Ten Must See Horror Movies From the 60s and 70s
Written By Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
If you have ended up on Grave Reviews, it’s probably because you love horror movies, or you are interested in learning more about the genre and its subgenres. We thought we switch things up a little and provide a handy “cheat sheet” for horror fans new to the genre to help them find some classics and even some overlooked gems in order to explore a little. We have organized this list in order of release year, so you can get an idea of how the genre evolved over the years, rather than our own personal preferences. If a more lengthy review of a certain movie is on Grave Reviews, we will link it in its respective section. Here are the Ten Must See Horror Movies From the 60s and 70s.
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 (Janet Leigh) 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 (Anthony Perkins), and… Well, Alfred Hitchcock was so desperate to keep his potential audiences from 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.
This is a fascinating movie that really shows Hitchcock’s talent as a director, not to mention the actors’ talent in their profession. The movie is completely transfixing and it ended up being a landmark movie that would influence horror and non-horror movies for decades after its release. Heck, you may have even seen parodies of certain scenes in your favorite cartoons growing up! Dexter’s Laboratory and The Simpsons are just the first ones to come to mind. Don’t let that turn you off!
If you have already seen Psycho and want more, Robert Bloch’s original book (of the same name) goes deeper into Norman Bates’ headspace, though there are moments that will make you appreciate the changes that the screenwriters’ made when adapting the book. Although he wrote sequels to Psycho, they vary in quality, as do the sequels to the film. And it almost goes without saying that you shouldn’t give the 1998 remake a minute of your time.
Cape Fear (1962)
Robert Mitchum is the scariest person on the planet. He comes out of here as a swaggering ex-con who believes Gregory Peck’s character 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 (getting increasingly and alarmingly close to the young daughter) 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.
Many people remember the remake from 1991, but it pales in comparison to the original. The overall mood and tension weighs more heavily on the characters, which carries over to the viewer. The subtlety of the original film serves the story much better, and it probably doesn’t hurt that a modern viewer probably wouldn’t know as much about Robert Mitchum’s filmography. On the other hand, the fact that modern viewers are more likely to be familiar with Gregory Peck from his non-horror roles (like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird ) will put them in his corner immediately.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
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. The original Night of the Living Dead has just become implanted in pop culture and has remained there for 52 years.
Basically, the dead rise—news reports which are sometimes cut from the film theorize that radioactivity could have caused it—and a handful of refugees hole up in a farmhouse. While the zombies gather outside, tensions in the house rise and fear, prejudice, and infection begin tearing the group apart. 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 had flipped over the years on whether the film is just a horror film or has a deeper meaning, so take it however you like.
This movie has been remade both with and without the blessing of Romero many times over the years. The best-known is the 1990 remake which saw Romero rewriting and adapting the original script for director Tom Savini.
A final note is that of all the movies in this article, it will be the easiest for you to find. Copyright complications mean just about any streaming service or other film distributor can get a hold of the original Night of the Living Dead with no repercussions. My copy is, in fact, from a dollar store. The only downside is that some copies cut scenes and plot elements out indiscriminately.
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 (which is very real) 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. Then he starts acting oddly. Then her doctor starts acting oddly. It’s slow burning to the point where it can be disappointing for fans who gravitate more to slashers, but it remains poignant and real in its own way.
If you watch it and still don’t understand the hype, give the original book of the same name by Ira Levin a spin, then go back to the movie with a little more context. Perhaps the scariest part of the film isn’t Rosemary’s pregnancy, it’s the gaslighting and isolation that her formerly loving husband and her doctor force upon her. It remains pertinent to this day.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Don’t Look Now seems to get overlooked often, which is a shame. It’s a highly stylized film set (mostly) in Venice. Donald Sutherland plays 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 left behind 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.
This film is without question a product of its time, pushing seventies stylization to his limits in a way that sometimes seem comical because certain things have fallen out of popularity and even more horrifying because there are choices you simply wouldn’t see in a modern film. It’s a unique viewing experience.
This film started out as a 1971 short story of the same name, which was written by Daphne do Maurier. While Daphne du Maurier has fallen out of style, her stories also led to Rebecca (1940), The Birds (1963), and quite a few other suspense and horror classics.
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 basic 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.
Shivers is an early David Cronenberg venture, which should come as no surprise, given the focus on body horror. As with any other Cronenberg venture, this isn’t a movie to watch with a meal or even a snack, and you may find yourself looking at your neighbors and even the water from your faucet differently afterwards. I, for one, can’t even look at water flossers or water picks anymore without feeling a little nauseous.
The Sentinel (1977)
The Sentinel is another seemingly-overlooked film, though it’s hard to see why. It has a star-studded cast (Jeff Goldblum and Burgess Meredith are just a couple members of it) and it’s legitimately scary. A young model (Cristina Raines) 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. Interestingly, the “villains” in this movie are up for debate, and not everyone agrees that the ghosts or demons are the true baddies in this one. The twist is a surprise, though it is an idea that occasionally reappears (albeit much more ham-handedly, usually) in other horror movies over the years.
Perhaps one of the greatest strengths in the movie is Burgess Meredith, a talented, multifaceted actor who really shined in horror films. Like Don’t Look Now, trends in seventies horror films give this movie a unique, visceral feel that leaves you creeped out long after you’ve watched it—even, maybe, long after you remember all the details of the film.
Like many other movies on this list, The Sentinel started life as a book by Jeffrey Konvitz, which was apparently just book one in a trilogy. It’s a bit of a pain to find now, and although there’s nothing wrong with buying it should you come across it organically, it has aged badly in some ways, the writing is a bit awkward, and it doesn’t have the character or even the same kind of horror that its carefully made film adaptation has, and it really isn’t worth the safari you might have to go on to find a copy. The film really is the best version of this story.
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. It was even a bit ahead of its time. That is why Suspiria is in the Ten Must See Horror Movies From the 60s and 70s.
Giallo films—especially director Dario Argento’s giallo films—have a specific look that is indulgent and colorful and strangely beautiful despite the often disturbing, gory horror. Furthering this film’s looks and personality, is its emphasis on primary colors and a palette that was inspired by the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Argento also wanted to use much younger actresses, but when that fell through, he compromised by making larger sets with greater proportions to make his actress look smaller and more childlike, thus more helpless.
The 2018 remake of Suspiria polarized critics and audiences alike, and even positive reviews don’t seem inclined to compare the two, as director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich worked their own messages and themes into the existing plot.
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—can also affect how the movie is viewed.
Although Halloween has inspired many sequels and reboots, fans are greatly divided over the quality of sequels, as well as which continuities across the films are the “true” or correct continuities. Before you even wade into all of that, though, watch the first one and see if it’s for you.
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 this movie, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.
In Alien, space mining crew is returning home 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 horror and action genres thanks to its strong female lead (Sigourney Weaver). It also gets points for taking things slowly, building suspense and tension leisurely until things really start going bad. Once the titular alien (or Xenomorph, as it is known by fans) makes its debut, things go downhill quickly for the crew and it makes the whole wait worth it.
For Alien, it’s worth noting that there are a number of different cuts available. Although interesting, the director’s cut is not actually director Ridley Scott’s preferred form of the film. Alien has also inspired several sequels which divide fans. Generally the complaints are that the new films aren’t enough like the original or are too much like the original.
How was our cheat sheet? Did you find any you really enjoyed or were scared by, or do you think we need to step it up a notch? Tell us your Ten Must See Horror Movies From the 60s and 70s. Let us know in the comments below!
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