21. Day of the Animals (William Girdler, 1977)
Screenplay by William M. Norton & Eleanor E. Norton & Edward L. Montoro
William Girdler returns to the wild in the wake of the enormous success of the previous year’s Grizzly. This time the revolt of nature is directed at a group of high-altitude hikers and a nearby town as radiation that has penetrated the ozone layer drives animals of all types to attack humans.
As with all of Girdler’s best films, well-directed sequences like the suspenseful dog pack attack share the screen with unintentionally hilarious scenes like the portrayal of Leslie Nielsen’s character going insane. Day of the Animals is immensely entertaining despite these lapses and remains one of the great films of its particular subgenre.
22. Demon Seed (Donald Cammell, 1977)
Screenplay by Robert Jaffe & Roger O. Hirson based on the Dean R. Koontz novel
In the wake of the tremendous success of the screen adaptations of the novels Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, both of which dealt with the idea of a lead character being the mother of something inhuman and evil, came the bizarre Demon Seed.
Julie Christie stars as the wife of the creator of a groundbreaking artificial intelligence called Proteus IV (voiced by Robert Vaughn). Proteus IV takes over her home’s computerized systems and imprisons Christie’s character with the intention of impregnating her in order to take human form.
Demon Seed is dismissed as nothing more than an outrageous oddity by many but the film is must-see for fans of 1970s horror and “super-intelligent computer goes rogue” films. It is very important to note that Demon Seed features one of the most unusual and underrated murder scenes in all of horror cinema as Gerrit Graham’s character finds a way into the house and meets his gruesome fate at the hands of Proteus IV.
23. The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven, 1977)
Screenplay by Craven
A travelling family stranded in the desert is attacked by a group of cannibals in Wes Craven’s best film. While hardly obscure in the world of horror cinema, The Hill Have Eyes is routinely pushed aside in the rural massacre subgenre conversation by Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
One of the true classics of that particular horror subgenre, this film spawned an atrocious sequel in 1984 and a financially successful remake in 2006 that made minor changes to the original’s basic story elements and managed to break no new ground in the process despite an astronomically higher budget than the 1977 version.
24. Kingdom of the Spiders (John Bud Cardos, 1977)
Screenplay by Richard Robinson, Alan Caillou, Jeffrey M. Sneller & Stephen Lodge
This revolt of nature horror film about a small town besieged by spiders deserves more attention than it typically gets, even in conversations about the subgenre.
Asking if this film is worth your time is like asking if the film’s star William Shatner can overact which the thespian indeed takes the opportunity to do in certain scenes. The film builds to a wonderfully grim climax as a group of survivors barricade themselves in a hotel.
25. Rituals (aka The Creeper, Peter Carter, 1977)
Screenplay by Ian Sutherland
Absurdly dismissed by some critics as a knock-off of John Boorman’s 1972 Deliverance, Rituals is the story of a group of doctors on a camping trip who find themselves the target of an unseen assailant.
Solid acting by lead Hal Holbrook and veteran Canadian character actor Lawrence Dane helps establish Rituals as one of the best rural massacre films ever made and the film deserves mention alongside Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes in any discussion about that particular horror subgenre.
Rituals has received much more attention in the past several years as a rare uncut version of the film was found and used as the basis for a DVD release from the Code Red company. The film was also featured on the cover of the December 2009 issue of Rue Morgue magazine.
26. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)
Screenplay by W.D. Richter based on the Jack Finney novel “The Body Snatchers”
Finney’s novel was first brought to the screen by Don Siegel in the classic 1956 version which tends to dominate conversations about Invasion of the Body Snatchers films.
There have been subsequent adaptations by Abel Ferrara in 1993 and Oliver Hirschbiegel in 2007 but Kaufman’s 1978 take is the best of the bunch, surpassing even Siegel’s highly lauded film.
Benefitting greatly from the excellent ensemble acting by Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy, this grim and apocalyptic alien invasion story builds beautifully to its unforgettable final moments.
27. The Manitou (William Girdler, 1978)
Screenplay by Girdler, Jon Cedar & Thomas Pope based on the Graham Masterton novel
Girdler made the last of his trio of great films (the first two being the aforementioned Grizzly and Day of the Animals) before his untimely death in a helicopter crash.
Elements of The Exorcist and even George Lucas’ 1977 Star Wars can be found in this very strange and wildly entertaining about a powerful Native American sorcerer who is reborn by growing out of a woman’s body.
The film wouldn’t be a William Girdler classic if didn’t contain compelling, well-executed scenes such as the séance that takes a grim turn and the gruesome birth of the sorcerer alongside goofy elements like many moments of Tony Curtis’ lead acting performance.
Fortunately, the film has a strong performance by Michael Ansara as a skilled medicine man hired to combat the evil sorcerer Misquamacas to counteract the miscast Curtis. Put this one on a double feature with George McCowan’s 1976 Shadow of the Hawk.
28. Piranha (Joe Dante, 1978)
Screenplay by John Sayles & Richard Robinson
Jaws rip-offs galore populated the big screen in the wake of the massive success of Jaws and Dante’s Piranha remains one of the most entertaining.
Bradford Dillman leads the fight against a school of the titular fish that are unleashed into a river system, running into military interference along the way. The film was remade for cable TV in 1995 and for the big screen in 2010. You are much better off with the original Piranha.
29. The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979)
Screenplay by Cronenberg
Cronenberg delivers his first masterpiece and first film with truly great acting with this story of a revolutionary type of therapy that has unexpected lethal results.
Oliver Reed turns in one of his best performances as the driven Dr. Hal Raglan and Samantha Eggar’s portrayal of a twisted mother character is one you won’t forget any time soon. Adding resonance to the film is its portrayal of cycles of abuse being perpetuated within dysfunctional families.
30. Salem’s Lot (Tobe Hooper, 1979)
Teleplay by Paul Monash based on the Stephen King novel
Few would argue that this TV film is one of the better Stephen King adaptations despite changes to the source novel. David Soul stars as a writer who discovers that a small town in Maine is being overrun by vampires. Salem’s Lot features a great supporting performance by James Mason and some unforgettable sequences such as the late night visits to the window by a young boy.
Avoid the “feature film” cut of Salem’s Lot at all costs and seek out the original, unedited version that was originally broadcast in 2 parts. Also to be avoided is the 2004 TV remake.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper went on to make the popular Poltergeist in 1982 under the “guidance” of producer Steven Spielberg then embarked on an unsuccessful 3-picture deal with the Golan-Globus producing team, making Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986) and the ridiculous The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986).
Other Notable Underrated Horror Films of the 1970s: The House That Dripped Blood (Peter Duffell, 1971), Asylum (Roy Ward Baker, 1972), Who Saw Her Die (Aldo Lado, 1972), The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976), Shadow of the Hawk (George McCowan, 1976), Martin (George Romero, 1977).
Author Bio: Terek Puckett is an actor, screenwriter and film writer based in Los Angeles. He is a graduate of Wright State University in Ohio and his areas of film expertise include horror cinema and neo-film noir. More of his film writing can be seen here: http://www.soundonsight.org/author/terek-puckett/.