Essential 1970s Horror



Even the casual horror fan has seen ‘70s horror films like Halloween and Jaws, but if you take a step away from the mainstream, there is a veritable candy store of titles that influenced the horror boom of the ‘80s. We’ve put together a list of slightly lesser known 1970s titles that we think every horror fan should see. We have steered clear of the obvious choices. So you will not see Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, or even Black Christmas on our list. We have dug a little deeper to spotlight some titles that don’t always get the mainstream acclaim or recognition that they most certainly deserve.

Below, you will find an assortment of films that we think will give any viewer not intimately familiar with the horrors of the 1970s a good jumping off point to embrace one of the richest decades that horror cinema has to offer. And for the seasoned horror fan, we offer up an invitation to revisit some of the films that made the ‘70s a decade worthy of remembrance.

Horror Express

This Peter Cushing (The Satanic Rites of Dracula) and Christopher Lee (Raw Meat) cult classic rarely gets the mainstream recognition it deserves. In fact, a quality transfer of the film didn’t even exist until Severin Films released a Blu-Ray/DVD combo in 2011. Prior to that, fans of the film had to settle for scratchy, grainy picture and barely discernable audio. Horror Express is a great showcase of ‘70s monster cinema and a must see for any fan of genre film. This film is a fine example of just how great Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were when teamed together. Telly Sevalas turned in a noteworthy performance as Captain Kazan, as well.

The Sentinel

This is one of my all time favorite supernatural horror flicks. But The Sentinel has always lived in the shadows of fellow ‘70s supernatural horror flick The Exorcist.  The only real similarities are that both films are based on a novel and each deals with the religious aspect of horror, though. The Sentinel also caught flack for its resemblance to films like Rosemary’s Baby, but it stands very well on its own. The story, while it may bear slight similarities to some of its contemporaries, is gripping, surreal, and unique in a lot of ways. The scene where Alison Parker walks in on her father, who is of very advanced age, engaging in a threesome must be seen for one to believe it. Cristina Raines turned in a terrific performance as Alison.  

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, part of Dario Argento’s unofficial animal trilogy, is an absolutely beautiful film. It’s one of master director Dario Argento’s best gialli. The photography is gorgeous; the performances are toned down from typical, over the top gialli fare, and the twist ending keeps the viewer guessing right up until the end of the film. The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is held in high regard amongst Argento fans and connoisseurs of Italian cinema, but it’s often overlooked by horror enthusiasts who, when they reach for an Argento film, seek out titles like Suspiria. It’s a great representation of 1970s Italian horror cinema and, of course, a must see for any horror fan. You can check out our crash course on Dario Argento here.

Burnt Offerings

This is a remarkable example of how effective slow burn horror can be when it’s well executed.  The ending of this character driven horror flick is phenomenal. Burnt Offerings features an all-star cast; Burgess Meredith (The Sentinel), Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror), Bette Davis (The Watcher in the Woods), and Oliver Reed (The Brood). But somehow, it seems that it is overlooked in favor of better-known ‘70s haunted house tales, like The Amityville Horror. And that is an injustice as Burnt Offerings inspired countless films that have come since its 1976 release. For one, Burnt Offerings is speculated to have been an influence in Ti West’s 2009 film The House of the Devil.

The Brood

God, this movie is weird. But, it’s weird in a good way. It’s just the right amount of creepy. The Brood is a great introduction to Cronenberg, for the uninducted. It is slightly less bizarre than some of his other work; therefore, a logical jumping off point to explore some of the macabre director’s even stranger films The Brood boasts an effectively dramatic score and gorgeous cinematography. It’s a must see for any horror fan who hasn’t checked it out and thus why it lands on our list. Fans of killer kid cinema will appreciate The Brood, as it puts a highly unexpected spin on the genre. Oliver Reed is fantastic as the extremely unconventional Dr. Raglan. His brand of regressive therapy is delightful to watch.

We extend honorable mention to the killer kid flick It’s Alive, (which undoubtedly inspired the Adam Green produced Grace), the Brian DePalma classic Sisters, and the Roger Corman schlock fest, Piranha.