This feels like it is an easy list. Perhaps you already know the names of the movies that will be listed below. The 1970s were a transformative decade for horror. Films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Exorcist and Halloween all lead to what we would see in the 1980s, but with 80s were all about excess. But the 1970s was all about changing the face of horror. In the late 1960s we saw the game changer of Night of the Living Dead, but the 70s went a bit further and really got away from the gothic horror that really has been the hallmark of horror since the 1930s.
One of the best things the 1970s gave us are some of the filmmakers that would mold what horror would be for decades to come. Sure Night of the Living Dead was 1960s, but Romero, Spielberg, Hooper, and Carpenter just to name a few. So, it makes me think the 1970s are one of the most important decades in horror history.
Of course I need to get this out of the way. These are completely based on how I feel about these movies, I do not think this is a list of overall best or my #1 is not technically the best horror film of the 1970s. There are so many movies that I have to leave off, but I will name a few very honorable mentions. The Dunwich Horror (1970), 10 Rillington Place (1971), Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972), Black Christmas (1974), Carrie (1976), Rabid (1977), The Hill Have Eyes (1977), Alien (1979) and so many others. Yes, I know I did not put Alien on my list, I do believe it to be a great film, just not one of my favorites.
10. The Wicker Man (1973)
After the first viewing of the Wicker Man, I questioned whether or not it was a horror film. I watched it a few more times and really began to understand why it belongs in the world of horror.
9. Phantasm (1979)
The last great horror film of the 1970s. It is such an odd movie and at times it feels like Coscarelli was influenced by Italian horror, which you can hear in the score as well as the feel of the film. The Tall Man has become iconic as have the spheres. But I don’t ever talk about Phantasm without mentioning Reggie Bannister. Between he and Angus Scrimm, they held the series together for 37 years and Reggie is an underrated horror hero.
8. The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976)
The Town that Dreaded Sundown. I don’t really understand why I love this movie the way I do, but I do. It comes down to the somewhat factual parts of the story. It is based on real events but they are either modified or completely wrong. The idea of a masked killer running around and never caught is very intriguing. If you’ve never seen it, check it out. It has a kind of 1970s biography to it, very odd but pretty cool too.
7. The Omen (1976)
I am all about some satanic panic. The Omen was on that came to me early and I watched it often. The idea of the son of the Satan being born into power. There is more to this than satanic panic, I love the kind of quest to find the daggers and the discovery in the grave. But there are so many iconic scenes, “It’s all for you” and of course the end when Damian smiles at the camera. I love the Omen.
6. The Amityville Horror (1979)
This will not win any popularity contests at all, oh well. I love this movie and it is one of those I was brought up on by my mother. I thought it was better received by horror fans. I have researched the case itself and have always been intrigued on what happened between the DeFeo family and the Lutz family. Personally, I believe it was all a hoax, well from the Lutz perspective anyway.
5. The Exorcist (1973)
Labeled the scariest movie of all-time. I don’t know about that, but I do love this movie. My son thinks it is boring, sure it could be. But there is so much build up in this movie and it gives us plenty of payoff, even during the lead-up to the end of the film. If there could be a horror film called legendary, The Exorcist is one of them. I don’t need to tell you how popular this film is. If you have never looked up reactions to the Exorcist, do yourself a favor. This mad people really upset in 1973.
4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
One of the greatest, if not the greatest zombie movie of all-time. For me, this one scared me early in my life, but when I was a teenager I fell in love. Dawn of the Dead is more than a horror film, I will say that again, it is so much fun. From the beginning of the film to the very end it is entertaining. Once they lockdown the mall and start getting materials to live in the mall may be some of my favorite stuff in the movie. But you gotta get with the gore and the terrific effects from Tom Savini and crew.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
This was hard, the 1970s has some of the very best of horror. I love the Texas Chainsaw Massacre very much. At times I call this my favorite of the 70s, but I tend to forget the next two. What the Texas Chainsaw Massacre did was bring horror to your front door. We follow some young people on a road trip who make a stop and well, get massacred. Leatherface has become an icon, which really isn’t fair to Drayton(The Cook) and Nubbins(Hitchhiker), they arguably do more in the film than Leatherface. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is terrifying because it shows us something that could happen not too far from us, rather than in some castle in Transylvania. The dinner scene is by far my favorite scene in the film.
2. Halloween (1978)
Halloween is horror. I’ve said in the past it is kind of overrated. I take that back. Halloween is legendary. What John Carpenter did with Halloween was amazing from a director stand point. You also need to realize Halloween is 100% directly responsible for the slasher boom of the 1980s. Without Halloween, 1981 would have been way different, Jason Voorhees may not exist. Halloween is one of the most important horror films of all-time. There, I said it.
1. Jaws (1975)
Jaws is more than just horror. It is literally one of the greatest films of all-time. I cannot explain why I love this movie, I love Amity Island, Chief Brody and more. The movie is damn near perfect, great cast, story and the score is amazing. I’ll never forget finally seeing Jaws on the big screen in 2019, I took my kids and they became fans instantly. Also, take a look back at 1975, Jaws made you afraid to go in the water. Any other film do that? I love Jaws and it is my favorite horror film of the 1970s.
Thanks for checking out another one of my lists. Now, I have to figure out what to do with the 1980s. There are over 250 horror films I’ve seen from the 1980s. Should I just do a Top 50? I don’t know, I may just stick to Top 10. We will see by the end of the week.
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