What collective concept would I use for the European horror movies of the seventies? Goldmine, I guess. Perhaps that is the decade where one can find many pictures now considered as classics. And this goldmine had so much variety 30-40 years ago: vampires, cannibals, zombies, witches, and many others, all brought to the silver screen with the highest standards imaginable. In my article, I would like to look into the pictures of the countries which were the most significant in the field of horror movies, the different trends, and, most importantly, the minds of the directors who created these cult movies (the list is subjective, of course, so it is impossible for it to be complete). [Editor’s note: the original Hungarian article was published in 2011.]
The British horror movie studios already accumulated a great deal of heritage, so, for example, Hammer, which wanted to continue its popular themes – Dracula, Frankenstein – even in the seventies. After 1970, with the softening of censorship, the studio could put a little more blood into its films, not to mention that nudity and eroticism appeared (Scars of Dracula, 1970; Lust for a Vampire, 1970; Twins of Evil, 1971…). But apart from this, the most important characteristics of Hammer-horrors still remained: ambitious implementation, professional cinematography, spectacular costumes (most of the movies was a periodical, historical picture) and a great crew. From the long line of directors, we should mention Terence Fisher and Roy Ward Baker, and Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing from the actors’ list. Only two studios, Amicus and Tigon could achieve considerable success among the contemporaries of Hammer, for they copied the Hammer style with ambitious and high-standard pictures, often used historical background and tended to hire a trustworthy Hammer-director (for example Baker, who shot And Now the Screaming Starts! for Amicus in 1974), yet the amount of violence often exceeded the, let’s say, a Hammer’s Dracula-picture (two of Tigon’s most memorable, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, 1970, and Witchfinder General, 1968 were especially tough and depressing).
In connection to England, one has to mention the year 1973. Two such horror movies were made, which are considered classics and probably even those moviegoers like them who are not especially keen on the genre. They are called The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now, and they are definitely amongst the decade’s finest. The first one, directed by Robin Hardy and based on the book of Anthony Shaffer, mixes the local folklore of the island with horror and the search for a missing person, while the Londonian Nicolas Roeg’s masterpiece, which is available for Hungarian audiences and is an adaptation of a Daphne De Maurier story, is an eerie ghost story typical from the director, and it preceded its time and has perfectly disturbing editing technique, which transforms into something completely baffling at the end.
The master of the urban or so-called middle-class horror (which can be referred to as “the terrible things of our everyday lives”) was Pete Walker from the middle of the decade, who gained his place in the history books with his great scripts (from David McGillivray), provocative cynicism, and occasionally extremely brutal depiction of violence. The stories he told – some of which set in illegal prisons for promiscuous young women (House of Whipcord, 1974) or within the walls of a cruel Catholic priest (House of Mortal Sin, 1976) – are thought-provoking, and show the audience the deepest layers of human maleficence with extreme precision and occasionally with clinical detail (in the case of the ending of House of Mortal Sin, this is especially significant).
France opened the decade with a legendary surreal nightmare, which is slowly being re-discovered by today’s audiences, directed by the well-known scriptwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet (L’éden et aprés, 1970). Although he was an active moviemaker from the beginning of the sixties, Jean Rollin made his most famous pictures between 1970 and 1980. Just like Robbe-Grillet, the recently deceased Rollin worked with a low budget, and his speciality was vampires. Little dialogue, beautiful women, erotica, perversion, and lots and lots of vampires – his masterpieces were possibly the Vierges et vampires (Requiem for a Vampire, 1971) and the Lévres de sang (Lips of Blood, 1975) duo.
Nevertheless, an other vampire movie was made in 1971, Les lévres rouges/Daughters of Darkness (French-Belgian-West Germanian co-production) directed by Harry Kümel, which, in my opinion, has every right to be considered the greatest vampire movie ever made. One of the greatest assets of this movie set in an abandoned hotel is the star of L’Année dernière à Marienbad/Last Year at Marienbad, Delphine Seyrig and the vampire character she plays who seduces a young; the most accurate epithet for this movie is “beautiful” in all senses.
Walerian Borowczyk, who left Poland in the sixties to make movies for the French and Italians shot his erotic horror movie La bête (The Beast, 1975) in Frenchland. Borowczyk was also familiar with the area of nunsploitation (nuns’ activities shifting from loving each other to rebel against their social position), and we can thank him for Interno di un convento/Behind Convent Walls, 1978. Another honorary French, but otherwise Polish director even more famous than Borowczyk is Roman Polanski (who, more to this, was born in Paris), who left his mark in the seventies with a fine scary movie The Lodger (referred to as The Tenant on imdb for some reason): the shy main character (played by Polanski himself) moves into a large apartment house, only to encounter various horrors.
The horror palette of Spain was mostly built up of the filmographies of its characteristic directors. Paul Naschy became famous for his vampires and werewolves amongst others, and Jesus (Jess) Franco for his oueuvre which contains everything from eroticism to exploitation, all the way to horror movies. Interestingly enough the Spanish made an excellent movie featuring the living dead (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue/Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, 1974), even before the great zombie movie wave at the end of the decade, and it features both social commentary and bloody gore just like the great American masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead (1978). Not to mention that Jorge Grau’s zombie movie mixed with science fiction was mostly shot in England with the assistance of Italy.
If I would have to choose my favourite Iberian horror movie, I would probably mention two masterpieces of Narciso Ibáňez Serrador. Made at the turning point of the sixties and the seventies, with its great characters – the students and the headmistress of a strict girl’s school – technical perfection and structure, La residencia (The House That Screamed) is still copied even today.¿Quién puede matar a un niňo?/Who Can Kill a Child? from 1976 is the mixture of sci-fi and pessimistic horror: a married couple wages war against children in a fishing village. Nihilistic, instructive, thought-provoking, brilliant.
Before I would turn my attention towards the Italians as the most avid horror-makers, I would like to mention three titles. Nosferatu, F. W. Murnau’s classic from 1922 was re-imagined in 1979 (Nosferatu the Vampyre); this time it was directed by Werner Herzog, starring Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani and Bruno Ganz. Much earlier, in 1968, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman baffled the audience with his surrealistic, “demonical” horror-psycho-drama, Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen) (allow me to put the end of the sixties to the seventies, because for me, cinematically, that was the beginning of the seventies. I prefer to talk about the decade of the seventies in a longer sense, starting from 1966-67 to the middle of the eighties). The Czechoslovakian presented a surrealistic horror movie like Bergman, Valerie a týden divu/Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), directed by Jaromil Jires. Growing up, vampires, the mixture of dream and reality with picturesque images (the idea of the Neil Jordan horror movie The Company of Wolves was inspired by Valerie).
And now to Italy. Many thinks that they are the great copiers in many genres (western, horror, sci-fi), but I do not entirely agree with this. If our Italian friends copied something – which, mind you, happened often –, they also added and developed it most of the times, and they didn’t lack original ideas either. In my humble opinion, most of the goldmine I mentioned earlier comes from the many Italian horror movies. This group offers an almost infinite amount of pictures, no matter if we are only talking about the creators (Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Pupi Avati…) or the high standards they set in many fields of the genre (giallo, zombies, occult, cannibal movies…). If we look at the great Italian subgenre, giallo, it was Mario Bava who had his most glorious years in the sixties, yet still had some tasty treats for the seventies (Il rosso segno della follia/Hatchet for the Honeymoon, 1970; Reazione a catena/A Bay of Blood, 1971, the last one is the precursor of the American slasher movies, for example, Friday the 13th).I like to call giallo “the beautiful horror”. The murders – where most victims are pretty ladies – are artistically thought out and shot, colours have a significant role, blood is glaringly red, the murderer’s glove is black (Argento wore it himself on set), brilliant cinematography (see how the murderer of Deep Red (1975) is hiding in front of our eyes on the screen), incredible music and flourishing eroticism… so it’s basically the cinematic instruments of primetime crime stories boosted to extremities, causing many problems to the censors. And one last important part: the scripts are filled with twists, clever, unpredictable, and almost playing with the audience. To get to specific examples, Argento’s first masterpiece, L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo/The Bird With the Crystal Plumage from 1970 fits almost all of the aforementioned criteria on an amazingly high level. The identity of the perpetrator remains a mystery up to the last minute, and finally somebody who nobody suspected appears with a horrifying laugh and gives the audience the finger. Deep Red, although follows the same pattern – mixed with some supernatural elements –, is truly Argento at his best. A magnificently written story, great music (the band Goblin, the director’s regular colleague), many legendary and frightening moments.
Although many of us would think of zombies first when talking about Lucio Fulci, Europe’s most controversial (and hated) director also made great giallos, too ((Sette note in nero/The Psychic, 1977, Una lucertola con la pelle di donna/A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, 1971), but Pupi Avati’s film starring the house with the laughing windows (La casa dalle finestre che ridono/The House with Laughing Windows, 1976) is the most outstanding representative of the genre. Sergio Martino, Aldo Lado, Francesco Barilli, or Massimo Dallamano are only the icing on the cake.
The 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead resurrected the dead (although it was not clear back than which movie was finished first). Fulci’s Zombie (1979) used an extreme amount of blood and violence, resulting in several bans and knock-offs, and is probably the best Italian zombie movie.
Ruggero Deodato was a groundbreaker in the field of Italian cannibal movies, his experimenting reached its peak with the most significant and controversial picture, Cannibal Holocaust (1979). The inhumane brutality of this movie often causes audiences to forget just how magnificent this production is, from the suffocative atmosphere to the music, cinematography, editing or social satire. One thing is definitely certain: the “CH” was before its time.
And there is a masterpiece for dessert. Argento’s supernatural horror movie Suspiria (1977) is a picture that should be included in every essay on this decade, independent of genre. Suspiria is possibly the most outstanding picture of the era; the young American woman arrives to a ballet institute, where she faces various horrors and an ancient secret. The colour palette, musical score and style are all worthy of a separate article each, but since this essay is merely an introspection, a sort of “guide”, this will have to wait until the next part, where I will attempt to bring the subjectively selected masterpieces of the era closer to the readers, trying to get them interested with trivia, stories, scandals (there were many), hoping to get them interested…
The article was written by Péter Brányi, translated by Ferenc Benkő
A cikk magyarul az alábbi linken olvasható: http://sfmag.hu/2011/03/07/a-hetvenes-evek-europajanak-legjobb-horrorfilmjei/
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