1970s horror: my formative years

With a shrinking number of movies left in my collection to blog about, I figured it was time to finish off the 1970s stuff. So, here goes. Eight of them. And since it’s the 70s, dare I say eight is enough?

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971)

I kind of like the concept of this reimagining of the classic Poe story. The always welcome Jason Robards and his wife are putting on a theater production of the Poe classic when someone starts killing people via acid to the face.

The problem with the film is that it’s slow and boring and goes nowhere until the twist ending.

Straying completely away from Poe, this is more like Gaston LeRoux; its essentially The Phantom of the Opera, and there’s even a tinge of elusive serial killer Jack the Ripper thrown in.

The whole point is to find out why the wife has nightmares about an axe killer. Again, an interesting plot could have unfolded if only the film were, you know, interesting instead of boring.

BLACULA (1972)

The title alone makes Blacula sound like a campy 1970s blaxploitation flick, but it’s actually a classic vampire film with some genuinely frightening scenes. The only thing not scary is the character of Blacula!

Back in 1780, Dracula welcomes an African prince and wife into his home…then turns the prince vamp and locks the couple away in a tomb.

In the modern day, a gay couple gets hold of an antique coffin and inadvertently releases the prince…now known as Blacula! It’s amazing how society works and has always worked. While this is hailed as one of the first urban horror flicks focusing on people of color, the two gay dudes are totally considered “lesser than” by everyone. Detectives call them fags, and it’s said that fags all look alike. Odd considering one is blond and looks like Tommy Shaw of Styx, and the other looks like Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley with an Afro.

The gay guys become the scapegoats for Blacula’s wrongdoings. Hell, it’s their fault he’s unleashed on the world at all.

But all Blacula really wants is to woo the modern day reincarnation of his wife he runs into on the street. Small world.

Aside from the awful 1970s instrumental funk theme during the opening credits, Blacula delivers some very freaky vamp minions as Blacula converts more and more people.

Some standout scenes include one female vamp running down a hall in slow motion (I’m convinced it was borrowed for the roller skating scene in Fright Night 2), and a cemetery scene that was clearly the inspiration for a major jump scare in Salem’s Lot a few years later.

SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM (1973)

Thanks to a double feature DVD we move on to the sequel. While it’s kind of more of the same, this is not a bad sequel. It propels Blacula’s story forward and doesn’t have any anti-gay stuff.

Some jive turkey (I can’t believe we used to call each other that as kids) does a ritual and resurrects Blacula, who then sets up camp in his house.

Blacula sets his sights on Pam Grier, who is familiar with voodoo, because he wants her to do a ritual that will make him mortal.

There’s awful intro music again (sounds like early 1970s instrumental TV theme music), and freaky minions again. And this time, even Blacula’s first appearance is quite frightening, with some floaty action and eerie uplighting.

RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)

Overlooking the absolute worst, typical whimsical 70s muzak score at the very beginning, this one, which stars Peter Fonda and Loretta Swit, still holds up and is so clearly an influence on many films that came after it.

It also really messed me up when I watched it on TV as a kid, because it focuses on people traveling in an RV and motorcycle riding in the wilderness. This is exactly what I was dragged around by my parents doing every weekend when I wanted to be back in civilization, listening to my Abba and Andy Gibb records and watching The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on Sundays. Seriously, you have no idea how many Sundays of my youth I spent sobbing in a camper knowing we would never get home in time for me to watch my favorite show.

While camped in the woods at night, two couples witness a satanic cult sacrifice a woman around a fire. And…they’re spotted. EEK! They are then chased and terrorized across country by the cult.

Race With the Devil is loaded with action and suspense, vehicle chases, foreboding encounters with rednecks, and an unforgettable ending that still rox.

Plus, any movie that works Kraft Mac & Cheese product placement into a snake attack scene is my kind of film.

THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976)

The Food of the Gods will always remind me of the “Nature Strikes Back” week on the 4:30 movie. You had to be there.

Based loosely on the writing of H.G. Wells, it’s directed by b-movie king Bert I. Gordon (The Cyclops, Empire of the Ants, Village of the Giants) and doesn’t waste a moment in getting to its loony giant animal attacks.

Familiar 70s/80s film and TV face Marjoe Gortner (Earthquake, Mausoleum) comes to a remote island, rides a horse, and finds a dude dead with a swollen face who got attacked by giant bees.

Within minutes, Gortner is battling a giant rooster (a hilarious soulless mask), and meets a crazy religious freak who says god sent them a special food to feed the animals. I guess his average size horse hasn’t eaten the food.

A random cast of people cycles in to battle the beehives, icky giant rubber caterpillars, and most importantly…rats. This is mostly a giant rat movie. The odd thing about it is the close-up attacks on humans look awesome and are nice and gory, but the far shots of rats covering houses and cars look awful.

It’s so clear normal sized rats have been released to wreak havoc on little mini model sets that it detracts from just how awesome the death scenes are.

ORCA (1977)

Yes, it was the name of the boat in Jaws two years before. What’s interesting about this killer whale film is that I saw it in the theater at age 8 and was fine, but a year later when I saw Jaws 2 in the theater, I had a nightmare attack once I went to sleep that you don’t even want the gory details of.

It probably has to do with my sensitive little gay gene leading me to side with animals when they’re being mistreated. Orca is about a fucking fisherman asshole who decides he’s going to capture a killer whale after it saves his friend from a fucking great white. Yeah, poor whitey still gets a bad rap in this film.

Richard Harris (not just an actor—he had a hit with “MacArthur Park” a decade before Donna Summer) is the fuck face who decides to capture the whale.

Things go horribly wrong in one of the most disturbing scenes a gay boy of a tender age who loves animals has to endure watching. I’m talking about me now.

This is where Orca turns into Jaws: The Revenge. Veteran actress Charlotte Rampling and a local Native American man who lives in the fishing village warn Harris that killer whales are geniuses…and unforgiving. They’re right.

This whale finds ways to bring the entire town to its knees without ever leaving the water. I’m talking setting it on fire and shit. Eventually the town can’t take it anymore and Harris is assigned to go all Captain Ahab on its ass fin. Hell, there’s even a nod to Ahab’s lost leg when the whale enacts early revenge by taking down Harris’s entire house…which hovers over the water’s edge on stilts that look like fricking tree branches.

There are plenty of kills during the conflict, with us rooting for the whale the whole time. And don’t ask me how, but this fight ends up in glacier territory.

It’s a really a dark and dreary film, not a summer fun popcorn flick like the Jaws franchise.

THE CAR (1977)

This classic brings me right back to my hometown theater, where my mom would take us to see PG horror movies all summer long because she didn’t drive and the theater that showed Disney flicks was a town away. My mom ruled.

In my mind, this movie about a killer car was totally ripped off several years later by…ahem…a horror author who was quickly growing in popularity.

It’s also the movie that gave me kiddie wood for James Brolin, who plays the sheriff in the film. Watching it now, I also realize every horror film patterned itself after Jaws following that film’s huge success in 75.

The first kill scene is amazing—a couple on bikes gets creamed. The cool thing about this sexy black demon car is that it always beeps furiously when it’s coming for you, and it has red-tinted killer windshield POV.

Brolin’s two kids are played by childhood scream queens Kim and Kyle Richards, his awesome girlfriend is Kathleen Lloyd (It’s Alive II), and the “town” they live in seems to be nothing but a vast wasteland of desert.

While I still enjoy The Car, the thrilling attack scenes last only so long before the film has its “let’s get that fucker once and for all” final act that just bores the hell out of me. I’m talking Jaws men on a boat final act boring. Yeah, that’s right. I’ve said it before and I say it again. The second half of Jaws sux. I’ll take the nonstop thrills of Jaws 2 over that shit any day.

As for this film, is it just me, or is there some sort of snake demon forming in the fiery explosion at the end?

Oh fuck you and your spoiler alert whining. You know there’s no other way for this film to end.

DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (1979)

Racing towards the 80s slashers explosion, this one is obviously influenced by Psycho. It has a notable touch of Maniac in it. However, not only did it come first, but for me it’s a better movie if I have to choose between films in a subgenre I hate: the portrait of a serial killer.

This dude works at a warehouse, and a bad burn accident immediately lets us know he has an issue with fire…and that these were the days when faggot was the go to word of choice to degrade another man.

At home, the dude finds his emasculating mother dead, and then hears voices telling him he’s free—to start luring women to his house to strap up naked in a metal room then set on fire with a blow torch.

Generally the kills aren’t convincing enough to be horrific (neither is the acting), which I’m totally fine with because torture porn isn’t my thing. What is my thing is the macabre horror.

He may not have mannequins like Maniac, but this guy is terrorized by visions of the burned living dead corpses of his victims throughout his house. It would actually be eerie and scary if we didn’t feel this guy deserves to be tortured by burned corpses.

Adding to the sleazy feel of the film is the excessive amount of disco montages. But I have to say, disco can really kill a horror movie just as much as heavy metal.

One other interesting thing to note. Despite the gay slur at the beginning, the main guy seems totally non-judgmental about the clearly gay guy who helps him when he goes to buy new threads for a night at the disco.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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