IMDb cites The Exorcist (204.57mil) as the third highest grossing movie of the decade let alone the HORROR GENRE. We could have guessed that. Defining a horror movie has changed since the 1970s. Shouldn’t they be scary? Not necessarily. Creepy was more like it. Playing upon a phobia was popular in the 1970s like the fear of rats (Willard) or attacking bees (The Swarm) or a single animal that went berzerk like King Kong or Jaws. Shift the focus to Science Fiction and either space is a horrifying place (Alien) or earth is a destination spot such as the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Since I was a little girl, a horror movie involved vampires, mummies, and weird scientists bringing back the dead. As a teenager, eroticism became a factor when I watched handsome Frank Langella stalking his prey in a swirl of fog on the big screen. Respected actors weren’t afraid to give credence to the horror film like Sir Lawrence Olivier crying over his gored Mina in Dracula or Gregory Peck in The Omen. Of course, careers boosted or began because of the genre: Jamie Lee Curtis, Sissy Spacek, Sigourney Weaver, Bruno Ganz, Jeff Goldblum, Roy Schneider, James Brolin, Donald Sutherland, Roddy McDowell, and Richard Burton to name a few.
Welcome, Kevin, aka Jack Death, who specializes in 1960s/1970s cinema and frequently appears as a guest host around the blogosphere. I’m much obliged you agreed to share your wealth of knowledge!
I favor those shiny nuggets told without splashy fanfare or aplomb. While settling firmly in the “Required Viewing” category. Such as Herk Harvey‘s shot on a shoestring, Carnival of Souls. And George A. Romero‘s B&W back yard Classic, Night of The Living Dead. Where mood, atmosphere, and shadow replace dialogue and special effects to move the tale to its conclusion. To that end. Allow me a few moments of your time to reach deep into my Bag of Treats and reward the night’s collection of ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties, And things that go Bump in the night with:
#3: Deranged: I caught this little 82-minute gem at a Dusk ’til Dawn marathon at a drive-in between Jacksonville and Little Rock, Arkansas back in 1974. And was intrigued by its frugality and neatly trimmed approach in telling the tale of a seriously sick puppy, murderer, grave robber and experimenter with dead things, Ed Gein. The Ghoul of Plainfield, Wisconsin during the 1950s. Creepily, if not memorably brought to life by second stringer, Roberts Blossom as Ezra Cobb. Who lives alone of his family’s farm. With many rural locales around Ontario, Canada filling in nicely for those wooded, foggy surrounding stomping grounds. And has some strange things hidden, preserved and going on in one of its barns.
#2: Daughters of Darkness: An “Art House Flick”… If you can call the basement of the Student Union Building at Maryland U an “Art House”. An intriguing, plush, lush and seductive piece of 1971 storytelling along the French coast of Ostend and Bruges. Where a recently married couple, Stefan (John Karlen) and frigid blonde, Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) are the only guests at a seaside resort during the fall off-season awaiting a ferry to England. Only to have fate intercede with the late night arrival of the mysterious Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig). Who hasn’t aged a day since her last visit forty years ago? And her “secretary”, Ilona (Andrea Rau). Who, over dinner take an interest in Valerie and her something of a stiff, sadistic, privileged British prick of a husband, Stefan.
The tale travels at its own moody, atmospheric and often eerie pace as the Countess focuses on Valerie. And Ilona chooses Stephan. Then slowly begins to tighten as police begin to notice when the fruits of their pursuit of eternal youth begin showing up in the towns and nearby burghs.
Precipitating a situation of “Flight versus Fight” for The Countess and recently widowed Valerie. And an ending no one sees coming!
Which leaves the top slot open to a film which came out of left field. Arrived under cover of darkness to about six theaters between Maryland and North Carolina for two weeks before moving on in the summer of 1975. Perceived at first glance to be just another Hammer film, due to its cast. Yet proved to be so much more!
#1: The Wicker Man: Whereby the book, Sergeant Howie is sent to the Hebridean isle of Summerisle to investigate an anonymous letter regarding a missing girl. And is taken aback by the island’s agrarian population hasn’t entered the 20th century. And has given up Christianity for Celtic paganism.
Which rattles Howie. A devout Catholic and lay minister as he follows leads about the missing girl, Rowan Morison. Who Howie believes may be this year’s May Queen. And is in grave danger. While being led by the nose and distracted by Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, and Ingrid Pitt. Before a final, roundabout tete a tete with Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) which leaves more questions than answers. As Howie makes a last ditch attempt to find and free Rowan. Dons the waiting costume of Punch. A fool. And joins the island’s May procession…
What element of the horror film do you prefer the most and which 1970s film is a great example? For me, it’s Nosferatu the Vampyer(1979). Werner Herzog‘s use of real light cinematography and Klaus Kinski as the Count gives it an elegant, cold composition. It’s not scary. It drags a little at times, but I love that superstitious, Eastern European mountain setting and the actor Bruno Ganz.
Can you recall a scene from a horror film from the 1970s that has scarred your memory? Donald Sutherland‘s tell-tale silent scream at the climax of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I see vividly in my mind’s eye like it was 1978. What about David Lynch’s midnight, cult-classic, Eraserhead? It is black and white surrealism at it’s best; what better way to create horror than to focus on the theme of alienation? Society dictates traditional values such as the devotion to the family, when in fact, most childhoods are disappointing, and for many, quite painful. Society honors the miracle of birth, when in fact, it’s a gooey, bloody mess. Finally, parenthood is a marker for true adulthood but babies seem like foreign creatures and the responsibilities are so overwhelming. It’s the irony that’s the key–anyone can become a parent–but exposing the intrinsic fear of the whole process of birth, it is a fear deeper than any other life event, except for the moment of death, that makes the film brilliant.