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10 best horror movies of the 1970s, ranked

The 1970s was a period of great innovation for cinema, as it brought groundbreaking features like The Godfather, Taxi Driver (one of Martin Scorsese’s best movies), and Star Wars to theaters. Such achievements are especially true for horror, as more films experimented with taboo subjects such as sex, religion, and murder.

Also, by introducing unique concepts and visuals to horror, the genre gave us a host of successful pictures that challenged what people thought could and should be done on film. With Halloween soon approaching, movie lovers should take the time to revisit these 10 exemplary horror films of the 1970s.

10. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Leatherface running with his chainsaw in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974).
Bryanston Distributing Company / Bryanston Distributing Company

When a group of young people visit an old house in Texas, they find themselves on the menu when a family of grave-robbing cannibals hunts them down. While director Tobe Hooper’s film stirred up quite a lot of controversy for its violent content, the amount of gore in it is left to a minimum.

Nevertheless, this works to the film’s benefit, as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains a nightmarish assault on the senses that will make audiences think twice about having meat for dinner.

9. Suspiria (1977)

A woman lies dead on the ground in "Suspiria" (1977).
Seda Spettacoli / Seda Spettacoli

Directed by Dario Argento, this giallo horror classic follows a young ballet student who travels to Germany to attend an esteemed dance academy, which she later learns is run by a coven of killer witches.

Sure, the voice dubbing in this movie isn’t that great, but the original Suspiria is a mesmerizing and frightening piece of cinema due to its colorful visuals, shocking scares, and chilling score by Goblin.

8. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Zombies attack in an elevator in "Dawn of the Dead" (1978).
United Film Distribution Company / United Film Distribution Company

When the world becomes overrun by zombies, a group of survivors take shelter in an abandoned shopping mall as society crumbles outside.

In many ways, this sequel improves upon George A. Romero’s first zombie film with a greater scope and more action, as well as a scathing satirical commentary on issues of racism, police brutality, and modern consumerism. Thus, this movie’s ability to scare and impact audiences has not died down in the decades since its release.

7. Halloween (1978)

Laurie Strode is waiting with a knife for Michael Myers in "Halloween" (1978).
courtesy of Compass International Pictures / courtesy of Compass International Pictures

After being committed to a psychiatric hospital as a achild for murdering his sister, 21-year-old Michael Myers escapes from captivity and returns to his hometown to terrorize its citizens on Halloween night. John Carpenter’s film may be lacking in terms of acting and character development (excluding Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis).

But with its tense atmosphere, bone-chilling music, and silent killer, Halloween became the definitive slasher film that set the template for the many films that succeeded it. Plus, it’s still the best movie in the Halloween franchise.

6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Matthew and Elizabeth in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978).
United Artists / United Artists

When a race of alien “pod people” starts replacing everyone in San Francisco, a health inspector and his colleagues fight to avoid having their lives taken over by these invaders.

Eerie, suspenseful, and featuring strong creature effects, this reboot proves itself to be no carbon copy, as it very much replaced its predecessor in the eyes of audiences. And with its shocking twist ending, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is guaranteed to keep viewers awake all night.

5. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Lucy and Dracula and in "Nosferatu the Vampyre."
20th Century Studios / 20th Century Studios

Brought to life by director Werner Herzog, this unique interpretation of Dracula adapts both Bram Stoker’s classic novel and F.W. Murnau’s silent film Nosferatu.

While it may not be that scary, it is still a chilling, poignant, and beautiful reboot that explores the dark and lonely soul that is Count Dracula (who’s played to creepy perfection by the infamous Klaus Kinski).

4. Carrie (1976)

Sissy Spacek in "Carrie" (1976).
United Artists / United Artists

In the first of many movie adaptations inspired by author Stephen King, Brian De Palma’s Carrie follows the titular teenager, who she uses her newfound telekinetic powers to exact vengeance on those who have bullied and tormented her.

Specific aspects of this film may now be considered dated, but it is still a clever and horrifying depiction of a young woman’s coming-of-age in the face of supernatural occurrences and never-ending abuse.

3. Alien (1979)

A chestburster in "Alien."
20th Century Studios / 20th Century Studios

When a team of “space truckers” discover a wrecked starship filled with alien eggs, one of them hatches and impregnates a crew member with a deadly creature that hunts them all down on their ship. It’s a simple, but inventive premise that succeeded in defying everyone’s expectations upon release.

With terrors popping out in the most surprising places, Alien takes audiences’ fear of the unknown to astronomical heights as the crew of the Nostromo faces such an unfathomable nightmare.

2. Jaws (1975)

Roy Scheider in a scene from "Jaws."
Universal Pictures / Universal Pictures

Cinema legend Steven Spielberg made quite a splash with his first blockbuster, which remains one of his best movies ever. When a killer shark stakes a claim in the waters of Amity Island, a police chief, a marine biologist, and a seasoned shark hunter set sail on the high seas to get rid of it.

Though Jaws suffered many problems during production that could have sunk the entire project, the filmmakers went above and beyond their limitations to create a horrifying and well-crafted suspense thriller rivaling the likes of Alfred Hitchcock.

1. The Exorcist (1973)

A possessed Regan smiles in 1973's "The Exorcist."
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

When a young girl gets possessed by a demon, her mother calls upon two priests to perform an exorcism on her after doctors and psychiatrists fail to help her.

Infamous for its shocking content and the effects it had on audiences, The Exorcist was very much like a religious awakening for horror, as it made people take the genre seriously (as shown by its 10 Oscar nominations). The world wasn’t prepared for the late William Friedkin’s film when it came out, and 50 years later, people are still terrified by it.

Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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