A Decade of Horror: The 1970’s

Horror Through the Lense of the 1970s

Over the years Halloween has evolved into more than just a single night where costumes, candy, and mischief all converge. October has become synonymous with the holiday. While it is one night a year, we’ve come to treat it with the same build-up as Christmas. That is; an entire month of deciding decorations, costumes, and get-togethers.  For the family, it means trick-or-treating for the kids and figuring out what designs to carve into pumpkins. Our repressed fascination with the spooky, the creepy, the macabre all comes out in one month of morbid indulgence.

So naturally the same goes for our choice of movies.  Horror is not a genre specifically for the ghoulish holiday. People get in the mood for the genre the same way fall puts them in the mood for pumpkin spice.  Of course, there are definitive “Halloween” movies that appeal to a wide audience.  The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, Beetlejuice, and Frankenweenie are syonymous with Halloween. These also are films that the family can enjoy. As well as those that are light in the horror department.

For those who aren’t as squeamish and are seeking to dive deeper into the genre. Film franchises like Friday the 13th, Child’s Play, and the namesake, Halloween are movies that tend to attract an older and bolder crowd. 

These are all great movies during Halloween, but there are great hidden gems that viewers will often overlook. In commemorating the season, I will be highlighting a few amazing but often overlooked gems throughout the decades.  This series will explore a few cultural shifts within each decade through horror films.

The 1970s — Satanic Panic at the Disco!

The 70s emphasized pushing the envelope on what could be shown to an audience. It introduced the exploitation genre. This often portrayed depictions of gratuitous violence and sex.  Naturally, the overlap of horror would not be farfetched.  Here are a few notable movies from the 70s that aren’t as well-known but still worth watching.

The Omen (1976)

Films like The Exorcist would take the world by storm sewing the seeds for the future, ‘Satanic Panic’. However,  while The Exorcist, played into the fears of the human experience with demonic forces on an individual level, The Omen, explores the larger anxiety of “The End Times”.  What if (similar to Jesus) Satan was born into the flesh and lived as a child among us?  An anti-Christ destined to bring about the end of times.

House (1977)

While the horror genre in the US continued to push the boundaries of what a western audience could stomach watching. Back east in Japan, was also experimenting and pushing the envelope of what horror could become.  Nobahiku Obayashi’s, House, utilized diverse special effects that would still be considered terrifying and disturbing even by today’s standards.  Not only that, but House has inspired many modern Japanese horrors and well into Western horrors as well.

The Horror Genre Takes on Feminism

One thing that the horror genre tends to do is act as a reflection on larger societal fears and anxieties. The 1970s was a very crucial decade for the feminist movement. It emphasized the of end domestic violence against women, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the womens’ role at home. One of the biggest tropes in horror is of the terrified and helpless woman running and screaming for her life. 

While there were plenty of films during this era that continued to portray women as scared and fragile.  There was beginning to be a social pushback against strong women protagonists. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi film, Alien, with the main protagonist, Eleanor Ripley, is an example of this.  Played by Sigourney Weaver, Ripley has to survive insurmountable horrors while in space.  Alien’s success prompted more sequels, with the character Ripley being more fleshed out and explored each time.

Ripley (Weaver) encountering a xenomorph

The Stepford Wives (1972)

The feminist movement of the 1970s pushed the boundaries of a woman’s place in society. Traditionally seen as domesticated and reliant on men, women across the country began to push back against these attitudes and demand more autonomy.  The Stepford Wives,  is a film that portrayed the frustrations and fears of women in modern society.  The protagonist is an independent woman who moves into a place where women take on a submissive role to their husbands.  The film makes a point to highlight the struggles that women go through.

I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

Unlike Stepford Wives, which addresses the issues women face on a subversive level. I Spit on Your Grave,  is unabashedly direct and violent and doesn’t shy away from the physical violence against women. The movie is visceral in showing the protagonists in uncomfortable situations that many women can relate to.

The Baby (1973)

Unlike Stepford Wives and I Spit on you Grave, The Baby features not only a female protagonist, but also casting women as the antagonists. What really stands out about this film (besides its really bizarre premise), is how the men in the movie are more just passive characters. The only male protagonist is literally infantilized and is more there as part of the plot. While it has some darkly funny moments. Psychologically, The Baby, does not shy away from being unsettling leaving the viewer horrifically curious as the movie progresses.

Concluding the 70s

The 70s saw a lot of cultural change and in the social psyche change often invokes fear and uncertainty. It’s this fear and uncertainty that inspired some really great horror films from that era. Not only that but it was the starting point for some of the most iconic horror directors. George Romero, John Carpenter, Wes Craven had all their careers take off around that time.

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