The 50 Most Disturbing Horror Movies Of The '60s & '70s
In the 1960s and '70s, the very molecules of filmmaking were changing before our eyes, and horror movies were at the forefront of this movement. The horror movies of this era were no longer cheapo black and white pictures about giant bugs and teenage werewolves (okay, some of them were), they're films about society, many of them told from the point of view of the monster.
Collected here are the most chilling, and deeply disturbing horror movies of the '60s and '70s. We've got promo-slashers, classic haunted house movies, and even a couple of experimental films that will leave you sleeping with the lights on for weeks.
Carnival Of Souls
A truly surreal film, Carnival of Souls begins with a car accident and forces the audience to question the differences between being dead and alive. Filmed against the alien landscapes of Salt Lake City, nothing about this film feels real and that's what makes it so horrifying
What would you do to achieve success? How would you react if you realized that everyone around you was plotting against you? Can you really trust the people you love? These are just a few of the terrifying questions at the heart of Rosemary's Baby, Roman Polanski's brooding film about a woman who's pregnant with the spawn of Satan.
A simple film about three men on a boat hunting a killer shark sounds like the plot to any number of B-Movies from this era, but in the hands of Steven Spielberg Jaws becomes a rumination on family, fatherhood, and what it means to be a man. Even though Spielberg is basically an adjective for cheese today, he doesn't pull punches in Jaws. Rather than keep the victims middle aged men, he targets women and children first.
Night Of The Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead may be one of the most influential horror films of the 20th century. This black and white, super-independent film introduced audiences to the modern concept of the undead while showing just how easily polite society breaks down the moment there's a mass cataclysmic event. Even if you know how the movie ends it never fails to shock.
Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho did for showers what Jaws did for the ocean and swimming pools, and all with a story about a lonely motel owner living a demented double life. Filmed on a shoestring budget (for Hitchcock anyway) and in stark black and white, Psycho is as shocking today as it was in the 1960s.
Targets should not be good. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich under the tutelage of Roger Corman, the film is a blend of previously seen footage and a very game Boris Karloff playing an aging horror icon who attempts to stop an active shooter after he posts up at a drive-in. More prescient than viscerally terrifying, Targets is as fantastic as it is uncomfortable.
Out of all the horror movies from the 1960s that compete for the title of being the first slasher, Peeping Tom is easily the most unsettling. The film follows a portrait photographer with an obsession for stabbing young women with a special attachment in his camera. The brutality in this movie is still shocking more than 60 years after its release.
Eyes Without A Face
When a French plastic surgeon tries to fix his disfigured daughter's face everything that can go wrong does go wrong. The plot of Eyes Without A Face is creepy enough, but the surreal visuals and sound design push this film over the edge from unsettling to nerve-grinding on a scene by scene basis.
Nosferatu the Vampyre
Werner Herzog's surreal remake of F. W. Murnau's 1922 German Dracula adaptation Nosferatu is a stunning piece of work that's an intriguing watch whether you know the Dracula story or not. Herzog's obsession with how easy it is to corrupt man is a running theme throughout he film but he doesn't skimp on the vampire tropes that audiences know and love. The ending of this film will stick with you for years after watching.
Village Of The Damned
Based on the novel The Midwitch Cuckoos, this deeply disturbing (and deeply British) film takes place in a village where every woman of child-bearing age has given birth to creepy telepathic children with platinum blonde hair. A truly creepy film that stands head and shoulders above its remake attempts, Village of the Damned is a must-see for horror fans.
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? may not be the first film that people think of when spooky season gets underway, but this ur text of "hag horror" is a complicated and terrifying vision of what happens to child actors when they've outlived their usefulness in Hollywood. In this film two adult sisters - Blanche and Jane - spend their days locked away in a decrepit mansion where Jane puts Blanche through the wringer mentally and physically all because she was slightly more famous as a young woman. Not for the faint of heart, this film will have you apologizing to your siblings for holidays to come.
Theatre of Blood
Horror-comedy is such a hard tone to capture on film. If a movie is too scary the comedy feels out of place, if it's too funny then the movie can feel like a waste of time to a dyed in the wool horror head. Theatre of Blood is one of the few films that manages to ride that specific tonal line while delivering scares and laughs.
At the center of the film is Vincent Price playing an actor who gets revenge on a circle of critics through a variety of ways that reference the works of Shakespeare. It's a little heavy handed but Price and his supporting cast (Diana Rigg, Ian Henry, Harry Andrews) make this movie scream.
This Japanese anthology film tells a series of folk tales that are equal parts unsettling and fascinating. Fans of 2000s J-Horror like The Ring and The Grudge will get a kick out of seeing the starting point of many of the tropes of those films, and Kwaidan is also still horrifying even decades after its release.
The Pit And The Pendulum
All of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations slap, but The Pit and the Pendulum is a next level horror film from American International Pictures. Starring Vincent Price as an insane Englishman haunted by the death of his wife, who ends the film by torturing his brother-in-law with an ancient death device. Fans of Italian giallo films won't want to miss this exciting entry into the '60s horror cannon.
Mario Bava's masterstroke, Black Sunday follows a 15th century vampire witch as she takes over the body of one of her descendants to get revenge on the families of the villagers who brutally ended her life. Anyone looking for a primer on Italian horror couldn't pick a better - or more terrifying - place to start.
Blood and Black Lace
Along with Peeping Tom, this 1964 giallo film from Mario Bava essentially sets the tone for every slasher film that followed in the 1970s and beyond. Bava's film is about a masked killer stalking the beautiful women of Rome to hunt down a diary full of life ruining entries. Coming in at 88 minutes, this the perfect place to start your fascinating with the giallo genre.
Directed by John Frankenheimer (Birdman of Alkatraz) and starring Rock Hudson, Seconds is an absolutely mind blowing horror film that's still shocking today. Starring Rock Hudson as a man who pays for a completely new identity, this movie will have you reeling before any of the identity confusion begins and it'll leave you sick to your stomach when the credits roll. Can you ask for anything more?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains one of the most brutal and terrifying cinematic experiences nearly 50 years after its release. An intensely gruesome film that plays on the concept of city folk going where they don't belong, this groundbreaking horror film by Tobe Hooper has been copied time and time again but it's never been replicated.
This 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House instills a sense of unease in the viewer from moment one and it doesn't let up until long after the credits roll. Even if you don't live in a giant English manor house you won't look at hallways the same way ever again.
The Little Shop Of Horrors
When a young man working in a flower shop realizes that the plant he's been cultivating, Audrey Jr., has a distinct taste for human flesh he turns into a Renfield-esque character who lives to serve the plant. An intensely weird film from Roger Corman, The Little Shop of Horrors is delightful even at its most caustic.
Lucio Fulci's spiritual sequel to Dawn of the Dead (released in Italy simply as Zombi), Zombi 2 puts the action on a Caribbean island where the dead are coming back to life and messing with a group of scientists. A visual delight for fans of the zombie sub-genre, this movie may not make a lot of sense but it does feature one of the most disgusting visual effects of the 1970s and a zombie fights a shark while underwater.
Roman Polanski's foray into English language filmmaking is a doozy. Catherine Deneuve stars as Carol, a young woman who's so terrified of men that her every waking thought is filled with the awful things they can do. With surreal visuals and genuinely shocking jump scares, Repulsion remains fresh.
Herschell Gordon Lewis' tale of an Egyptian caterer named Fuad Ramses who uses human body parts to resurrect the goddess Ishtar remains one of the most unrelentingly gory films of the 20th century. While most horror movies from the '60s and '70s shy away from actually showing their brutality, Blood Feast leans into the perverse delights of onscreen violence. The blood may be as red as a stop sign, but that doesn't make this movie any easier to watch.
Dario Argento's fairytale inspired film about an American attending a dance academy run by witches is required viewing for horror fans of any generation. Anyone looking for a primer on the quirks of the Italian horror genre would do well to start here. The dubbing, the overwhelming music, and the extremely colorful palette all work together to make a truly unique film.
When a pre-teen girl is taken over by a demon her mother gets in touch with a priest who's dealing with his own stuff at the moment; hijinks ensue. Director William Friedkin doesn't shy away from the standard horror tricks (jump scares, creepy voices, etc) but somehow none of that feels cheesy.
With Halloween John Carpenter cemented his legacy as a master of horror. When Michal Myers escapes from an insane asylum on October 30th, he returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois to wreak havoc on the babysitters of the area. Filmed with elegant cinematography, Halloween set the template for horror films to this day.
On its surface Alien is a science fiction movie about a creepy crawly that gets loose on a space ship, but in Ridley Scott's hands this well worn territory becomes both a haunted house film and a classic slasher. Moody and straight up scary, Alien is one of those rare films that never disappoints.
Brian De Palma made films before Carrie, but with this Stephen King adaptation he blew the doors off his previous filmography with a film that somehow takes all of his proclivities (voyeurism, extreme violence, lots of sex) and turns them into a crowd pleasing genre film full of high school students. If you only know the gym scene from Carrie you're missing out on some truly uncomfortable horror.
David Lynch has been freaking out audiences for decades with his surreal horror films that are terrifying on a cellular level. Eraserhead is devoid of the horror tropes that audiences are used to, but that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable to watch. Lynch focuses on The Man in the Planet, a man (obviously) with a strange haircut and a brand new baby that looks more like a monster than a newborn. As the man traverses the blown out industrial cityscape where he spends most of his time he ends up falling in something like love and experiencing a family dinner on par with a Russian novel.
In this 1977, Japanese horror film a group of girls travel to a country house where they're devoured one by one by the estate. Somehow this film is both sweet and stomach churning, with effects that look purposefully unrealistic and performances that remain confounding this cult classic continues to be a crowd pleaser even if we don't quite understand it.
Dreamt up by David Cronenberg mid-divorce, The Brood is ostensibly about a group of violent little monster children who are telekinetically pushed out of a woman's body. The only person who can stop her? Her ex-husband. Cronenberg delivers a delightfully unhinged film, but the more you dig into what the director is trying to say the more enjoyable the film becomes.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers is easily the most effective take on the story of a group of humans who realize a little too late that the planet is being taken over by pod people. Featuring killer performances from Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, and Brooke Adams, this film will keep you looking sideways at your closest friends for at least a couple of weeks.
Released in 1974, Black Christmas is one of the early slasher films that codified the genre. With its deceptively simple plot (sorority girls are picked off one by one inside their house on the night before the Christmas break), Black Christmas weaves a terrifying story full of red herrings, brutal deaths, and shock ending that remains unsettling even if you've seen the movie a million times.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown
This 1976 slasher tells the sort of kind of true story of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders that rocked the North Texas area in 1946. In this film an unknown creep with a pillowcase on his head stalks and kills locals through variety of means that are as brutal as they are captivating. The most over the top and quite frankly cuckoo scene occurs when the killer uses a trombone with a knife connected to the slide to take out one of his victims.
The Driller Killer
The Driller Killer is an iconic New York City slasher that uses the gritty cityscape as a backdrop for some of the most disturbing onscreen crimes of the '70s. Directed and starring Abel Ferrara as Reno Miller, an artist by day and cuckoo looloo killer by night. Set off by what he views as the uncouth nature of the Big Apple - specifically the people in his apartment building - Reno picks up a drill and just starts mowing people down.
The Wicker Man
When a policeman investigates a disappearance on an isolated island off the coast of England he gets much more than he bargained for. After encountering the cult-like leader of the island and his followers it becomes clear that the policeman is in way over his head. A daylight horror film that investigates fanaticism as well as the way in which our dedication to the old ways can doom further generations, The Wicker Man is a thoughtful, horrifying watch.
The Last House on the Left
Wes Craven's directorial debut is almost too much. An adaptation of The Virgin Spring, The Last House on the Left makes the audience question how far they would go for revenge as they watch an older married couple put a couple of creeps through the paces after their daughter is murdered on her 17th birthday. This is really not a movie for the faint of heart.
David Cronenberg has always been a filmmaker distinctly worried about the human body, but Shivers puts his neurosis on full display. When a bunch of parasitic worms invade a Toronto apartment complex, everyone living in the building is eventually turned into a sex-crazed maniac. It's a fascinating take on the zombie genre and an auspicious early film from one of the 20th century's greatest filmmakers.
Tourist Trap is absolutely wild. The film follows a group of young folks as they travel out to the middle of nowhere and wind up the victims of a redneck killer with a predilection for mannequins. Also featured are a weirdo "twin brother," telekinetic abilities, and a couple of death scenes that you won't soon forget. This is one of the campier movies of the 1970s but it's that over the top tone that makes the film so inherently watchable.
Dawn of the Dead
George Romero didn't have to go this hard but in the '60s and '70s he was on a roll. Dawn of the Dead follows up Romero's debut one decade later with an absolutely apocalyptic vision of the present overrun with the undead. A group of four survivors take refuge in a mall and it doesn't take long for them to adjust back to their normal lives full of shopping and wiling away the hours. The peace lasts just long enough for them to become comfortable before all hell breaks loose.
Sure, it's a made for TV adaptation of Stephen King's vampire book, but it's a really freaky made for TV adaptation of Stephen King's vampire book. Directed by Tobe Hooper, the film follows the author Ben Mears as he returns to Jerusalem's Lot to find the town overrun by bloodsuckers. Hooper infuses the film with the dread of returning home after a long absence, and his take on vampirism is especially unsettling. More than just bloodsucking freaks, these vampires have an entire community and hierarchy that makes them all the more terrifying.
Eaten Alive AB SO LUTE LY slaps. Tobe Hooper's grimy alligator movie is fun, campy, and freaky, all the while tapping into the same rural fears as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Is there a killer crocodile in this movie? Definitely. But the real horror comes from Judd, a psychotic redneck from the swampland of rural east Texas. If you've never seen Eaten Alive it's a must watch for fans of Hooper.
Did you think that George Romero would make a normal vampire movie? Martin follows a young man named Martin (natch) who is so certain that he's a vampire that he uses razor blades and syringes to extract blood from his victims so he can feast on their life force. The film works as both a traditional vampire narrative as well as an exploration of the mind of a deeply troubled person.
Hitchcock could not stop himself from making bangers. Whether he was criss-crossing the world with Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart on some kind of caper or putting a blonde woman THROUGH IT in a horror movie, Hitchcock was always in control. The Birds has a deceptively simple premise - what if there were evil birds? - that Hitchcock uses to tell a story about primal fear and man's complete lack of understanding of the world around him.
Hour of the Wolf
Ingmar Bergman is known as a cold, introspective filmmaker behind some of the most iconic films of the '50s and '60s, but he's also has a phenomenal mind for horror. The film stars Max Von Sydow as an artist experiencing troubling visions while living on a remote island. As he investigates the dreams he falls in with a cult living on the other side of the island, leaving him changed irreparably.
Ganja & Hess
This experimental take on the vampire mythos is a fascinating look at eternal life. There are definitely scares in this movie, but the real horror is completely existential as it becomes clear that living forever is no walk in the park.
The Stepford Wives
Sci-fi horror was a major part of the 1970s as people began to think about how technology was changing every part of our lives. This film asks if you could change your partner, would you? When Joanna Eberhart and her husband move to the small affluent community of Stepford she soon discovers that everything isn't as perfect as it seems. A distinctly feminist horror film, The Stepford Wives is as tragic as it is chilling.
Scalpel, or False Face if you're nasty, is a genuinely unhinged thrill ride. Similar to Eyes Without A Face, the film follows a plastic surgeon obsessed with making one of his female patients look exactly like his missing daughter. This film may not be as critically adored as some of the other flicks on this list but it's incredibly fun to watch with an audience.
The Devil Rides Out
If very English gothic horror about the devil is your jam then you absolutely must see The Devil Rides out. Starring Christopher Lee as a Duke who realizes a bit too late that his protege is being caressed by Satan. Don't let the cheap special effects turn you off, this is Hammer Horror at its best.
In 1979, Don Coscarelli brought Phantasm to theaters and the world has never been the same. Starring Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man, an undertaker who turns dead bodies into *checks notes* super short zombies that he sends back to his home plant to be enslaved. Coscarelli's film is a fever dream of strange visuals that perfectly encapsulate the fear of the unknown as we enter our teenage years.