It’s October, and everyone is on a quest to find some highly scary viewing for the Halloween holiday. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working my way through the decades, highlighting the absolute scariest horror films from each.
The 1970s brought a wave of highly graphic and intensely violent horror films to mainstream audiences. Simultaneously, there was a surge of indie auteurs exposing fans to new styles and tones. When I was curating the list below of the scariest films of the 1970s, I went for movies that focused on terrifying viewers, not necessarily the ones that shocked. While films like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST are no doubt disturbing and upsetting, they create a different feeling than a scare, touching something rooted more in disgust and despair. We searched for titles that leave you shaking and checking dark corners of your house after each viewing. Please enjoy our scariest films of the 1970s.
THE WICKER MAN (1973)
This British pastoral folk horror approached religion head-on, examining a semi-peaceful pagan religion against devote Christianity. And the music, specifically Willow’s song, will haunt you long after the credits roll.
MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)(COVER PHOTO)
Hypnotic and dream-like, MESSIAH OF EVIL is one of the lesser-known films of this decade, but it is also one of the scariest. A woman returns to her childhood home after many years away and discovers that the town is …different. The grocery store and theater scenes are astonishing.
DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)
After the death of their daughter, a man and his wife are contacted by two sisters who claim to be psychic and say their daughter is trying to contact them. Then he begins seeing the child everywhere. While much of the film focuses on the psychology of grief and loss, the ending is one of the most shocking and frightening moments in horror history.
THE EXORCIST (1973)
THE EXORCIST is the one film that reappears time and time again on scariest movie lists. Now several decades after its initial release, Pazuzu is still absolutely chilling.
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)
Filmed with a raw news footage style aesthetic, TCM was unique in its grittiness, visceral imagery, and insanity. The dinner scene is still one of the most horrifying sequences in film history.
JAWS is constantly cited as one of the films that affected people on a mass scale, causing folks to not only avoid the water, but it also led to a mass killing of sharks. To this day, I still cannot tread in deep water (even in a lake) without picturing the POV shot of dangling legs from this movie.
Infused with color and dizzying production design, SUSPIRIA is by far one of the most technically gorgeous films of the decade. It also boasts some great scares as it weaves the story of a ballet school run by witches.
Michael Myers terrified audiences, set the slasher craze of the 1980s into effect, and also created what would later be known as the “scream queen” and “final girl” tropes.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)
Since this is his second film on the list, I think we can all agree that Donald Sutherland was just scary as fuck in the 1970s. This is definitely one of the greatest remakes ever.
TOURIST TRAP (1979)
Director David Schmoeller weaves a bizarre tale of a roadside attraction with a sinister twist. Puppets are scary, but full-sized moving mannequins are just petrifying.
BURT OFFERINGS (1976)
LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971)
THE CAR (1977)
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)
THE BROOD (1979)