TOP TEN 70s OCCULT HORROR FILMS
by NICK CATO
While most top ten lists on this subject usually include THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN, THE DEVILS and PHANTASM, I have gone with some lesser-known films. This list was chosen from over 135 1970s occult films I viewed over a 3 year period for a book project.
Films listed chronologically by release date.
1.THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1971)
I originally saw this on TV as a kid, and it holds up quite well. Effective tale about a small town where the devil worshipers are senior citizens who recruit children to join them. The ending is as disturbing as it is surreal.
2.THE WICKER MAN (1973)
A police sergeant investigating a missing child on a Scottish isle meets his fate at the hands of local pagans. Not only one of the best occult horror films of all time, but one of the best FILMS of all time. If you’ve never seen it make sure to see the recently released “Final Cut,” which is the version that should have been released from the get go (Christopher Lee’s character comes off twice as sinister). Unforgettable.
3.GANJA & HESS (1973)
Instead of taking the money and making a typical “blaxploitation” film, director Bill Gunn created this brilliant art house horror head-scratcher about a man who becomes addicted to blood after being cut by an ancient, germ-infested knife (and no, this is NOT a vampire film). Worthy of multiple viewings, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s Duane Jones stars alongside genre favorite Marlene Clark in this rare gem of a movie. (Spike Lee remade this as DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS in 2014. It actually wasn’t bad).
4.MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)
A genuine underrated classic if there ever was one. A woman is searching for her artist father in a coastal California town when she runs afoul of a zombie-like cult. One sequence inside a movie theater is as intense as it gets. Great atmosphere and oddly original.
A biker gang called The Living Dead figure out a way to come back from the grave and literally live up to their name. It’s as cool as it sounds and then some. The Synapse DVD release is a must own.
6.LISA AND THE DEVIL (1974)
Lisa gets lost while vacationing abroad and winds up at a Spanish villa where she has to deal with a very strange housekeeper (played by the too cool Telly Savalas). Arguably Mario Bava’s best film, this is a surreal head-trip that gets better (and clearer) the more you watch it. Simply incredible and beautiful to look at. (NOTE: WHATEVER you do avoid the horribly re-cut version titled THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM).
Regardless of the year this was released (IMDB says 77, most websites say 78, but the official Mondo Macabro DVD release says 75 so I’ll take their word for it), ALUCARDA, in my humble opinion, is the best nunsploitation film of all time. A teenage girl arrives at a convent and befriends one of the students. The two get involved with Satan and before you can grab your cross, there’s possessions, demonic rebellion, devil worship, a dual exorcism inside a church sanctuary, vampirism, and more ear-shattering SCREAMING than you’ve ever heard before. This completely batshit crazy Mexican film must be seen to be believed.
8.THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975)
You just can’t get more 70’s than this: William Shatner battles devil cult leader Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) in a rural town. It’s a slow burner but is creepy as it gets, and is capped off by a dual shock ending. Church of Satan leader Anton LaVey was flown in for guidance during the ritual sequences. I wonder if he got to hang with (victim) John Travolta?
9.RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)
Buddies Peter Fonda and Warren Oates take their ladies on a trip in an SUV. But after witnessing a satanic ritual murder, they’re chased from Texas to Colorado by pissed off devil worshipers in this action-heavy horror flick. The ending still manages to get under my skin.
Highlighted by Goblin’s incredible (and incredibly scary) soundtrack, Dario Argento’s masterpiece about a dance student whose new ballet academy turns out to be the front for a witch’s coven is one of the most beautifully shot horror films ever made. Occult horror blends with giallo-type murders into an unforgettable artistic nightmare.
NICK CATO is the author of one novel, six novellas, and one short story collection. He writes the SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES column for the acclaimed website, Cinema Knife Fight. A collection of this column in book form is forthcoming. Visit nickyakcato.blogspot.com and the usual sites for more info.