antichrist comes about. This film has some of the most famous scenes ever caught on film. There is the ‘accident’ that leaves Katharine Thorn in hospital, the nanny’s sacrifice at a birthday party, a church steeple death, the scene involving plate glass and that final scene where Robert Thorn has to kill his ‘adopted’ son. That particular scene must have been especially hard to film for Gregory Peck as Peck’s real son, Jonathon committed suicide the previous year. I also have to give mention to Billie Whitelaw as the nanny, Mrs. Baylock and David Warner as the over eager photojournalist, Jennings. A great gimmick by the studio was to release this film on 6th June 1976… a date that features the number 666.

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The Possessed (1977): A low budget, made for TV movie directed by Jerry Thorpe and featuring Harrison Ford in one of his early acting roles. A priest who loses his faith dies in a car accident and as penance, he’s sent back to Earth as a exorcist. He arrives at an all girls school where he has to battle demonic forces that are threatening the students.

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This one tries hard to ride on the success of The Exorcist and was one of many rip offs that were quickly released in hope they could cash in on the hype. For a rip off and low budget TV movie, this is actually pretty damn good. Harrison Ford is really great in the movie even if his role is small and this was his last role before he was cast in Star Wars. As this is a TV movie, it lacks the effects and budget of a cinematic film but it still manages to create some intense and suspenseful scenes as well as a few images that should stick in your head for a while. If you can find it, this is worth checking out.

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Rabid (1977): An early film from legendary director David Cronenberg. A woman, Rose is involved in a motorbike accident and has experimental surgery to save her life. The surgery leaves her with a thirst for blood as she goes on a killing spree to quench that thirst and spreads a vampire-like plague.

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If you enjoy Cronenberg’s bizarre and often disturbing imagery then you’ll love this movie. A strange variation on the vampire mythos all wrapped up in that distinct Cronenberg style. Famous 70s porn star, Marilyn Chambers plays Rose and she’s actually quite good too. The make up and effects are beautifully gory and are as bold and visceral as anything else Cronenberg has done since. A disturbing visual treat that often repulses as much as it does attract, you may not like what you see but you’ll continue to watch regardless.

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Suspiria (1977): From one legendary horror director to another. This is from Italian horror meister Dario Argento. Suzy Bannion is a talented ballet dancer who travels to Germany to join a prestigious ballet school. As she tries to settle into her new surroundings, Suzy begins to witness bizarre happenings as she learns that the ballet school is not quite what it seems.

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Every list of horror films should contain at least one Dario Argento picture and this one is often considered his masterpiece. Suspiria is a visual treat with amazing set design and wonderful cinematography. But don’t let that fool you as its also a bloody orgy of violence with a double death sequence near the start of the film being a major highlight. The plot is a little all over the place and doesn’t always make sense, but that kind of adds to the nightmarish tone the film has. If you want a highbrow and thought provoking horror film then you are not going to find that here. But what you will find is a beautifully shot movie that will stick in your psyche forever.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): Directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Donald Sutherland. A remake of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). An epidemic of people changing personalises grasps San Francisco and when a corpse is found, it is discovered that humans are being replaced by clones, but by who/what?

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A great throwback to the 1950s sci-fi horror but with a modern twist. Often regarded as one of the very best horror remakes ever. This is a truly terrifying picture that is told in a slow but engrossing pace, the characters are believable and likeable as the film builds it suspense towards one of the most iconic and famous endings to a horror film. The effects work is really well done and feels very grounded in reality which adds to the overall verisimilitude of the film. As far fetched as the plot is, it still manages to feel ‘real’ and that itself makes the film much more effective.

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Dawn of the Dead (1978): George A. Romero’s follow up to his groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead (1968). This is the second in Romero’s classic ‘Dead trilogy’ with Day of the Dead (1985) being the third. Four survivors of an ever expanding zombie apocalypse find themselves in a shopping mall. With the shops full of supplies, food and weapons, the quartet lock the mall down and believe themselves to be very safe and they live in the mall for several months. But things start to go wrong when a biker gang discover the mall and decide to break in.

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If Night of the Living Dead (1968) created the mould that zombie films would follow, then this film broke that mould. Often thought of as being the very best of zombie pictures and the film that other zombies movies aim to best, but rarely do. Full of not just genuine horror, but also a few laughs and wicked social commentary/satire. Dawn of the Dead is so much more than ‘just a zombie film’, its an unforgettable and extraordinary experience. Definitely George A. Romero’s finest film and the best of the entire ‘Dead’ franchise he continued to make.

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Halloween (1978): As if I couldn’t include this one, I think it may be law to have Halloween in a list of horror films. Written, scored and directed by one of horror film’s most influential visionaries, John Carpenter. A 6 year old boy called Micheal brutally murders his older sister with no apparent motive and he is institutionalised. 15 years later on the night before Halloween and Micheal escapes his incarceration to return to his home town and begins to thin down the population.

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This may not have been the first film in the ‘slasher’ sub-genre, but it is the film that popularised it. Many films followed in Halloween’s footsteps with varying degrees of success, but it is this film that is often held up as the template for the ‘slasher’ horror movie. Wonderfully moody and atmospheric, the film moves along at a snails pace as the tension builds and builds and starts to evoke fear and dread on the audience. In the era of blood and gore that the 70s provided, Halloween is mostly bloodless (save a few very minor instances) and offers a more tense viewing experience over flashy effects work. A film that will stay with you forever, as will that infamous music.

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Phantasm (1979): Written and directed by Don Coscarelli a blend of the supernatural, sci-fi and horror. A teenage orphan, Mike crosses paths with a mortician known as ‘The Tall Man’. Mike breaks into the mortuary and witnesses strange events including weird creatures and dangerous flying spheres. With the help of his brother and friend, they discover the truth behind ‘The Tall Man’.

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As weird as it is wonderful, this film feels like the two Davids (Cronenberg and Lynch) had a love child-movie and named it Phantasm. The plot is ridiculous and the overall film is just plain bizarre… but its also great campy fun. Angus ‘The Tall Man’ Scrimm plays the antagonist beautifully and his dulcet ‘Booooooooooooy!’ taunt towards Mike will stick with you forever. In my opinion, The Tall Man (and Angus) is one of the most overlooked/forgotten horror villains that deserves more acknowledgement. Phantasm went on to spawn several sequels; Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) and finally, more recently Phantasm: Ravager (2016). Sadly the overlooked Angus Scrimm died in January 2016, but he manged to end his career playing the role that scared millions of people around the world.

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Alien (1979): Sc-fi horror doesn’t get any better than this. Directed by Ridley Scott and featuring a small but great cast including; Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto and Sigourney Weaver. A ragtag deep-space mining crew are woken from hyper-sleep by an SOS distress call from a moon. They land on the moon to investigate the call and find a chamber inside a crashed spaceship containing thousands of unhatched eggs…

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Amazing directing, stunning set design and as scary as fuck. Alien is the definitive sci-fi horror film. A simple enough plot about a small group of people trapped on a spaceship with an alien could have been one of the dullest things ever to be caught on film, but Director Ridley Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon turned the mundane into the masterful. The film is tense and suspenseful, the claustrophobic nature of the film’s setting really adds to the feeling of fear as does the eeriness of the musical score. The alien itself is imposing, disgusting and yet beautiful at the same time. Of course the fact it was designed by H. R. Giger has a lot to do with that. Some of the most memorable scenes ever to be filmed are found in this picture, the discovery of the eggs, the ventilation/flamethrower bit, the fight between Ash & Ripley and of course, the ‘birth’ of the alien itself. A great end to a great decade of horror.

Well that’s all for the 70s, but believe me, I could go on as the 70s has dozens of great horror films I haven’t even mentioned. But I need to move onto part V and its the turn of to 80s and the rise of the ‘video nasty’ era.

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