Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Examples
Hitchcock's 60s Masterpieces:
Another 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.
Roman 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:
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).
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.
George Romero's Horror Contributions: Modern Zombie Films
In 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:
Zombie Horror Films to the Present:
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:
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).
Future 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.
Two 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 to the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, stretching over 38 years!:
In early 2013, the Leatherface franchise received a face-lift (or reboot) with the production of the seventh installment of the original, Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), 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.
John 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. The only film in the series without Michael Myers was the third installment in 1982.]
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).
Italian 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.
Evil 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:
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 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.