Updated On: February 25, 2024 by   Miranne Khaled   Miranne Khaled  

The 70s marked a golden era for horror cinema, a time when the genre underwent a radical transformation, shedding its gothic roots and embracing a more visceral and disturbing style. This evolution was fueled by social, cultural, and technological factors, reflecting the anxieties and disillusionment of a decade marked by political upheaval, economic uncertainty, and the Vietnam War.

A pivotal moment for horror cinema arrived in 1968 when the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, was officially abolished. This stringent set of guidelines had long dictated the moral boundaries of filmmaking, prohibiting explicit violence, nudity, and other taboo subjects. With its demise, filmmakers were granted greater freedom to explore darker themes and more graphic depictions of horror.

The 70s witnessed the emergence of the slasher sub-genre, a style characterized by masked, knife-wielding killers who preyed upon unsuspecting victims, establishing the formula for this popular sub-genre. Those 70s horror movies tap into the audience’s fascination with fear and the vulnerability of the human body.

The 70s horror movies often served as a powerful medium for social commentary, reflecting the anxieties and concerns of the era. Here are some of the most prominent 70s horror movies that left an indelible mark on the horror genre, establishing new conventions, introducing iconic characters, and pushing the boundaries of cinematic expression.

1. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist is deemed to be among the scariest movies ever made. The special effects were groundbreaking at the time, and the acting was superb. The film was so shocking that some people fainted or vomited in the theatre. It is one of the most iconic 70s horror movies that still booms to this very day. The movie has been parodied and referenced countless times in other films, TV shows, and music videos. The movie’s iconic imagery, such as the spider-walk scene and the Pazuzu mask, is still recognizable today. 

The book that the movie was based on, The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, was inspired by a real-life exorcism that took place in 1949. Blatty read about exorcism in an article in The Washington Post and was fascinated by it. He spent the next few years researching the case and interviewing people involved in it before writing his novel. The level of horror in the movie may have made it iconic, yet it was banned in some countries, including Finland and Norway.

Some people believe that the movie was cursed, and many stories of strange occurrences happen during filming, including one in which Ellen Burstyn fell and broke her tailbone. That movie was both a critical and commercial success. It won two Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound and was nominated for ten other awards, including Best Picture. The movie was also a box office smash, grossing over $441 million worldwide.

2. Jaws (1975)

70s Horror Movies

Jaws is one of the genuinely iconic 70s horror movies that has impacted popular culture. It is a suspenseful, thrilling, and terrifying film that is sure to entertain and scare audiences for generations to come. The movie grossed over $470 million worldwide, becoming a massive box office hit. The film’s success proved that there was a large audience for big-budget action films that were released during the summer months. 

Although the film was initially planned for a Christmas 1974 release but was delayed due to production problems, Jaws was credited with launching the summer blockbuster season. This led to a number of other summer blockbusters being released in the years that followed, including Star Wars, Superman, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Jaws is considered to be one of the most influential films in the history of cinema, and it has had a lasting impact on the horror genre. Even its theme music became among the most recognizable in the film industry. Composed by John Williams, the central theme has become synonymous with the shark itself. The film was praised for its suspenseful direction, special effects, and performances. 

3. Halloween (1978)

Halloween, directed by John Carpenter and featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, and P.J. Soles in prominent roles, is a chilling slasher film that revolves around the horrifying exploits of a masked killer who ruthlessly hunts down teenage babysitters on the eerie night of Halloween. This iconic movie achieved both critical acclaim and financial triumph upon its release in 1978, earning its rightful place as a significant catalyst in the rise of the slasher genre. 

Set in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois, Halloween follows the unsettling tale of Michael Myers, a disturbed individual who escapes from a psychiatric institution and returns to his hometown, driven by a malevolent desire to inflict terror and unleash a reign of violence. John Carpenter’s masterful direction skillfully crafts an atmosphere of suspense and dread, employing tension-building techniques and a haunting musical score, also composed by Carpenter himself.

The film’s innovative cinematography created an immersive and spine-chilling experience for the audience, ranking it among the most successful 70s horror movies. Halloween received widespread critical acclaim upon its release for its compelling storytelling, atmospheric tension, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ breakout performance as Laurie Strode, the resilient protagonist. The film resonated with viewers and critics alike, leaving an indelible mark on the horror genre.

4. Alien (1979)

70s Horror Movies

Alien, not to be mistaken for the film Aliens, is a highly acclaimed 1979 science fiction horror movie helmed by Ridley Scott and penned by Dan O’Bannon. Its meticulously crafted plot sets it apart as one of the most prominent horror films of the 70s. It strikes a delicate balance, being straightforward enough that any overlooked dialogue doesn’t confuse the viewers while simultaneously delving into its narrative’s intricacies, showcasing its context’s richness. 

Undeniably, Alien stands as an exceptional sci-fi masterpiece that seamlessly incorporates the finest elements of the horror genre, solidifying its place among the greatest films of its kind. Alien’s success can be attributed to its masterful blend of science fiction and horror elements. The movie seamlessly combines futuristic technology, claustrophobic spaceship settings, and a relentless alien antagonist to create a palpable sense of dread. 

In addition to its captivating plot and visual aesthetics, Alien boasts exceptional performances from its cast, including Sigourney Weaver in her breakout role as Ellen Ripley. Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley, a strong and resourceful protagonist, has become one of the most memorable characters in cinema history. 

The impact of Alien extends far beyond its initial release. It has spawned a successful franchise with sequels, prequels, novels, comic books, and video games, further expanding its rich universe. The film’s influence can be seen in numerous subsequent science fiction and horror movies, inspiring filmmakers and captivating audiences for decades.

5. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

70s Horror Movies

Directed by George A. Romero and featuring David Emge, Ken Foree, and Scott Reiniger, Dawn of the Dead is a gripping zombie horror film that centres around a band of survivors seeking sanctuary in a shopping mall amidst a devastating zombie apocalypse. It’s one of the iconic 70s horror movies that holds a significant place in the annals of horror cinema, being widely regarded as one of the most influential zombie films ever created.

Dawn of the Dead is notable for its combination of gruesome horror and thought-provoking storytelling. It presents a bleak and visceral depiction of a world overrun by the living dead, with scenes of graphic violence and tension that have become hallmarks of the genre. Considering the limited budget, the film’s special effects are impressive and enhance the overall sense of dread and realism.

Beyond its impact on the horror genre, Dawn of the Dead has contributed to the popularisation of zombies in mainstream culture. It established many of the tropes and conventions associated with zombie films, such as hordes of slow-moving undead, the importance of finding shelter, and the exploration of human nature in extreme circumstances.

6. Carrie (1976)

In the realm of horror cinema, few films have achieved the iconic status of Carrie, a 1976 masterpiece directed by Brian De Palma. Adapted from Stephen King’s chilling novel of the same name, Carrie masterfully blends supernatural horror, coming-of-age drama, and psychological thriller elements to deliver a genuinely terrifying and thought-provoking cinematic experience.

Set in the seemingly peaceful town of Chamberlain, Maine, Carrie White is a shy, introverted teenager ostracized by her peers and subjected to relentless bullying. Haunted by her overbearing, religious, fanatic mother, Carrie struggles to find her place in a world that seems determined to reject her. However, beneath her timid exterior lies a terrifying secret: Carrie possesses telekinetic powers that she cannot control.

Carrie’s impact on popular culture is undeniable. Its themes of teenage angst, bullying, and the dangers of religious extremism continue to resonate with audiences today. The film’s groundbreaking special effects and Sissy Spacek’s unforgettable performance as Carrie White has cemented its status among the true classic 70s horror movies.

7. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

70s Horror Movie

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a landmark in the genre, renowned for its raw, visceral filmmaking and its enduring impact on popular culture. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a masterclass in suspense and dread, leveraging handheld camerawork, gritty realism, and a haunting soundtrack to create a sense of palpable unease. 

The film’s iconic villain, Leatherface, is a truly terrifying figure, wielding his chainsaw with relentless brutality. It became among the prevalent diabolic characters in the 70s horror movies that subjected the protagonist to nightmarish torture. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a product of its era, reflecting the anxieties and disillusionment of the 1970s; it was actually banned in several countries due to its graphic violence.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has profoundly impacted the horror genre, spawning a franchise of sequels, remakes, and spin-offs. The film’s iconic imagery, characters, and themes have been referenced and parodied various times in pop culture. Leatherface remains one of the most recognizable and feared horror villains of all time.

The 70s stand as a revered and treasured era, often referred to as a golden age of horror cinema. The aforementioned films represent only a fraction of the exceptional 70s horror movies. That decade witnessed a remarkable surge of innovation and imagination within the horror genre, resulting in a collection of films that still serve as a wellspring of inspiration for contemporary filmmakers.

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