Who doesn’t love bingeing on horror movies in October? Last year, we took a look at some great classic horror films that should be on every horror fans’ hit lists. This year, we thought we’d take a look at some great horror films of the decades of the latter half of the century that should join your ‘to watch’ horror marathons.
So here’s a pretty definitive list of some must-watch moves from the sixties and seventies.
This film was Alfred Hitchcock’s response to low-budget horror movies, and it’s unquestionably the film he is remembered best for today. Basically, a woman runs off with a tidy sum of cash from her work to fund running away with her boyfriend. She stops at a hotel and meets strange but personable enough Norman Bates, and… Well, Alfred Hitchcock was so desperate to avoid potential audiences learning about the twists before seeing the film that he bought up copies of the original book (by Robert Bloch) en masse. So, we won’t spoil it here, either.
It’s often parodied, so there will be at least one scene where you’re more like to have a moment of clarity instead of being scared. Don’t let it turn you off! There are more thrills later that are worth the wait (and, yes, also parodied, but a little less so).
I’ve never seen this movie on any streaming service, but it’s easy enough to find on DVD. BBC America plays it quite often for weekend movie nights as well. The book is good too.
Robert Mitchum is the scariest person on the planet. He comes out of prison as a swaggering ex-con who believes Gregory Peck has put him away unfairly. Maybe the evidence was circumstantial for the case Mitchum’s character was tried on, but he proves why he should be put away a long, long time by his actions: he hounds Peck’s family to the point where Peck moves them to a shack out on the bayou. Mitchum’s character stalks with leisurely determination, however, ready to brutalize Peck’s wife and daughter, all while speaking with a sweet-as-sugar Southern accent and intonation.
This movie is a regular on channels like Turner Classic Movies and should also be fairly easy to find on DVD.
1968—Night of the Living Dead
Everyone knows about George Romero’s break into horror films and the start of the zombie genre, but it’s not necessarily because they’ve seen it. It’s worth a watch, though viewers used to more sensational zombie films—including Romero’s later films—might find it slow. Remember that this was the beginning! Romero has flipped over the years on whether the film is just a entertainment or has a deeper meaning, so take it however you like.
This is easy to find on DVD—my copy came from a dollar store. The remake isn’t bad, either.
Rosemary’s Baby is not about big scares. It’s about creeping horror, a sense of paranoia, and dread. A young woman moves into an old, albeit creepy New York apartment building and finds she has sort of weird, nosy neighbors. They only get weirder when her husband starts getting acting breaks, and she gets pregnant after a terrifying dream. It’s slow burning to the point where it can be disappointing for fans who gravitate more for slashers, but it remains poignant and real in its own way. If you watch it and don’t care for it, give the original book (by Ira Levin) a go, and then come back to the movie with more context.
Rosemary’s Baby tends to pop up on streaming sites and on TV and On Demand around Halloween. The book is good too, although the sequel Son of Rosemary isn’t worth bothering with.
1973—Don’t Look Now
Don’t Look Now seems to get overlooked often, which is a shame. It’s a highly stylized seventies film set (mostly) in Venice. Donald Sutherland is an art restorer, and he’s working on a church. His wife comes with him, as they’re recovering from the unfortunate death of one of their children (the living kid is ditched at boarding school). Much of the film could be taken as Sutherland’s character working past a mental breakdown or extreme stress brought on from the death of his child until his storyline overlaps with some mysterious crimes that have been occurring around Sutherland and his wife the whole time. The whole movie is shot in a unique way, with rapid cuts at moments of high emotion that emphasize mental states, foreshadowing, and moments of realization.
Heads up: there’s an extremely graphic (consensual) sex scene in this movie. Donald Sutherland and other members of the cast and crew are still asked the sex scene was, well, real sex in interviews. No matter what it was, this isn’t the movie to watch on the TV in the family room.
This one can be tough to find if you would rather not pay the YouTube rental fee. However, it’s worth the search. It’s based on a short story of the same name by Daphne Du Maurier, who also gave us “The Birds” and Rebecca, both of which became film classics in their own right, and is also worth your time. The punch packed in the film at the climax can’t be beaten, though.
How fast can a parasite spread in an apartment complex? Pretty fast. The parasite spreading heightens violent and sexual impulses and destroys most of the personality outside of those instinctual drives. The final scenes make this movie for me: the hopelessness of the last uninfected resident’s situation, and the sudden intelligence that the infected recall when they are satisfied with razing their one apartment building. It goes without saying that this isn’t a film for the family room TV, either.
This movie turns up on the US Netflix once in a blue moon. It’s sometimes distributed as They Came From Within and David Cronenberg shot it under the vivid title Orgy of the Blood Parasites.
This is the classic slasher film: a silent masked killer who has spent most of his life in an insane asylum returns to his hometown to kill his sister. Some complain of the slow pace, but this one tends to grow on people with a second viewing. I’ve found the right environment—alone in a darkened house—also can affect the feeling about the movie.
AMC tends to run marathons of the Halloween series in October, though the quality varies from sequel to sequel—and the previous reboot. A new “reimagining” of the movie will be out on October 19.
The Sentinel is another seemingly-overlooked film, though it’s hard to see why. It has a star-studded cast (Burgess Meredith, a baby Jeff Goldblum) and it’s legitimately scary. A model moves into an apartment building. She’s got some quirky neighbors, she’s haunted by a ghost (or something) of her dead father, a dead lover… All things you don’t want in the Brooklyn brownstone you just moved into. This movie has a similar visceral feel as Don’t Look Now, and like Don’t Look Now, I wouldn’t recommend watching it too late at night, unless if you’re watching from your bed.
This is another movie that can be difficult to find, but it’s worth the search. It’s based on a book by Jeffrey Konvitz, which is also a tad bit of a difficult find.
Suspiria is probably the best-known film of the Italian giallo genre. Suzy (Jessica Harper) is accepted into a mysterious German dance school. The students are desperate to get out—and are murdered for leaving—as Suzy deals with their disappearances and fun extracurricular activities like maggots raining from the ceiling. The twist and end of the film feel surprisingly modern and break away from the stereotypes of the horror genre. The cinematography and sets are also strangely, almost inappropriately, beautiful for such a film.
The director, Dario Argento, considered this film a take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and actually wanted to make it with younger actresses. His compromise was to make bigger sets that made the grown-up actresses look smaller and childlike. A remake of this film is coming out November 2, though it already has a 6.6 on IMDB.
Suspiria is easy to find on DVD.
Alien is one of those movies that you know even if you haven’t seen it. Like Psycho, you probably have seen plenty of parodies of the movie. A space mining crew is returning when their ship wakes them up in order to have them investigate a distress signal coming from a nearby planet. One member of the crew gets really close to local fauna and brings something back onboard for the whole crew. This movie ended up making a huge impact on the horror and action genres thanks to its strong female lead (Sigourney Weaver).
This film is often on SyFy and BBC America, but it’s sometimes edited heavily for time, cutting out the suspense-building beginning. There’s a director’s cut available on DVD which does include illuminating scenes, but the director, Ridley Scott, actually prefers the theatrical cut, so that’s what I tend to recommend, at least for a first-time viewing. Alien is incredibly easy to find in hard copy.
How did our horror movie hit list of the sixties and seventies hit you? Let us know if we missed any movies you thought should be on the list and if you’ve got any suggestions for later decades as well! We would love to check them out.