The 1970s were a golden era in horror and films ran the gamut from revenge (I Spit on Your Grave) to cults (I Drink Your Blood) to slasher (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) often reflecting the tumultuous political and social conditions of the time. With so much variety, not every release received the fanfare that it deserved. So in an effort to remedy those oversights, here are my picks for the most underrated horror films of the 70s.
LONG WEEKEND (1978)
Nature strikes back in this bizarre Australian tale of a couple who pay the price for their ecological insensitivity. And while it’s difficult to determine whether the campy overtones of this thriller are intentional, the film’s unique premise and creative violence will appeal to horror fans looking for something a bit different.
WHO CAN KILL A CHILD (1976)
While Children of the Corn (1977), released one year after Who Can Kill a Child stole much of the latter’s glory, audiences will enjoy this critique of children run dangerously a muck. The story revolves around a couple who find themselves shipwrecked on an island and at the mercy of a tribe of killer children who exhibit absolutely no remorse in their mission to rid the island of any adult supervision.
10 RILLINGTON PLACE (1971)
More psychological horror than explicit violence (although there is some of that as well), this excellent British film depicts the events surrounding famed serial killer John Christie. With an all-star cast and expert direction, how this film has not achieved classic status remains a mystery.
‘GOD TOLD ME TO’ (1976)
Intrigue and murder permeate this excellent script by Larry Cohen. A NYPD detective, who is also a devout Catholic, tracks a series of murders ordered by a cult leader. Given its release date, associations to the Manson Family murders are inevitable. Yet, this film quickly moves into the unexpected courtesy of some very surprising science fiction elements.
MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)
Fans of H. P. Lovecraft will enjoy this story of a woman whose search for her artist father leads her to a dangerous cult comprised of the undead. Surreal and often visceral, Messiah of Evil is a strange romp that encapsulates the spirit of the 1970s while also offering interesting observations about the era’s fascination with cults.
As this is the same film era that gave us Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) and Caligula (1979), it comes as little surprise that 1970s horror would also explore the connection between eroticism and violence. This tale of two lesbian vampires who lure men to their deaths is an explicitly gory male fantasy that works solely because of its tongue and cheek sensibility.
Although at the time of its release Martin enjoyed tremendous art house success, film history has failed to give George A. Romero’s ode to vampirism its due. Its subversive commentary on religion, sexuality and media is strangely effective as is its deliberate use of gore. Those looking for a killer final act will not be disappointed.
THE BROOD (1979)
Directed by David Cronenberg, this film certainly has a pedigree that may make its inclusion on this list confusing. But the film’s out there storyline of a psychically linked brood of killers exacting revenge for their mother figure and its clear indictment of women doesn’t exactly radiate crossover appeal. Yet, for an audience interested in the intersection between psychoanalysis and repression, The Brood has a lot to offer.
Given all the hoopla surrounding zombies and vampires these days, you’d think this Canadian gem would have finally gotten its due. Alas, too few people have seen this bizarre take on the undead. Centering on returning Vietnam vet Andy, this film has a somewhat campy sensibility with strangely poignant political undertones.