Part 3

Horror Films
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Examples

Hitchcock's 60s Masterpieces:

Psycho - 1960Another suspense/thriller director, Alfred Hitchcock, whose early silent film The Lodger (1926) explored horror's themes, brought out his most horrific film over 30 years later at the start of the decade. His film changed the face of all horror films ever since. Pure archetypal horror was now to be found in the dark shadows of the human soul itself - in a psychopathic, cross-dressing Bates Motel operator and taxidermist (Anthony Perkins). The low-budget, television-influenced, B & W Psycho (1960) could be considered the 'Citizen Kane' of horror films, with its complex Oedipal themes and schizophrenia. Its most famous scene was the classic shower murder in which the heroine (Janet Leigh) was savagely stabbed, with Bernard Herrmann's violin-tinged memorable score. The scene still invokes sheer terror, and the film itself would come to influence all subsequent Hollywood horror films - especially the 'slasher' horror film subgenre.

Hitchcock's next horror masterpiece was Universal Studios' apocalyptic The Birds (1963) about the invasion of coastal town Bodega Bay by avian flocks. A spoiled heiress (Tippi Hedren), her potential boyfriend (Rod Taylor), his mother (Jessica Tandy), and a schoolteacher (Suzanne Pleshette) all suffered from the many bird attacks. The theme of Man vs. Nature running amok remained unresolved by the film's end.

Rosemary's Baby - 1968Roman Polanski's Horror Films in the 60s:

Polish director Roman Polanski's first film in English, the potent and scary British production titled Repulsion (1965, UK), depicted a young, sexually-disturbed beautician's (Catherine Deneuve) unstable descent into hallucinatory madness in a London apartment. After his public acceptance for the film, Polanski directed the offbeat ghoulish comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers (1966) starring his wife Sharon Tate (a victim of the gruesome Manson 'family' murders).

Polanski's greatest commercial hit was his adaptation of Ira Levin's best-selling book Rosemary's Baby (1968) that dared to show the struggle of a young pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) against witches and the forces of the devil (found among friendly senior citizens on Manhattan's Upper West Side, led by Oscar-winner Ruth Gordon), culminating in the young woman's delivery and mothering of the devil's child.

Foreign-Made Zombie Films in the 1960s:
(See description of Zombie Films Before the 1960s)

By the mid-1960s, UK's Hammer Studios - known for churning out dozens of horror films, entered into the world of zombies with its The Plague of the Zombies (1966, UK) (aka The Zombie) by director John Gilling, visualizing the living dead as rotting, reanimated (or undead) corpses. Building upon Lugosi's characterization in the 1932 classic film White Zombie, the film told about a wickedly-insane, 19th century Cornish squire with a macabre plot to use ancient voodoo rites to raise plague victims from the dead to become his exploited, voodoo-controlled zombies working in his tin mine. The film's best nightmarish sequence was one in which decaying graveyard cadavers dug their way up through the earth to surround the shocked dreamer and clutch at him with clawing dead fingers. Another notable dream image was a realistic zombie decapitation.

The apocalyptic The Last Man on Earth (1964, It.), starring Vincent Price as a sole surviving doctor besieged by bloodthirsty vampire-like plague victims, was the first film version of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend (later remade as The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston, and in 2007 with the same title starring Will Smith).

George Romero's Horror Contributions: Modern Zombie Films

Night of the Living Dead - 1968In a revolutionary way, now-acclaimed George A. Romero, now known as the Master of the 'zombie film,' ushered in the modern era of graphically violent and gory zombie pics in the waning years of the 60s decade. Stephen King praised him for taking the horror "out of Transylvania" and bringing it to modern-day America. Romero's first Dead film appeared at the same time as civil unrest, Black Power and student protests, the Vietnam War, fear of nuclear annihilation, the gruesome assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the breakdown of the family - all coupled with the idealistic innocence of the previous year's Summer of Love. Romero realized that his archetypal zombie narratives, with extreme blood, violence and gore, could also provide worthwhile sub-textual commentary on societal themes. He recognized that the ultimate in horror was humanity itself ("I also have always liked the monster-within idea. I like the zombies being us"), allegorically presented during turbulent times as mobs of mindless reanimated 'living dead' creatures.

Romero's debut horror feature, the first of a canon of zombie classics, was the low-budget, intensely-claustrophobic, unrelenting B&W cult classic Night of the Living Dead (1968). It was a milestone 'splatter' film about newly dead, stumbling corpses/zombies (not produced by voodoo rites, or outer space mutants), that returned to life with indiscriminate, ravenous hunger for human flesh. Romero himself defined them as average-Joe "blue-collar monsters," who lumbered stiffly out of their graves (due to the effects of rigor mortis) and toward a barricaded farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania. Reportedly, it was thought that the zombies were raised from the dead after exposure to radiation from a returning Venus space probe. The amateurish, allegorical film made in just one month showed rotten human corpses walking with outstretched arms and threatening a few trapped survivors who sought refuge.

The terror came from their relentless attack on innocent fugitive survivors who were hiding to escape being infected by zombie bites. Fire scared off the walking, bloodthirsty cadavers, and they could only be forever stopped by a brain kill - shooting them in the head. The low-budget black-and-white visceral film was shot documentary-style with natural lighting and a handheld camera to accentuate the fear facing the besieged farmhouse occupants. Soon, the horror threat was coming from inside the house as well as outside, as there was a struggle for power between a resourceful and calm black man (the lead character!) and an impulsive family man. It also showed violated bodies and families torn apart by the 'living dead' creatures who illustrated how nothing was sacred in contemporary society (an adolescent girl killed her own mother with a garden trowel and then ate her). The film's despairing tone, especially its tragically ironic ending, struck audiences as a true depiction of the lifeless dehumanized society in which people lived. In the film's futile and bleak conclusion, the townsfolk mistakenly shot and killed black man Ben (Duane Jones) after his desperate fight for survival.

Romero's most notable horror films -- his calling card -- were his Dead trilogy -- in a 'cult of the dead. The entire series of six films by 2010 included:

  • Night of the Living Dead (1968) - "They Won't Stay Dead"
    This naturalistic film, shot in stark and grainy black and white, inaugurated an entire horror subgenre (zombie films with flesh-stalking cannibals). (See above) The film was remade in a 3-D version by producer/director Jeff Broadstreet as Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006).
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978) - "When there's no more room in HELL, the dead will walk the EARTH."
    It would be another decade's wait for Romero's next gore-filled sequel which further redefined the zombie film. It was the most profitable of all of Romero's zombie films, and the one received most favorably by critics. The tale told of four survivors seeking refuge in a deserted suburban shopping mall from ravenous, flesh-eating zombies, and also from a post-apocalyptic nomadic gang of bikers. The satirical film was a strong indictment of rampant 1970s capitalistic consumerism and a further perverse critique of the mall culture and its mentality, as it showed the group looting the shopping areas of luxuries and living the American dream in a barricaded storage area with an excess of material goods, distracted while decaying, undead danger lurked close by. The biting social satire equated zombies with brainwashed, feet-shuffling, automaton mall consumers as soothing Muzak played. It was explained why the zombies congregated there: "Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives." As Romero said in an interview, "I've always felt that the real horror is next door to us, that the scariest monsters are our neighbors." The film was remade as Dawn of the Dead (2004) by Zack Snyder (his feature film debut).
  • Day of the Dead (1985) - "The darkest day of horror the world has ever known."
    Now known as the master of the zombie film, Romero completed his zombie trilogy in the mid-1980s. This third film was regarded as the most dialogue-rich, and the goriest of the original trilogy (its climax was non-stop dismemberment, disembowelment, and beheadings). Although not well-received originally and the lowest-grossing film in the trilogy, it has since become a cult classic after revisionist thinking. The claustrophobic horror-fest told about surviving mad scientists (particularly Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), dubbed "Frankenstein") and officers, who - in an era of Reaganite militaristic politics obsessed with science - performed sadistic experiments on zombies in a subterranean bunker and attempted to 'domesticate' and integrate them back into society, until the zombies revolted. The film cleverly set the genre on its head again, showing how the living dead were misunderstood and oppressed. The poorly-received quasi-remake was director Steve Miner's direct-to-video Day of the Dead (2008).
  • Land of the Dead (2005) - "The Dead shall Inherit the Earth."
    This fourth film of the Dead series posited the apocalyptic collapse of human society. It was a symbolic 'haves & have-nots' class-struggle story with prototypical characters. The masses of poverty-stricken, exploited residents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were forced to live in the empty, embattled streets. Although protected by mercenaries, society was overrun by recently-dead zombies or undead "walkers" nicknamed "stenches" who were "practicing to be alive." Meanwhile, the elite lived in a fortified walled-off city known as Fiddler's Green, bordered on three sides by rivers and lorded over by Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), a rich and powerful feudal overlord and opportunistic super-capitalist. Although this film was written before the events of 9/11/2001, it was released during the era of President George W. Bush's "War on Terror." To update its significance for the time, some of the lines of dialogue were revised (e.g., "We don't negotiate with terrorists"). Although it was an unsubtle film, it presented the idea that the zombies, led by smartly-evolved and more advanced "Big Daddy" (Eugene Clark), could be trained to shoot guns, use tools as weapons, and besiege the corrupt city. They were portrayed as more human than the humans: "They're just looking for a place to go."
  • Diary of the Dead (2007) - "Shoot the Dead."
    The fifth, low-budget film was considered a modern-day, rebooted or updated, 21st century reimagining of the first Romero film. It postulated that political/social unrest - and the zombie infestation - was now a worldwide phenomenon. Romero designed it for the passive, detached YouTube and myspace.com media-saturated generations. The entire movie was a "film-within-a-film" titled The Death of Death, shot by film students making a B-grade horror film after they discovered a real zombie uprising. Composed of first-person video footage (from security surveillance cameras, news footage, digital camcorders, YouTube, cell-phone cameras, etc.) with long takes and hand-held camera shots, it was edited together by Debra Moynahan (Michelle Morgan), the girlfriend of a posthumously-dead film-making boyfriend Jason Creed (Josh Close) - and then uploaded to the Web with  'scary music' added. The students believed the government was lying about the causes of the zombie resurrection, and vowed to show the world the truth of what had really happened.
  • Survival of the Dead (2009) - "Survival Isn't Just For the Living"
    The sixth film in Romero's extended trilogy of "dead" zombie films was, in effect, a tangential sequel or offshoot to the 5th film with a returning character, anti-hero Sgt. Crocket (Alan Van Sprang) who led a rogue group of National Guardsmen to find refuge on a remote island off the coast of Delaware. It still presented the thought-provoking idea that the human race might become zombified if it fought against itself over a long period of time. The film's major theme was whether flesh-eating zombies, cared for as loving kin-folk even if 'undead', could be rehabilitated, and co-exist with humans by learning to eat non-human flesh. The theme was carried out in the midst of a deadly tribalistic Hatfield-McCoy feud (O'Flynns vs. Muldoons) fought between two powerful families, led by rival Irish patriarchs with differing views on coexistence with neighboring zombies. It was the least successful film of the series at the box-office, and critically-reviled by most Romero fans. It was considered a revisionistic version of the western The Big Country (1958).

Zombie Horror Films to the Present:

See Filmsite's Special Tribute to Zombie Films

After the late 60's, Romero's first zombie film, the revolutionary Night of the Living Dead (1968) proved to be hugely influential on future zombie films and many were imaginative derivatives or mutated examples, such as:

  • Teenage Zombies (1960), a low-budget, teen horror-exploitation film
  • The Astro-Zombies (1968), again with John Carradine as a mad zombie master who revitalized corpses as super-human agents
  • Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1973) (aka Revenge of the Living Dead), a low-budget, zombie horror-comedy
  • Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974, Sp./It.), a Spanish/Italian production about the recently-revived living dead
  • Sugar Hill (1974) (aka The Zombies of Sugar Hill), a blaxploitation horror film about a voodoo army of the undead
  • Shock Waves (1977), the best of its low-budget sub-genre - the underwater Nazi zombie movie
  • Phantasm (1979), a great low-budget horror film with an arachnoid, mysterious undertaker villain (not a zombie really) known as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), with series sequels in 1988, 1994, 1998 and 2016
  • Zombi 2 (1979, It.) (aka Zombie), a gory film from director Lucio Fulci; named Zombi 2 to imply that it was a follow-up film to Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) (aka Zombi in Italian) a year earlier
  • The Alien Dead (1980), directed by legendary cult director Fred Olen Ray
  • Hell of the Living Dead (1980, It./Sp.), a low-budget, rip-off horror film and camp-cult favorite from Italy
  • Zombi Holocaust (1980, It.) (aka Zombie 3), notoriously gory, and one of many copycat Italian zombie movies
  • The Beyond (1981, It.), d. Lucio Fulci, a midnight-movie cult film about the 'gates of hell' underneath a New Orleans hotel
  • Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981, It.), another of the many grindhouse, depraved, low-budget gory variants of the Romero zombie films, from Italy
  • Dead & Buried (1981), a favorite cult film about zombies in Potter's Bluff
  • The Evil Dead (1981), d. Sam Raimi; a splendid trilogy of gore-comedy, including the remake Evil Dead II (1987) and the sequel Army of Darkness (1993), with Bruce Campbell as the cult-classic hero Ash clashing against demonic spirit-possessed zombies
  • Night of the Zombies (1981), d. Joel Reed, a low-budget, cheap horror film thriller about Nazi-zombies
  • Creepshow (1982), a multi-story (five) anthology, directed by zombie Horror Master George A. Romero, with a script by another horror master, novelist Stephen King. The first and third stories: "Father's Day" and "Something to Tide You Over" were zombie-related.
  • Night of the Comet (1984), a satirical, sci-fi disaster comedy of 50's sci-fi/zombie movies
  • Lifeforce (1985), d. Tobe Hooper, a sci-fi film about London over-run by vampirish space zombies
  • Re-Animator (1985), based on H.P. Lovecraft's early 1920s short story (Herbert West: Re-Animator) about re-animator experimenter Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), a parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; followed by two sequels also by director Brian Yuzna and starring Jeffrey Combs: Bride of Re-Animator (1989) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003)
  • The Return of the Living Dead (1985) parody series, d. Dan O'Bannon, followed by numerous sequels: Ken Wiederhorn's Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988), and Brian Yuzna's Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993), and two more films in 2005
  • Night of the Creeps (1986), a fast-paced, campy, schlocky horror-comedy thriller
  • I Was a Teenage Zombie (1987), a low-budget, campy, cheap parody of John Hughes' high-school romance films - now a satirical zombie romantic comedy
  • Zombie High (1987), with Virginia Madsen
  • Night of the Living Dead - 1990The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), d. Wes Craven, based upon the autobiographical book with the same title from Wade Davis, about a Harvard researcher sent to Haiti to investigate voodooism and drug-induced zombies; the film reconnected zombies with their voodoo-inspired roots
  • Pet Sematary (1989), based upon Stephen King's book, with a sequel in 1992, features demonic revival of the dead
  • Redneck Zombies (1989), a tongue-in-cheek, comic splatterfest zombie movie
  • Night of the Living Dead (1990), a re-telling of the original (with significant changes in the character of Barbra and advanced production design/make-up), based on an updated script (by executive producer Romero) and shot in color by makeup wizard and Romero's special effects expert for NOTLD's two sequels, Tom Savini (with his feature film directorial debut)
  • Black Demons (1991, (It.) (aka Demoni 3), a low-budget, little-seen Italian production, with some similarities to the plot of John Carpenter's The Fog (1980)
  • Nudist Colony of the Dead (1991), a strange combination -- a comedy-musical horror spoof. This campy, cheesy, low-budget B-film had very little nudity
  • Voodoo Dawn (1991) (or 1990) (aka Strange Turf, and Voodoo Blood), d. Steven Fierberg, adapted from a horror novel by John Russo (who scripted Night of the Living Dead), starring Gina Gershon and Tony Todd (pre-Candyman)
  • Braindead (1992, NZ) (aka Dead Alive) - director Peter Jackson's early landmark film, often considered the bloodiest and grossest zombie film ever made
  • Return of the Living Dead (1993), another gory comedy yet very straight love story (with some nudity), the third horror entry in the "Living Dead" series by director Brian Yuzna
  • Cemetery Man (1994, It.) (aka Dellamorte Dellamore), an intensely erotic, sexy and gory fantasy-horror film - an imaginative, supernatural romance (and comedy!) about a graveyard
  • I, Zombie (1999), the first film produced by horror magazine Fangoria
  • The Dead Hate the Living (2000), debut film of writer/director Dave Parker, direct to video
  • Resident Evil (2002), d. Paul W.S. Anderson, but originally to be directed by George Romero, adapted from the popular video game and with numerous Alice in Wonderland references; with sequels in 2004, 2007, and 2010
  • 28 Days Later (2002, UK), a sci-fi horror film set in London - that has been overrun with a plague and crazed, diseased zombies due to a bio-hazard virus, the sequel was 28 Weeks Later (2007, UK)
  • House of the Dead (2003), an inept, reviled zombie film from notorious German-born director Uwe Boll
  • Undead (2003, Australia), a sub-par, low-budget, independent film that was both a serious film and a parody of sci-fi (alien invasion) films
  • Dawn of the Dead (2004), a remake of Romero's second film in the original trilogy, from Zack Snyder (his feature film debut), a bit hit film and the highest-grossing zombie film at the time
  • Shaun of the Dead (2004, UK), a horror comedy by director Edgar Wright, featuring star and co-writer Simon Pegg, about two London slackers experiencing a zombie invasion
  • They Came Back (2004, Fr.) (aka Les Revenants), a serious, intellectual, mystery-style movie - and a zombie film without rotting, shambling, drooling flesh-eating corpses, or blood and gore
  • Black Sheep (2006, NZ), d. Jonathan King, a horror-comedy, about a genetic engineering experiment gone awry by renegade geneticist Dr. Rush (Tandi Wright), that produced 4-legged blood-thirsty mutant killer "zombie" sheep!
  • Fido (2006, Canada), an imaginative, whimsical, and entertaining black horror-comedy (a boy and his dog tale), with sly satire, and with the sensibility of a Douglas Sirk 50s melodrama
  • The Zombie Diaries (2006, UK), a low-budget production, a "found footage" film made with a jerky camera, in the style of The Blair Witch Project (1999), with a non-linear narrative and little character development
  • Planet Terror (2007) (aka Grindhouse: Planet Terror), the Grindhouse double-feature partner with Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof.
  • [REC] (2007, Sp.), a found-footage horror film set in a locked-down apartment building in Barcelona, Spain. Followed by many sequels [REC] 2 (2009), REC 3: Genesis (2012), and REC 4 (2014).
  • Colin (2008, UK), a very low-budget, low-key indie film (Marc Price's debut feature film) shot on digital video, and mostly a character study, with very little plot and dialogue, and told from the personal POV of a zombie.
  • Dance of the Dead (2008), a low-budget, independent horror comedy (John Hughes-style) with a cast of unknowns. In some ways, it was a hybrid of two zombie comedy classics: Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Shaun of the Dead (2004).
  • Day of the Dead (2008), d. Steve Miner, a loose remake (or more appropriately, a "reimagining") of Romero's 1985 film (the last of his trilogy), Day of the Dead (1985), but mostly unrelated.
  • Deadgirl (2008), a truly original, disturbing, dark and disgusting exploitative film, and a treatise on female objectification.
  • Pontypool (2008, Can.), a minimalist yet effective zombie movie, actually a psychological thriller, almost entirely devoid of zombies
  • Zombie Strippers! (2008), a low-budget naked zombie film made by writer/director Jay Lee, headlined by XXX-adult film star Jenna Jameson, a former Penthouse Pet
  • Dead Snow (2009, Norway) (aka Død Snø), a unique Nazi zombie movie - a low-budget, gory horror comedy (and midnight-movie cult hit)
  • Zombieland (2009), a big-budget successful zombie comedy about a road trip amidst a zombie apocalypse
  • The Dead (2010, UK), a sleeper, low-budget, stark and stripped-down, serious-minded zombie road film shot on location in the Dark Continent of Africa
  • Juan of the Dead (2011, Cuba/Sp.), a rip-off title of Shaun of the Dead (2004, UK) - and a Latino version of the earlier film. It was a satirical Spanish-Cuban zombie horror-comedy, set in Fidel Castro's Cuba, with an astute political subtext.
  • Warm Bodies (2013), a post-apocalyptic, upbeat zombie teen romance-comedy - an original love story based on Isaac Marion's 2010 novel, similar in part to Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet
  • World War Z (2013), an apocalyptic action thriller and zombie creature-film based on Max Brooks' 2006 pseudo-oral history novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. As of the present time, the massive summer blockbuster was the highest-grossing zombie film of all time.

Horror Films in the 70s:

In 1968, the MPAA created a new rating system with G, M, R, and X ratings, in part as a response to the subversive, violent themes of horror films. The figure of Dracula reappeared in the TV adaptation Dracula (1973) with Jack Palance as the reluctant "undead" vampire and Nigel Davenport as Van Helsing. Director Paul Morrissey's sexy cult horror film Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974) (aka Blood for Dracula), originally rated X but re-rated as R, featured Udo Keir as the blood-addicted, sickly 'junkie' Count seeking virgin blood outside of Transylvania in Italy, although Warhol stalwart Joe Dallesandro (as handsome handyman Mario) had already consumed the virginal attributes of suitable bride-mates. Frank Langella recreated his starring Broadway role as the charismatic, and suave but tragically-anguished Count in director John Badham's Dracula (1979), with Laurence Olivier as the famed vampire hunter. And in the same year, the vampire myth was spoofed in director Stan Dragoti's highly-successful and campy Love at First Bite (1979) with George Hamilton.

In the 1970s, nightmarish horror and terror lurked everywhere. One of the top box-office hits in the early 70s was Willard (1971) about a wimpish 27 year old loner (and Mama's boy) who trained his bloodthirsty pet rodent friends to vengefully attack his co-worker enemies - it launched an equally awful sequel Ben (1972) (with an Oscar nomination for Best Song for its title song - performed by Michael Jackson). [The cult classic was remade by writer/director Glen Morgan as Willard (2003), starring Crispin Glover as the title character.] Master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's controversial A Clockwork Orange (1971) was a brilliant adaptation of Anthony Burgess' novel about rape, murder, and behaviorist experiments to eradicate aberrant sex and violence. And in the kitschy The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), madman Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) let loose Biblical plagues against his victims - physicians who failed to save the life of his wife (Caroline Munro).

The Rocky Horror Picture Show - 1975Future director Steven Spielberg's first notable film (originally made-for-TV) was the paranoic Duel (1972) about a monstrous and malevolent gas-tank truck without a driver. Director Nicolas Roeg's psychological thriller Don't Look Now (1973) duplicated Hitchcockian terror in a tale of disaster in Venice for Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. Although it was a musical/comedy, the cult-campish Frankenstein classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) was set in a haunted castle with a group of transsexual aliens, and starred a young Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and Tim Curry. The weird and bawdy film soon became a cultural institution and phenomenon as it played for many years in packed midnight showings, with costumed audience members participating in the screenings. Jack Starrett's fast-paced horror chase film, Race With the Devil (1975) starred Peter Fonda and Warren Oates as innocent vacationers - with their wives (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) - who are pursued by Satanists after inadvertently watching them perform a human sacrifice.

As the decade of the seventies progressed, the horror genre was subjected to violence, sadism, brutality, slasher films, victims of possession, and graphic blood-and-gore tales. Director John Boorman's terrifying Deliverance (1972) examined primeval human evil and included graphic mutilation and sodomy by crazed hillbillies upon an unsuspecting group of wilderness adventurers.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 1974Two of the most effective, box-office successes of the 70s included the camp classic It's Alive! (1974) about a murderous baby, and Tobe Hooper's exploitative, low-budget (reportedly $150,000), hand-made cult film - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Hooper's notorious first film, about a terrorized group of teenagers, was loosely based on the true crimes of grisly, notorious Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, as was Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Three on a Meathook (1972), Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974), and Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

The lead horror character, chain-saw toting, human skin-mask wearing Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) was part of a crazed, inbred family of psychopathic cannibals who ran a human meat-packing plant. Leatherface was both repulsive and muscular, in his Grand Guignol pursuit of victims -- five young hippie Texans (including Marilyn Burns as victimized Sally) to butcher with a power tool. Its tagline: "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" hinted at the massacre to follow, although it was fairly bloodless, surprisingly.

There were numerous sequels (prequels, remakes, etc.) to the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, stretching over 48 years!, with many non-continuous plot lines and creative connections between the films:

  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), also directed by Hooper, a very dark comedy starring Dennis Hopper and Bill Moseley; it was set twelve years after the events of the first film
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (1990) (aka Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), directed by Jeff Burr, starring Viggo Mortensen and Kate Hodge; it was a direct sequel to the original that ignored the previous film
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) (aka The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre), directed by Kim Henkel and featuring future stars Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger; in the earlier series of films, this was the last sequel to the original 1974 film
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), a gorefest remake or reboot from producer Michael Bay, with Jessica Biel as one of the terrorized teenagers; the most successful of all of the films at $80.5 million (domestic)
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006), producer Michael Bay's prequel or origin film to his rebooted 2003 remake and another direct sequel to the 1974 film, starring Jordana Brewster, Matt Bomer and Doira Baird, originally rated NC-17 until cuts reduced it to an R-rating
  • Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
  • Leatherface (2017)
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

In early 2013, the Leatherface franchise received a face-lift (or another reboot) with the production of the seventh installment of the original, Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), a direct sequel (that ignored all the other films), directed by John Luessenhop. The homicidal maniac Leatherface was portrayed by Dan Yeager, with Alexandra Daddario as his victim Heather. The film featured cameos of previous TCM actors, including Marilyn Burns (Sally in the original), John Dugan (Leatherface's grandfather), and even Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) himself. And an eighth film followed - another prequel to the 1974 film and the 2013 film, titled Leatherface (2017), followed by a 9th film: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022).

Halloween - 1978John Carpenter's influential, and acclaimed independent-sleeper horror classic Halloween (1978) with a creepy soundtrack brought about the modern slasher movie. It featured the iconic character of Michael Myers - a deranged, threatening knife-wielding killer of teenage babysitters (notably Jamie Lee Curtis in her debut film as Laurie Strode, the daughter of Janet Leigh who had earlier starred as the 'scream queen' in Hitchcock's Psycho) who had returned to his old neighborhood of Haddonfield, Illinois after an escape from a mental institution. His spooky doctor Sam Loomis (British horror actor Donald Pleasence) pursued the mad slasher as the masked killer wreaked havoc and menace. [Note: The mask was actually a costume store William Shatner-like faceplate, turned inside out and painted white.] The film brought about the Puritanical cliched notion that promiscuous, sex-loving teenagers were marked for death.

[This popular slasher, serial killer film inspired numerous, mostly inferior sequels - a total of ten films by the year 2009, and then an 11th film (a direct sequel) in 2018, and additional films in 2021 and 2022. The only film in the series without Michael Myers was the third installment in 1982.]

Halloween's series of 13 films (from 1978-2022) grossed $624 million domestically. The highest-grossing of the series was the latest remake-installment Halloween (2018), a true sequel to the original film, earning $159.3 million (domestic). It also became the highest-grossing slasher film of all-time. It brought back actress Jamie Lee Curtis 40 years later as an aging, twice-divorced Laurie Strode who was suffering from alcoholism and agoraphobia.

Steven Spielberg's second horror film Jaws (1975) - was a terrific summer blockbuster about a threatening great white shark off an Eastern beach community - Amity Island. Horrible conflicts could occur with supernatural, Jaws-like monsters in space, such as in director Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), with the tagline: "In space, no one can hear you scream." The monster's defeat called for a superhuman power or effort to destroy the threatening evil. A heroine (Sigourney Weaver) challenged the murderous alien invader within the dark and creeky Nostromo. There were three more Alien films in a continuing franchise. An adapted Stephen King tale provided the basis for Stanley Kubrick's masterfully-directed gothic film The Shining (1980) about a crazed husband and alcoholic, failed wannabe writer (Jack Nicholson) with personal demons in the Overlook Hotel, closed and snowbound for the winter in Colorado. With an axe, he murderously terrorized his emotionally-abused, hysterical wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and psychic young son Danny (Danny Lloyd), who possessed the special mental power of 'shining' (visions of previous homicides).

Carrie - 1976Italian cult horror film director Dario Argento (sometimes called "The Italian Hitchcock") featured gory, blood-and-guts special effects in the malevolent, art-horror, stylistic classic Suspiria (1977, It.). The horror fantasy starred Jessica Harper as an aspiring American ballerina dancer in a European ballet academy in the Black Forest of Germany run by witches led by the "Black Queen" headmistress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett). The film opened with a stunning set-piece of the bloody deaths of two female students. Argento also directed its surrealistic sequel, Inferno (1980) involving a search for the "Mother of Darkness" in Manhattan, and the bloody thriller Unsane (1982) (originally titled Tenebrae).

Master of Horror Brian De Palma:

In the early 1970s, shock director Brian DePalma (often using film techniques comparable to horror Master Alfred Hitchcock) emerged as a significant contributor to the horror genre, breaking out with his original mainstream film Sisters (1973), followed by his first commercial hit Carrie (1976) - an adaptation of writer Stephen King's best-selling 1974 debut novel about a socially-outcast, shy, abused and bullied schoolgirl (Sissy Spacek) possessed with retributive telekinetic powers, and her religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie). After the psychic phenomenon thriller The Fury (1978), De Palma's next successful film was the erotic horror/thriller Dressed to Kill (1980) about a transvestite therapist/stalker (Michael Caine), with a marvelous seduction-stalking scene of Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) in a museum, a razor-slashing murder in an elevator, and ending with an imitative Psycho-shower scene.

Devil-Possession and Devil-Child Films:

The Exorcist - 1973Evil spirits possessed the body of a young 12 year-old girl (Linda Blair) in director William Friedkin's manipulative critical and box-office success The Exorcist (1973) from William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel, with extravagant, ground-breaking special effects and startling makeup. Its twisting head, pea-soup vomit spewing, crotch-stabbing with a crucifix, and other horrific visuals terrified audiences. The blockbuster, about the attempted exorcism of the demonic entity by two priests (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller), inspired inferior sequels of its own:

  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), d. John Boorman (with Linda Blair reprising her role as a 16 year-old, 4 years after the events of the original film)
  • The Exorcist III (1990), d. William Peter Blatty (based on his book 1983 book Legion); set 15 years after the events of the 1973 film, and skipping over the 2nd film
  • Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), d. Renny Harlin; a prequel [Note: It was reworked from Schrader's already-completed 2005 film - see next]
  • Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005), d. Paul Schrader; another prequel
  • The Exorcist: Believer (2023), d. David Gordon Green, a direct sequel to the original 1973 film

Some of the better devil-possession sequels in the late 70s and early 80s were The Amityville Horror (1979) about a devilish haunted house, Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist (1982) - a supreme ghost story about menacing spirits that kidnap a young child (in a film produced, co-written and 'co-directed' by Steven Spielberg) by sucking her into a TV set ("They're heeere!") and taking her into a parallel dimension. Poltergeist encouraged two sequels in 1986 and 1988. The Omen (1976), with a memorable score by Jerry Goldsmith, about a young adopted son (of parents Gregory Peck and Lee Remick) named Damien - Satan's son, also inspired two sequels to compose a trilogy: Damien: Omen II (1978), and The Final Conflict (1981)). There was also a made-for-cable TV sequel titled Omen IV: The Awakening in 1991.

Other devil films included: Taylor Hackford's The Devil's Advocate (1997) with tempting Al Pacino, and Peter Hyams' action horror thriller End of Days (1999) with Gabriel Byrne as the seductive Devil Lord.

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