Whether you lived through the 1970s, or they’re just something your grandparents talk of fondly, you should know that art-house horror films were the rage back then. Trippy camera effects, drug-induced cutaways, and a vibrant Technicolor palette were what every director craved—aside from cocaine, I mean. The problem? So much emphasis was placed on visuals that tiny concerns like characterization, plot, and acting often fell by the wayside. Still, there are plenty of stunning 70s horror films that are well worth a watch.
The Visitor (1979). To say that this film is derivative is to miss the larger point. A scary child, a dude named “Sateen,” and aliens all come together to create a convoluted masterpiece you won’t believe until you see.
Deep Red, AKA Profundo Rosso (1976). In the 70s, Italian horror was king. Dario Argento is one of Italy’s most celebrated horror directors, even though he viewed actors as a necessary annoyance rather than a co-collaborator in any film. Deep Red is prettier and more violent than his better known Suspiria. But not everyone loves it as much as this writer does.
Eraserhead (1979). The first time I saw this movie, I hated it so much I stopped talking to the person who convinced me to watch it. It made no sense, didn’t have any attractive people in it, and seemed to go on forever. Years later, I watched it again—mostly to remind myself of how much I hated it. But I enjoyed it more when I stopped trying to understand it. That’s David Lynch for you.
How Awful About Allan (1970). Made-for-TV horror movies may have reached their peak in the 70s. I adore Anthony Perkins, and am particularly fond of the visuals of this film about a nearly blind man and the people who are…you know what? I don’t want to spoil it. This film is not a masterpiece, but it’s a stunning 70s horror film for sure. Better still, you can watch it for free on YouTube.
Hausu (1977). What do you get when you combine a cast of unknown actors with a child-like plot and a whole lot of insane violence? The early Japanese horror classic House. No, not that 80’s thing with George Wendt. If the cast of Veronica Mars took acid and vacationed at the Overlook Hotel, you’d essentially get this movie.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). This much-praised horror movie made a ton of money despite a small budget, sub-par writing and acting, and the notable flaw of not being particularly scary. It’s still a creepy and effective film that’s more unnerving than horrific. Its Stepford-style characters have weirdly zany names like Applebaum, Whitehead, Hussey, and Fitzhubert.
Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970). Mario Bava is one of the “big three” Italian directors that also include Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. “Little Bava” (AKA Mario’s son Lucio) is a better director in my opinion—but didn’t start making horror until the 80s. 5 Dolls is an intriguing and visually-stunning 70s horror romp full of sexy ladies, mystery, and blood. Here’s a typically sanguine scene.
Footprints on the Moon, AKA Le Orme (1975). If you’re like me, just looking at Klaus Kinski makes you a little nervous. This film centers around a girl introduced to a terrible scenario—astronauts being abandoned on the moon. Yeah, I dare you not to have nightmares after thinking about that. A great-looking film with a fantastic concept, it never really comes together. But you can watch the whole thing here:
Blood for Dracula, AKA Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974). Andy Warhol was really good at some things: artistic satire, witty repartee, and amassing powerful and creative friends. But he was not so hot at keeping scary things scary—which is why Andy Warhol’s Dracula is the rapey mess that it is. You’ll see some things you can’t believe, and there are definitely some vampire antics to be had. But honestly, it’s not very good. The trailer is really all you need, unless you’re into underage girls (which you should not be, BTW).
Full Circle, AKA The Haunting of Julia (1977). This movie didn’t actually have a 70s US release, but Europeans enjoyed this film as early as 1977. Starring Mia Farrow and based on a book by Peter Straub, this one contains mystery, a few scares, creepy children, and a dead turtle. Another stunning 70s horror selection that never quite comes together, you can see it here:
Magic (1978). I hesitate to call this a bad movie because it’s pretty entertaining and has some truly disturbing moments. With a cast that includes Ann Margaret, Burgess Meredith, and Anthony Hopkins, it’s hard to find a negative thing to say about it. But when you see it now, Magic looks dated, dark, and not very well put together. Still, this trailer scared the hell out of me as a kid.
The Mad Butcher (1971). When I think of actors who should have been much more famous and revered, Victor Buono springs to mind. After stunning performances in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Buono should have been a household name. Instead, he made small (but earnest) horror films with tenuous plotting and evocative visuals. My fave example of this is definitely this one:
Crowhaven Farm (1970). Another made-for-TV offering, this one looks terribly dated today. But the combination of gas-lighting, witchcraft, and a pre-teen girl trying to steal a grown woman’s husband will fill you with dread. The visual elements of this film will stay with you—as they did me. I searched for this movie for years, not knowing the title and remembering only the most vital details. Now you can watch it for free, you lucky kids!
Blood Sucking Freaks, AKA The Incredible Torture Show (1976). Are you a fan of Grand Guignol? What if you found out that the sexual torture and murder you were watching was * gasp * not an act? That’s the premise of the blood soaked eye-candy that is this film. Far from compelling, you won’t be able to look away from it. Really…try.
Flesh for Frankenstein, AKA Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1974). The clear companion piece to his Dracula, this film was released in 3D, with Warhol and director Paul Morrissey bringing audiences a face full of organs and a colorfully-bloody massacre of a film. It’s by no means a good movie, but a stunning piece of art that should be experienced if you think you can stomach it.
Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia