Top 30 Horror Films 1967 – 1979 (Part 3)

Horror film has always been at its best when representing in some form the genuine fears populating society at the time of release. Whether it be the cold-war fears of the 1950s or the feral youth of the 2000s, horror film has managed to tap into our base fears through the very real issues plaguing contemporary culture. Arguably, the genre has never been as powerful or influential as it was between the beginning of the American New Wave and the total commercialisation and high-concept era of the 1980s. In other words, the best horror films ever made appeared in the 12 years between 1967 and 1979.

Top 30 Horror Films 1967 to 1979 (Part 3)
Part 1 (30-21) | Part 2 (20-11) | Part 3 (10-1)

the wicker man, robin hardy, 1970s, horror, top 10,

10. The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, UK, 1973)
Like Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, there’s an atmosphere prevalent in The Wicker Man that isn’t as tangible as that of say The Exorcist or Jaws but nonetheless evident. In other words, even though you can’t put your finger on what it is, the macabre shivers shooting up and down your spine are suitably unnerving. It’s that feeling of dread – you know something awful is going to happen but you don’t know what it is. Edward Woodward is great as the clueless but well-meaning police sergeant who is sent to the island of Summerisle in search of a missing child. When he gets there the locals claim she never existed. Pagan-practicing Christopher Lee is the perfect foil for Woodward’s Christian idealism, while Britt Ekland’s naked dance and the twisted conclusion will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

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9. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, UK, 1973)
Similarly to The Wicker Man, Nicolas Roeg’s film has an ending that will shock, infuriate, and unnerve. Telling the story of a couple who have yet to recover from the mental trauma of losing their daughter to drowning, Laura (Julie Christie) and John (Donald Suhterland) have retreated to Europe while John works on the restoration of a church in Venice. Laura begins meeting a clairvoyant who claims to be in contact with their dead daughter. As Laura becomes more obsessed with the possibility of speaking to their child beyond the grave, John is distanced, disbelieving in such activity. But he keeps seeing a figure in a red coat who resembles his daughter. Questioning his own sanity the film climaxes with one of the most memorable final sequences in horror cinema. Roeg’s use of visual motifs and the Venetian backdrop make Don’t Look Now a visually spectacular horror movie, and one that, like all the films on this list, will stay with you for a very long time.

texas chainsaw massacre, film, tobe hooper, top ten horror, 1960s, 1970s,

8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, USA, 1974)
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a tour-de-force of implied violence. It’s a film perceived as being gory but its physical violence is largely without the blood and guts of gore cinema’s most renowned entries. Nevertheless, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes no prisoners (well, apart from the unfortunate group who find their way into the cannibal family’s home). Uncompromising on violence, suffocating in its pace and sound design, unforgettable conclusion.

carrie, film, best horror, 1960s, 1970s, top 10 films,

7. Carrie (Brian De Palma, USA, 1976)
Brian De Palma is well-known to casual film fans for The Untouchables and Scarface but his work in horror and Hitchcockian suspense should not be underestimated. Dressed To Kill is a love-letter to Hitchcock, and a brilliant one at that; Blow Out is a hugely underrated thriller that yet again highlights De Palma’s skills with camera movement, split-screen, mise-en-scene; Sisters and The Fury are as frightening as anything on this list. Just ahead of them all, however, is De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel Carrie. The story, about a shy teenage girl who uses her newly found telekinetic skills to gain revenge against the bullies who humiliate her, is perfectly shot and edited with De Palma’s trademarks visuals. Sissy Spacek is excellent in the role of Carrie, but it’s her fanatically religious mother, played by Piper Laurie, who stands out. Laurie’s terrifying performance is only bettered by Linda Blair in The Exorcist for best female performance in an American horror movie.

halloween, horror, 1960s, 1970s, top 10 films, john carpenter,

6. Halloween (John Carpenter, USA, 1978)
John Carpenter’s hugely influential film became the blueprint for every slasher made since. Without Halloween there would be no Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street or Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine or Terror Train or April Fools Day or The House on Sorority Row or Sorority House Massacre or Sleepaway Camp or Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer…to name just a few! Carpenter’s suggestive use of the killer’s point of view and exploitation of a promiscuous youth struck a chord with audiences at the time, especially young audiences, which lingers even today.

the omen, richard donner, film, top 10 films, 1960s, 1970s, horror,

5. The Omen (Richard Donner, USA, 1976)
In some quarters Richard Donner’s 1976 film remains underrated, perhaps as an Exorcist-lite horror movie made in the wake of Friedkin’s masterpiece in order to cash-in on its success. But The Omen is a terrifically creepy film that manages to crawl under your skin and stay there. The story of a demonic child again brings the monster within the confines of the family and little Toby Stephens, who plays the Devil’s child, is undeniably frightening through Donner’s use of close-ups on his pale face and eyes that appear to burn through the screen. It’s all grounded in the authentic and powerful performance of Gregory Peck as the father. Some of the set-pieces such as David Warner’s meeting with a sheet of glass and the Nanny’s suicide at the birthday party are not easily forgotten. Neither is the brilliant use of distorted photographs to premise the impending doom. The Omen is, for me, one of the scariest films ever made.

alien, best horror films, 1960s, 1970s, ridley scott,

4. Alien (Scott, USA/UK, 1979)
Ridley Scott revolutionised the science-fiction genre with this grimy, monster-movie-in-space. There aren’t many monsters as terrifying or beautifully and nightmarishly conceived as H.R. Giger’s phallic alien creation. Alien is blessed with a strong cast but it’s Sigourney Weaver who stands out in what would become a defining moment for female characters in horror cinema.

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3. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, USA, 1975)
The horror film that worked for children and adults. That’s a big reason it became the first blockbuster. Everyone went to see it – twice! Steven Spielberg’s film about a seaside town terrorised by a huge Great White shark is a lesson in how to construct suspense and paved the way for Spielberg to take over Hollywood. The shark is one of the most iconic monsters in cinema and because of its basis in reality it gave people second thoughts about venturing into the sea. Three terrific performances from three very different actors propelled the film beyond being just another monster movie and Spielberg’s direction is unequivocal proof of his genius behind the camera. See more on Steven Spielberg HERE

rosemary's baby, film, horror, roman polanski, mia farrow, witches, top ten films,

2. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, USA, 1968)
Roman Polanski brings Ira Levin’s bestselling 1967 novel to the screen with a beautifully realised foreboding atmosphere and an understated, fragile performance from Mia Farrow. The story tells of a struggling actor who befriends an odd couple who practice the art of witchcraft. In return for his wife, unknowingly, having the Devil’s child they will ensure his acting career takes off. It’s a chilling premise and one that we are not aware of immediately as Polanski allows the mystery to slow-burn until the chilling climax. Ruth Gordon is great as the bubbly but conniving witch. What makes Rosemary’s Baby stand out is how it drops references to the gothic, which is definitely a precursor to contemporary horror films of the 1970s, which were set in present day, realistic, everyday settings.

the exorcist, posession, william friedkin, best horror movies, 1960s, 1970s, top 10 films,

1. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, USA, 1973)
The daddy of them all. The greatest horror film ever made. William Friedkin’s The Exorcist terrified audiences so much some left the theatre. Infamously unavailable in the UK because of the “Video Nasty” scare, the film, which already had a huge following after its initial theatrical run, grew in mystique throughout its hiatus from British viewing screens. I remember distinctly the television trailers for its first UK TV showing some 25 years after its original release. Every time the TV spot played it was an event. Finally, this film – dubbed the scariest film ever made – could be seen by those of us either not around in 1973 or not old enough to see it on its theatrical re-release.

Based on a true story, The Exorcist tells of a pre-pubescent girl (Linda Blair) who becomes possessed by an evil spirit. Science does not have an answer for her troubles so the girl’s desperate mother (Elllen Bustyn) turns to the church for help. Father Karras (Jason Miller), struggling with his own faith after the death of his mother, meets with the possessed child to determine if she can be helped by the church. Unable to exorcise the demon himself he calls on the experienced hand of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and in doing so restores his own belief in God.

The Exorcist is an amazing film – Spielberg calls Lawrence of Arabia a ‘miracle’, so too is The Exorcist. It is terribly affecting through Friedkin’s cold, distant tone and foreboding ambience as well as its depiction of a child’s suffering and her mother’s inability to help. The special make-up effects are the most effective I’ve ever seen – Linda Blair is unrecognisable as the demonic creature that takes over her body shows itself in ghastly glory all across her face. Seeing the animalistic embodiment of the demon imprinted on a once pale, innocent and feminine face is the most horrifying image I have ever seen on film. It is at once wonderful in its ability to affect the viewer with such tangible menace and punishing in the way it unsettles. It is an unforgettable image in an unforgettable film.

See more great horror films of the 1960s and 1970s: Here

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Aiden R. Reply

    Oh man, Don’t Look Now is really good stuff. Need to see that again. And I was 11 or so the first time I watched The Omen, I immediately turned it off after that chick hung herself at Damien’s birthday party. Did not need that in my life.

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    LeaUV Reply

    JAWS! It terrified me. I still cannot attempt to watch it without feeling sick! I made the mistake of watching Rosemarys baby when I was pregnant. Not a good idea. Brilliant list. Most I havnt seen but those I have seen I definately agree are truelly the best horror movies out there!

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    Corey Reply

    Great list, Dan. I was especially pleased to see some of my personal favorites here as Jaws, Alien, The Omen, and Halloween all made your top 6. I still haven’t seen The Wicker Man though, so that’s one that I’ll have to check out soon.

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    goregirl Reply

    The Exorcist and TCM really raised the bar on what I came to expect from horror films and remain two of my favourite and most repetitively watched to this day. Don’t Look Now, Carrie, Alien, Wicker Man, all great choices. I would have had more Italian films on my own list, but overall a most formidable TOP 30!

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    MagicWitch Reply

    Great top 10. The Exorcist is my favorite horror film ever made.

  6. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @goregirl – I think if I extended it there might be a few more Argento and Mario Bava films.

    @Corey – Whatever you do, watch the original Wicker Man and not the atrocity that Nick Cage starred in! 😉

    @Aiden – I know what you mean. Scary stuff in The Omen.

    @LeaUV – I’m reminded of Jaws every time I go in the sea!

  7. Avatar
    Will Reply

    Well you were correct. As the list went on, I had definitely seen more and more. On this one I’ve seen everything except Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now. One of these days!

    I gotta say I just re-watched Carrie and I hated it. I’ve never liked it and thought I’d give it another go, but I just don’t like that movie. Too much slow motion and the score is terrible. The split-screen is fun though.

  8. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Will – that’s interesting Will (in regards to Carrie). Have you seen any of De Palma’s other Hitchcockian thriller – Obsession, Sisters, Dressed To Kill, Blow Out – and what were your thoughts on those. I’m a big fan of his earlier work and quite like the musical scores. He uses split-screen a lot in his movies – it’s used particularly well in his underrated masterpiece Dressed To Kill.

    I’m not generally a fan of slow-mo but De Palma is such a master with the camera…in Carrie it makes it all the more frightening…for me at least.

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    Will Reply

    No I haven’t seen any of his other early works, but I have heard good things. It’s pretty much on my dislike of Carrie that I never put them high on the list.

    The slow-mo in Carrie especially bothered me towards the end when the people are clapping in the auditorium for what seems like five minutes. I can understand wanting to stretch the moment out, but I just kept thinking, “Get on with it!” I know I’m in the minority, but I’m just calling it like I see it.

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    Dan Reply

    @Will – I definitely see what you mean. I think I lean towards De Palma’s way of doing things more than most – Raising Cain is generally considered one of his worst films but I quite like that one too. Give Blow Out of Dressed To Kill a go if you get the chance. Dressed To Kill could be looked at in one of two ways really – an underrated masterpiece or, as many actually believe it to be, a Hitchcock rip-off. Sisters might be more up your street though Will – it’s more of a horror film than Dressed To Kill which is a whodunnit thriller with a bit of stab-happy murdering.

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    Rodney Reply

    Wow, I didn’t think Rosemary’s Baby would make it as high up there, and I think I’d dispute including Jaws as a “horror” film as such… hmm, apart from that, I agree with the rest of your choices wholeheartedly!!

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    Luke Reply

    Just watched The Omen for the first time yesterday! Though Lee Remick’s expressions of shock sort of took away from the truly disturbing scenes in the movie (and for me the wonderful Gregory Peck’s performance didn’t ring true like I’d hoped it would here), the Jerry Goldsmith score and the great supporting turn from the woman playing Mrs. Baylock made it totally worth it for me in the scary movie department. Excellent list!

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    James Blake Ewing Reply

    Carrie is my all time favorite horror film, so I’m glad to see it on the list. Such an effective film that is more about the horror of everyday life than about supernatural scares.

    That being said, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby are awesome. I actually thing Repulsion is a much better film than Rosemary’s Baby, but both are awesome.

    And Jaws is just flat out fantastic no matter what you classify it as. It certainly has that b-movie horror monster flick vibe in the high concept but the execution is top notch.

    Alien is another fantastic pick, one I go back and forth on in terms of whether I should classify it as a horror film or a sci-fi film. Maybe it should just be classified as awesome.

  14. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Rodney – Cheers Rodney. I felt I had to include Jaws – great film as we’ve both discussed recently – and although it’s thought of in many quarters more as a thriller, ultimately, it is about a monster in the sea which eats people in gory ways. So it’s roots are in horror, and that;s the way I categorise it.

    Rosemary’s Baby is definitely one of my favourite horror films. It’s just so perfectly constructed, love the story (and the fact it shreds a lot of the gothic roots of witchcraft etc.), and the degeneration of Mia Farrow is heart-breaking and so powerful. Speaking of powerful – the devil/rape scene and the ending – WOW!

    @Luke – cheers for the comment Luke. I actually really like Gregory Peck in the film, it’s a great performance in my eyes. But I’m glad you agree with me on the overall merits of the film. It’s very creepy stuff with a good balance between gore/violence and pot-boiling suspense.

    @James – Thanks James. I think that means we agree on 60s/70s horror movies. It was difficult listing these films in order beyond my top two favourites. Carrie is indeed fantastic – my fave De Palma but with so many classics made during the period the choices were hard.

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    Robert Reply

    Fantastic list! Carrie is so scary! Piper Laurie’s prayer closet gave me nightmares for years! Personally I think Rosemary’s Baby is a better movie than The Exorcist, but both are extremely well done films.

    Good job on the whole top 30 – with the exception of Black Christmas (which I think is an awful movie), and one I would have swapped out for Alice Sweet Alice (Communion) with Brooke Shields.

  16. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Fantastic list as usual. I love these creepy films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen.

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    Chris Reply

    Yeah, The Omen does feel a little like a cash-in on The Exorcist, yet Donner’s film is very entertaining, and has plenty of memorable scenes. Even though the omen warnings on photographs is an idea that is difficult for me to take seriously, the filmmakers do a good job in making Gregory Peck’s character and his wife very skeptical. You might think twice about adopting a random child after having watched!

    Don’t Look Now, a film I could watch 3 times and still notice new things, high on my horror list too.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Fantastic list however I would of included Lets Scare Jessica To Death (1971)what a suspense driven and frightening film!

  19. Avatar
    Neal Damiano Reply

    Also would of put Alice, Sweet Alice on the list too!

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