You all know I'm a dyed in the Huxtable wool sweater eighties kid, but lately I've fallen into a slippery seventies rabbit hole. I've always appreciated some seventies cinema but for some reason (is it your doing EATEN ALIVE?), I've recently been finding that decade's films exceptionably pleasurable to watch. One explanation for my revved up affection might be the fact that many of these films were never properly presented all cleaned up and in their proper ratios until now. The truth is though; I've ended up digging through boxes of scraggily VHS tapes as well, so it may be something more.
Overall, seventies movies just feel so darn earthy and natural compared to the films that came after them and they have a laid back, "I'll get there when I get there" stride that I admire. Furthermore, they're not as hung up and social mores and they tend to be less sycophantic towards the audience. They take a certain pride in going against the grain and they're oblivious to political correctness. Plus, people looked human back then.
So allow me to throw out a quick list of seven films from the grooviest of decades that I think should not be allowed to fall between the floorboards. I know there's plenty, plenty more but there's no way I'm going to be able to fit them all in one post. I figure seven is a good number to start out with and we'll hit the rest in a bit. If the me decade has taught me anything it is just to relax and go with the flow (and also don't hitchhike).
BLOOD AND LACE (1971)
I wrote about BLOOD AND LACE very recently but it deserves another shout out. It's certainly not without its flaws (that darn soundtrack!) but overall it's a unique story driven shocker that's not afraid to get ugly and name names. GLORIA GRAHAM as the twisted and abusive orphanage overlord Mrs. Deere proves that the facade of normalcy can be just as frightening as any rubber mask. Remarkably ahead of its time, the film's final revelations hammer its cynical point of view home.
TOWER OF EVIL (1972)
I first became aware of this British production when it confused the hell out me by appearing in a newspaper ad in the early eighties as BEYOND THE FOG. How was I to know that it wasn't an official sequel to JOHN CARPENTER's movie and was just an older film with an altered title cashing in on that film's recent success? When I finally got a chance to check it out decades later I was expecting the worst and instead found myself rather impressed. The foggy atmosphere is old school, the kills are new school and its crappy sets, funky blue screens and kooky semi-nude BUGALOOS in hell wardrobe somehow only add to its bizarre psychedelic charm.
THE BELL FROM HELL (1973)
It's impossible not to be intrigued by this movie's weird history. The director actually died on the last day of filming by falling from the tower that held in place the bell in the title! This Spanish horror flick tells the tale of a guy wrongly committed to an institution by his scheming relatives and how he exacts his sick proto torture porn revenge upon release. The pacing requires patience but the consistency of the bleak tone gets under your skin. The biggest selling point though may be the chance to see a wheelchair bound VIVECA LINDFORS (CREEPSHOW) chomping down hard on the gothic scenery.
CANNIBAL MAN (1972)
Up front I'll tell ya, this movie does not have any cannibalism in it at all but it's still damn good. This is basically a character study of a mostly likable slaughterhouse worker who needs to learn how to solve his problems without using a cleaver. I don't mention it often but I love sharp under the microscope personal films about psychopathic killers (1974's DERANGED, 1980's MANIAC, 2002's DAHMER et al.) This particular one is artfully shot and I really like the performance from the lead actor even though he's dubbed. CANNIBAL MAN gets some flack for having a homosexual character befriend the guy and not snitch about his deeds but I haven't got a problem with that in the slightest. As long as the gay guy isn't orchestrating ambush makeovers I think it's progressive.
TERROR AT THE RED WOLF INN (1972)
Here's some cannibals for ya! Everything about this movie makes you think it's going to blow and yet I find it really enjoyable. Sadly, I've yet to witness a good transfer but a little dash of grit only adds flavor to this mostly bloodless satire. Its premise involves a college student who ends up staying in a house full of creepy oldsters and lives to regret it when she finds out she's on the menu. I love this set up, it's so SCREAM PRETTY PEGGY, SILENT SCREAM and THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL among many others and the campy couple hosting the festivities point the way to MOTEL HELL. This ain't gonna scare your socks off or chill ya to the bone, but it's quirky cozy and brimming with dark humor.
MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)
This one looks like it's going to be the next LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and jump out of obscurity to claim its rightful reputation thanks to a recent well-done DVD release (thanks CODE RED!) Its arty, surreal and ambiguous nature should allow for various viewings and interpretations for years to come. There's a scene in a movie theater that brilliantly mimics HITCHCOCK's THE BIRDS and the way random assemblies of people are used to unnerving effect reminds me of a half way mark between CARNIVAL OF SOULS and DEAD AND BURIED. This really is a must see, the way it takes somewhat normal situations and quietly turns them on their head truly unsettles and its got a quiet off kilter vibe all its own.
THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE (1971)
Christian Ziegler, wherever you are I am eternally grateful to you for turning me on to this movie! I probably never would have checked this out but a pal brought it over once (under the title SUCCUBUS and inexplicably in B&W) and it haunted me. A bunch of travelers stay the night in a castle and are killed in ways based on the seven deadly sins. When the woman responsible shows her true face, it's simply one of the scariest mugs I've ever seen (kind of cross between WHO'S THE BOSS's Mona and an electrocuted catfish.) I have this one in one of those multiple pack DVD sets and the image quality is frightfully good. I'm kind of obsessed with the hypnotic wallpaper throughout which brings to my mind THE SHINING and that ESCHER wall from SUSPIRIA. My DVD plays in a never ending loop with no menu so I have been known to fall asleep to it while it plays over and over again just to freak myself out! I vow to give this more of a spotlight on these pages one day but for now you'll just have to take my word for it. ERIKA BLANC (THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE) is really something else in this one.
O.K. that's seven but like I said, there's plenty more underrated seventies horror we can explore at a later date! Look out for "Seven from the Seventies: Part 2" (and possibly "Six from the Sixties"?) to appear…whenever.