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.

_______________

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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

 

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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

_______________

  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.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1971

For those who love the grindhouse/drive-in horror aesthetic—grainy film stock, overly bright blood, and lots of jarring camera zooms—1971 is the start of the high classic era. What’s not to admire about an age when vampire erotica, devil-worshiping hippies, motorcycle werewolves, and stylish Euro-cult horror ruled the screen? Even the previews were so entertaining that a whole collector audience now exists for trailer compilations.

As I said in my initial post, I make no claim that my choices are the “best” films of a given year, only that they are my favorites. Please do counter with your own list in the comments. I’d love to read it.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1971

  1. I Drink Your Blood

If aliens came to Earth and said, “We only have room in our flying saucer for one movie. Please give us the quintessential grindhouse flick to take back to Planet X,” you’d have no choice but to hand over a copy of David Durston’s hippie-horror classic. It’s got everything: devil cultists, drug use, nudity, gore, a hose, rabies, and an eerie music score. And a multi-ethnic and multi-generational cast, which means it’s classy as fuck and should have won Best Picture.

_______________

  1. Bay of Blood

Hey look, Mario Bava invented the slasher genre, and he did it with flair and style few of his imitators could hope to muster. There are some seriously gory and realistic-looking kills in this film, which must have been quite startling to audiences of the time.

_______________

  1. Tombs of the Blind Dead

Was director Amando de Ossorio attempting a color knock-off of Night of the Living Dead, or did he come up with a movie concept about flesh-eating zombies on his own? Either way, the blind dead are an inspired creation. The pace can be plodding at times, but the marriage of gory zombie violence and a dreamy, ghost-like atmosphere imbues this film (and its three sequels) with a distinctive cinematic flavor.

_______________

  1. Werewolf Shadow

Speaking of Spanish horror, I love the stuff, especially when it has Paul Naschy’s name attached. Naschy might be best known for his many-part series of loosely connected werewolf films, which typically feature Spanish gothic settings, a brooding tone, and copious nudity and graphic violence. These films are not for everyone (they’re serious to the point of being unintentionally comical and often suffer from atrocious dubbing). But if they are for you, you may find Werewolf Shadow the best of the lot, thanks to the presence of two sexy vampire chicks and the atmospheric direction of Leon Klimovsky.

_______________

  1. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Too young to have seen these films in a theater, I discovered my love for early-1970s horror watching late-night TV as a kid. I can still remember viewing Let’s Scare Jessica to Death alongside my sister as we held a blanket just under our eyes, ready to pull it over our heads during the scary moments. Even watching it as an adult, I’m creeped out by this tale of a mentally unstable woman who moves into a remote country house and finds what she thinks is a vampire already living there. Of course, no one believes her…

_______________

  1. Twins of Evil

The final entry in Hammer’s “Karnstein trilogy” probably isn’t that great of a film artistically, but it pushes all the right buttons. The debauched Count Karnstein is bored with routine sex and violence and, naturally, turns himself into a devil-worshipping vampire to raise the, er, stakes … just as the prim and proper (as well as shapely and attractive) Gellhorn twins show up with their witch-hunting uncle Gustav. The title suggests what happens next.

_______________

  1. The Abominable Dr. Phibes

If you can take a mundane concept like “a mad doctor seeks revenge on those responsible for his wife’s death” and turn it into something as marvelously kitschy as Dr. Phibes, you’ve captured lighting in a bottle. Had someone the foresight to do this film as a musical, it might be a cult favorite on the order of The Rocky Horror Picture Show today.

_______________

  1. Blood on Satan’s Claw

I suppose it’s unfair of me to rag on Hammer for continuing to do period films after everyone else moved on, and then turn around and praise this period flick from Tigon. Ah, but there’s something weirdly subversive about this pagan-themed flick that makes it seem so much darker and less dated.

_______________

  1. Black Belly of the Tarantula

It may be odd to include this giallo on my list at the expense of some better-known titles released that year, but it does seem the most “horror-film like” of the bunch (unless you consider Bay of Blood a giallo, which I don’t). The stalk-and-slash elements loom heavy, and the movie includes some harrowing, though not particularly gory, kills. The killer’s choice of a hypodermic syringe as a murder weapon ought to unnerve the needle-phobes out there.

_______________

  1. Shiver of the Vampires

Jean Rollin is a hit-or-miss filmmaker, in my view, and I sometimes wonder if his supposedly disjointed and dreamlike storytelling isn’t simply the result of poor shot coverage (this is a guy who struggles to pull focus sometimes). That said, Shiver of the Vampires is a pretty movie with an offbeat cast and represents France well in the vampire erotica sub-genre.

_______________

Honorable mention (a.k.a. I’m a clueless idiot for not choosing these over the garbage up top)

Daughters of Darkness

Many of my horror friends sing the praises of this film, but to be honest, I haven’t seen it in 20 + years, so I can’t fairly judge. I reserve the right to revisit and revise in the future.

_______________

Four Flies on Grey Velvet

I’m going to get grief for not putting this in my top 10, aren’t I? I do like Dario Argento’s third giallo, especially because it’s loopier than his other prime-era films and is packed with weird surprises. On the other hand, it’s less polished than his other efforts. Some of the edits and scene transitions feel choppy, and I have a hard time getting behind the bland hero, who seems lost in a film that’s more interesting than he is.

_______________

Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh

If I were to make a list of the top 10 gialli ever made, this film would be on it, and Sergio Martino is surely among the very best giallo directors. However, while I believe most gialli double as horror films—with their masked killers, gory murders, body counts, and eerie music—Strange Vice feels less like horror and more like one of those kinky detective novels from which the genre was spawned.

My Top 6 Horror Films of 1968

I consider 1968-1988 to be the Golden Age of Horror.

There were certainly concentrated bursts of artistic brilliance and innovation before that: the pre-code classics of the early 1930s, Val Lewton’s horror-noir masterpieces of the early 1940s, and the taboo-shattering period of 1957-60 that began with Hammer’s first Technicolor terrors and ended with “Mrs.” Bates not swatting that fly.

In viewing 1968 as the start of the golden age, I’m not overlooking Mario Bava’s edgy, sometimes kinky gothic horrors, H.G. Lewis’s invention of the splatter genre, or the significance of early ‘60s classics like The Birds and Eyes Without a Face. I am saying, though, that these films had to stand out against a wash of movies that seem rather dated today.

Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein shared 1957 with a barrage of now archaic-looking giant-monster flicks like The Deadly Mantis and The Giant Claw, for example. Bava competed against Roger Corman’s assembly line of Poe-themed costume dramas, which we can admit are fun and nostalgic but hardly pushed the art of film forward.

Then, in 1968, horror cinema turned postmodern. The Vietnam War, the bloody civil rights struggle, nuclear proliferation, and a series of history-altering political assassinations made movies about haunted castles appear silly. In short order, graphic violence and nudity became commonplace on theater screens, and films were suddenly imbued with social commentary.

In the ensuing twenty years, the concept of the horror icon was born and spawned franchises, and directors and make-up FX artists became the stars of the genre. By 1981, it seemed as if at least one new horror film hit movie screens per week. The flood of theatrical releases reached its crest in the mid 80s and then began the inevitable run off. By 1989 and into the early ’90s, most titles ended with a Roman numeral and had largely faded into a blur of forgettable direct-to-video-store shelf filler.

Legendary horror films have been released throughout cinematic history, from Nosferatu in 1922 to The Ring in 2002. But there’s something about the 1968-88 era that many horror film fanatics, including me, hold in especially high regard.

Going forward, I make no attempt to mention every film you might have heard of, nor do I claim my choices are “the best.” They are merely my favorites. We begin:

My Top 6 Horror Films of 1968

  1. Night of the Living Dead

George A. Romero’s debut feature is a nihilistic masterpiece that eviscerates government authority and white cultural hegemony even more savagely than the featured undead do their on-screen victims. This movie both wrote the zombie rule book and created the blueprint for low-budget, drive-in horror.

  1. Rosemary’s Baby

In his harrowing study of paranoia and isolation (which may be even more relevant today), Roman Polanski takes us from wanting to save Rosemary, to thinking she’s loony, to having no idea what’s real and what isn’t. Sounds a bit like everyday life.

  1. Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell

Placing the adjective “bizarre” in front of the phrase “Japanese horror film” has been a superfluous act from the get go. As is typical of East Asian genre movies, Goke is visually captivating while making no attempt to depict anything naturalistically. Director Hajime Sato is every bit as effective as Romero at generating paranoia within a group of isolated survivors (this time of a plane crash in the mountains).

  1. The Living Skeleton

When Japanese horror isn’t being bizarre, it’s being eerie, and The Living Skeleton is among the eeriest. Is there a better film about a ghost ship? Well, Matango is pretty great (and bizarre and eerie).

  1. Targets

How wonderful is it that Boris Karloff, after decades of acting in generally artless B-movies, got to deliver one of his greatest performances at the end of his life? Playing an old, forgotten horror actor, Karloff comes face to face with a disaffected young killer bent on committing a mass shooting. It’s like director Peter Bogdanovich knew he was documenting a paradigm shift in the genre.

  1. The Devil Rides Out

I’m partial to movies about witchcraft and devil worship. Add Christopher Lee and stir until scary.

 

Honorable mention (a.k.a. I must be an idiot for not choosing these movies instead)

  1. Witchfinder General

This film is one of the most talked about “subversive” horror films ever made, and its director, Michael Reeves, had all the tragic qualities we like in a tortured (pun intended) artist. Honestly, though, I find it a bit boring. Hey, it’s my list!

  1. Dracula has Risen from the Grave

The second sequel to Horror of Dracula somehow escapes the rambling/sloppy storytelling of the other films in the series, and the character dynamics are legitimately interesting. However, for a film that cast a Roger Daltry lookalike for the lead and tried super hard to make the adults look like squares, its “brush your teeth and eat your vegetables” message at the end seems like a bait and switch.

  1. Brides of Blood

I almost bumped The Devil Rides Out from my top 5 list in favor this utterly trashy Filipino monster flick, which I adore on many levels. Better judgement won out (barely).

Next time, I name my favs of 1969 (duh)!