So, as we all know the roots of horror on film run deep, all the way back to the teens, and likely before that. If we really want to think about, a lot of the earliest films could be considered "shockers" at the very least. Images of trains coming straight at you and such were meant to challenge the viewers sense of perception while, at the same time, scaring the beejezus out of them.
Today though, we're just going to trace back to the beginning of what I consider to be the best time for horror on film (that being from 1974-1984). After thinking a little bit about the list, it's just too easy. So, I'm going to take away some of my options here. This should make it more interesting.
So here lie THE TOP TEN HORROR FILMS OF THE '70s THAT AREN'T DAWN OF THE DEAD, JAWS, THE EXORCIST, HALLOWEEN, or THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE:
10. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974) - Sometimes known as The Living Dead in the Manchester Morgue, this 1974 zombie flick is one of the more effective ones of the seventies that isn't called Dawn of the Dead. The story itself is rather forgetabble, police are investigating the murder of a man, they detain a handful of suspects, but the real culprits are the undead whom have been brought back to life due to radiation that's being used as an alternative to pesticide. Not that interesting, but the film, a Spanish/Italian production, actually manages to make up for that by having effective make up effects, strong underlying anti-establishment themes, an eerie score, and a very tense atmosphere.
9. Profondo Rosso (1975) - Known as Deep Red in America, Profondo Rosso is an exceptionally well-made Dario Argento giallo (gialli are generally more "slasher-y" suspense/thriller Italian pictures). I would definitely choose it on my list over the hyper-stylized Suspiria, because unlike that picture, Profondo Rosso is able to balance style and story to come together with the whole package. It's the story of a musician who witnesses the murder of a famous psychic and is befriended by a reporter. As they investigate the murder together, they find that they, too, are now in danger. The film also has one of the greatest scores ever, courtesy of Italy's Goblin.
8. Martin (1977) - The other great Romero flick from the seventies, Martin is the story of a young man sent to Pittsburgh to live with his uncle. Oh, yeah, and he believes himself a vampire, drinking human blood and the like. Martin begins calling in to a local radio show and unveils himself to the world, leaving himself open to ridicule. Undaunted, Martin continues to use his razor blade (he has no fangs) to prepare his lunch. But is Martin really a vampire? Watch for yourself. A very stylish film, until Let The Right One In, Martin was probably the most thoughtful and artful vampire movie I'd ever seen.
7. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) - One of Vincent Price's last great films, Phibes is a revenge film at it's sweetest. In the film, Price's Phibes is a mad scientist who decides to calculatingly take revenge on nine doctors that he considers responsible for the death of his wife. Weapon of choice: plagues. That's right. Phibes, being the Biblical scholar that he is, opts to exact his revenge by re-enacting the nine plagues from the Old Testament. The film also stars the always entertaining Joesph Cotton. I would also recommend the sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again!
6. The Wicker Man (1973) - Forget Nicholas Cage, travel back to 1973 if you want to see The Wicker Man. The extremely interesting Christopher Lee/Edward Woodward piece tells the tale of a police officer sent from Scotland to an island village after the disappearance of a young girl. Once the God-fearing sergeant learns of the locals pagan ways, things get a little bit scary. The Wicker Man is tension done right, if you're not on the edge of your seat by the surprising final reel, something's wrong with you.
5. Shivers (1975) - This early Cronenberg "body horror" fright fest sees an apartment building being seized and taken over by slug-like parasitic creatures that turn their hosts into sex-crazed zombies. The infection then begins to spread through sexual contact. While it's not exactly Cronenberg's debut, Shivers is still the first time that he really made a Cronenberg film, if that makes sense. A very original film, this little visceral Canadian baby still manages to be effective to date. The tension mounts and the effects are more than serviceable, plus you can read all kinds of metaphor into it, but just remember they didn't know what AIDs was yet.
4. The Brood (1979) - Another Cronenberg sci-fi/horror masterpiece, The Brood is even stranger than Shivers. Still in his "body horror" period, Cronenberg delivers the goods here in this story about a man investigating his wife's institutionalization while a bizarre string of violent attacks are perpetrated by a brood of mutant children. It gets weirder, but I don't want to spoil it for you. And if those damned little ugnauts don't hijack your dreams, then I'll eat my hat, beause they are freaky. If you've seen and liked Videodrome, I think it's safe to say that you would like The Brood. Suffice it to say that it's not your run of the mill film.
3. Phantasm (1979) - Director/Writer Don Coscarelli weaves together a fever-dream tapestry of bizarre images in this his debut film. Even with two Cronenberg entries on this list, I think Phantasm takes the cake for strangest film. I still don't think I've fully deciphered the narrative here, but here's a plot summary off of IMDb: "Mike, a young teenage boy who has just lost his parents, is afraid to lose his brother. This fear causes him to follow his brother to a funeral, where Mike witnesses the Tall Man lift a coffin on his own. Mike decides to investigate and discovers a horrible world where the Tall Man, along with his flying spheres, shrink the to half their normal size and reanimate them as slaves. It is then up to Mike, his brother, and Reggie the ice cream man to stop the Tall man."
2. Alien (1979) - The most effective sci-fi/horror film produced to date, Ridley Scott's film is a masterpiece of slimy, claustrophobic terror. Written by Dan O'Bannon (Dark Star, Return of the Living Dead), Alien perhaps takes a cue from David Cronenberg, as the film contains a little bit of "body horror". The first time you see a "chestbuster", you're going to be in love with the film forever. I don't really know how much I have to say about Alien, because odds are you've seen it. And if you haven't what the hell is wrong with you? Go rent it today.
1. Zombi 2 (1979) - My my 1979 was a good year for horror. Anyway, I won't get into the confusing story of how the picture got its name, but Zombi 2 (or Zombie) is as fantastic a piece of horror cinema as you're ever likely to see. The comparisons to Dawn of the Dead are just sitting there and pretty much have to be made. Fabio Frizzi's score to the film rivals Goblin's Dawn of the Dead score, and the grue is probably more effective than Savini's work on that film (to be fair, Savini's is more stylized). Not to mention the film includes one of the most epic fights of all time: Zombie vs. Shark.