If modern horror was established by films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, H.G. Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs, and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead throughout the 1960s, then it grew up fast in the ’70s. The floodgates opened and suddenly, mainstream audiences were prepared to confront mature content, graphic imagery, and uncomfortable themes in a way unprecedented in the age of cinema. With the latest chapter in the Halloween saga coming out today, the remake of Suspiria scheduled for wide release on Nov. 2nd, and another chapter of the Amityville franchise due next month, this seems like a good time to explore the decade that made horror what it is now.
Suspiria – 1977 (featured)
Often regarded as one of the highest examples of horror as an artform, this is generally considered the greatest film from heralded Italian auteur Dario Argento. With its bold color palette, meticulous framing, and sudden bursts of terrible violence, Suspiria still tells a compelling story of a stranger in a strange land that’s stranger than she could possibly imagine, but veers off into nightmares barely tethered to reality with little warning. This might not just be Argento’s best, but the best Italian horror film period.
Deep Red – 1975
Argento, in his prime, was more than just a one-note arthouse horror filmmaker – he was also a master of the giallo. To those who don’t know, a giallo was a kind of whodunnit murder mystery unique to Italian cinema that was known for its gruesome violence and sometimes explicit content, which would become extremely influential on what would become the ‘slasher movie’. Deep Red – or Profondo Russo – is one of the best, with fantastic direction, an intriguing plot, and a brutally relentless killer committed to keeping secret the sins of the past.
The Last House on the Left – 1972
Its visceral depictions of violence still terrifying today, this film was also very influential on what would become the most prolific type of horror film in the 1980s, but not necessarily in content because Last House still churns stomachs today. However, three of the men behind the camera, Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th) and Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Parts 2 & 3) would go on to help define the genre for an entire generation, making it both fun and acceptable to the masses but without sacrificing all of its edge. This movie is proof that they were aware just how much edge it could have.
Black Christmas – 1974 & Alice, Sweet Alice – 1976
Alice, Sweet Alice:
No discussion of influence on modern horror would be truly complete without acknowledging this pair of underrated proto-slashers, although they both often get lost in the mix. Regularly referenced by later horror filmmakers, Alice‘s brutal knife-wielding masked killer and the elusive and depraved villain of Christmas would help shape the more iconic genre characters that audiences are familiar with today.
The Amityville Horror – 1979
Next month marks the release of The Amityville Murders, the 11th film in the long-running franchise and a pseudo-remake of Amityville II: The Possession. The nearly 40-year-old original hasn’t necessarily aged so well, but it definitely contributed to modernizing the classic haunted house motif upon its release. Personally, I wouldn’t say it’s so much of a great movie as it is a collection of great set pieces with some tedious stuff in between, but it still deserves its spot when discussing the highlights of the era.
The Sentinel – 1977
Here, we have another overlooked gem from this landmark decade – a tale of a struggling fashion model who may have moved into the apartment building from Hell. While very much a product of its time, it’s among a number of notable films from its time that bridges the gap between earlier films that defined horror mostly through broody atmosphere and modern horror, with its dark and often disturbing palette of themes and explicit imagery. It’s a very solid standard of the ‘slowburn’ formula that is enjoying quite the renaissance today.
Phantasm – 1979
Rounding out this week’s list is a personal favorite of mine – Don Coscarelli’s unique sci-fi/horror fever dream with an interdimensional shape-shifting mortician, killer flying drill spheres, corpses of loved ones squashed down into super-strengthened servants, and a young boy trying to make sense of it all while struggling to survive the wrath of ‘The Tall Man’. By putting style, imagery, and mood over story but never taking itself too terribly serious, Phantasm is a bit like Suspiria’s guitar-playing pothead cousin that works down at the gas station. Nowhere near as refined, but a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with.
– Two weeks ago, we featured both the original Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in our Stream Picks, which you can check out here.