In many different ways, the 1970s were a time of change. Shifts in the political, social and economic climate bled into nearly every facet of society including of course, horror films. New voices and talents began to emerge in the genre in exciting new ways, challenging the accepted norms. Pushing the boundaries of what was possible, horror filmmakers began to experiment and redefine what the genre was and simultaneously, where it was heading.
Thanks to iconic films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, Don’t Look Now, Suspiria and Halloween all released during this time frame, it’s easy to overlook some of the decades other killer offerings. With that in mind, here are 10 fabulously fun, gritty and grimy, wonderfully worthy (and perhaps slightly lesser-known) 1970s horror flicks for your #31DayHorrorChallenge watchlist.
Stream It: Amazon Prime
Directed by the prolific film entrepreneur Ovidio G. Assonitis, Tentacles is a wild aquatic horror ride with an even wilder cast. Starring screen icons like John Huston (Chinatown), Shelley Winters (The Night of the Hunter), Bo Hopkins (American Graffiti) and Henry Fonda (Once Upon a Time in the West), the sheer amount of talent is staggering. Especially when considering the film is basically a knock-off of Jaws…with an octopus. And trained killer whales. Chocked full of cheesy effects, extremely 70s beach-side fashion and a truly groovy score from Stelvio Cipriani (Bay of Blood), Tentacles embodies a certain type of cash-grab filmmaking that would bleed into the 80s with vigor. Wonderfully mediocre, Tentacles provides a transporting experience that may prove to be a welcome distraction to many these days.
The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)
Stream It: Shudder OR Amazon Prime
The second directorial endeavor from Dario Argento (Suspiria), The Cat o’ Nine Tails is a fascinating glimpse into the Master of Horror’s early development. A detective story at its core, the film follows a journalist and a blind man as they attempt to solve a string of murders swirling around a pharmaceutical company’s secret research. However, their investigation soon draws the attention of the killer putting both men in danger. With lots of early Argento stylistic hallmarks on display, the film stands as an interesting piece of filmography connective tissue that fans of his subsequent works will undoubtedly recognize and appreciate.
THE CRAZIES (1973)
Another perfect example of a film being perfectly political and socially relevant is George A. Romero’s fourth feature film, The Crazies. Surprisingly applicable to our current COVID-19 climate, the film follows the events that unfold after a plane carrying a deadly virus crashes in a small Pennsylvania town. Transforming normally healthy people into violent, unpredictable threats, the citizens of the community must navigate the dangers and murky waters of government intervention and personal safety. Although bleak, tense and unsettling for large portions of its runtime, Romero balances his political critique with bites and moments of well-placed humor. Despite being understandably overshadowed by his iconic ‘Dead‘ movies, The Crazies is unquestionably worthy of a watch.
HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)
Decades before Patrick Bateman set off to return some videotapes in American Psycho, director Mario Bava introduced the character of John Harrington in Hatchet for the Honeymoon. Similarly concerned with physical fitness, wealth and outward appearances, Harrington (played by Stephen Forsyth) is the head of a successful fashion house and trapped in a marriage of convenience. Struggling with dark inner secrets and an affinity for murdering beautiful young women in wedding gowns, John Harrington‘s story is grisly and doomed from the start. Doubling as cinematographer on the film, Bava’s influence imbues the film with his infamously stunning visual style and a unique vision for a new decade.
Directed by Brian De Palma and starring Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror) as twin sisters, Danielle and Dominique, Sisters is one of those killer early films from a director that drops hints at what’s to come. Like many up-and-coming directors from any era, De Palma called on his friends, romantic partners and acquaintances to make the film happen. Lucky for him, he was surrounded by a lot of great talent. Starring alongside Kidder is Jennifer Salt (Soap) as Grace; a young, eager investigative reporter. After witnessing Danielle commit a murder, Grace begins to unravel the mystery surrounding the twins. Proving to be far darker and murkier than she had ever imagined, Grace‘s investigation begins to rapidly spiral out of control. Showcasing De Palma’s early experimental style and knack for creative edits, Sisters was Kidder’s personal favorite film that she ever worked on, and for good reason.
DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)
STREAM IT: CRITERION
The seventh Dracula film released by the iconic Horror Film Production Company, Dracula A.D. 1972 is truly a gift for fans of the decade. Saturated with swinging early 70s aesthetic, music, fashion and dialogue, the film was an attempt to pluck Dracula from his historic realm and set him down in ‘modern’ time. Featuring Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Lawrence Van Helsing, the film builds upon established Hammer storylines (with established horror icons) while simultaneously infusing the franchise with fresh blood. Groovy from start to finish, Dracula A.D. 1972 is a time capsule in all the best ways.
ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976)
Commonly regarded as a proto-slasher, Alice, Sweet Alice is a truly fascinating film from New Jersey director Alfred Sole. After the tragic murder of young Karen (played by none other than Brooke Shields), bodies begin to pile up at the hand of a masked assailant in a notable yellow rain jacket. While nobody wants to believe it, all outward signs begin to point to Karen‘s slightly older sister, Alice (Paula E. Sheppard) as the killer. Part giallo, part slasher, the film oozes influence while creating something uniquely fresh all its own. With it’s religious commentary, bold style and female-focused cast, the time is long overdue for Alice, Sweet Alice to take her rightful place in the Horror Hall of Fame.
DRILLER KILLER (1979)
STREAM IT: AMAZON PRIME OR TUBI
Some of the most notable and stereotypical 70s films, regardless of genre, were coming out of New York. Sleazy, gritty and visceral, New York filmmakers were pushing boundaries and blurring lines between arthouse cinema, cutting edge style and poor taste. An extreme example of this guerilla style directing on the outskirts of social acceptability comes in Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer. Played by Ferrara himself, the film follows a struggling artist who is pushed to his limit by economic, social and internal factors. Finally snapping, he takes to the streets, claiming victims in traditional slasher style, with his trusty power drill. Violent, extreme and gloriously gritty, Driller Killer embodies a very particular breed of 70s film, but is not for the faint of heart.
THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)
BUY IT: SHOUT FACTORY
A joint venture between the UK’s Hammer Horror and Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires blends martial-arts with classic British horror. Starring Peter Cushing once again as Lawrence Van Helsing and the up-and-coming talent of David Chiang as Hsi Ching, the duo unite in an effort to free the local village from the vampire’s curse. A unique balance of action, horror, adventure and martial arts, the film was an attempt to blanket multiple markets in multiple countries with the strength of both powerful studio names behind it. Although John Forbes-Robinson’s portrayal of Dracula is perhaps not the Dracula most Hammer fans would prefer to see, the film retains ample amounts of enjoyability. Embracing the anything goes sentiment of the decade, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires took this idea and ran with it on a truly global scale.
THE CAR (1977)
STREAM IT: NETFLIX
Another film that tried to capitalize on that sweet, sweet Jaws money…but with a custom made Lincoln that has an unexplained thirst for blood. And starring James Brolin (The Amityville Horror). Though simple in premise, the film absolutely delivers on ridiculous fun. Perfect for a socially distant watch party.
What are some of your favorite lesser-known 70s horror films? Have a personal favorite for your #31DayHorrorChallenge? Talk all things spooky with us over on Twitter, Reddit, and Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!