Welcome back to the Salon, and welcome to what will (hopefully) be the first in a long series, the idea for which came to me in a flash of inspiration not too long ago. Basically, I’m going to go through lists of all the horror films that came out every year since I was born, and pick out my five favorite ones from each year, in no particular order. Easy enough concept, right? Everyone on the same page? Good. Off we go, into the foggy mists of the year of my birth, 1972.
Despite the cheesy but oh-so-perfect title, William Crain’s blaxploitation classic Blacula takes its source material seriously, and the tone is helped immensely by the elegant gravitas of actor William Marshall in the title role.
Blacula, whose real name is Prince Mamuwalde, heads for a meeting with Count Dracula back in the late 18th century; he’s seeking the Count’s help in suppressing the slave trade. But Dracula pulls not just one, but several dick moves: firstly, he hits on Mamuwalde’s beautiful wife Luva, right at the dinner table in front of everybody. Then, when Mamuwalde understandably protests, Drac bites Mamuwalde, passing on the vampire curse to him. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, he also gives Mamuwalde the kinda insulting name Blacula, seals him in a coffin, and locks his wife in the crypt with him, so he can witness her slowly die. In case you weren’t aware, Count Dracula is kind of an asshole.
We then jump ahead to the present day of 1972, where two gay stereotypes who are also interior decorators purchase the coffin at an estate sale and open it up, getting themselves desanguinated and releasing Blacula into the streets of Los Angeles. From there, Blacula’s badass fashion sense, velvety smooth voice, and impeccable manners endear him to a local group of friends, one of whom is a woman named Tina, who Blacula believes is his beloved wife Luva reincarnated. Blacula seduces Tina, while at the same time snacking on other people in her inner circle, making the whole situation slightly awkward for everyone involved.
I love everything about this movie. Blacula is such a great character, monstrous and yet still sympathetic, and William Marshall has such screen presence that he’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch. It’s just a really good-looking, well-made film overall, with a fantastic score, gorgeous 70s fashion, hot men and women, and an entertaining story.
There was a sequel the following year called Scream Blacula Scream, which is also outstanding and has more of a voodoo angle, though other, unrelated blaxploitation horror titles that followed in the wake of Blacula‘s success, such as Blackenstein, were of decidedly lower quality. Apparently, though, the guy who made Blackenstein also directed a movie called Black the Ripper that never got released, and I’m not gonna lie, I really kinda want to see that.
In late 2021, ideas were being batted around for a Blacula reboot/remake, so we’ll see how that goes.
Come on, how could I not pick this one? While closer to being a thriller or a drama than a straight horror film, the subject matter hews close enough to the survival horror genre that I’ll allow it, and hell, Wikipedia has it categorized under “List of horror films from 1972,” and who am I to quibble?
I feel as though John Boorman’s Deliverance has so seeped into the public consciousness that even people who have never seen it have still kinda seen it, if that makes any sense. When you say to someone, “Keep paddling, I hear banjos,” pretty much everyone instantly knows exactly what you mean; likewise, when someone tells you (well, hopefully not you specifically) to “squeal like a pig,” you know that it’s going to be a bad time.
But for those who may have just crawled out of a 1950s fallout shelter or warped in from some alternate dimension, Deliverance is a film based on the 1970 novel by James Dickey, in which four “big city” friends from Atlanta, Georgia take a canoeing vacation out in the wilderness to do some much-needed male bonding. Aside from having to deal with just your standard, run-of-the-mill survival challenges out in the wild, the gang also fall afoul of a group of backwoods hillbillies, who brutally rape one of the men, played by Ned Beatty. The movie then becomes a savage revenge flick, as the friends try to track down and kill the hicks responsible, all while also having to contend with nature being a general pain in the ass who is completely indifferent to human suffering.
Beautifully shot, amazingly acted (especially by Burt Reynolds, in his star-making role), and absolutely grueling to watch, Deliverance is a deserved classic, and was nominated for three Oscars and five Golden Globes.
The Last House on the Left
Another gritty, rape-revenge film released in 1972, The Last House on the Left was the directorial debut of horror legend Wes Craven, and despite being fifty years old, the movie is still fairly shocking and definitely makes you feel like you need a Silkwood shower after watching it.
The story, essentially an exploitation-horror take on Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 film The Virgin Spring, follows a pair of young hippie girls—Mari Collingwood and Phyllis Stone—who are heading to a concert in the city when they make the unfortunate decision to follow a guy named Junior back to his place to buy some weed. Surprise, surprise: there’s a gang of lowlifes at the apartment (clearly inspired by the Manson family), who proceed to gang-rape one of the girls before tying them both up, throwing them in the trunk of their car, and taking them out to the middle of the woods before raping, torturing, and killing them, all shown in pretty squirm-inducing detail.
After the girls are killed, the lowlifes end up, coincidentally, at the home of Mari’s parents, who were preparing for her seventeenth birthday party and have no idea yet that she’s dead. The lowlifes pretend to be traveling salesmen, and the Collingwoods hospitably open their home to them, giving them food and a place to stay. But when they overhear the gang talking about what they did to the two girls, the parents click right into brutal vengeance mode, utilizing knives, electrocution, chainsaws, and penis-chomping to dispatch the dirtbags.
The cheap look of this one really contributes to its illicit vibe, and even though there’s some very weird, slapstick-style comedy in places that probably didn’t need to be there, this one is harshly effective, in large part because of the completely scuzzy atmosphere of the entire enterprise and the absolutely skin-crawling performance of David Hess as gang leader Krug.
Thomas Tryon’s novel The Other is one I always bring up when someone asks me to recommend great horror novels from the 1970s. Although Tryon himself wrote the screenplay for the 1972 movie adaptation, he reportedly wasn’t all that happy with the final result; I have to say, though, that I have no idea what his issue was with it, because the film is fucking great.
Set in rural Connecticut in 1935, the story centers around twin boys named Holland and Niles, who live on a farm with their widowed mother and their aunt and uncle. Also present is the boys’ Russian grandmother Ada (played by the legendary Uta Hagen), who has taught the boys essentially how to astral project; they can place their consciousness inside another person, or even an animal, so they can experience life through different eyes.
It all seems like quite a lark until this ostensibly harmless game leads to some pretty devastating consequences, and as the story goes on, there’s a pretty big twist that I don’t really want to spoil; despite the movie’s age, I feel as though it’s a bit underseen and under-appreciated, and it’s best gone into not knowing what the twist is.
Even though almost the entire thing takes place in warm, pastoral sunlight, with a sort of Normal Rockwell nostalgia to it, there’s just something really eerie and subtly menacing about the film, and one scene in particular (involving a rain barrel) haunted my dreams for years after I first saw it as a kid.
Incidentally, The Other was only the third film appearance by the beloved comedic actor John Ritter, who went on to lasting fame in the late 1970s, starting with his iconic role as Jack Tripper on the sitcom Three’s Company.
The Brian de Palma film that doesn’t get brought up nearly as often as it should, the weird and creepy Sisters also focuses on a set of twins, played by a fantastic Margot Kidder (with a French accent, no less). De Palma loosely based the screenplay on a pair of real-life conjoined twins from the Soviet Union that he read about in a Life magazine article in 1966.
The story deals with a French Canadian model named Danielle, who apparently has a murderous twin sister named Dominique who will kill anyone who engages in a spirited game of hide the sausage with Danielle. Dominique apparently doesn’t want anyone coming between her and her sister, you see, either literally or figuratively.
After Danielle brings home a man named Philip after a date and he is brutally stabbed to death by Dominique, a suspicious neighbor named Grace who also happens to be a newspaper reporter looking for her big break reports what she saw to police, though by the time the cops arrive at Danielle’s apartment, all the evidence has been scrubbed and the body has been expertly hidden, with the help of Danielle’s constantly lurking, John Waters-esque ex-husband Emil.
From there, the reporter hires a private detective (played by Charles Durning), and the pair try to Scooby-Doo their way to the bottom of the murder, convinced that Danielle is protecting her twin sister. The movie gets considerably weirder as it goes on, involving a mental hospital and some bizarre dream sequences, with one particularly nightmarish scene toward the end that might give you some psychosexual heebie-jeebies. And like The Other, this one also has something of a twist that I don’t really want to spoil, though I will say that in my opinion, the twist is more obvious in this film than it is in The Other. I don’t think that knowing the twist diminishes the impact of the film, though your mileage may vary.
Shot in that off-kilter Hitchcockian style that de Palma is known for, and featuring a thread of black humor as well as a few very effective uses of his trusty split-screen effects, this one is another underrated gem that really needs more love.
Stay tuned for the next installment, in which I’ll pick my top five favorite movies that came out in 1973. Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.
3 thoughts on “My Favorite Horror Movies from Every Year Since I Was Born: 1972”
As a wise man once said the only monsters that are real are Dracula, Blacula & Son of Kong
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I’ve never seen Blacula or Sisters, and I saw The Other when it first came out (in other words, a LONG time ago). Deliverance and Last House are great. Good list; I look forward to 1973!
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