Random Ephemera

8 of the Best Horror Films From the 1960s and '70s

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4. Jaws (1975)

I recently re-watched Jaws for the first time in a few years, and it still manages to hold up as a frightening movie. While not strictly a "horror" film, Spielberg's first blockbuster packs in as many (or more) genuine scares as most horror movies. Tapping into the primal fear of being eaten alive, Jaws can still keep some people from swimming in the ocean, and while not 100 percent "biologically accurate," Bruce, the animatronic shark built for the film, looks better than the CGI sharks used in films decades later.

Alternative selection:


This 1978 gem was a Roger Corman-produced Jaws rip-off, directed by Joe Dante. It's also highly entertaining as long as the viewer doesn't take things too seriously, and scenes were filmed in San Marcos at the old "Aquarena Springs" theme park. Alligator, released in 1980, is basically Jaws, except set in Chicago's sewers, and it's a lot of fun for fans of cheese.

3. Suspiria (1977)

The '70s were a golden age for horror, and not just in English-speaking countries. Italian directors were making some excellent fright films, and none was more accomplished at the time than Dario Argento. The auteur director had filmed several great giallos (stylized Italian murder mysteries that often had horror movie elements) throughout the decade, before releasing his most famous movie. Suspiria was shot with an intense color palette that almost seems to bleed off the screen, and the visuals are complemented by a pounding soundtrack by Goblin, a now legendary prog-rock band. The story of malevolent witches killing girls attending a prestigious ballet school has an almost fairy-tale feel to it, and the film has an unnerving, dream-like quality. There's nothing quite like Suspiria.

Alternative selection:

Profondo Rosso

Argento's own Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) from two years earlier is one of his best, and rivals Suspiria in overall quality, even if it's not as widely influential.

2. Halloween (1978)

Considered by most to be one of the best horror films ever made, Halloween has a simple plot about an escaped killer stalking teenagers, but John Carpenter and Debra Hill took that basic premise and made it great. As with many of the movies on this list, there's not much I can say that hasn't been said, but Halloween is the film that took earlier horror film styles and created the slasher genre from them. It's so well made that it still holds up today, even if almost everything about Halloween has been copied over and over by other filmmakers.

Alternative selection:

Black Christmas, Private Parts (The 1972 horror film, not the Howard Stern biopic) and Friday the 13th, which was directly inspired by, but not nearly as good as, Halloween.

1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Many still consider George Romero's sequel to Night of the Living Dead to be the best zombie film ever made, and I'm one of them. Even more than the earlier film, Dawn of the Dead entertains, and its scope is much greater. The movie still came with a hefty dose of social commentary, but also is driven by a more fleshed-out and satisfying plot. Watching the movie, I'm reminded of just how influential it was, and how every major plot point I've ever seen in The Walking Dead is lifted directly from Dawn. It's a classic, and for good reason, even if the zombies often look a strange hue of green or blue.

Alternative selection:

Zombi 2

An Italian film that was directly inspired by Dawn of the Dead but that goes off in a completely different direction, this gorefest isn't anywhere as good a film, but it's definitely a lot of fun. Besides, I've never seen another movie where a guy wearing zombie makeup fights a large (and very real) tiger shark underwater. Worth checking out.
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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.