The 70s were a golden era for horror films, with the monster films of previous decades giving way to an era full of slashers and final girls. Giallo was going strong and Hitchcock-inspired story beats morphed into something new. Birthing many of the horror franchises that are still going today, this decade has been commented on to the ends of the earth and there is still plenty more to be said.
As great as films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Suspiria are, there are plenty of hidden gems, B-movies, and underrated hits that deserve to be appreciated. Though they might be low budget and haven’t captured the public’s imagination in the same way as others have, these are intriguing films that nevertheless have inspired many filmmakers throughout the ages.
‘Eyes of Laura Mars’ (1978)
Laura Mars is a fashion photographer who comes under fire for glorifying violence and being anti-woman in her art. When a serial murderer begins taking victims, Laura sees the killings through the murderer’s eyes, calling her reality into question.
Written by a pre-Halloween John Carpenter, Eyes of Laura Mars shows a more surreal and neo-noir side of the famous horror filmmaker while highlighting an A + performance from the often unfairly panned Faye Dunaway. A very American send-off of the Giallo subgenre while remaining firmly rooted in classic detective tropes, this is a film full of twists that must be seen to be believed. Eyes of Laura Mars is available to stream on Roku.
‘Alice, Sweet Alice’ (1976)
When Alice’s younger sister Karen is murdered by a stranger in a mask, the family mourns and quickly launches an investigation of their own after feeling certain that the police won’t help them. Meanwhile, Alice lurks around the apartment complex and encounters a number of unsettling residents. More murders occur, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell who among the cast might be the killer.
Alice, Sweet Alice was the film debut of Brooke Shields, and her star power is clear as she portrays the often unsympathetic Alice. An early entry in the slasher canon, this film combines Hitchcock plot intricacy and character studies with a genuinely chilling whodunit. Alice, Sweet Alice is available to stream on Tubi.
‘Let’s Scare Jessica To Death’ (1971)
After Jessica is released from psychiatric care to the control of her highly sketchy husband, he decides she needs to rest in an isolated space, and the couple moves to an old house in the country. When they arrive, they find a random hippie named Emily has moved in, and Jessica’s husband invites her to stay. Jessica is unnerved due to her husband’s clear attraction to Emily, but her own complicated feelings toward the other woman are what take center stage.
Running with some themes that will be familiar to longtime horror fans, Jessica struggles to understand whether she’s hallucinating or simply being gaslit by the men in her life. Realizing that she’s surrounded by people who intend her harm, Jessica is on her own.Let’s Scare Jessica to Deathis available to rent via YouTube, Vudu, or Amazon Prime Video.
‘Sugar Hill’ (1974)
Diana “Sugar” Hill is a photographer whose boyfriend has been murdered by a mob boss due to his refusal to play by the criminal’s rules. Sugar is desperate to hold the mob boss to account, and seeks out the help of a voodoo queen, who raises an army of the undead to take out the people that cost Sugar everything.
The blaxploitation movement dipped its toe into horror themes often, but full-out horror films were rare outside the Blacula franchise. Sugar Hill brings in some of the subgenre’s best ideas, featuring a compelling lead in Sugar (Marki Bey). Violent, campy, and fun, this is a movie that horror fans should watch at least once in their lives. Sugar Hill is available to watch via Pluto TV.
‘Mephisto Waltz’ (1971)
Journalist Myles goes to interview Duncan Ely, one of the most famous concert pianists in the world. Ely is at first irritated by Myles, then takes an unusual interest in his hands. Quickly introducing Myles and his wife Paula to a hedonistic group of Satanists, Ely passes away. Shockingly, he leaves his fortune to Myles, but Myles begins acting awfully strange …
Paula is a kind of reverse Rosemary of Rosemary’s Baby, dedicated not to her child but to her genuinely awful husband regardless of how depraved he gets. Watching her make compromise after compromise as she slides rapidly down a slippery moral slope is a major part of the draw of The Mephisto Waltzbut that’s not to sell short the performance of a young, surprisingly effective Alan Alda as her villainous, possessed husband. Mephisto Waltz is available to rent through YouTube or Vudu.
‘The Werewolf Versus The Vampire Woman’ (1971)
Two women investigating ancient suspected vampire women arrive at the castle of one Waldemar Daninsky and he invites them to stay in order to complete their research. Naturally, their presence awakens the ancient vampires of old, and many locals are transformed. Ah, but there is more to Daninsky than first suspected, and before you know it, we’ve got a classic vampire vs. werewolf showdown.
The fifth in a series of films about The Werewolf as played by Paul Naschy and is generally considered one of the movies that kicked off a Spanish horror Renaissance. Though his character had died in the previous entry, The Fury of the Wolf Man, he is returned to life when doctors remove silver bullets from his heart (he immediately kills the doctors). This series is great campy horror fun but also manages to be quite eerie, and is a great place to begin with Naschy’s Werewolf. The Werewolf Versus The Vampire Woman is available to watch on Roku and Tubi.
Cathryn is a successful writer of children’s books, but her marriage is disintegrating. She goes away for a little R&R in the countryside, but her psychological troubles only increase as the image of her deceased lover haunts her. She receives a visitor whose daughter looks a lot like Cathryn and seems to have more in common with her than meets the eye.
Filmmaker Robert Altman went on to make a number of influential films over the last many decades, including the similarly themed must-watch 3 Women. Indeed, Images works best when viewed as something of a precursor to many of the ideas he would later refine. On the other hand, this is a film that has no trouble standing on its own, with fascinating performances from its small cast and a killer soundtrack by John Williams featuring percussion from the experimental musician Stomu Yomash’ta. Images is available to stream on Roku and Tubi.
‘Messiah of Evil’ (1973)
Arletty arrives at an isolated beach town in California to visit her estranged father, who is an artist. Though his home appears to be completely abandoned, she discovers a diary written to her. He mentions specific people in the town, but as Arletty attempts to ask them where her father might have gone, they each deny knowledge of him.
Messiah of Evil is convoluted and surreal, and not the sort of film that offers easy answers as to what exactly is even going on in this strange, remote town. In that way, it’s easy to be on Arletty’s side as she expresses confusion and then fear. Featuring a villain who appears as a bit of a demogogue, Arletty is gaslit and terrorized by the townspeople in a way that makes it feel like a very American take on the Giallo subgenre in different ways than Eyes of Laura Mars. Messiah of Evil is available to watch on Pluto TV.
‘Satan’s School For Girls’ (1973)
Martha rushes to her sister Elizabeth’s house, constantly checking her rearview mirror, certain that she’s being followed. She’s fleeing her school, The Salem Academy For Women. When she arrives, she discovers that Elizabeth has gone out on an errand. When Elizabeth returns, she finds Martha dead. Quickly realizing that she can not depend on the authorities, she enrolls at the Salem Academy to investigate what she is certain was a murder.
Satan’s School For Girls is very much a made-for-TV horror film of the mid-seventies, but there are a number of haunting aspects that have allowed it to stand the test of time. An ongoing allegory around the students being treated like rats in a maze provides genuinely unsettling imagery, and the then soon-to-be-Charlie’s Angel Kate Jackson makes for a compelling wild card as Roberta, a fellow student. Satan’s School For Girls is available to watch via Tubi.
‘When A Stranger Calls’ (1979)
If you’ve seen the intro sequence to Scream (1995), the first twenty minutes of When A Stranger Calls Back will be familiar to you. Babysitter Jill is alone in a house with two children sleeping upstairs and is plagued by calls from a dangerous stalker. However, Stranger is all the more interesting for its follow-up – Jill survives, but she is tormented by her memories of that night.
Today, Carol Kane might be best known for her comedic work, including a hilarious role on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. However, her early days are full of moody genre works, including the highly disturbing but incredibly compelling psychological horror film. The Mafu Cage. Her performance as a terrorized babysitter is interesting because it does not end here – in the very underrated made-for-TV 90s sequel, When A Stranger Calls Back, we see Jill as a social worker whose trauma continues to haunt her over a decade later. A precursor to Scream’s Sidney Prescott and a highly underrated final girl. When A Stranger Calls is available to stream via Pluto TV, Tubi, and Vudu.
Keep Reading: Why ‘Scream’s’ Neve Campbell Will Endure as a Horror Icon