5. The Last House on the Left (1972)
There are many great pictures directed by Wes Craven that have earned him the title of the master of horror, but his first work remains the creepiest one. Inspired by none other than the legendary Ingmar Bergman and his 1960 film “The Virgin Spring,” he made “The Last House on the Left.”
Considering the fact that it was shot in only a couple of days with amateur actors, the film turned out well. It earned little more than $3 million and received mixed reviews, which was quite a success, keeping in mind the way exploitation movies were treated at the time.
Looking at it now, we can’t deny that it got a little cheesy after all those years, but it still is a disturbing and, in a way, entertaining ride.
4. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is now one of the biggest in the history of the genre. A whole lot of sequels and prequels were made, and Leatherface became a slasher icon. It all began little more than 40 years ago during one hot Texas summer. A crew compiled mostly of inexperienced enthusiasts were making a flick that would become one of the most influential pieces of horror cinema.
Though it’s the feature with the biggest budget on this list, there still wasn’t enough money for the filming to run smoothly. There weren’t any days off during the shooting, and the conditions on the set were described by Tobe Hooper (the director) as “miserable.”
In total, it took about a month to shoot, and it hit the theatres after a year. It was a massive success, grossing more than $30 million. The public was divided: some called it a gorefest without any meaning, while others went on to call it an allegory of the modern lifestyle. Anyway, it’s a shocking feature with a solid cast, and it still hasn’t lost a bit of its creepiness.
3. Peeping Tom (1960)
Called a classic by critics today, it was this movie that ruined the career of Michael Powell. It seems that the story of a maniac capturing his dirty work on camera was a bit too much. Nowadays, of course, such a film wouldn’t be so shocking, but the ‘60s were a different time, and films much milder than “Peeping Tom” faced censorship and bannings.
Making the film took little more than a month, and it arrived in cinemas about six months later. It didn’t take much time for the public to start butchering it. It was labeled a worthless piece of sadistic exploitation, and nobody tried to find a deeper meaning in it. Powell’s glory days came to an end. He made a couple of movies after, but none achieved the success of his works prior to “Tom.”
It has since become a great influence on many big names in the industry, and one of the films that played a great part in establishing the slasher subgenre. Martin Scorsese admired it, and Roger Ebert labeled it a “masterpiece.” Powell passed away in 1990, and sadly, never made a worthy comeback.
2. Halloween (1978)
Today, John Carpenter is an established name in the horror industry, but 40 years ago, he was just another youngster trying to break through. His indie thriller “Assault on Precinct 13” failed at the box office, and it didn’t seem like he was going to direct any more movies.
However, Moustapha Akkad and Irwin Yablans liked Carpenter’s flick and approached him with the offer to make another horror movie.
The script was written by John and Debra Hill, and was shot in 20 days. It premiered in October 1978. Most of the famous critics weren’t particularly fond of it (with the exception of Tom Allen and Roger Ebert), but it didn’t stop its gross, and it grossed $70 million.
And, as it usually goes with any work of fiction that features violence and/or sex, it caused controversies. There were countless accusations of misogyny, and many were blaming Carpenter for depicting touchy subjects in “Halloween,” though those weren’t too extreme, even for the ‘70’s standard.
From today’s perspective, we must say it lost a good part of its shock value and is not very likely to scare any veteran moviegoers. But still, it’s a well-written, smart slasher with good acting, unlike the vast majority of the films from the subgenre.
1. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Brothers Waleed and Malik Ali owned Maljack Productions. The company was mostly making documentaries, but when the negotiations for a boxing documentary failed, they hired John McNaughton to make a horror film for them. The result was one of the best scary movies in the history of American cinema.
McNaughton had minimal experience prior to making “Henry.” He made one movie for the Ali brothers, and before that, he worked as a delivery man. Inexperience didn’t seem to be a big problem, though, and his first live-action feature was praised for its dark realism and solid acting.
The gross was modest: only about $600 thousand, but fairly good when taking in mind the budget. McNaughton went on to make more movies, but never achieved the greatness of his debut. “Henry“ remained an under-the-radar classic, and got a sequel 10 years later that miserably failed.