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The 30 Most Underrated Horror Films From The 1970s

12 October 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Terek Puckett

best 1970s horror films

The 1970s was a seminal decade in cinema including the horror genre. Sadly pillaged for remakes by film producers looking for “pre-awareness product”, this period remains one of the greatest in the history of horror cinema.

This article will look at must-see horror films of that decade that, while not obscure in most cases, are routinely pushed aside in genre conversations in favor of focus on the widely accepted classics such as William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Dario Argento’s Suspiria, John Carpenter’s Halloween, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Ridley Scott’s Alien.

When looking at this particular take on select horror films of the 1970s, readers are advised to keep in mind that all film writing-from the casual to the academic-is based on personal taste.

Those looking for Steven Spielberg’s Duel, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm or Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm will not find those films here and this article is not for any reader wishing to argue about whether or not any of the following entries are “true horror films” as they all are.

The films are in chronological by release year.

 

1. Count Yorga, Vampire (Bob Kelljan, 1970)

Screenplay by Kelljan

2. The Return of Count Yorga (Bob Kelljan, 1971)

Screenplay by Kelljan & Yvonne Wilder

Count Yorga, Vampire

Lead actor Robert Quarry turns in outstanding performances in this pair of highly memorable low-budget vampire films.
The makers of the first Count Yorga film initially had a horror-oriented softcore sex movie in mind but Quarry convinced them to transform the production into a serious horror film with excellent results especially given the limited resources available to the filmmakers.

The film was a hit for distributor American International Pictures and a bigger budget was put into the sequel which is superior to the original.

Quarry went on to appear in the AIP horror films Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Sugar Hill and Madhouse, with the company positioning him as a replacement for their aging horror headliner Vincent Price but AIP stopped making horror films around this time so that plan was never fully realized.

Quarry’s AIP contract prevented him from taking the offered vampire role in 1972’s The Night Stalker TV movie but the actor teamed with director Ray Danton for a non-AIP vampire film called Deathmaster in 1972 which unfortunately falls well below the Count Yorga films in terms of quality.

 

3. The Andromeda Strain (Robert Wise, 1971)

Screenplay by Nelson Gidding based on the Michael Crichton novel

The Andromeda Strain

A group of scientists tries to contain and destroy a lethal alien virus while studying a pair of unlikely survivors who first came into contact with it in this highly underrated film.

Centering on the solid acting ensemble of Arthur Hill, James Olson, David Wayne and Kate Reid, The Andromeda Strain builds to a highly suspenseful climax wherein one of the scientists must navigate his way through a battery of lasers in order to prevent their underground lab from self-destructing. The inevitable remake of this great film took the form of a very lackluster 2008 TV mini-series.

 

4. Blacula (William Crain, 1972)

Screenplay by Joan Torres & Raymond Koenig

Blacula

As Robert Quarry had done with the first Count Yorga movie, Blacula star William Marshall convinced the filmmakers to create a more serious-minded horror film than they had originally intended.

A film unfairly dismissed by some, William Marshall’s charismatic performance as the deadly vampire Mamuwalde makes Blacula a 70s horror film must-see.

A lesser sequel co-starring blaxploitation legend Pam Grier was made by the Count Yorga films director Bob Kelljan in 1973. The late William Marshall should have had a much more substantial feature film career and would’ve been the perfect casting choice to play the lead villain in such films as John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981) and John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian (1982) over Isaac Hayes and James Earl Jones.

 

5. Deathdream (aka Dead of Night, Bob Clark, 1972)

Screenplay by Alan Ormsby

Deathdream

The late director Clark had a highly varied career. Best known for the horror film Black Christmas (1974) and the comedies Porky’s (1982) and A Christmas Story (1983), his low-budget take on the classic W.W. Jacobs short story “The Monkey’s Paw” deals with the unexpected homecoming of a young soldier killed in Vietnam.

His return wreaks havoc on everyone around him as the soldier exhibits strange behavior then embarks on a series of killings in order to keep his body from decaying.

Although rough in the way many low-budget films from young directors are, Deathdream is a far better film than Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things-another of Clark’s early career horror collaborations with screenwriter Ormsby.

 

6. The Night Stalker (John Llewellyn Moxey, 1972)

Teleplay by Richard Matheson based on the Jeff Rice story

The Night Stalker movie

Many cite Steven Spielberg’s 1971 Duel as the apex of the 1970s TV horror film wave but the highly accomplished vampire film The Night Stalker holds up much better over time.

Anchored by veteran actor Darren McGavin’s highly memorable performance as newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak, The Night Stalker spawned a lesser Kolchak TV film The Night Strangler in 1973, a fondly remembered 20-episode TV series in 1974 that was an obvious inspiration for The X-Files series, a short-lived TV series reboot in 2005 and an announced feature film.

Legendary writer Richard Matheson-who also wrote the Duel teleplay based on his own short story-penned both of the Kolchak TV movies but was unfortunately not involved in the actual Kolchak television series.

 

7. The Asphyx (Peter Newbrook, 1973)

Screenplay by Christina Beers, Laurence Beers & Brian Comport

The Asphyx

This frequently overlooked British horror gem stars Robert Stephens and Robert Powell as scientists who identify then attempt to capture the spirit of death in the aftermath of a tragedy.

The men create highly dangerous near-death situations to try to draw the creature out with grim and unexpected results. Fans of Stephen King’s novel The Green Mile and Frank Darabont’s screen adaptation of the book will recognize elements from the ending of The Asphyx.

 

8. A Cold Night’s Death (Jerrold Freedman, 1973)

Teleplay by Christopher Knopf

A Cold Night’s Death

This outstanding but little-seen TV movie stars Robert Culp and Eli Wallach as a pair of scientists doing primate research in an isolated polar research station.

When inexplicable disturbances start to occur, the researchers start to suspect they are not alone in the station.
Tight and atmospheric, this is an example of a great TV film of the 70s never receiving a proper video or DVD release. Also known by the less compelling title The Chill Factor.

 

9. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)

Screenplay by Allan Scott & Chris Bryant based on the Daphne Du Maurier story

dont-look-now

Highlighted by its rich atmosphere, unique editing and stunning final moments, Don’t Look Now is the tale of a couple played by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie who travel to Venice in the wake of the accidental death of their daughter.

There they encounter a mysterious figure in the same kind of red raincoat their daughter died in and a psychic who claims to be in contact with the dead girl.

 

10. The Legend of Hell House (John Hough, 1973)

Screenplay by Richard Matheson based on his novel “Hell House”

The Legend of Hell House

Iconic genre writer Matheson adapts his own novel for the screen with this tale of a group hired by a wealthy patron to investigate “the Mount Everest of haunted houses” in an effort to gain evidence about life after death.

Roddy McDowall delivers a strong performance as a psychic who is the only survivor of a previous attempt to uncover the secrets of the deadly Belasco house.

Being a Richard Matheson creation, this particular entry in the subgenre is a more visceral experience than one usually finds in haunted house films. The Belasco house doesn’t merely slam doors and produce unusual sounds, it actively fights back against intruders.

Fans of the fake trailers in 2007’s Grindhouse will find a strong Legend of Hell House influence in Edgar Wright’s supremely entertaining entry Don’t.

 

 

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  • Charles Barnes

    In my opinion, the 1970s was the best decade for horror (and cinema in general, but that isn’t too relevant currently).

    Good picks with The Andromeda Strain, Westworld, Shivers, Demon Seed and Piranha. All deserve some level of appreciation. In a way, The Brood does too, but I feel it is unnecessarily and undeservedly compared with Cronenberg’s best work (by his fans, anyway) which taints my view of it.

    I wouldn’t call Don’t Look Now underrated, as it has a strong critical backing, regularly cited as one of the twenty or so best British films of all time.

    And love for IotBS? Yes please! Fantastic horror movie, and I think ranks as one of the decade’s genre finest (and there’s some damned great films to compare it with)! I think better than the original too, which is still a very good movie in its own right (and also one of the best Sci-Fi/Horror films of its own decade, albeit with much less competition).

    You know, on Hills Have Eyes, I’ve never liked Wes Craven. I think he’s extremely overrated, with The Serpent and the Rainbow being his only truly ‘good’ film.

    • Randall Flagg

      I don’t agree with you on Craven, but everything else is spot on.

  • Jay Dobis

    A Cold Night’s Death is a fabulous film!

    • Jay Dobis

      A Cold Night’s Death is one of the best films on this list!

  • Cai Ross

    Death Line (called Raw Meat in the US) is well worth a punt. One of those one-of-a-kind films you don’t forget in a hurry.

  • Ted Wolf

    Thanks for including TV movies as well, since the 1970’s were great for the small screen horrors. Of course Dan Curtis ruled the roost, but Spielberg’s Something Evil was outstanding and Horror at 37,000 Feet has a soft spot in my heart.

  • Interesting list. My fave is DON’T LOOK NOW for its intelligence, music and style, its speculations on quantuum physics, mysticism, guilt and grief that come from all sorts of splintered angles. Never seen anything like it. And Kaufmann’s BODY SNATCHERS is just splendid.

  • Alex Nasaudean

    Grizzly is slimiest heap of bear crap you’re ever gonna watch!

  • Lucien Joppen

    Polanski: Le locataire, i missed that one.

  • Veronica Clarke

    Love WEstworld. Manages to be creepy without being excessively gory.

  • Daxton Norton

    Good list. I’d say Don’t Look Now and The Brood are definitely horror classics appreciated by film lovers.

  • gustavomda

    You should take a look at José Mojica Marins’ (aka Coffin Joe) movies from the 70s. Great stuff there that should be on this list.
    Also, his movies from the 60s are top notch.

  • Daniel Krone

    Good List.

  • Hatesville

    How is Deep Red underrated? Or don’t look now?
    Kudos for Alucarda and Brood.

    • Dave Anderson

      I agree. Deep Red & Don’t Look Now are still widely regarded as classics by any horrorphile.

  • Ah. Count Yorga.
    Man, I used to love Count Yorga when I was a kid.
    I’m impressed that you have included so many little known T.V movies here. Like other commenters I think Death Line definitely deserves a place, also Deranged. And, while we’re at it, Twins of Evil, Martin, Theatre of Blood, Fascination, oh and probably about a shed load more.
    (Not too keen on Dont look now. If anything I would say it is a tad OVER rated, but that’s just me).

  • SupernaturalCat

    Phantasm …man, that’s one of my favorites from the ’70s!!!

    Romero’s Martin (1977) is definitely noteworthy.

    The Sentinel (1977) is also obscure, lo-fi creepy fun, too.

    • Klaus Dannick

      How they omitted Martin and Phantasm is beyond me. Certainly both are lesser-seen (and better) than some of those which made this list.

  • Brian Rountree

    I was 7 years old when kolchak the night stalker tv movie was made for tv I loved it

  • Hunter Daniels

    I LOVE the movie Westworld. But it’s not a horror film, it’s sci-fi

  • Dave Anderson

    I don’t think I’d include Invasion of the Body Snatchers on this list , since it’s earned praise by nearly every legitimate critic who ever wrote about it.

  • Randall Flagg

    The only movie I would take issue with is The Manitou. Unless you are baked then there really isn’t any point to watching it.

  • Ghost of Harry Smith

    Good list! A few of these films aren’t underrated though (Don’t Look Now, Hills Have Eyes, Deep Red). I’ll add my voice to those who suggested Death Line, it has a great soundtrack too. Also why not some ozploitation b-movies like Thirst (vampires farming humans for blood) or the classic Patrick (murderous telepathic coma victim) which influenced Tarantino. Or the murderous animals in the outback shocker Long Weekend.

  • Kevin Ice

    Hammer Studios is underrepresented here.

  • Yolanda Anne Brown

    Excellent list. I think that most people consider “Blacula” a Blaxpoitaion joke. It really isn’t. The late great William Marshall was fantastic and I hate that this film is sadly underrated.

  • Ted Wolf

    Just watched Alucarda this weekend, what a trip!!!

  • localdick

    I’ve got to see some of these but I don’t think The Night Stalker is under rated or IotBS, Race with the Devil awesome pick! But. there is one TV movie I think is really under rated and even tho it still kind of stacks up would love to see a remake It Starred Cornel Wilde and Jennifer Salt “Gargoyles”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NwWq3KKxCQ

  • Regressive Goosesteppers

    Absurd to call TCM2 “ridiculous” after writing this article as an excuse to heap undeserved love onto the shlock of William Girdler.

  • Joseph Sheldahl

    The Hills Have Eyes isn’t underrated at all. It sucks. It’s boring.
    I loved Demon Seed, the Andromeda Strain, and almost all the others on this list, but THHE is horribly uninteresting. The remake was vastly superior.

  • Mike Giacolone

    Great that made for tv movies were included

  • Ben Rothbard

    Blue Sunshine , Shanks , The Grapes Of Death. little seen but very delish