My Top 10 Horror Films of 1978

History results from timing and convergence. The late 1970s saw the rise of the horror-auteur director just as Star Wars was causing a paradigm shift in the movie business. The fuse had already been lit on the upcoming home-video revolution. Italian filmmakers would soon find a new, global audience, and independent movies were coming back into prominence.

Combine those elements, and you get a 10-year span, 1978-87, unmatched in horror history both in terms of total output and in an incomparable run of major classics. From Halloween to Hellraiser, from Jason to Freddy, the conventions of modern horror were defined in—and continue to radiate from—this era.

That doesn’t mean 1978 represents a break in continuity from the past. Hollywood was still knocking out movies inspired by the then-recent success of The Exorcist, The Omen, and Carrie, such as Patrick and The Manitou. Even the director of Carrie, Brian De Palma, copied himself with The Fury, another movie about telekinetic teens.

But it wasn’t Hollywood self-imitating that would launch the new wave of horror. The two films at the top of today’s list played a slightly bigger part.

My 10 Ten Horror Films of 1978

  1. Dawn of the Dead

 

Is there another horror film more effective at making you feel so present as the events unfold? From the entropic opening sequence, to the SWAT attack on the apartment building, to the siege at the shopping mall, George A. Romero’s masterpiece sinks its rotten teeth in and drags you into the action. This movie  catapulted Tom Savini into the realm of make-up FX stars, and with good reason.

Dawn is arguably the best zombie film ever made. For whatever record anyone is keeping, I prefer co-producer Dario Argento’s European edit, but both it and the U.S. versions are equally brilliant.

 

  1. Halloween

 

Choosing between Dawn of the Dead and this film to top today’s list was like choosing a favorite child. Halloween would have come in first place in nearly every other entry in this blog series.

With his third feature, John Carpenter put horror in a place it had rarely ventured: the suburbs. If the genre had scared you out of the ocean, the woods, the desert, the city, and the mountains, at least you felt safe in your suburban neighborhood. That is, until the night he came home.

 

  1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers may just be the best remake in horror history, aside from The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly perhaps. It’s also likely the scariest PG-rated film you’ll ever see. Every scene is that much more unnerving than the one before, until the movie reaches its devastatingly bleak climax (which, of course, has been ruined by internet memes. Damn you, internet).

A masterpiece of paranoia that can be read many ways.

 

  1. Grapes of Death

 

As this blog series leaned heavily on Italian, Spanish, American, and British films to round out its top-10 lists, our French pal Jean Rollin was hovering on the periphery. In 1978, while taking a break from vampire flicks (and softcore porn), Rollin delivered this most excellent and underappreciated zombie film.

Borrowing a few ideas from Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue but putting his own spin on them, Rollin tells the story of a woman (Marie-Georges Pascal) trapped in a nearly abandoned village by a horde of undead flesh eaters, who were rendered so by pesticide-contaminated wine. If you enjoy the vibe of European horror of the 1970s and haven’t seen this one yet, put it on your watchlist right away.

 

  1. Piranha

 

Roger Corman gets it.

While other producers and studios try to mimic hit films by making inferior versions of the same thing (e.g., Orca imitating Jaws), Corman made films that looked superficially like knock-offs but in actuality embraced their uniqueness. Starcrash, for example, may have been a Star Wars cash-in, but it maintains a quirky look and feel all its own. You could say the same about Piranha relative to its inspiration, Jaws.

Directed by Joe Dante, who went on to make The Howling and Gremlins, Piranha is a silly good time as shallow as the water the nasty little bastards swim in, and it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining than The Deep.

 

  1. Alucarda

 

A histrionic Mexican nunsploitation flick featuring a rather spirited performance by Tina Romero in the title role. Trashy, gory, erotic, and overwrought … all the qualities you want in a film about Satan-possessed nuns.

 

  1. Magic

 

If the word “creepy” hadn’t existed in 1978, they would have invented it for this movie. Starring Anthony Hopkins and a ventriloquist’s dummy, the story concerns a … ah, I don’t really need to keep going, do I? That was enough to certify creepiness right there.

 

  1. Damien: Omen II

 

This sequel to the 1976 hit is so polished and tautly suspenseful that you kinda don’t notice it’s little more than a rehash of the previous film and does absolutely nothing to move the story forward. There’s no arc, as we end up in exactly the same place we were at the end of part one. You get a higher body count this time, though.

 

  1. Blue Sunshine

 

Underappreciated director Jeff Lieberman’s offbeat thriller about recreational drugs turning people into murderers serves as a sort-of bridge between Romero’s The Crazies and Cronenberg’s Scanners, both of which explore the unexpected side effects of chemicals on the human mind and behavior.

The film is missing (in my opinion) some of the visceral qualities of those classics, which leaves it somewhat unsatisfying. Still, Lieberman’s attempt at literate, provocative horror on a low budget deserves recognition.

 

  1. Toolbox Murders

 

When you say something is “half” this and “half” that, you usually mean the two haves are blended together. Half-vanilla and half-chocolate swirl, for example. With Toolbox Murders, we get half a splatter movie and half a psychodrama spliced together. Meaning, the first half is about gory murders, and the second half is about getting into the killer’s head.

The mix of gloomy character study and graphic violence prefigures the approach taken with Maniac, Don’t Go in the House, Christmas Evil, and Nightmare a few years later.

 

Honorable mention

 

I Spit on Your Grave

 

Some will wonder how this film didn’t crack my top 10. While I Spit on Your Grave is hardly the first rape/revenge film to shock audiences, it‘s surely the most notorious. Camille Keaton brings a lot of screen presence and acting skill, making the gang-rape sequence all the more grueling to watch.

However, beyond Keaton’s performance, I don’t think it’s especially well done. The pacing is flat, and the revenge portion is unsatisfying. I venture to say that if this film had gone out under the original title of ‘Day of the Woman’ sans the lurid ad campaign, it would not garner as much attention.

 

Dracula’s Dog

 

Also known as Zoltan, Hound of Dracula, this is a movie so absurd but played so straight that I can’t determine if it’s crap or brilliant satire. If it’s satire, what are they satirizing? If it’s crap, why is it so cool to see a vampire dog rising from his coffin?

 

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1977

After a succession of high-profile blockbusters (The Exorcist, The Omen, and Carrie) the movie business was in full-on imitation mode. Lots of demonic possession and religioso horror had already hit the circuit, and plenty of psychic misfits were on the way. 1977 was also a big year, unsurprisingly, for Jaws rip-offs, The Deep and Orca being two notable entries.

Fortunately for serious genre fans, the horror-auteur scene gained major momentum with George A Romero, Dario Argento, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg all delivering new tales of terror. Argento’s artistic success foreshadowed the resurgence of Italian horror that would be timed perfectly with the rise of home video, thus providing genre fans with a new wave of horror heroes. But that was still two years away.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1977

  1. Martin

 

Romero’s modern vampire tale may have lacked for funds, but I believe it’s his most artful creation. The film’s basic question, what is a vampire?, can stand in for any number of philosophical ponderings we might have about ourselves and the world around us: Do we to choose our own identity, or is it chosen for us by our parents, teachers, and society? Can reality be defined more than one way? In a given culture, how does one perspective become the default while others are relegated to the fridges or shunned altogether?

If you can’t be bothered with all that pretentious drivel, you can still enjoy Martin for its stylish flourishes and early FX work by Tom Savini.

 

  1. Suspiria

 

A film many consider the pinnacle of Dario Argento’s career, Suspiria boasts an opening sequence that stands among the best in genre history. The cinematography sparkles throughout, even if the story momentum, in my opinion, flags a in a few spots. I tend to prefer Argento’s gialli to his supernatural stories for their plot impetus. That said, Suspiria more than earns its status as one of the top horror films of the decade.

 

  1. The Hills Have Eyes

 

This is my favorite Wes Craven movie. It’s the kind of film that succeeds because of its low budget, not in spite of it. The horror sequences, while far from gory, are harrowing and often arrive unexpectedly. Thematically similar to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it doesn’t quite reach that height, but it’s quite grueling in ways that only seem to work within the 1970s drive-in aesthetic.

 

  1. Rabid

 

Much of David Cronenberg’s output plays like a sexual fever dream, the kind of nightmares you keep to yourself because you don’t want people to know what a twisted place your mind is. Luckily, Rabid lets us exercise our demons at the same time we sit back and watch a rollicking good horror movie. In this case, a horror movie about armpit dicks.

 

  1. Last Cannibal World

 

The Italian cannibal horror subgenre occupies the cinematic fringes for good reasons. The films are brutally violent, misogynistic, morally questionable, and sometimes straddle the line between fiction and reality. They can also be pretty effective if made by a skilled filmmaker like Ruggero Deodato.

Last Cannibal World may be reprehensible in a lot of ways, but it’s quite suspenseful and extremely harrowing. I like it better than the director’s better known and even more appalling Cannibal Holocaust.

 

  1. The Incredible Melting Man

 

That was not a typo. Yes, this stupid, gory piece of trash falls far short, artistically, of other 1977 releases not on this list, such as Demon Seed and The Haunting of Julia (a creepy-ass flick if you’re looking for one). But when I was a kid, I had that issue of Starlog that featured Rick Baker posing with his Melting Man sculptures on the cover. I stared at that photo every day for weeks. I wanted to be Rick Baker. In short, I can’t not love this film. And really, you get exactly what you’re promised: a guy who melts spectacularly for 90 minutes.

 

  1. House

 

Director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s haunted house horror-fantasy beggars description. From the purposely phony sets and effects, to the tonal lurches between children’s movie and intense horror, to the nonsensical, dreamlike elements (one character turns into a pile of bananas without explanation), House is like Hello Kitty on a really bad acid trip.

 

  1. Rituals

 

Hal Holbrook and four of his doctor friends head off into the wilderness for a revitalizing getaway (and maybe an opportunity to air some personal grievances that have driven a wedge between them). What they get instead is someone or something weird and pissed off hiding just out of sight, airing a very different set of grievances. Spoiler alert: They ain’t all gonna make it out alive.

Imagine if 1970s Wes Craven had directed Deliverance. It’s a rough flick.

 

  1. Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals

 

I was really hoping I’d make it through this blog series without Joe D’Amato showing up on any of my lists. But then someone reminded me recently that he directed Trap Them and Kill Them a.k.a. this movie, which I like. Sure, I could have picked Shock Waves or The Car if I wanted to bump old Joe off the page. Those flicks don’t have Laura Gemser or obscene cannibal violence, so…

Parental note: There’s a wee bit of nudity in this film.

 

  1. Kingdom of the Spiders

 

People poke fun at this movie, which is admittedly on the cheesy side and features William Shatner playing a smarmy lout of a hero. As 1970s eco-horror flicks go, however, this one delivers. The first act is quietly suspenseful as the characters identify then begin to discover the scale of the threat. Once all shit breaks loose, there’s plenty of creepy crawly action that leads to a surprisingly bleak climax. With the always slightly odd Tiffany Bolling (Candy Snatchers) on board as Shatner’s romantic interest, the character dynamics get weird.

 

Honorable Mention

 

The Sentinel

 

On its surface, The Sentinel appears to be a blatant pastiche of The Exorcist, The Omen, and other contemporaneous Hollywood horrors. It delivers some creepy looks and good scares, though, and it features an all-star cast to rival that of any big-budget disaster epic from the era.

 

Eraserhead

 

Confession: I’ve never been that big of a David Lynch fan. There’s no question he’s an excellent filmmaker, but I feel his movies sometimes veer into weirdness for the sake of weirdness. Perhaps I’m missing something. Nevertheless, he’s an important and influential director, and I would be remiss if I did not mention his feature film debut.

 

Hitch Hike

I almost put Audrey Rose here because so many people like it, but then I remembered the savage Hitch Hike with David Hess and Franco Nero, which is much closer to my cinematic sensibilities.  Perhaps it doesn’t qualify as straight horror, but it’s pretty horrific and has been “borrowed from” quite a few times, including both versions of The Hitcher, Joyride, and Breakdown.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1976

After the massive successes of The Exorcist and Jaws, Hollywood was all aboard for horror in 1976, with Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and United Artists submitting entries. They must have done something right. Fans remain as passionate as ever about the top films released that year.

Low-budget, grindhouse-style movies continued to be produced as well, including a couple of rather notorious ones, but the big resurgence of indie horror was yet to come.

 

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1976

  1. Burnt Offerings

 

This is a little like a sports draft when all the scouts rank the same two guys at the top. Then the team that owns the first-overall pick steps up to the podium … and selects guy # 3.

Perhaps a few other films on this list are artistically superior to Burnt Offerings, but it’s horror we’re talking about, and this movie scared the crap out of me and the other kids so badly we talked about it for weeks. That hearse driver! Plus, pairing Oliver Reed and Karen Black in a haunted house movie is inspiration itself.

 

  1. Carrie

 

If you’re a movie studio and you want to make a splash in the horror scene, you may want to consider adapting a blockbuster novel by a breakout writer and then bring in a hot young director to shepherd it to the screen. With a little divine intervention, you might even make brilliant casting choices on the order of Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as her mother. No two actors in the world would have been more right for those parts.

Brian De Palma is a wizard with shot composition, and while some of his later films may have played out on a grander scale, I don’t think his framing has ever been better than it was here.

 

  1. The Omen

 

Now this is what you expect a Hollywood horror film to look like: highly polished, broad in scope, and featuring an A-list director and cast. Memorable moments abound, but the “It’s all for you, Damien” scene is surely one of the high points in genre history.

My two issues with The Omen and why I don’t rank it higher:

One, the last act of the film far weaker than what preceded it; admittedly a problem with quite a few horror films, but this is a revered classic.

Two, style over substance. Whereas Carrie and The Exorcist ask profound questions about religious belief, The Omen is religioso. It uses biblical imagery and themes to be ominous and scary, but their deployment is a superficial parallel rather than substantive metaphor. Yeah, I know it’s just a horror movie.

 

  1. The Tenant

 

Roman Polanski’s best films seem to be those set in confined spaces (Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion), and The Tenant is among them.  In fact, it’s often thought of as the third film of his unofficial “apartment trilogy” alongside the two mentioned above.

It’s very much of a slowburn psychological horror, which can seem uneventful when you’re not in the mood for that sort of film. When you are in the mood, however, dig in. There are many layers to explore and a chilling climax to contemplate.

 

  1. Squirm

 

What sounds like routine eco-horror for the 1970s—a fallen power line causes mutant worms to emerge from the ground and attack a town—is quite a bit more than that in the very capable hands of director Jeff Lieberman. Sure it’s good, slimy fun, but the human drama is legitimately interesting, and it’s a well shot and assembled production.

It’s a shame Lieberman never joined the ranks of the horror auteur directors. His first three features, which also include the Cronenberg-esque Blue Sunshine (1977) and the backwoods slasher Just Before Dawn (1981) are all effective in their own ways and point to a versatile talent behind the lens.

 

  1. The Town That Dreaded Sundown

 

Sometimes films that stand out aren’t the most polished or stylishly made; we remember them because they’re intriguingly offbeat and odd. Deranged is a good example.

And just as Deranged seemed out of place and time in 1974, The Town That Dreaded Sundown does not suggest 1976. Some of the imagery belongs in a grim Italian giallo from five years earlier, particularly the weird kills (death by trombone?), while other aspects of the film feel—when viewed out of context—dated and clunky, like a 1950s informational film. It all adds up to a unique little entry in the horror canon.

 

  1. God Told Me To

 

Larry Cohen is at it again, making exploitation films that have far more substance than anyone on the drive-in circuit asked for. But while It’s Alive was partly undone by his trying to balance a serious character drama with some silly monster-baby sequences, God Told Me To tackles the subject of mass killings committed by otherwise unremarkable people, a much more grown up (and still relevant) topic. Regardless of its budgetary limitations, the film asks big questions about our need to make sense of things that sometimes don’t make sense. It’s got a little Wicker Man vibe in that way, though delivered in an entirely different vehicle.

 

  1. Satan’s Slave

Enough with the profundity. It’s high time I got some real exploitation trash on this list. Satan’s Slave offers devil worship, gore, gratuitous nudity, and Michael Gough being a right bastard. Like a couple films I mentioned above, it seems out of place in 1976, its aesthetic befitting the grindhouse ethos from earlier in that decade.

 

  1. Eaten Alive

By producing a generational masterpiece right out of the gate, Tobe Hooper put himself in a tough spot. How the hell does one follow The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

Eaten Alive is a maligned film that, in recent years, has received a bit of favorable revisionist treatment. I confess I thought poorly of it upon first viewing a few decades ago. But, like most Hooper films, the more times you watch it, the more you realize it has greater substance, satire, and social commentary than most originally perceived.

I still think it’s a lesser effort.

 

10. Massacre at Central High

Remember when you were a kid, there were certain movies you used to watch every time they showed up on HBO, or maybe you wore out a VHS copy (or, if you’re still a young’un, scratched up a DVD)? Then you kind of forgot about those titles because they drifted into cinematic obscurity.

I recently revisited this childhood favorite and was struck by its storytelling and cinematic choices. That is, it’s either really smart or really stupid. Does the fact that there are no adults anywhere in the movie have symbolic meaning, or did they just not think of it? Are the exaggerated, after-school-special acting performances satirical, or did the director think that’s how high-school students behave? The message of the film seems to be, “You think bullies are bad? Well, if we got rid of all the bullies, the nerds would act even worse.”

I doubt that’s the message. Either way, the film is weirdly fascinating. Somebody smarter than me needs to explain why.

 

Honorable Mention

 

Alice, Sweet Alice

 

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it on a list of such films, but Alice, Sweet Alice is totally an American giallo. It features a lurid murder-mystery plot, set-piece kills, a visually striking killer in a creepy mask, and it plays out over an extended time (as opposed to slasher films, which usually contain the story to one or two days).

I was iffy the first time I saw Alice, Sweet Alice, but it has sort of grown on me as it lingers in my memory. It could move up the list one day.

 

The Incredible Torture Show

 

Part Salo, part Wizard of Gore, and part Blood Freaks (the Al Adamson movie he later re-released as Dracula vs. Frankenstein with some incongruous vampire and creature footage added), The Incredible Torture Show is not a remotely good film. However, when it was re-released a few years later as Bloodsucking Freaks, the uptight citizen’s brigade got their panties in a bunch. Bonus points for that.

*******

Films not on my list you may be wondering about: I haven’t seen the popular To the Devil a Daughter in a billion years and can’t remember a thing about it. And I only saw the first half of the notorious Island of Death and got bored. Maybe all the notorious stuff happens later?

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1975

1975 can be considered a down year for horror. Outside a few classics, there’s not much to get excited about. The trickle of Hammer and Amicus chillers had dried up. Spanish filmmakers moved away from vampires and toward gangsters. The Italian giallo, with one obvious exception, began to lose its luster with audiences. The American grindhouse aesthetic—violent and lurid content shot on grainy film stock with harsh lighting—no longer horrified the way it had before Linda Blair rammed that crucifix into her crotch in The Exorcist.

Boiling it down: If Hollywood was willing to go there, the indie filmmakers and distributors had lost their one advantage, shock value.

To be fair, I’m missing a few 1975 titles from my viewing resume. I’ve never seen Exorcismo, Lips of Blood, Bug, or Picnic at Hanging Rock, plus undoubtedly other obscurities that have yet to cross my path. Future revisions of lists, and perspectives, are always possible.

 

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1975

 

  1. Deep Red

 

The giallo genre, which began in earnest in 1964 with the release of Mario Bava’s seminal Blood and Black Lace, by 1975 had become tired. You can only have so many black-gloved killers slashing pretty models with razors before attention drifts elsewhere.

So leave it to Dario Argento to return to the genre after a four-year break and remind everyone how it’s done. Not only did Argento imbue his murder mystery with brilliant set-piece kills, he showed a new maturity and sophistication as a filmmaker that promised viewers the best was yet to come.

 

  1. Jaws

Unseen, Jaws sounds like a B-movie. The premise is basic, banal monster-movie fluff, and the script employs standard genre clichés (e.g., the mayor refuses to close the beach because of the big fair/festival, despite the obvious foolhardiness of doing so).

But truly gifted artists are transcendent in ways that are hard to describe with words. You know you’re experiencing such a filmmaker when camera shots that should be bland are striking and when moments that normally serve as padding vibrate with energy. It’s doesn’t hurt to have great actors on board, one of whom, Robert Shaw, turned in a performance for the ages.

Biographical note: The director, Steven Spielberg, quickly faded into obscurity and was never heard from again. Or something like that.

 

  1. Shivers

 

A.K.A., the instant classic that propelled David Cronenberg into the ranks of horror auteur directors.

Before Cronenberg, horror films generally played on a universal fear: death. We, as viewers experiencing the story through the heroic characters, don’t want the monster to kill us. In Shivers (and many of his subsequent movies), Cronenberg tapped into a different source of terror, which is that of our own bodies. Of things invading and changing our bodies, not necessarily killing us but taking our autonomy, changing our looks, robbing our identities, making us repulsive and different.

His movies have a way of causing viewers to feel uncomfortable. A jump scare is easy. Getting in people’s heads … that’s talent.

 

  1. Night Train Murders

 

Aldo Lado, the underrated filmmaker who gave us the excellent gialli Who Saw Her Die? and Short Night of Glass Dolls, here gives us a rape-revenge shocker modeled after Last House on the Left. Instead of two young women abducted on their way to a concert, however, we have two young women taking an overnight train home for the holidays. They get on the right train but at a very wrong time.

Like its inspiration, this film is rough and violent, only there are no slapstick cops around to distract us from the horror.

 

  1. Autopsy

 

A pathology-horror film that stars Mimsy Farmer (Four Flies on Grey Velvet) as a medical examiner who starts to wonder if all these suicides coming through her lab might actually be murder victims. In the meantime, she keeps hallucinating that bodies are getting off their slabs and groping her. The autopsy room scenes do not hold back, so if you like your full-frontal nudity cold and horizontal, this is your film.

It’s too bad director Armando Crispino had such a short career. This flick is pretty tight and delivers the gruesome goods.

 

  1. Night of the Howling Beast

 

Good old Paul Naschy, still bringing comic-book horror to a world drifting in a different cinematic direction. This time, however, Naschy moves his werewolf saga off the gothic estate and into the big city. That is, until the cast finds itself in the Himalayas tracking the Yeti. Think of it as an alternate version of Werewolf of London, where Henry Hull’s Dr. Glendon, after being turned into a werewolf, sticks around the snowy mountains for some rampant sex with flesh-eating demon priestesses.

Although Night of the Howling Beast isn’t any more lurid or shocking than other Naschy films, it’s the only one to appear on the U.K.’s original list of video nasties (alongside 71 other movies, including the fourth title from today’s spread).

 

  1. Satanico Pandemonium

 

In its first act, this Mexican nunsploitation film seems more like erotica for nun fetishists than a horror flick, but as soon as the compassionate and sensitive Sister Maria (Cecilia Pezet) drifts from dabbling in girl-on-girl action to committing bloody murder, you know Satan has gotten his claws in.

The movie passes on the opportunity to ask meaningful questions about the nature (and potential cost) of religious belief, and it’s bedeviled (haha) by a lame backpedal ending. It could have moved closer to classic status if the filmmakers didn’t hedge on the thematic elements. As is, the shock value is impressive but superficial.

 

  1. The Devil’s Rain

This movie tends to get knocked by horror fans, but for a PG flick, it’s got some delightfully gruesome imagery, a few nice twists, and decent payoff at the end. And a hell (pun intended) of a cast: Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, Tom Skerritt, Ida Lupino, and Eddie Albert.

It’s no masterpiece, but it has its moments.

 

  1. Trilogy of Terror

 

Conversely, here’s a beloved anthology movie that is far better remembered for that Zuni doll that shows up in the final 15 minutes than it is for anything that happens in the preceding hour.

Trilogy of Terror tells (as one surmises from the title) three stories connected only by the presence of the always cool Karen Black in the lead role. Although Richard Matheson is one of my favorite writers, I don’t feel these stories represent his best work (William F. Nolan wrote the actual script). The first two tales are fairly predictable and drag even at 22 minutes each. The final story is a classic, of course, and the one everybody remembers when speaking so fondly of this film.

 

  1. Strip Nude for Your Killer

 

You know it’s an off year when a trash giallo like Strip Nude for Your Killer makes my top 10 list. Directed by Andrea Bianchi of Burial Ground infamy, this flick retains the giallo genre’s more lurid elements—nudity and violence—and chucks out anything resembling style or visual flair.

If your taste in euro-trash cinema leans toward exploitation fare like Slaughter Hotel and “Emanuelle meets the cannibals” type films, Strip Nude should hit the sweet spot.

 

Honorable Mention

 

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

 

Like many horror fans, I’ve made an effort over the years to see the most notorious, disturbing , and twisted creations filmmakers have come up with. Outside a few moments in Cannibal Holocaust, no film besides Salo has ever prompted me to ask myself, “Why am I watching this?” It’s that fucked up.

Many view this movie as a substantial work of art. I don’t. I get that it’s a “message film,” but I simply can’t find entertainment or enjoyment in watching a bunch of children get tortured, degraded, and humiliated for two-and-a-half straight hours. I’m including it here for cinematic significance, not because I like it.

 

The Stepford Wives

This is another of those nihilistic movies that would never get made in today’s Hollywood. The focus groups wouldn’t allow it. Well, you may get a kitschy remake, perhaps (insert eye-roll emoji).

The Stepford Wives is a well-made movie that, in spirit, is really just a big, colorful Twilight Zone episode. Overall, it’s a solid mainstream production. It’s not on my top 10 list because 1.) it’s not visceral enough for my tastes, and 2.) It’s a message film with message that has no relevance anymore.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1974

As the horror film evolved throughout the 1970s, two fascinating trends began to emerge that would come to define the genre in the 1980s: the rise of the “horror auteur” director, and the sudden prominence of the make-up FX artist.

Up to that point in cinema history, most filmmakers who toiled in horror were journeymen or contracted craftsmen, and many had been forgotten by all but the most dedicated monster-magazine readers.  When it came to monster make-up, Universal’s classic creatures may have been iconic, but their designer, Jack Pierce, had not even received a film credit.

While it’s unlikely that people thought much of the name George A. Romero upon the release of Night of the Living Dead in 1968, by the beginning of ‘74 he was on the rise. Wes Craven had hit the scene as well, and within a few years both men would be seeing their names above the titles of their films. Meanwhile, make-up veteran Dick Smith was suddenly a household name for his FX work on The Exorcist, aided by a young fella named Rick Baker.

In 1974, two more names would join the rising-horror-star list: Tobe Hooper and Tom Savini.

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My Top 10 Horror Films of 1974                       

  1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre

 

No one tries to make a bad movie. Sometimes it comes together, sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s not always easy to figure out what went wrong.

Then there was that time Tobe Hooper made the perfect horror film.

 

  1. Deathdream

 

Bob Clark’s previous effort, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), was a lively, sometimes eerie, and charmingly primitive zombie flick with little in the way of substance. Deathdream, a tale about a KIA soldier who mysteriously returns home alive, is such a leap forward it’s hard to believe the same guy made it. It feels quite Romero-eque in its nihilism, and it may surpass Romero’s work up to that point in terms of emotional punch.

The make-up FX in Tom Savini’s debut film are fairly simple but chillingly effective.

 

  1. Vampyres

 

Hmmm. Lesbian vampire erotica keeps showing up on my lists. Call me a perv, but maybe they shouldn’t have made these films so good if they didn’t want me to write about them in blog posts forty-something years later. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but this production is a strong candidate. Vampyres offers a Jean Rollin feel with a Blood Spattered Bride look. What’s not to like?

 

  1. Deranged

Written and directed by frequent Bob Clark collaborators Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen, Deranged is a bit of an oddball production. The gloomy but dated-sounding funereal music, as well as the propensity of the narrator to show up in the middle of scenes (while remaining invisible to the characters), make it feel more like an early 1960s film. Imagine Hershel Gordon Lewis directing a Twilight Zone episode.

On the other hand, the scenes of horror are pretty disturbing, especially once you realize they are modeled after real-life crime photos from the infamous Ed Gein case that inspired Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It adds up to an enjoyably weird and grim little flick. More early work by Tom Savini, who shared the make-up FX duties with Ormsby.

 

  1. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

 

I have to confess, I’m not as in love with this film as a lot of genre fans are. It’s got strong atmosphere and a topical story that unfolds with a nice slowburn. However, while the zombies are cool and creepy, the film is a little light in terms of payoff. Perhaps my worldview has been colored by Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, Bruno Mattei, et al, with their predilection toward over-the-top, gory set pieces.

Still, it’s a solid entry in the modern zombie canon and helped set the stage for the explosion in popularity the genre underwent later in the decade.

 

  1. The Loreley’s Grasp

 

1974 saw Tombs of the Blind Dead director Amando de Ossorio deliver the most prolific 12 months of his stop-and-start career, during which he helmed three feature films, all horror.

The Loreley’s Grasp, though perhaps more aptly described as a gory fantasy, is the best of the bunch. Reuniting Horror Express co-stars Silvia Tortosa and Helga Line, the movie concerns the exploits of a mysterious, beautiful woman who transforms into a murderous reptile at night and does away with whatever young, attractive ladies cross her path. The Loreley’s Grasp is rather silly at times, but quite fun and ambitious on a microscopic budget.

 

  1. Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll

 

Spanish horror star Paul Naschy made a handful of gialli in the early to mid-1970s, and this film is widely considered the best of them. Playing an ex-con who may or may not be a serial killer, Naschy takes a handyman job at an old estate run by three women who are even more secretive and threatening than he is. In fact, it was released as House of Psychotic Women on VHS, a more apt title for this lurid production.

 

  1. Night of the Sorcerers

 

Amando de Ossorio’s voodoo-themed jungle-horror flick resides well off the beaten path of most early ‘70s Spanish horror, which tended to be set on gothic estates and often featured werewolves, vampires, and zombies. To be fair, the creatures conjured by the voodoo priests do look an awful lot like the sexy female vampires we’re used to seeing in that country’s genre output, but there are plenty of shrunken heads and stone altars around to sell us on the jungle setting.

Not really. The film appears to have been shot on the banks of a creek outside Barcelona, but it entertains all the same.

 

  1. Black Christmas

 

My mama used to say: If you can’t stand the heat, don’t bake up a top 10 list that places an incredibly popular and seminal film after a goofy Spanish voodoo movie that hardly anyone has seen. Cuz, well, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!”

But I don’t care.

Yes, Black Christmas is the first North American slasher movie. It’s well directed by the talented and underappreciated Bob Clark. The cinematography is top notch. Creepiness pervades the film.

However: The dopey comic-relief characters drive me nuts (I despise the concept of the comic-relief character in horror), and they get way too much screen time. Also, I don’t understand Keir Dullea’s sub-plot or what it has to do with the rest of the movie. And the final 10 minutes don’t make much sense. I like Black Christmas; I just don’t love it the way everyone else seems to.

 

  1. Ghost Galleon

 

Can you believe it? All three of Amando De Ossorio’s 1974 productions are on my top 10 list. Maybe they shouldn’t be, because these films aren’t “good” in the way that, say, The Godfather, Part II was good that year. I simply love the look and feel of Spanish horror movies from that era, which should be abundantly clear to anyone who has followed this blog series.

Ghost Galleon is the third of the director’s four Blind Dead movies. This time around, a bunch of pretty models end up on a ghost ship populated by the sightless zombies we came to know and love in the previous films in the series. I’ll skip the convoluted story machinations that got them there, because the first half of the film is a disjointed mess. But once the ladies climb on board, it’s smooth sailing (ha!) into creepy imagery, delightful atmosphere, and gory deaths.

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Honorable mention

 

It’s Alive

A movie about a deformed monster baby has a 99% chance of being a campy romp on par with The Incredible Two-headed Transplant and a 1% chance of being a character-focused drama with emotional substance. Incredibly, this film beat the odds. The monster scenes are hokey, but the filmmakers play it straight and mostly get away with it.

The problem with character-focused horror films that explore issues instead of delivering scares or splatter set-pieces, however, is that they seldom invite a rewatch. As a fan of trashy exploitation cinema, I’d rather view a gory, twisted monster-baby movie with no artistic merit than a restrained, mature monster-baby movie that does have artistic merit but doesn’t deliver the grue.

Unless it has “Rosemary’s” in the title.

 

Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter

Confession: I’ve never seen this movie. Horror fans tell me it’s great, and it has to be better than Beyond the Door or Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, two other notables I decided to omit. Abby has its moments, but I’ve never seen a non-beat-to-shit print to properly judge. So, Captain Kronos gets to occupy a coveted honorable mention spot on the strength of reputation among genre fans I respect.

Bonus points for Caroline Munro.

 

Sugar Hill

Blaxploitation movies may have lacked for big budgets and high production values, but they sure beat mainstream cinema to the punch when it came to badass heroines. In Sugar Hill, the titular main character turns to the Lord of the Dead in a quest for revenge after her man is killed by mobsters. With an army of undead ghouls at her command, no criminal is safe.

This film is loaded with colorful characters and some of the weirdest-looking zombies ever, with their silver eyeballs and stringy cobwebs pasted to their bodies. Unfortunately, the story unfolds in such a perfunctory fashion that there’s almost no suspense, which knocks it into the honorable-mention zone for me.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1973

With the success of independent, low-budget horrors like Blacula and Count Yorga, Vampire, along with stylish, sexy imports such as Bird with Crystal Plumage doing solid business in the States, it was inevitable Hollywood would want in on the action. Naturally, they mucked it up royally with some expensive shit show nobody went to see. What was it called again?

Okay, so that’s not exactly what happened. What happened is Hollywood made one of the greatest horror films of all time. Go figure.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1973

  1. The Exorcist

I don’t really need to explain this choice, do I?

 

  1. Torso

 

While Dario Argento’s reputation as Italy’s top horror director of the 1970s is well deserved, I argue that Sergio Martino’s output up through 1973 was just as strong if not stronger. His artistic eye was less splashy but perhaps more nuanced. With Torso, however, Martino eschewed the subtleties and went all in with nudity, violence, and gore. What does it say about me that I ranked this film higher than his others?

 

  1. Horror Rises from the Tomb

 

Paul Naschy films are an acquired taste; you either love them or can’t even watch them. If you’re not sure where you stand on the issue, give this one a shot (and be sure to see the unedited version). It’s a bit of a kitchen-sink horror story, with intermittently headless warlocks, zombies, murderers, ghosts, and whatever else seemed appropriately lurid at the moment. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an old horror comic cover.

 

  1. The Wicker Man

 

Hearing a description of this film’s premise might lead the uninitiated to think, “So what?”:

 

A police inspector visits a small island community to investigate a child’s disappearance and runs into opposition from the locals, who seem to be keeping a secret.

 

Yet it’s much more than that. Riveting, sometimes eerie, and unlike any other movie, The Wicker Man does what many of the best psychological horrors do, which is to make you start doubting what you were sure of just moments earlier.

 

  1. The Crazies

 

After George A. Romero’s unsuccessful foray into other genres post Night of the Living Dead, he returned to his bread and butter with The Crazies, a story about a bio-weapon that causes those exposed to become murderous lunatics. Happily for us, Romero’s anti-authoritarian streak was stronger than ever, which resulted in an intense, nihilistic film that offers many layers of meaning. Bleak movies are the ones that stick with you the longest, aren’t they?

 

  1. The Creeping Flesh

 

Much has been written about rival British movie studios Hammer and Amicus, both of which specialized in horror and churned out a high number of both gothic and contemporary fright films. So why are Tigon flicks the ones that keep showing up on my lists?

 

The Creeping Flesh concerns the discovery of a monstrous skeleton by a scientist (Peter Cushing), which his cruel brother (Christopher Lee) wants to steal. Unfortunately for all parties, the skeleton is way less dead than it looks. Despite the familiar cast and direction of Hammer and Amicus regular Freddie Francis, Tigon’s film conjures a uniquely grim and atmospheric vibe and feels more focused than contemporaneous releases from the more well-known production houses mentioned above.

 

  1. Hunchback of the Morgue

 

Yes, I’ve got another Paul Naschy film on my list, and there are more coming. The early 1970s were a prolific time for the Spanish horror star, and many of his top films were released in ’73. The title for this one says everything you need to know about the story. It’s quite gory and lurid, as Naschy-philes have come to expect. The creepy atmosphere is the clincher.

 

  1. The Legend of Hell House

 

Serving as a partial blueprint for later films like Poltergeist and The Conjuring, this movie features a team of paranormal investigators looking into a supposed haunting. Director John Hough was no stranger to horror, having helmed the sexy vampire thriller Twins of Evil two years earlier. But it is charismatic star Roddy McDowall and renowned screenwriter Richard Matheson (Burn, Witch, Burn and The Devil Rides Out) who push this flick into the upper echelon of genre films released that year.

 

  1. The Hanging Woman

 

This Spanish-Italian co-production features all the usual trappings of early 1970s euro-horror: heavy gothic atmosphere, beautiful women, and a story that unfolds at a rather stately pace (i.e., some will find it boring). It’s got plenty of zombie mayhem and a fair amount of gore, however, plus a small role from Paul Naschy, who plays yet another hunchback. Released under at least six titles, the film came into my world in the VHS era as “Return of the Zombies.” Been a fan ever since.

 

  1. Count Dracula’s Great Love

 

On Paul Naschy day, it was either going to be this vampire flick or his werewolf movie (Curse of the Devil) closing out 1973, but I couldn’t justify both. As it stands, 40% of the titles on this list involve Naschy. I need to retain at least a shred of credibility here.

 

Naschy, a one-man horror industry, may not have been a brilliant actor, but he was “all in” every time and might have had more passion than anyone else in the film business. Count Dracula’s Great Love, like most of his movies, follows the same formula of gothic imagery + graphic violence + boobs. Somehow it never seems cynical coming from him.

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Honorable Mention

 

Theater of Blood

 

Vincent Price delivers one of his most memorable, over-the-top performances yet as a spurned actor with vengeance on his mind. The film doesn’t quite grab me the way it does other fans, but I included it here because I didn’t want you to think I’m too clueless.

 

Sisters

A disturbed young woman (Margot Kidder) may or may not have a murderous twin sister everyone thought was dead.

 

The trailer for this early Brian De Palma effort suggests a dark and perhaps even profound psychological thriller. In reality it’s rather fluffier than that and turns downright silly in the third act. Still, smart moviegoers can usually spot a burgeoning talent, and De Palma obviously delivered big time a few years later with Carrie and Dressed to Kill.

 

Flesh for Frankenstein

Viewed today, it’s hard to understand why “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” carried such notoriety. The film is so blatantly comedic and Udo Kier’s delivery so over-the-top that you have to laugh at the alleged shocks. That said, any movie featuring the line, “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder,” deserves some sort of recognition.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1972

The year is 1972. From the seedy grindhouse theaters of 42nd Street to rural drive-ins across America, a smorgasbord of ghoulish delights is available to horror fanatics. But if you’re one of those fanatics, you must make your choice based on minimal information: a newspaper ad, a trailer you saw, a splashy poster, or a catchy title on the marquee.

You might go for something from Hammer Films, a studio fading fast but still occasionally able to whip up a solid production like Vampire Circus. Or instant kitsch such as Beware the Blob or Frogs, two movies far more enjoyable than they ought to be. Perhaps you get shafted by Blood Orgy of the She Devils, but at least you’ll have some cachet with horror fans on social media 45 years in the future.

Or maybe you are gut punched by Last House on the Left and wish later you could somehow get those unsettling images out of your head…

What a year.

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Once again, I do not claim these are the best films of the year, only that they are my favorites. Read on!

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1972

  1. Horror Express

 

What happens when you take a cool concept about a malevolent, mind-hopping life force, cast the top horror stars of the day, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, add Eurocult favorites Helga Line and Sylvia Tortosa as leading ladies, hire Telly Savalas to chew some scenery, whip up an eerie music score, get Eugenio Martin to direct with flair, and set the story on board a Trans-Siberian locomotive?

You get my favorite movie of 1972.

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  1. What Have You Done to Solange?

 

This film is everything a giallo should be: stylish, sexy, and full of surprises. Great cast, killer score. They got this one right.

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  1. Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things

 

I actually watched this Night of the Living Dead knock-off before I saw the masterpiece that inspired it. Way back when I was a wee lad, I’d wait until my parents fell asleep then dial up some juicy late-night horror. On the fateful night this flick aired, I became mesmerized at once by the foggy atmosphere, the satanic ritual, the zombie siege, and even the graininess of the film stock. It lacks the polish of director Bob Clark’s later classics Deathdream and Black Christmas, but it hooked me on the grindhouse-cinema aesthetic forever.

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  1. Last House on the Left

 

What a way to announce one’s presence as a filmmaker.

Wes Craven’s debut is a raw and brutal film not much more polished than a college student’s but is perhaps more effective for that reason, as the shaky camera work and frequent reliance on natural lighting lend it the air of a really unpleasant documentary. To be honest, the acting is spotty and the comic relief is both painfully unfunny and misguided. But the scenes of horror are so visceral and haunting, it’s obvious, even with its flaws, that Last House is the work of a superior talent.

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  1. The Blood Spattered Bride

 

Oh those European filmmakers and their dreamy, weird vampire erotica. For anyone curious about Spanish horror, this lesbian vampire flick from director Vicente Aranda is a good sample. As with many genre films from that nation, the pace is leisurely, the women are beautiful, it’s dripping with atmosphere, and the explosions of violence are sudden and savage. The requisite “WTF?” moments are present as well, because every good 1970s Euro-cult flick is required, by cinematic law, to have at least one earnestly oddball sequence that would never show up in an American movie.

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  1. Who Saw Her Die?

 

Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, and Sergio Martino may be the most revered names in giallo cinema, but Aldo Lado is right up there in artistic vision. Like his Short Night of Glass Dolls sort-of giallo from the year before, Who Saw Her Die is both suspenseful and unnerving, and his skill for shot composition is on full display. It’s also likely to be the only film in this entire blog series to star a former James Bond, in this case George Lazenby from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

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  1. Don’t Torture a Duckling

 

1972 was both a great and a grim year for gialli. As with Who Saw Her Die, Lucio Fulci’s acclaimed and violent giallo features a child murderer for a villain, necessitating a somber tone. This genre may be noted for casting gorgeous ladies (lovely stalwart Barbara Bouchet is on hand here), but Brazilian beauty Florinda Bolkan is not afraid to rough it as a haggard and persecuted gypsy woman. O’ course, she’s a better actress than were most of her contemporaries in the Italian exploitation scene and had the chops to pull it off.

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  1. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

 

Whew, after those two gloomy entries, we’re back in the giallo comfort zone where style trumps substance and everyone looks like a magazine cover model. This story teases a supernatural threat, but we’re soon up to our eyeballs in slicing and dicing, and I’m not sure ghosts are that handy with a straight razor. As usual with the better gialli, the film is visually striking, and Barbara Bouchet, Marina Malfatti, and Sybil Danning make sure those same eyeballs remain pacified between the set-piece kills.

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  1. Blacula

 

Based on the exploitative title, you’d expect to see Rudy Ray Moore dressed like Bela Lugosi, running around making wisecracks while buxom lasses peel their tops at every opportunity. Surprise! Blacula is a solid flick with emotional resonance and a terrific performance by William Marshall as Prince Mamuwalde. He brings all the gravitas needed to suggest a 200-year-old vampire.

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  1. All the Colors of the Dark

 

This film may be the most stylishly directed of Sergio Martino’s several well-made gialli, and the demonic-cult element brings it close to straight horror. However, Ernesto Gastaldi’s uncharacteristically messy script is confusing and fails to resolve story questions the way a good mystery should, thus pushing it down my list. I think they were going for a Rosemary’s Baby angle (is the devil cult real or is the female lead insane?), but … as much as I adore Edwige Fenech, she’s no Mia Farrow as an actress and doesn’t bring a whole lot of range to the role.

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Honorable mention

 

  1. Tales from the Crypt

 

That year saw the release of two strong anthology films from Amicus (the rival of Hammer that often used the same actors and directors but set their films in modern times), this one and Asylum. Take your pick, but I find the stories in Crypt more memorable and closer to the flavor of a comic book.

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  1. Baron Blood

 

Mario Bava’s modern gothic horror doesn’t boast a particularly interesting story, but his shot composition is stellar as usual, the gruesome elements are fun, and the titular villain cuts a creepy figure.  It co-stars little Nicoletta Elmi from Who Saw her Die? as well as many other genre films of the period.

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  1. Death Line

 

Full disclosure: I haven’t seen this film in many years, though I enjoyed it a lot at the time. It sports a strong cast led by Donald Pleasence and has maintained a respectable critical reputation. The good news: Blue Underground is releasing the Blu-ray next month (June 2017), so I’ll have a chance to update my opinion.

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  1. Man from Deep River

Prolific Italian director Umberto Lenzi has thus far gotten no love from me in this blog series. Honestly, I don’t think he’s a hack as his detractors say or that he’s a greatly underappreciated artist as claimed by his advocates. He knows what he’s doing, but there’s usually someone doing the same thing better in any given year. That said, credit goes where it is due. Lenzi was close behind Bava in developing the giallo, and with Deep River he kind of invented the Italian Cannibal genre, however dubious an accomplishment that may be. Regardless, it’s a film of historical significance to grindhouse horror fans.