For many horror fans, the finest decade for that particular cinematic genre was the 1970s, the years when the giallo film was in its heyday, when filmmakers started to really push the limits in terms of what they could get away with, when gore and grue rose to the crimson fore, and when the horror conventions of the past seemed to give way in all directions. Writing in their essential guide Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death, authors James Marriott and Kim Newman write of that decade “In terms of output, the horror film was at its zenith in the ‘70s. Arguably, it also reached an artistic peak unscaled since the early ‘30s…” In today’s Shocktober column, I would like to focus on five films from that illustrious decade, none of which are spotlighted in Marriott & Newman’s guide, and all of which, of course, would make for perfect fare this Halloween season… 

PLAY MISTY FOR ME horror movie reviewsPLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971) horror movie reviewsPLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971)

Play Misty For Me is one of my personal top 100 favorite films of all time, but one that I’d previously only seen cut up on commercial television. It is rarely screened on cable TV or in revival theatres, for some reason, despite being a superior thriller and Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut. The uncut DVD is something of a revelation, thus, and only reinforces my belief that this is nothing less than one of the best horror flicks of the ’70s. In it, Eastwood plays Dave Garver, a playboy DJ in Carmel who has a one-nighter with a fan with the appropriate name of Evelyn Draper. Evelyn immediately drapes herself around Dave in a very suffocating manner, and when rebuffed, this “woman scorned” turns angry and vengeful. Before too long, we begin to realize that Evelyn is a woman who really does put the WHACK into the word “whacko”… Anyway, from top to bottom – from script to acting to gorgeous Carmel scenery to that beautiful Roberta Flack montage sequence to a remarkably suspenseful and satisfying conclusion – this film really does deliver. Jessica Walter gives a truly memorable, Oscar-worthy performance as Evelyn, investing her character’s psycho personality with a touch of pathos. Any guy watching this picture will soon realize that it truly IS a horror film, albeit an extremely realistic and credible one. (It just might give men who are seeking one-nighters pause to reconsider!) And how nice to see Irene Hervey, from one of my favorite ’60s TV shows, Honey West, here in a latter-day major motion picture! Eastwood himself, of course, is now among the upper tier of Hollywood directors, but how great to realize that at his first time at bat, he smacked one right out of the park! All of his many fans who have not seen this terrific shocker should certainly pounce!

THE MAD BUTCHER (1971) horror movie reviewsTHE MAD BUTCHER (1971) horror movie reviewsTHE MAD BUTCHER (1971)

Vegetarians, and all those with an aversion to red meat (like me), should be warned away from the 1971 Italian/German horror comedy The Mad Butcher (or, as it is called here under its earlier title, Meat Is Meat). Though the film’s violence is not explicit and is mainly limited to bloodless throttlings, the initial close-ups of bloody chops, steaks and schnitzels being sliced and torn is guaranteed to turn the stomachs of all those soyboys and soychicks. In the film, helmed by Italian director Guido Zurli, Victor Buono plays Otto Lehman, “the best butcher in Vienna,” who is released from a mental institution, after three years, for beating a customer over the head with a raw liver. (She had it coming, as it turns out!) Otto’s wife, brother-in-law and neighbors soon rouse his temper to a murderous pitch, however, and before long, his pushcart sausages are sporting a new, all-natural ingredient! Made on the supercheap, rarely funny, and with poor dubbing and sound to boot, The Mad Butcher, like Otto’s sausages, is a real mixed bag at best, though there are some joys to be had. For one, the score by Alessandro Alessandroni (who had so impressed me with his wonderful music for such disparate films as Killer Nun and The Devil’s Nightmare) is quite amusing and catchy, reminiscent of a Munchen beer hall in the 1920s. And Buono himself is quite marvelous, by turns sympathetic, amusing and scary. The sight of him, with his 300+-lb. bulk and wielding a straight-edge razor, practically frothing at the mouth in a berserker rage, is one that will surely stick in the memory. The film is rarely interesting when Buono is offscreen – such as during the tedious scenes of a Chicago reporter romancing one of Buono’s neighbors – but when he’s on, you can’t take your eyes off him. An amusing curiosity at best, The Mad Butcher might still do you the favor of forever turning you off to those mystery monkey-meat sausages you’ve been scarfing down with your breakfast!

THE CREEPING FLESH (1973) horror movie reviewsTHE CREEPING FLESH horror movie reviewsTHE CREEPING FLESH (1973)

The mere presence of horror legends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee ought to alert potential viewers that this film might be a cut above the usual fare, and happily enough, such indeed is the case here. The Creeping Flesh turns out to be a handsomely mounted, well-acted and even literate little potboiler of a scarifier, expertly helmed by British horror director Freddie Francis. The plot concerns an ancient skeleton that Prof. Cushing has brought back to London from the wilds of New Guinea in 1894; a skeleton that harbors the essence of evil, and that becomes revivified when water touches it. Cushing’s half-brother, Lee, who runs an insane asylum, steals the skeleton to further his own researches, which leads to (in the words of Beaver Cleaver) “all kinds of trouble.” There are also some interesting subplots regarding an escaped madman, as well as what happens to Cushing’s daughter (wonderfully played by the actress Lorna Heilbron) after she receives an injection of blood taken from said skeleton. The look of the film is so handsome that it indeed looks like a cross between an old Hammer horror flick and an episode of Masterpiece Theatre. If the potential viewer has enough time one evening, this film would make for a wonderful double feature with another Cushing/Lee film, the similarly themed Horror Express. I really did enjoy this one!

SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN (1974) Horror film movie reviewsSEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN (1974) horror movie reviewsSEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN (1974)

Michel Lemoine’s 1974 offering Seven Women for Satan is easily one of the weirdest movies that I have ever watched on DVD; right up there with Jess Franco’s Venus In Furs and Jaromil Jires’ Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. In the Lemoine film, the writer/director himself plays Count Boris Zaroff, son of the original manhunting count from the Richard Connell short story “The Most Dangerous Game” (1924), famously filmed in 1932. (Never mind that Zaroff was a Russian and his son in this film is as Gallic as can be.) When we first meet him, Zaroff, Jr. has just purchased an enormous château, in which his butler, Karl (played by cult Eurostar Howard Vernon), in fulfillment of a promise he made to Karl, Sr., the original count’s butler, is training Boris in the ways of sadism and torture. To complicate matters, Boris seems to be haunted by the spirit of a beautiful woman who died in the year 1912. I say “seems” only because the dividing line between fantasy and reality here is a thin one at best. To add to the disorientation, Lemoine utilizes odd camera angles, fish-eye lenses, dreamy soft-focus photography and some truly bizarre discourse between the film’s principals. The picture treats us to a fun torture chamber sequence and features the phoniest-looking dog attack scene ever (especially when compared to the 1932 film) and an excellent score by Guy Bonnet. It is only 84 minutes long, yet still feels padded with nudie-girl segments and assorted topless dancing and writhing (nice padding, granted!). Banned in its native France and yet the Silver Medal winner at the Sitges (near Barcelona) Film Festival, the picture, surreal and trippy as it is, should have been a midnight movie staple back when, as was El Topo. Like the Jodorowsky film, it is a real stoner treat, and a must for the lysergically enhanced mind. A true rarity, but certainly not for all tastes…

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH (1978) Horror film movie reviewsTHE LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH (1978) horror movie reviewsTHE LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH (1978)

A nasty piece of exploitative Eurosleaze, Franco Prosperi’s The Last House on the Beach yet tells a very simple story. In the film, a trio of particularly brutish thugs, led by the handsome Aldo (Ray Lovelock), breaks into a hilltop mansion to lay low after a violent bank heist. Too bad that the house they’ve chosen at random is occupied by a quintet of Catholic schoolgirls, presided over by Sister Cristina (cult Eurostar Florinda Bolkan). The three goons waste little time before starting to rape and kill the young women, until Cristina decides that … well, nun or no nun, she’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore! The vengeance that she and the younger ladies dish out on their persecutors is both a swift and satisfying one. I must add that despite the plot’s simplicity, this film proved a bit hard to watch at times, largely due to the convincing performances by Stefano Cedrati and Flavio Andreini as those other two maniacs; they really do make for thoroughly hateful characters. Florinda, as usual, is impeccable, and the film offers up some additional pleasures in the form of lovely oceanside scenery (a stark contrast to the ugliness transpiring inside the house; wherever did they film this?) and a dynamic, propulsive score by Roberto Pregadio; the piece of music that accompanies Aldo’s pursuit of Eliza (the prettiest of the girls, IMHO) down the hillside to the sea is especially dynamite. Prosperi directs his film to ensure a good deal of suspense, and in all, this is a pretty darn gripping presentation, with, thankfully, little in the way of explicit violence (what is suggested is quite terrible enough!). The nice-looking Severin DVD that I recently watched also includes a 1/2-hour interview with the still hunky Lovelock of today, during which the Italian confirms that “Ray Lovelock” IS indeed his real name. The actor’s sincerity and charm make the character of Aldo seem, if possible, all the more monstrous.

Anyway, folks, there you have it. In the decade that gave us The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Deliverance, Duel, The Exorcist, Sisters, Theater of Blood, The Wicker Man, Black Christmas, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Jaws, Carrie, The Omen, Eraserhead, The Hills Have Eyes, Suspiria, Halloween, Alien, The Amityville Horror, Dawn of the Dead, Phantasm and SO many other classic films, it is not only possible, but actually very simple, to find not-so-hidden gems in the horror arena. Dozens more are awaiting your discovery … in the giallo subgenre alone! I invite you to explore this most fascinating of decades this Halloween season … and beyond…



  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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