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
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.