Top 10 Horror Films Of The 1970s



In focusing on the Networks, Chinatowns and  Raging Bulls of the 70s, it’s easy to overlook another great aspect of 70’s filmmaking: the horror genre. The decade is frequently cited as one of the best in cinematic history. That doesn’t just apply to prestigious dramas like The Godfather.  The seventies were also one of the best decades for horror. The films listed here are proof of that.

Top 10 Horror Films Of The 1970s

10: Last House On The Left

Horror auteur Wes Craven made his debut with this 1972 cult classic. Based very loosely on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, it tells the story of two young suburban teenage girls who go into the city for a concert. Attempting to score some weed, they end up getting kidnapped, tortured and killed by a group of sadistic killers. These killers later end up at the home of the parents of one of the girls and bloody revenge ensues. Like several of the other films on this list, this one was later remade. As is the case with all of the ones on here, stick with the original.



9: Carrie

Brian De Palma had been knocking around Hollywood for several years before he adapted Stephen King’s breakthrough novel to the big screen. This film became his cinematic breakthrough and would introduce the world to John Travolta.

For anyone who ever got picked on in high school, it’s easy to sympathize with Carrie White and be simultaneously horrified and understanding as she enacts a bloody revenge on her classmates. While parts of it may seem more disturbing post Columbine, on the whole this one is still one of De Palma’s better efforts and one of the better Stephen King adaptations.



8: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

When i finally got around to seeing Tobe Hooper’s 1974 cult film I was surprised by how little gore there was in it. The 2003 remake was a pointless gory mess. This one is actually quite terrifying and very little actual blood is in it. Definitely not for everyone. But if you’re looking to be scared in ways that have nothing to do with the supernatural, this is close to unbeatable.



7: The Exorcist

This one might seem a little low on the list. But truthfully aspects of it have not aged that well. It still has the ability to scare. But in some ways it’s more of its time than others on this list.



6: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Phillip Kaufman’s 1978 version is one remake that stands with if not surpasses the original. This is one case where the tension is ably underplayed and this makes it even scarier.


5: Nosferatu

Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of FW Murnau’s classic is another example of a film remake that stands with the original and in some ways surpasses it. Unlike John Badham’s kitschy but entertaining Dracula film from the same year, this one is legitimately scary with a certain tone of melancholy.


4: Jaws

Ohhhh that music.

The film that put Steven Spielberg on the map, Jaws straddles the line between adventure and horror yet still manages to be truly terrifying. It was the movie that set the stage for the rise of the blockbuster, yet it had what many subsequent blockbusters lack: characters one can care about. Even with the mediocre to awful sequels, Jaws still holds up.


3: Halloween

Speaking of scary music, it doesn’t get much more frightening than the familiar theme from Halloween. John Carpenter’s breakthrough film kicked in the door for the slasher film. But unlike many of the gore bore ones that emerged in its wake, his film was legitimately scary and is still terrifying today. There’s also very little gore as well. For those who are new to Halloween, their best bet is to enjoy it and pretend the sequels and remakes never happened.


2: Alien

“In Space No One Can Hear You Scream”

With this 1979 film, Ridley Scott claimed the title of maker of the scariest sci-fi movie ever. There’s not much else to say about Alien at this point.



1: Dawn Of The Dead

In 1968, George A Romero re-invented horror with Night Of The Living Dead. 10 years later, he set the stage for modern horror with Dawn Of The Dead.

Picking up some time after the events of Night, Dawn follows four survivors of the zombie apocalypse as they seek shelter in a shopping mall. From there the movie works as part scary horror film, part gore fest, part dark comedy and part satirical social commentary. The film is still effective today (ignore the 2004 remake) and opened the door for the likes of 28 Days Later and Shaun Of The Dead. All of this makes it the top horror film of the 70s (as well as my personal favorite of all-time).

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Posted on April 23, 2015, in 1970s, Movies, Top Ten and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. 99% of this genre I can’t watch because it would send me into therapy. I was young and resilient when Jaws was released so only had nightmares for a short time. Since then… after seeing Ghost I couldn’t go into any empty room alone for at least 6 weeks. I was married at the time and had to know exactly where in the apartment my husband was at all times.
    So anyway. Curious to know what you think of “Flesh and Bone” even though it’s not on point for this month’s theme, if you have seen it? I had to skip past certain scenes but found it remarkably compelling and well written and devastatingly well acted by Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid. I thought it was a 90s film that felt very 70ish in its creativity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeffthewildman

      I liked it a lot. Fantastic direction and good acting. The film’s writer/director Steve Kloves also wrote and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys with the Bridges Brothers and Michelle Pfeiffer. Films like that are an example of the kind of character-driven filmmaking that’s been relegated to indies these days.


    • You were scared of Ghost?!?!


  2. I was actually putting together my own list of horror movies from the 70’s which was very similar to yours. It was a great decade across all genres. But horror in particular seemed to have a renaissance. In the 60s, you had Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho and Night of the Living Dead really breaking boundaries. The 70s built upon that. Then the 80s came around and it was all slasher movies.

    I haven’t seen The Last House on the Left, but I think it may be a step too far for me. I didn’t care for Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. I also haven’t seen Nosferatu. I had Suspiria and The Brood in their places. A little Argento and Cronenberg love.

    I don’t love Dawn of the Dead as much as you do. I saw the remake first and enjoyed it quite a bit. I definitely wouldn’t tell people to skip the remake. By the time I got around to seeing the original, it couldn’t live up to its reputation. I liked it. But I couldn’t fall in love with it. I need to see it again sometime to reevaluate it.

    I am baffled by the notion that The Exorcist is in any way dated. I have heard this opinion before. We talked about the giggling millennials. I just can’t see it. Maybe because I am older.

    I would bump Carrie, The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw up higher on my list. Texas Chainsaw may just be my favorite horror film of the decade. It has this simplicity about it that is just captivating. It really feels like a documentary. Jaws is my favorite movie on the list, but as you say it is almost more of an action movie than a horror film.


  3. Rock the Casbah

    Thx for a great list jeffthewildman. And more specifically thx for including the 70’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I think that one is a bit underrated and sometimes doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

    I’ve seen most of the films on this list. Last House and Nosferatu are the only ones I have yet to see. I heard of Last House and do want to check it out (heard it’s pretty intense) but I was not aware of a 70’s version of Nosferatu so I just added that to my list.

    My personal 70’s horror list would be very similar. As Lebeau would do, I might change the placement around a bit but otherwise the movies would be mostly the same.

    Not seeing Nosferatu, instead I might insert Salem’s Lot. This was a made for TV movie directed by Tobe Hooper based on the Stephen King novel. And Damn, it scared the hell out of me as a kid! Vampire in the same vein as Nosfreatu (instead of the suave Lugosi version) Little gore (it was a TV movie) yet very effective at building suspense and dread (plus a couple of shit your pants outright scares).

    BTW, it’s interesting how many of the films here contain little gore yet are very effective horror. It’s a lesson the mostly crappy sequels and remakes have yet to learn (focus on building suspense and dread instead of relying solely on gore to shock).

    I do like Dawn a lot but, like Lebeau, I don’t think I’d give that top billing (probably would give that honor to Halloween). I do think the remake of Dawn is effective action horror but it does lack the underlying social satire of the original. Also interesting to note how the production values in the more current zombie genre entries (Dawn remake, Walking Dead) are SO much better than the original. I know that’s to be expected but the zombies in the original Dawn seemed to have little more than some grey makeup and fake blood while the newer ones, Wow! Gotta admit they look a lot better. Not that it diminishes the original’s power as a film but just sayin.


  4. Overall a very worthy list. As always, I love seeing the Invasion of the Body Snatchers ’78 remake get some recognition as it truly is a great paranoia sci-fi thriller, one of the rare remakes that I would label as equal in quality to the original. The original ’56 version is a classic? Yes, and so is the ’78 version. Actually, I guess we may differ in opinion here because I also include the Dawn of the Dead 2004 remake among my small list of films that are as good as the original. I absolutely love the ’78 original for the very reasons you mentioned, I;ve watched it many times over the years, but I think Zack Snyder’s remake is excellent in it’s own way. No, it doesn’t have the tongue-in-cheek dark humor or social commentary that Romero’s classic has in spades (which I suspect may be why you didn’t care for it) but Snyder avoids doing an exact copy and instead reworks the concept and material to provide a starker, perhaps even scarier version. It works in its own way very well, and is arguably Zack Snyder’s best film in his career. And Snyder does sneak a bit of dark humor in the film regardless: the Jay Leno zombie! And yes, we even get a very disturbing zombie baby birthing scene. I’m a huge fan of the Romero original, and as such if it’s been a long time since you’ve seen the Snyder remake I might suggest giving it another chance. It might grow on you.


    • As someone who isn’t Zack Snyder’s biggest fan (to put it mildly), I give a lot of the credit for the Dawn of the Dead remake to James Gunn. Gunn wrote the screenplay which was smarter and funnier than your average zombie movie. Then he went on to direct the equally fun horror-comedy Slither and a little sci fi flick called Guardians of the Galaxy. Meanwhile, Snyder went on to do Sucker Punch and ruin Superman. I think it’s pretty obvious who the true talent behind DotD ’04 was. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I also enjoyed 300 and The Watchmen, so along with Dawn of the Dead Zack Snyder did make some good movies, or at least in my opinion he did, but the disappointment of Superman is a mark against him in my eyes.


        • I liked 300. I keep meaning to rewatch it and see if it still holds up. I actually watched about half of the sequel earlier this week and decided it’s roughly on par with the original. Both movies trade in a stark visual style which is appropriate for the over-the-top violence. Watchmen is trickier. If you have ever read Watchmen, the movie attempts to be faithful. It makes some changes that just about everyone who isn’t Alan Moore would agree had to be made. But in very subtle ways, it completely subverts the entire point of Watchmen. I feel like it is a great-looking movie made by a director who didn’t understand the message of the source material.

          You give Snyder zombies or gladiators to work with, he’s the right guy. But he doesn’t get superheroes. Superman especially. And if you give him creative control, you get Sucker Punch which is wretched beyond belief.


  5. Good to see a shout-out to the excellent (and best) Body Snatchers film, and to the masterful Herzog. However, you’ve omitted the hands down best horror film of the decade (from the entire list!): Don’t Look Now. There’s really no other film quite like it.


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