As I peruse the varied articles posted here on Horrornews.net I am constantly amazed at the amount of information that is disseminated each & everyday. I’m especially intrigued by the “Lists” columns. There are so many categories of lists that I never would have thought of posted weekly, And all of them are very entertaining & informative. I thought about what I could contribute to this long line of lists and I decided to make lists of what I consider my favorite horror films of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s & 00’s.. I’m going to start with the 70’s & so on. Let me explain how I came to these final 15 flicks before I tell you about them. I started with a pile of reference books (8 to be exact, although I have dozens of them). From these books I compiled a list of all of my favorite films of the era.
This list added up to 45 films. From these 45 films I painfully whittled them down to 35, then 25, then finally…15. I wanted to get it down to 10 but found it impossible to drop any of the films left. Now before I proceed, take note that the column is called FAVORITE horror films of the 70’s, not BEST horror films of the 70’s. So although they are great horror films, you won’t be reading about seminal horror films of the 70’s like “The Exorcist”, “Jaws”, “The Amityville Horror”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Last House On The Left” & other blockbusters of their ilk. It’s not that I don’t think they’re great movies. As a matter of fact “The Exorcist” is the scariest horror film of all time in my humble opinion. It’s just that it scared me so f*cking much I really can’t call it a favorite of mine. I get no pleasure from watching it despite it’s pedigree. There are also no Sci-Fi influenced horror films to be found here either. So no “Omega Man”, “Silent Running”, “Logan’s Run” or most glaringly “Alien” on this list. I thought long & hard about “Alien” but ultimately decided that it’s more of a Sci-Fi film with Horrific overtones & decided that I shouldn’t include it. I Love that movie & it truly is one of my favorites but ultimately decided it didn’t belong here. The films that you’ll find listed here are films that are slightly off of the beaten track & they are films that will always hold a place deep in my heart, films I will always watch at the drop of a hat & films that never fail to entertain me immensely. I hope you feel the same about some of them. If not, well they’re my favorites…not yours.
The films will be listed in order from 1970-79 & each entry will have some pertinent information about the filmmakers, actors, plots & such. Followed by why I included it on the list. At the conclusion of each year I will also include “Honorable Mention” films. These are films that almost made the final cut but didn’t for various reasons. But I still wanted to mention them & give them a fair shake. They are favorites of mine still. Now that I’ve explained the way I’ve set this up, let’s get to it shall we?
1970/ “Count Yorga, Vampire”. Written & directed by Bob Kelljan. Starring Robert Quarry, Roger Perry, Michael Murphy & Donna Anders.
I was six years old when I accompanied my dad to watch “Count Yorga, Vampire”. I wasn’t aware of what I was in for other than a vampire movie & I was fairly well versed with vampire films thanks to Hammer studios lock on releasing at least one or two of them every year. But Count Yorga was no Hammer studios vampire…oh no, not at all. Firstly, it’s set in modern day Los Angeles not the Victorian days that Hammer specialized in. This set it apart from other vampire movies immediately. Actually being set in California during the 70’s seemed rather revolutionary at the time. The fact that Yorga was NOTHING like Dracula was also very revolutionary at the time. I mean lets face it, when you thought of vampire movies in the 60’s-70’s you thought Hammer & Christopher Lee. Quarry’s Count Yorga is the polar opposite of our far more infamous Count Dracula. In Quarry’s hands, Yorga is an extremely suave & more importantly, a count that loved to to speak his mind. Where Lee would basically just glare at his enemies with blood dripping eyes aflame, Yorga seemed to love to tell you how he was going to do away with you. In addition he was a fairly erudite vampire as well who mingled with the wealthy in California, of course this took place only at night.
He still had an eye for the ladies though (seems like all of these vampire dudes did). But to cross Yorga put you on his sh*t list. And he had no compunction with torturing you slowly before he put his finishing move on you. Now let’s get some stuff straight here. “Count Yorga, vampire” is not an especially well directed film, it actually is a rather bland affair to be honest with you. It’s innovations (location, era, lack of Hammer-ish style) are intriguing but they don’t quite jell in the end. What makes this film special to me are a couple of key scenes: One was the scene with Michael Murphy discovering his wife feeding on a kitten in the bathroom. It is sudden & shocking and to a 6 year old’s eyes, unimaginably torturous to look at.. I mean she was eating a f*cking kitten! That was some f*cked up sh*t…seriously. Second is the scene of Quarry & Roger Perry jousting verbally over drinks at Yorga’s home. There is a lot of tension during this scene & the actors are obviously relishing their lines immensely. The third scene that I’ve never forgotten over the years is the final freeze frame scene. It is chilling. Too bad they used the same ending for the sequel “Return Of Count Yorga” the following year. Even so, “Count Yorga, Vampire” really scared the f*ck out of my little six year old eyes back then & I still get a chill out of it now.
“The Dunwich Horror”/ Directed by Daniel Haller. Starring Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee & Ed Begley. Once again my dad saw fit to usher me into the local theater to watch this one. This film had something of a Hammer feel to it but none of the ususal quality acting you would find in a Hammer film. Stockwell overacts wildly, Sandra Dee can barely act at all, she seems to be in a stupor for most of the movie. Ed Begley is surprisingly good in it & Talia Shire plays a small role in the film as well (she’s billed as Talia Coppola). Even though you have to wait until the end of the movie to actually get a look at the “Horror”, it’s an interesting looking thingy for the 2-3 seconds we get to look at it. There are some awful dream sequences with nude hippy folk accosting Ms. Dee (who never disrobes fully) but none of these things made me want to include this film on this list. The reason the film still resonates so strongly with me to this day are Lex Baxter’s haunting score & the truly creepy animated title sequence of the film. The score of the film is basically just variations of the opening theme but it has an air of doom about it. I could see playing this music as the world ended, it has that sort of feel to it. The animation in the beginning of the movie etched itself upon my young brain as I sat in the theater & I’ve never forgotten it. “Blacula” sort of went in the same direction with it’s title sequence a few years later but didn’t have Les Baxter’s score to kick it into high gear. So like I said, It’s not a particularly good movie but it remains one of my favorites for the terror I felt while watching the title sequence & Baxter’s haunting score throughout. It’s still worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before.
Honorable Mention: “Shock Waves“/ Directed by Ken Wiederhorn/ Starring Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams & John Carradine. A crazed scientist, people stranded on an island & waterlogged Nazi zombies! What more do you need to know? See this movie!
1971/ I was seven now & I’d already seen some scary sh*t but 1971 brought to me one of my all time faves & quite a few that came close but didn’t quite make the final cut.
The first film on the list for this year is “The Brotherhood Of Satan”. Directed by Bernard McEveety. Starring Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones & Alvy Moore. Here was the first film that I saw that had to deal with the Devil. Before this, everything horror film that I had seen dealt with monsters both literally & figuratively but I’d never had the pleasure of watching one that featured ole’ Scratch as the protagonist in it. “The Brotherhood Of Satan” was the first & still one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. The plot is fairly straightforward: A Satanic cult is looking for 13 children to forge a bridge from Earth to Hell. The purpose of this bridge? To transform the children into vessels for the aging cult members to transfer their souls into, this ceremony repeated many times over the centuries have guaranteed the cult members everlasting life in servitude to Satan. Into this mishegoss drive in a hapless family & their daughter is the 13th child needed for the ceremony to take place.
Can her family save her from being possessed by evil Satanic cultists? I know this sounds hokey but “The Brotherhood of Satan” really hits the nail on the head in terms of creating an atmosphere of despair & dread throughout it’s running time. I didn’t know then but as in most of these “Satanic panic” movies, this one doesn’t end well for most involved. The ending of this film & it’s final line (which is delivered at the end of the credit scrawl) are amongst the most disturbing I’ve ever seen. Even though I was just seven I knew that there was some serious sh*t going down on the screen & the Devil will have his due. Strother Martin was one of the greatest character actors that ever lived, he had an easy going drawl in his voice that made him feel like family whenever he was in a movie. But in this one it masked an underlying evil that was ready to pounce upon the innocent. It’s an exceptional performance that he gives in this film. Everyone in the film gives a great performance as well, the movie is perfectly cast with seemingly innocent “Country Folk” who help to conceal the true evil waiting for the unwary who end up in their town. It is a straight out scary film that gave me nightmares for weeks after I saw it. It helped to lay the bricks down for my eventual meeting 2 years later with Linda Blair & “The Exorcist”. That was not a good meeting.
“The Abominable Dr. Phibes”/ Directed by Robert Fuest. Starring Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith & Terry Thomas. Here is one of my all time favorites. “Dr. Phibes” was the first film to show me that horror could have a sense of humor to it. It didn’t have to be all fangs & claws & blood dripping off of meathooks. To this day it still makes me laugh out loud & creeps me out in equal measure. No small feat. It tells the tale of Dr. Anton Phibes, a surgeon who is out to avenge the death of his beautiful wife at the hands of the surgeons who he believes, failed her. How does he go abut this murderous streak? Well, first he fakes his own death (which unfortunately leaves his face horribly scarred), he then secures the services of a beautiful but mute henchwoman, Vulnavia (Great name)! He then creates an underground hideout & goes about killing the surgeons mirroring deaths from the bible (the 10 plagues brought down on Egypt).
Joseph Cotten plays one of the surgeons who makes it to the end of the movie in a final battle to stop Phibes & save his son. First off, “Phibes” is one of the most beautifully designed horror films ever. The art deco look of his hideout & the wonderfully evocative music of the 30’s/40’s he enjoys listening to are incredible. The large pipe organ he enjoys playing is very campy but wonderful just the same. The art direction on this film was second to none at the time of it’s release. The script was brilliant as well. Combining a detective story, some pretty funny repartee between the two detectives on the case & a love story with some pretty horrific deaths strung through the narrative like Christmas lights on a tree, it’s a wonderfully executed piece of work. But it would all be for naught if anone but Price was playing the role of Anton Phibes. I’m pretty sure Vincent read this script & immediately saw the promise it had in it for him to really ham it up (In a good way).
He dominates every scene he’s in & his little comic asides are priceless as well. He should’ve gotten an Oscar nom for this movie. I myself, was horrified by some of the goings on during this movie but there was always a little humor right after a horrific death to make most of the pain go away. I remember leaving the theater truly satisfied because I realized that horror doesn’t need to be all gloom & doom all of the time. Sometimes a little humor sprinkled in with the grue can make a good film a great one. “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” showed me that you can get a little silly while people are dying horrible deaths all around you. That was something I couldn’t fathom before seeing it & for that it remains one of my favorite films of the 70’s & of all time.
Honorable mention: “Equinox”, “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death”, “Play Misty For Me”, “The Wicker Man” & “Willard”.
1972/ Blaxploitation & Martial arts cinema started to rear their heads right about now & Hollywood was taking notice. I saw so many Blaxploitation/Martial Arts films this year & for a few years after that I was forever changed as a filmgoer, all at the tender age of 8 going on 9. My favorites for this year start with:
“Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things“/ Directed By Bob Clark. Starring Alan Ormsby, Anya Ormsby & Seth Sklarey. This movie still scares me. I remember seeing it in a darkened theater & wanting to whimper once the plot really kicks in. Funny thing is that technically, the movie is a piece of sh*t. Terrible lighting, acting, special effects. Even the script is derivative & rote. But somehow it all came together for me in a most horrific fashion. The low budget made the film feel real for me. The story is about an acting troupe led by Alan going to a island to perform a “Initiation Ritual”. Part of this ritual involves digging up a dead body. This is all a gag foisted on the performers by Alan but unfortunately for all of them, he performs the ritual a bit too convincingly & manages to resurrect the dead that are buried on the island. The dead liked his acting I guess because The cheesiness of the actors (especially from Alan Ormsby) was so bad that I supposed to myself that these people weren’t acting. But the story, although fairly stupid, is convincingly essayed by all of the actors. The cheapness of it all is very pervasive. There’s a down & dirty feeling to all of it that gets more effective each & every time I see it despite the horrid acting. In addition, the corpse they dig up (named Orville by Alan) is one creepy f*ck. Once he arrives, the movie just feels more evil. Although immobile for practically the whole movie his presence just got under my skin. I knew the f*cker was gonna rise up, I was dreading the moment. Towards the end of the film there is a scene where Alan, in an attempt to save himself, throws the last surviving member of the troupe to the dead & once they have her they all stop & look at him in seeming disbelief. As if to say “Why? You f*cking bastard. Why her?”. It’s a stunning moment if only a second long. He summarily receives his comeuppance shortly afterwards & then we get the very bleak ending scene of the zombies getting on a boat to head for the big city. Silly sounding? Yeah, I suppose. But scary to watch for a young kid? Definitely. It will always scare me.
“Frogs”/ Directed by George McCowan. Starring Ray Milland, Sam Elliott & Joan Van Ark. One of the STUPIDEST films ever made. Firstly, the title is misleading. It’s not about killer frogs, all the animals of the Florida swamp are joining in on the wholesale slaughter of the few humans staying on Crockett island. The frogs just happen to be everywhere. If you haven’t figured out by now, “Frogs” is one of those “Nature Strikes Back!” films that littered screens all through the 70’s. I can’t imagine it was the first although I can’t think of one before it right now. Man is encroaching on the (previously undisturbed) land that the local wildlife has been flourishing in. The animals (Insects as well) decide to fight back. Man has no chance. But any suspense that might have been generated by that setup is completely killed off by a lackluster script, actors who seemed to be very bored & some really stupid kill scenes. So why is it on my list of faves?
Again, I was really young & the thought of Crocodiles & Spiders & Snakes, etc..coming after me with a purpose scard the sh*t out of me. The execution of the film didn’t really matter to me then. The idea was enough to scare me & it did. It is a nice film to look at. The locale is beautiful & the cinematography is nice if a bit hazy. I was convinced sh*t like this could happen & I was terrified by the end of this one. Years later, I watched it again & saw all of the stupidity on display. I didn’t know Frogs could cut phone lines. I didn’t realize that Crocs could eat you when their mouths are clearly taped up (DVD images are so much clearer than VHS). I didn’t know that Lizards were smart enough to know to topple over jars of poison to asphyxiate someone in a greenhouse. In addition to all of this, nearly all of the characters just do the stupidest possible things to do in this movie. everyone who dies in this film dies because they wander off alone for some ungodly reason.
Ray Milland is left alone in his mansion at the end to the frogs & they completely surround the joint eventually getting in & doing terrible things like knocking over glasses (& cutting phone lines). It ends with Milland screaming & all the lights going out. At least we’re spared a “Death By Croaking” scene. Then we get the funny image of an animated frog appearing on the screen with a human eye on the end of it’s tongue. It swallows it, croaks & hops off of the screen. Silly, ridiculous, stupid? Yes. But I was so scared when I first saw it. I felt so bad for the characters who died, despite their stupidity. When I rewatched it, all of those old feelings resurfaced silly as they were. And you know what? They made me smile…a lot. I really got a warm, slimy feeling watching “Frogs” again & I realized that I always would. It’s just a monumentally stupid movie that hit home for me & I watch it a couple of times a year just to get that good feeling again. See it with someone you wanna torture for 90 minutes, you’ll have a great time!
“Horror Express“/ Directed by Gene Martin (Eugenio Martin). Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing & Telly Savalas. A plot so silly it had to work: Lee & Cushing play two doctors on the Trans-Siberian Express which is (sort of) high jacked by some murderous cossacks led by Savalas. Too bad for them there is a frozen caveman along for the ride that is possessed by a nasty alien that sucks all of the knowledge out of it’s victims brains. Yeah, that makes sense. It’s got two of the best horror actors who ever lived in it & that’s a big plus for the film. Lee & Cushing are never less than believable in their roles. They help sell all of this silliness expertly. Savalas is effective as the evil cossack captain as well. He has an air of superiority about him, he delivers his lines with an evil gusto & when he smiles he just looked evil to me. But the reason why I love this movie is the silly plot. A frozen caveman? With an alien entity frozen inside of it? One that travels from body to body sucking out all of the memories hidden therein? Shades of “John Carpenter’s The Thing”! But Carpenters beastie kept to itself…hiding in it’s human host not wanting to be seen. Whatever is running around in “Horror Express” doesn’t care who knows it’s around.
When it has possession of you your eyes turn white & drip blood. Not very hard to point out on a crowded train. Oh! Did I mention that the train is headed for a cliff? Yeah..yeah, that’s a pretty bad situation Lee & Cushing are in for sure. But silly as it sounds, it’s not played for laughs. It’s deadly serious for all involved & therefore for me as well. And it’s genuinely scary to boot. It never ceases to amaze me when I realize how many films have paid homage to Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead” whether wittingly or unwittingly. Most of the films on this list owe something to Romero’s vision & this one is no exception. The scenes of the “Possessed” victims proceeding through the train laying waste to all they run across is very Romero-esque. And very effective as well, since all of them just look flat out scary with their bleeding white eyes. Very, very scary. The music is also a plus, it sounds out of place to me but it works & the end theme is creepy in a Disco sort of way. It’s my belief that the 3 leads knew that this was just a silly f*ck of a movie but gave it their all anyway. That’s why the movie worked so well & still does. It gave me an (ever so brief) fear of trains. Who’s to say that the person sitting next to me wasn’t harboring an evil alien waiting to suck on my brain? It still gives me a bit of a chill even now. It achieves a sort of brilliance in spite of it’s stupidity.
Honorable Mention: “Blacula”, “Frenzy” & “Tales From The Crypt”.
1973/ The year of “The Exorcist”, the scariest movie I’ve ever seen to this day. I’ve only seen it the one time. I will never watch it again. It’s not allowed in my home..seriously. It gave me emotional scars that will never heal. Mind you, I acknowledge it’s brilliance, it’s effectiveness, it’s absolute mastery over the unsuspecting audience back then. It’s one of the all time great films ever produced in my mind, horror or not. But it isn’t one of my favorites. No film that still gives me nightmares nearly 38 years after I’ve seen it can be on my favorite list. I’ve spent far too many sleepless nights (last one was in Dec of last year) to call it a favorite. Truthfully, in doing some research for the films released in 1973 there was only one I could truly call a favorite and a few honorable mentions.
The one favorite is “Theater Of Blood“/ Directed by Douglas Hickox. Starring Vincent Price, Diana Rigg & Ian Hendry. Once again, leave it to Vincent Price to show me that it’s no crime to laugh a little while watching a horror movie. As Edward Lionheart, the greatest Shakespearian actor of his generation, Price is the essence of a hammy actor. Gleefully chewing up every scene he’s in, he’s literally a tempest of ham. The plot turns on the fact that despite being the best actor of his day he is constantly snubbed by critics. When he loses the Critics Circle “Actor Of The Year” award he so covets it’s just too much for him & he commits suicide by jumping off of a ledge. But is he really dead? Shortly afterwards critics start dying off in some very Shakespearian fashions. Is Lionheart back? If so, where is he & how is he managing to kill off his critics so elaborately without being caught? “Theater Of Blood” does have some close ties to “Dr. Phibes” series & unapologetically so. It shares a main character looking for revenge against those who have wronged him whether knowingly or unknowingly. A female right hand man so to speak & some amazing production design to boot. The only minor quibble I might have with it is that because of it’s humor & high camp value some of the blood letting seems excessive. But it is a horror film isn’t it? Anthony Greville-Smith’s script is brilliant in it’s adaptation of some of Shakespeare’s plots into murder scenes. It’s a terrifically funny film and a first class production.
Once again, I feel that Price was denied a well deserved Oscar nomination here. He just revels his screen time so much in the role & is so f*cking good that I think he deserved some sort of recognition for the movie. The supporting cast is expertly cast as well. The film needed some heavy duty actors to be able to hold their own against Price & all perform admirably. It’s a funny, scary mystery that happens to be most erudite horror film of the 70’s in my opinion. It’s a terrific movie & will always be near & dear to my heart.
Honorable Mention: “It’s Alive”, “The Legend Of Hell House” (Best Haunted House movie ever) & “Sssssss”.
1974/ Again, as I researched the films of this year I could only really call one film a all time favorite of mine. There is one honorable mention for this year as well that is going to elicit groans from all that have seen it. But what can I say? I told you they were my favorite films, I didn’t say they were any good. For this year it’s “The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires” also known as “The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula“. Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Starring Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Julie Ege & John Forbes-Robinson as Dracula. “BLACK BELT VS. BLACK MAGIC” the posters proclaimed in bold lettering. I remember seeing the posters for this one with “Coming Soon” underneath them in the local theater. Chop Socky films were extremely popular in the mid 70’s & the idea to mix a typical martial arts film with some gothic horror via Hammer was a brilliant one. The film is essentially a remake of “The Magnificent Seven” which was a remake of Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” so in essence this film kind of completed a circle. It opens in Transylvania 1804 & the high priest of the golden vampires resurrects Dracula to help him restore his power in China but Dracula flips the script & steals his “mortal coil”.
Then he proceeds to inhabit his body. 100 years later, Professor Van Helsing is in China appearing in lectures as an expert on Vampirism. One of his lectures recounts the legend of the 7 golden vampires & the farmer who did battle with them to free his daughter from their grasp. The farmer managed to kill one of them before being killed himself,m leaving six of them to survive & continue their reign of terror over the land. But as it turns out, this is no legend and in fact the seven golden vampires do exist but now they are led by Dracula & they routinely kidnap women to sacrifice them for their blood. Upon learning of this Van Helsing decides to help rid China of the menace along with the help of seven warriors, six men & one woman. I always considered this film to be one of the few films to actually deliver on what it’s poster promised. We all know a good poster puts seats in the theater, once they have our money it didn’t really matter what was onscreen did it?
In the 50’s, Roger Corman practically created this strategy. He had a poster & title before he even had a script most times. He then cranked out a quickie to sort of approximate the poster & the legend began. During the heyday of 70’s exploitation films there were hundreds of awesome posters on display but when audiences finally saw the film the poster represented….echhh. But “LOT7GV” delivered in spades, we got crazy kung fu action, we got lots of blood & violence, we got Vampires too! We even got some character development thrown in there. What a concept! A kung fu, horror hybrid with characters that we actually care about. It should have been an unholy mess but it’s an exciting movie that gives it’s audience exactly what it promises. The fact that Peter Cushing thought enough of the script to appear (once again) as Van Helsing prety much says it all. Too bad Christopher Lee doesn’t return as Dracula, it might have been a perfect film if that had happened. But it’s still an awesome movie that actually made the young black saint shed a tear towards the end. It’s endlessly entertaining & should be in the collections of all who love a good horror movie, plain & simple.
Honorable Mention: “Shriek Of The Mutilated”. A classic example of the “Great Poster..Bad Movie” theory I just spoke of. An absolutely worthless film that does nothing of any merit. But you know what? I like this movie. I always will like this movie. Bad script, acting, directing, cinematography, make up..everything about this movie is just plain bad. But I enjoyed it when I saw it & I still do. Fuck the haters.
That does it for the first half of my rants. Part 2 is forthcoming & there it is full of movies that you probably hate with a passion. But hear me out anyway, I might surprise you…Black Saint Out!!
Top 15 favorite horror movies of the 70’s – Black Saint – part 1