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
- The Exorcist
I don’t really need to explain this choice, do I?
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.