25 Great 70s Cult Movies You Might Not Have Seen

18. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

This Italian-French co-produced film is probably the most controversial film ever made. Based upon the book The 120 Days of Sodom, by the Marquis de Sade and it is broken into four segments, the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit, and the Circle of Blood.

The film replaces the setting of 18th century France for the final days of Benito Mussolini’s reign during World War II. It involves four wealthy and prominent fascists along with four female prostitutes, who kidnap nine young male and female prospects with the help of some guards and soldiers. They spend their time sexually humiliating them for their own personal pleasure and eventually take turns executing them while the others watch.

To say that this film is controversial doesn’t even touch the surface. It has received X ratings and remains banned in some countries because of its graphic depictions of rape, torture, murder, various disturbing sexual acts, and questions regarding the young actor’s ages.

It features unbridled nudity and sexual situations that include eating shit, drinking piss, homosexual acts, walking naked on leashes like dogs, and rape. The final violence and deaths include torture acts of burning a penis and breast, slicing off a tongue, being hung, an eye cut out, scalping, and branding.

It’s a tough film to watch and the question is whether this is pure exploitation for shock value or is there more to it. The horrors of this film represent true horrors that have happened to people for real, and could really have taken place during this time period. It is truly disturbing and the director wanted to do the film cinema verite style, to show something as though it was really happening. So this is one that you will have to watch and make your own judgment.

Many directors and actors have stood up for this film as important piece of work, including Martin Scorsese and John Waters. Waters called it “a beautiful film…it uses obscenity in an intelligent way…and it’s about the pornography of power” [13].

The DVD version I have is very grainy and dark, there is a newly released version that vastly changes the overall look and colors of the film creating a much more beautiful looking film to juxtapose with the horrific imagery.


19. Coonskin (1975)


This was written, directed, and produced by Ralph Bakshi. He is an animator mostly known for his use of combining animation and live-action sequences, from the 1970’s through early 1990’s. Most of his films were independently produced and contained adult themes. He is known for the films Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Wizards, The Lord of the Rings, American Pop, Fire and Ice, and Cool World.

This has to be Bakshi’s boldest and most controversial of his films, even though he created the first X rated cartoon in Fritz the Cat. The controversial nature of the film deals with it satirizing of racism, by intentionally portraying the stereotyped depictions of various races. It was the racist black iconography that drew the most outrage from people, whether they had viewed the film or not.

The story starts out in live action, as two black men help one of their friends escape from prison in the south. It then turns into animation, as they become Brother Bear, Brother Rabbit, and Preacher Fox and they head back to Harlem. There Brother rabbit kills a gangster and takes over his operation and they deal with corrupt cops, prostitutes, the mafia, and many others. Lots of animated violence and bloodshed ensue.

Despite its controversy then and even know, it is a film that you should watch on your own with an open mind and then make a judgment after viewing it. The mistake most people do when attacking some type of artistic piece is that they attack it before becoming fully informed, they don’t watch, read, or listens to what they’re attacking.

Richard Pryor, Spike Lee, and Quentin Tarantino have all expressed that they are fans of the film and Wu-Tang Clan had expressed interest in producing a sequel at one point.


20. Lisztomania (1975)


“The erotic, exotic electrifying rock fantasy… It out-Tommy’s TOMMY” [14]. Well it’s a Ken Russell film, which should be all of the explanation needed as he has been known to shock. This is the story of composer Franz Liszt (Roger Daltrey) and the so called rock star reaction he would receive much like Elvis Presley, as well as his friendship with fellow composer Richard Wagner.

But this is no realistic attempt at portraying the artist, like Amadeus or Pink Floyd the Wall; this is the type of movie that you need to be under the influence to witness. Yes, this one requires severe intoxication or mind altering substances. This film is a prescription for drug use.

There are just so many things in the terms of weirdness involved in this one; including sucking on breasts to the beat of a metronome, dressing like modern rock stars like Elvis, recreation of a Charlie Chaplin movie scene, a ten foot long penis that is involved in an extended burlesque scene, a Thor Frankenstein, a vampire scene, an orgy scene, a superman type character with kids dressed like him, Nazi imagery, a Nazi Frankenstein with a machinegun, Ringo Starr as the Pope, and a rocket ship into space finale.


21. The Man from Hong Kong AKA Dragon Flies (1975)

The Man From Hong Kong (

Jimmy Wang Yu plays a Hong Kong inspector Fang that goes to Australia to question and extradite a drug dealer. The dealer is assassinated, but not before Fang finds out that the drug leader is the colorful local character Jack Wilton (George Lazenby).

Wilton puts Fang through the ringer and we end up with all kinds of balls to the wall action; car chases, multiple car crashes, fight on a big rock, training sequences from both Wilton and Fang, multiple fights throughout the movie with various people, paragliding into the bad guy’s fortress, and the ultimate final showdown.

This is Ozploitation with a mix of Hong Kong kung fu to create possibly the only Australian martial arts film. The film may be suspect with its plot, but it delivers in the action. Wang Yu may actually be at his best here as he has multiple exciting fight scenes, including one with a young Sammo Hung and the final battle against George Lazenby.

Lazenby is also great as the bad guy in this one. The film was co-directed by Wang Yu and Brian Trenchard-Smith, Smith is also known for the cult films Dead-End Drive In, BMX Bandits, and Turkey Shoot.


22. Fight for Your Life (1977)

Fight for Your Life (1977)

“There is no greater violence than a father’s revenge for the rape of his daughter” [15]. A trio of convicts escapes a jail truck and end up hiding out at a black minister’s family house, after a series of murders along the way.

Led by a racist white redneck, the family is terrorized and his daughter is raped. Eventually the father fights back and gets his revenge in a final showdown with the white convict.

The film was primarily made as an attempt to fall into the blaxploitation market, but it was highly criticized for being so racist that that type of audience wouldn’t be interested in it. It was marketed differently towards black and white audiences, with different versions of the trailer being geared to each audience [15].

Despite the poor reception, it’s a decent grindhouse flick with a good performance by William Sanderson of Newhart fame. The racist dialogue in it is necessary for a character that is racist; it would seem highly out of place if he was just polite. The violence in this film is nothing compared to the explicit nature of similar films, such as I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left.


23. Fingers (1978)

Fingers (1978)

Harvey Keitel stars as Jimmy Fingers, a talented pianist that is torn between the worlds of his mentally disturbed mother and music and of his aging loan shark father who needs Jimmy to be a collector. Jimmy is a dark and deeply disturbed character living in the seedy criminal world of New York City during the 1970’s.

Keitel shines in this often forgotten performance, which could be ranked very high on the list of his best performances. Fingers is a strange person that always carries a music player around with him in order to listen to tapes of the songs that he likes, which varies from classical music to rock from the 1950’ and 1960’s.

The songs included “Angel of the Morning” by Merrilee rush and “Summertime, Summertime” by The Jamies. He is often fidgeting or having social issues with talking to various characters in the film and can’t play the piano in front of other people.

The film also includes appearances from Jim Brown, Michael V. Gazzo, Danny Aiello, and Tony Sirico. It’s an often overlooked Keitel role and 1970’s New York City film because Robert de Niro and Martin Scorsese were not involved in it. The intensity of one hell of a stairwell fight easily compares to any similar scenes shot by Scorsese during this time period. Director Brett Ratner listed this as one of his three favorite films, along with Jaws and The Godfather [16].


24. Disco Godfather (1979)

Disco Godfather (1979)

It’s the Dolemite light version of Rudy Ray Moore, as he plays a good guy PG version of his most memorable character. This time he plays an ex cop turned disco club owner known as the Disco Godfather, who decides to go after the makers of a new drug called angel dust. This leads to a whole lot of ass kicking and disco dancing.

This is nowhere near as good as his previous films as the Dolemite character, which featured way more rhyming, hilarious lines, and nudity. This film still contains the patented Moore version of bad martial arts, which is always amusing. There is a whole lot of disco dancing and performances going on, which may or may not be a plus.

Finally, there are the very strange drug trip scenes which involve visions of various things including a skeleton, and some demons. Moore is better suited for the somewhat comedic bad guy character as opposed to the serious ex cop character. It’s still worth watching for fans of Moore. If you know nothing about this actor and like blaxploitation, start out with Dolemite first.


25. Over the Edge (1979)

Over The Edge (1979)

“They’re at the rebel point … And there’s no turning back” [17]. A fairly well done depiction of what could happen when teenagers get bored and rebel against their local society.

A group of teens live in a planned community where the only thing for them to do is go to a recreation center that was built. They become bored and throughout the movie experiment with drugs, throw parties, steal a gun, and steal a car. They have a problem with the authority figures, mainly the two town police officers.

One of the policemen kills one of the kids and during a town meeting; all of the teenagers lock the parents in the school and riot, setting fires and blowing up cars. The policeman responsible for the shooting incident ends up dying in an explosion, after his car was shot at. In the end, all of the teens involved are arrested and bused away to some type of juvenile facility.

The is a very well done low budget teen film that was based on a series of events that were written about in a 1973 San Francisco Examiner article. It is notable for featuring the first performance by Matt Dillon.

It also contains music from Cheap Trick, the Ramones, Van Halen, and Jimi Hendrix. The film did not receive a full official release until 1981, because “the studio thought [that] the movie was too controversial and feared that it would spark attacks after several violent incidents had occurred at various showings during screenings of [a] number of 1979 gang movies such as The Warriors (1979), The Wanderers (1979) and Boulevard Nights (1979)” [17].

The film was directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who had started in the film business directing some Roger Corman exploitation films such as Night Call Nurses and the Student Teachers.

All the works cited can be found here.

Author Bio: Raul J. Vantassle is a jazz musician whose key strokes move about the page creating an explosion of formlessness to form, or just total bullshit. His heroes include John Waters, Robert Crumb, Charles Bukowski, and the Cobra Commander. His Knowledge of film goes across the board but he specializes in Asian and cult cinema. He may be the filthiest person alive. You can visit his blog here.