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.

*************************************************************

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.

__________________

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.

_______

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.

_______________

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 1969-1970

There’s something you should know. In claiming that the Golden Age of Horror is 1968-1988, I face an inconvenient truth: 1969 was a pretty weak year for genre movies. 1970 offered a few memorable titles, but the greatest films of the era were yet to come.

To me, a “golden age” requires a sustained volume of greatness, not mediocrity punctuated by occasional quality. In that sense, 1971 is the year the gates of horror opened. But 1968’s Night of the Living Dead isn’t just a great film; it’s a paradigm shift that redefined the genre forever. As such, it begins the golden age and will have to carry the weight of 1969 and 1970.

One thing I neglected to write last time: My tastes lean toward a low-budget and often trashy aesthetic. If you find my frequent preference for grindhouse/drive-in flicks over slick Hollywood productions baffling, it’s my punk-rock sensibility in play.

Let’s get down to business. Once again, I don’t claim these are the best films released in their respective years, merely my personal favorites.

My Top 6 Horror Films of 1969-1970

  1. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Rarely does a directorial debut announce itself with such panache. Dario Argento’s taut and stylish giallo drove the genre to unexpected heights, and the man himself remains a beloved filmmaker to this day across all horror fandom.

  1. Count Yorga, Vampire

Robert Quarry’s turn as the charismatic, contemporary Count struck a chord with horror fans and provided a wake-up call to Hammer. The famed British production house was still churning out colorful gothic horrors that may have been fresh in the late 1950s but were staid by 1970. Speaking of Hammer…

  1. The Vampire Lovers

The company was missing the boat in terms of contemporary settings and themes, but they did hit on something pretty brilliant: An erotic vampire trilogy loosely based on the character of Carmilla Karnstein from the Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu story “Carmilla” published in 1872. The producers cut back on the howling-wolves-and-full-moons element and replaced it with nudity and graphic violence. They also established the character depth missing from many of their previous vampire entries, an effort aided immensely here by the yearning performance of Ingrid Pitt as Carmilla.

  1. Five Dolls for an August Moon

Mario Bava may have hated his own film, but I don’t. It’s weird, it’s kitschy, it’s darkly humorous, and it’s got Edwige Fenech. While the plot gets lost a few times, the stylish set pieces and off-kilter storytelling make for a delightfully odd viewing experience. Not pretentiously odd like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film released that same year, El Topo (during which one is compelled to ask “WTF?” every three seconds), but just off-level enough to intrigue the curious cinephile.

  1. Night of the Bloody Apes

That’s right; I just wrote that a movie about a guy who turns into an ape after a heart transplant, and which includes a subplot about a masked female wrestler, is one of my favorites from 1969. Sometimes you can’t put it into words, mate.

Reminder: 1969 was a weak year for horror

  1. Mark of the Devil

Yesterday I apologetically admitted I’m iffy on the acclaimed Michael Reeves film Witchfinder General, and now here I am including a far trashier, less substantial, and sleazier grindhouse flick based on the same concept. Well, only one of these films stars Udo Kier and Reggie Nalder, so there you have it.

Honorable mention (a.k.a. how could I be so clueless; these films are clearly superior)

  1. Blind Beast

This erotic, surreal film by Yasuzô Masumura is a captivating watch, but I’m not sure it’s a horror film. If Boxing Helena and Dead Ringers are horror films, I guess this might be. I’m keeping it down here for now, though.

  1. Frankenstein Must be Destroyed

I’ve been a lifelong fan of Hammer films’ horror oeuvre, but from a historical perspective, I’m critical of their tendency to churn out repetitious material throughout the 1960s, along with their failure to adapt to changing tastes. With all that said, it’s impressive to see Peter Cushing deliver one mature, nuanced performance after another. He was seldom stronger than in this role as the titular antihero.

  1. Top Sensation

For 60 minutes, it’s a racy, eyebrow-raising sex comedy and then shifts jarringly to a psychological horror film for the last 30. Given the overall tone, I’m not sure I can include it on the main list. Regardless, it’s another of those delightfully warped, loopy productions that only Italians seem capable of producing, and it’s a quality I find captivating as a viewer. The pairing of Edwige Fenech and Rosalbi Neri as morally bankrupt rich girls is reason enough to watch.

Next time: 1971

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)!