14. The Beast Must Die (1974)
It’s a spin on 10 Little Indians that Agatha Christie never thought of – 5 suspects, one of which is a werewolf, are lured to an eccentric millionaire’s electronically bugged estate so that the culprit can be apprehended. “After all the clues have been shown,” announces the film’s narrator, “the viewer gets a chance to name the villain during the ‘werewolf break’.”
Combining elements of horror, whodunit and Blaxploitation, The Beast Must Die is loads of gimmicky fun, the kind of camp oddity that could only have been made during the 1970s. It’s so fast-paced and endearing, in fact, that most viewers will be willing to forget the fact that that the ‘werewolves’ are actually German shepherds.
No matter how bizarre the movie becomes – how many films give the audience 60 seconds to guess the werewolf’s identity? – the cast (which includes Peter Cushing, Charles Gray and Anton Diffring) maintain a straight face throughout, which Cushing a standout as a mannered German doctor. Anyone who doubts the movie’s entertainment value is invited to watch the Kevin Williamson-scripted Cursed instead.
13. The Legend Of Hell House (1973)
The Legend Of Hell House boasts a fine script (by Richard Matheson, based on his novel), good direction by John Hough (Twins Of Evil) and a cast that includes Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill and Gayle Hunnicutt.
It’s a spin on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House, with a team of paranormal researchers sent to “the Mount Everest of haunted houses” to collect evidence of life after death. Once inside, the crockery starts to rattle, furniture moves by itself and there’s a black cat that leaps out at nicely-timed intervals. Also, the movie employs a number of plot devices not normally seen in PG-rated fare.
Overcome with “autoerotic phenomena”, the lead investigator’s otherwise dull wife attempts to seduce McDowall while, later on, Franklin has an erotic encounter of her own with a spirit – a scene that was later spoofed, none too well, in Scary Movie 2.
12. The Black Cat (1981)
Aided by a fine cast that includes Patrick Magee (A Clockwork Orange), David Warbeck (The Beyond), Al Cliver (Devil Hunter), Mimsy Farmer (Four Flies On Grey Velvet) and Dagmar Lassander (House By The Cemetery), Italian schlockmeister Lucio Fulci foregoes zombies in favour of a “freely adapted” version of the Edgar Allan Poe story that’s inexplicably set in England.
Capable of hypnotizing drivers (causing them to crash), starting house fires and asphyxiating horny teenagers by trapping them in an airless room, the eponymous feline somehow shares a psychic connection with Magee, who’s able to lead the police to the location of one murder but unable to keep the cat from reoffending.
This is a very silly film, never more demented than when Warbeck, believed dead, suddenly reappears in the final reel, having faked his death to fool the animal. It works: the cat eventually leads the cops to the cellar where Magee, who’s gone barking mad, is keeping Farmer. Why wasn’t The Breed (2006) this much fun?
11. The Child (1977)
A $30,000 home movie where much of the amateur cast’s thesping is variable at best, The Child still manages to create some atmosphere with its prowling camera, ominous soundtrack and hyperactive smoke machine, while bizarre sequences such as the heroine dancing with a scarecrow lend the picture a dream-like quality that would do Jean Rollin proud.
When governess Alicianne (Laurel Barnett) meets Rosalie Norton (Rosalie Cole), she comes to realize that the child not only has psychic powers but is also capable of resurrecting her “friends” from the nearby cemetery. This leads to the film’s trump card, a final reel homage to Night Of The Living Dead that comes within shouting distance of George Romero’s movie.
Director Robert Voskanian’s preference for misty outdoor settings, close-ups accompanied by an ominous tinkling piano and quick cuts to barely-seen predators are, depending on your point of view, either wonderfully atmospheric or amusingly corny, and even if The Child isn’t exactly a long-lost classic, it’s still a movie worth catching. Even Rob Zombie’s a fan – he sampled the dialogue on his Hellbilly Deluxe II album.
10. The Asphyx (1973)
Robert Powell plays a Victorian scientist who becomes obsessed with The Asphyx, the “spirit of the dead” described in Greek mythology. Together with his boss, played by Robert ‘father of Toby’ Stephens, he attempts to imprison an Asphyx of his own, which will allow him to achieve immortality.
Thoroughly original, atmospheric and well-constructed (if a little slow at times), The Asphyx is a movie from a different era – it’s not jumbled and jump cut, the actors aren’t too contemporary to be believable in their roles and the practical effects are genuinely eerie. Needless to say, there are no current plans for a reboot.
Playing at times like a straight-faced version of William Castle’s The Tingler (minus the ‘Percepto’ gimmick), the film died on its original release but later found its audience on TV and home video. Viewers who can take a genteel Victorian ghost story laced with steampunk should watch it immediately.
9. Frightmare (1974)
Very different from the quaint and cosy horrors being produced by Hammer at the time, Pete Walker’s films are all about “making mischief”, the kind that involves gratuitous nudity, cynical digs at the establishment and Sheila Keith, his perennial supporting actress, wielding a power drill.
A fine introduction to Planet Walker, Frightmare is the story of Edmund (Rupert Yates), who must cover up for his wife Dorothy (Keith) when she’s released from an asylum and immediately reverts to her old ways by killing strangers to satisfy her hunger for human flesh. You know how it is in Surrey.
One of the few British horrors that set out to match the nastiness of the low-budget American films of the period, Frightmare has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Keith, a sweet old lady who kills her victims with pokers, pitchforks and the aforementioned drill. The latter image was used for the film’s poster, along with the tagline, “Dare you see the film that shocked the critics?”
8. Cold Prey (2006)
Norway’s answer to the 80s slasher movies, Cold Prey follows five snowboarders who take refuge in an abandoned hotel when one of them (Rolf Kristian Larsen – a dead ringer for Shaggy from Scooby Doo) breaks his ankle on the slopes. What they don’t know (but quickly realize) is that the place closed in 1975 when the owner’s son disappeared, and faster than you can say “Mrs Voorhees’ boy”, they’re being chased through the snow by a pickaxe-wielding psycho.
So far so traditional, but what separates the movie from the pack is….okay, it doesn’t offer anything new but director Roar Uthaug strings the he’s-right-behind-you suspense scenes together better than his 80s counterparts, it’s slickly shot and there’s an in-joke for fans of The Shining.
Audiences responded favourably, so two years later, Final Girl Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Chernobyl Diaries) returned in Cold Prey: Resurrection, which in the tradition of Halloween II (1981) offers more of the same, only set in a hospital.