8. Deathdream (1974)
Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is Killed during battle in Vietnam. His doting mother Christine (Lynn Carlin) cannot accept this and wishes for his safe return. Miraculously this wish is granted, but Andy is not his old self and events soon take a dark and terrifying turn in this modern retelling of The Monkey’s Paw.
Why you should see it:
The 70s was a great time for horror cinema, but with so many produced some were bound to slip through the net. Bob Clark’s Deathdream is one of those. This haunting tale is both effectively scary and heartbreakingly emotional. As the joy of their son’s return gives way to horror at what he has become, you cannot help but feel for his parents. This is helped greatly by the performances of John Marley as his father Charles and Lynn Carlin as the mother in denial.
Richard Backus oozes malevolence as Andy, his character easily ranks as one of the most chilling horror creations of the decade. Backus was hired by Clark because he was able to create a “silent stare of intense hatred” and that ability was used to excellent effect.
With Deathdream Bob Clark and screenwriter Alan Ormsby managed to craft a masterpiece of low budget horror, and one that deserves to be seen.
9. Night Flowers (1979)
Tom Flynn (Gabriel Walsh) and his friend Nordi (Jose Perez) are two down and out Vietnam veterans trying to get by in New York City. Tom sufferers from violent flashbacks and is close to breaking down, Nordi has a capacity for shocking acts of violence, together they make a toxic combination.
Why you should see it:
Night-Flowers is a depressing film. Director Louis San Andres does an effective job of getting us inside the heads of the two main characters, and it is not pleasant. The atmosphere created, helped by the performances of the two leads, distinguishes it from the slew of low budget films centred around Vietnam veterans produced in the period.
Particularly impressive is Gabriel Walsh, who is hauntingly authentic as Tom, a man in grips of severe post traumatic stress disorder. He also wrote the script, and his dedication to portraying the disorder accurately elevates the film and makes for a bruising experience.
Released in 1979 Night Flowers was little seen and therefore did not get the praise it deserved. It has since been described as a “lost film” due to its obscurity. However, in 2013 Gabriel Walsh announced plans for a DVD release. Hopefully this will come to fruition as this film deserves to be seen.
10. Silent Running (1972)
In a future where all Flora and Fauna are extinct, Botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) seems to be the only person who wants to preserve the final remaining forest. This last example of earth’s botany is in a large pod attached to a space ship, and soon orders for its destruction are relayed to the crew. Horrified at this prospect, Freeman kills his fellow crew members. Now alone and in deep space, he takes the time observe the beauty of nature, his only company being three small robots, but how long will he be able protect the forest?
Why you should see it:
At the time of release, much of the praise for Silent Running was centred around the special effects. This is no surprise given that the director Douglas Trumbull had worked on the visual effects of 2001: A space Odyssey. Also lauded was Bruce Dern’s performance, while both Dern and the effects are excellent, it was unfair to dismiss the story.
Freeman’s crew members rejoice at the prospect of destroying the only remaining forest, simply because it means they can return home. Trumbull brings the selfishness of the human race into sharp focus. The crew have little regard for the significance of what is housed in the final pod, for them it is simply a stumbling block on the road to progress.
The environmental aspect is not the only memorable aspect of the story, Dern’s character is also what makes it so compelling. In particular, his relationship with Huey, dewey and louie, the three robots he programmed to be his companions. The interplay between them is one of the highlights of the film. This story angle could easily have come across as silly if handled wrong, but in the hands of Trumbull, and helped by the believability of Dern, some strikingly poignant moments are created.
Silent Running is not just a special effects showcase, it is a beautiful story with an enduring message.
11. 10 Rillington Place (1971)
Richard Attenborough portrays real life serial killer John Christie, who murdered 8 victims at his London Home, 10 Rillington Place, from 1943 to 1953. The story also follows the tragic fate of his neighbour Timothy Evans (John Hurt) who, framed for murder by Christie, was hanged in 1950. An event described as one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British legal history.
Why you should see it:
Director Richard Fleischer imbued 10 Rillington Place with a sense of documentary realism. The attention paid to the facts, right down to filming it on the very street the murders took place in, creates an air of chilling authenticity. This desire to present facts over sensationalism is what the makes it so impressive.
Richard Attenborough was equally committed to keeping the film as realistic as possible, and gives one of his best performances as the unhinged Christie. His portrayal is so frighteningly realistic that his character will stay with you long after watching it.
The film is also significant for detailing the case of Timothy Evans, whose wrongful execution was a driving force behind the abolition of the death penalty in the UK. Again, authenticity was paramount here, right down to the hanging scene which was supervised by retired hangman Albert Pierrepoint.
A must see on historical grounds, and as a piece of excellent film making.
12. Shunya Ito’s Female Prisoner Trilogy (1972-1973)
Shunya Ito’s three entries into the female prisoner series are essential viewing, not only for fans of Japanese cinema, but for film lovers in general, which is why they have been placed together at number 12.
Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion
Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji) has been cruelly deceived by a corrupt police detective Sugimi (Natsuyagi Isao) who happens to be the love of her life. Overtaken by a thirst for revenge she attempts to stab him, only to be thwarted and thrown in prison. There she faces a number of threats, from the guards and the inmates. Undeterred, Nami continues to plot her revenge on Sugimi
Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41
Following her attack on a Warden, Nami is locked away in solitary confinement. Because a dignitary is visiting the prison, she is allowed out. While all the prisoners are gathered in the yard for the visit, she attacks the warden again. What follows is harsh and humiliating punishment, but with it comes an opportunity to escape. Nami, along with six others, must now fight to stay alive and retain their freedom.
Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable
On the run and wanted for murder, Nami, finds a safe haven with a Yuki (Yayoi Watanabe) and her brother who suffers from a learning disability. On her tail is detective Kondo (Mikio Narita), who will stop at nothing to see her back behind bars.
Why you should see them:
Mieko Kaji is incredible as the vengeful heroine. Her performance relying more on her facial reactions and body movements rather than words, Nami is essentially a female version of the man with no name, only more deadly. The script originally contained the frequent obscenities spouted by the lead in the popular Manga it was based on. Kaji, feeling this would cheapen the film, suggested her dialogue be reduced dramatically, this decision was the right one.
Shunya Ito made some brave directorial choices and the creative use of lighting and makeup makes for some truly surreal moments. The inventive use of camera angles is also astounding, the opening of the second film with its swirling camera is particularly inspired. Ito approaches the many action scenes with panache, and there are enough thrilling moments here to keep action fans happy.
An inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, The female prisoner series is well worth your time.
13. Fingers (1978)
Jimmy Fingers (Harvey Kietel) is a deeply conflicted individual, on the one hand, a brilliant Pianist, and on the other, a ruthless debt collector for his Loan Shark father Ben (Micheal V. Gazzo.) Jimmy is trying to prepare for an upcomming Recital at Carnegie Hall, but a new love interest, and a threat on his fathers life complicate matters considerably.
Why you should see it:
Harvey Kietel is electrifying as Jimmy, creating a character who is simultaneously unlikeable and sympathetic, it is impossible not to feel his anguish. The performance is brave and watching him you feel as if he really lived the character. He wouldn’t reach this level of honesty again until Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant.
Screenwriter and Director James Tobak did some of his best work here. His screenplay is a richly observed character study, delving deep into Jimmy’s inner turmoil and torn loyalties. The direction complements this, taking full advantage of the New York Locations to create a bleak tale which feels very real.
The 70s was home to many films about tortured souls on the edge of self destruction, the most notable of these being Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Many were inferior copies of that film, Fingers is not among them. The dominance of Taxi Driver is probably why Fingers never received the recognition or critical acclaim it deserved at the time.
14. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)
George (Ray Lovelock) and Edna (Christine Galbo) are on their way to Windemere in the Lake District. Unknown to them, the husband of Edna’s sister has been brutally murdered, a crime for which they will soon be wrongly accused by stubborn police inspector (George Kennedy). In the fight to clear their name they discover that the culprit was in fact a member of a growing horde of the living dead, resurrected by a radiation based pesticide being tested on a nearby farm.
Why you should see it:
The success of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead lead to a number of Zombie themed horror films throughout the 70’s. The first, and one of the best of these is The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. So eager were studios to replicate the success of Romero’s genre defining classic that it was originally pitched to director Jorge Grau as “Night of the Living Dead in colour.” While undoubtedly heavily inspired by that film, Grau took the material in his own interesting direction.
The unique setting is one of the elements that distinguishes it. It is set in the UK, and opens in Manchester, but the action moves to The Lake District, a beautiful mountainous national park. This may seem like a strange place for an Italian/Spanish co-production to want to base their gory zombie film, but the choice was inspired and helps to make it stand out. These rural locations are taken full advantage of and captured beautifully by cinematographer Francisco Sempere.
The zombies in the film are striking, their grey faces and red eyes are haunting and they feel like a genuine threat. The scenes where they attack are effectively scary, especially when George and Edna are trapped in a tomb with them. The makeup effects by Gianetto De Rossi and Luciano Bird are excellent, here they created some unique and frightening zombies.
The characters of George and Edna are well realised and engaging. George in particular, with his anti-establishment attitude and hippie ways is particularly memorable. Arthur Kennedy as his nemesis gets under your skin, Kennedy really brought the hateful police inspector to life.
A great story, well directed, with some memorable performances, The living Dead at Manchester Morgue is an overlooked Zombie classic.
15. The Black Panther (1977)
The Black Panther is based on the true story of armed robber and murderer Dennis Nielson, portrayed here by Donald Sumpter, who terrified the north of England during the 1970s. His reign of terror culminated in the kidnapping of a wealthy heiress, creating a media a frenzy and leaving the nation shocked.
Why you should see it:
Few true crime films have achieved the level of authenticity of The Black Panther. Like 10 Rillington Place director Ian Merrick and screenwriter Michael Armstrong eschewed sensationalism and instead let the facts speak for themselves. To prepare the script, Michael Armstrong trawled through court records and newspaper archives to painstakingly reconstruct the events, ensuring that film was a close to the truth as possible.
Ian Merrick carried this through into his direction of the piece, favouring stripped down, style, inspired by his time working on low budget films in New York. The simple but effective camera work reflects this. His choice to cast Donald Sumpter as Nielson was a good one, and he delivers a realistic, frightening and well observed performance.
Released only a year after Nielson’s conviction, The Black Panther was condemned by the British press, with one journalist describing it as “sick”. The consensus was that the film came too soon after the events, but some argue that the subtle criticism of the press in relation to their coverage of the kidnapping of Heiress Lesley Whittle was the real driving force behind the condemnation.
Mired in controversy the film was quickly buried, and only made it to DVD in 2012. Despite the controversy, The Black Panther stands out as mature and considered examination of the events surrounding Dennis Nielson’s crimes, and deserves to be rediscovered.
Author Bio: Glynn Thomas has been obsessed with cinema from as early as he can remember. When not watching films he’ll be living the horrors of looking for a new job, the whole time wishing he was watching films.