Most horror fans have very strong opinions on which decade is their favorite for the genre. The only thing that most of them can agree on is that the older decades are better than the current ones. But that’s not to discount all of the brilliant horror that’s been released in the 2010’s
The 30’s/40’s were all about the classic monsters, the 50’s dealt with sci-fi atomic fears, the 60’s were incredibly gothic, the 70’s were visceral and trendsetting, the 80’s were the golden age of slashers, the 90’s were gritty and meta, the 2000’s were hyper-violent to reflect a post-9/11 world, and the 2010’s saw a resurgence of paranormal, as well as found footage.
Each decade has brilliant classics, along with doozies that we’d rather forget. But when we look at each decade objectively, and what that decade did for the genre, it’s no contest that the 70’s reign supreme. In no way are we bashing or criticizing any other decade. Rather, we’re just going to explore why the 70’s is so important.
A New Cinematic Era
This decade wasn’t just groundbreaking for horror, but for overall cinema. It saw the releases of the world’s first blockbuster with Jaws, as well as Star Wars, which is arguably what gave birth to movie fandom.
The reason for this was that the 70’s saw a wave of independent filmmakers trying their hand at the craft, and with them came creativity, as well as new filmmaking techniques. There was a habit of many films in decades past to feel more like stage plays that were just being recorded.
They were very dialogue heavy, and the camera sort of just lingered as actors made use of stage space. However, the 70’s saw underdog directors like William Friedkin, Larry Cohen, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and many others trying guerilla techniques.
In fact, it was these bold techniques demonstrated by William Friedkin in The French Connection that landed him the directing job for The Exorcist.He was bold enough to make a film that, while very controversial in 1973, never would have seen the light of day only a few years earlier. If you want to see this illustrated perfectly, look no further than 1964’s The Last Man on Earth and its 1971 remake The Omega Man.
The former is a Vincent Price starring slow burn that’s shot in black and white and feels like an old school monster movie. It relies heavily on Price’s narration and has a very theatrical, almost overdramatic quality to it.
The latter is a violent, but stylistic action thriller with a catchy 70’s score that feels much more modern. But astonishingly, Omega Man only came out 7 years later, yet it feels like a completely different era; because film itself had changed.
The Source of the Slasher
There is no disputing this fact: the 70’s gave birth to the slasher subgenre. While some consider Psycho or Peeping Tom to be the first, they both feel more like precursors rather than actual slashers.
The first films that used the formula and feel like they have a claim to the title of “First Slasher” would be Black Christmas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween of course.
All three of these gems were responsible for what would become the slasher boom of the 80’s, and each are so iconic and lasting that they’ve spawned several remakes, sequels, and entire franchises in their wake.
As previously mentioned, this decade was a new era where independent directors had immense freedom and these three classic slashers were very much the result of that.
Since the Hays Code, there were many things that movies simply couldn’t show. This is why the murder scene in Psycho famously never shows the knife penetrating skin.
But alongside the slasher came the gritty grindhouse subgenre, with directors like Wes Craven making a name for himself with The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes.
The images of the Vietnam War being broadcast on the nightly news deeply disturbed many Americans, which was reflected in the increase of violence and gore seen on screen. Film’s like A Clockwork Orange would have been unthinkable just a few years prior.
While gore is not the only thing that can make a horror film entertaining, we can’t dispute the fact that it plays a very important role for many horror fans.
The Dawn of the Demons
However, it wasn’t just slashers that the 70’s gave way to. It also saw a trend in demonic horror, specifically demonic children. Arguably, this trend began with 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, but stylistically, that film feels more like its 60’s brethren.
The Exorcist inspired a whole new subgenre of possession/exorcism films, which is still very much alive today. Whenever a new one is made, they try to find some new or clever way to do it, because they all know the best they can hope for is to be remembered as the best exorcism movie since The Exorcist.
It’s really hard to grasp just how influential it was. For many years, it was the highest grossing horror movie of all time, as well as the highest grossing rated “R” film of all time. In a shocking move, it was even nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, lending it prestige.
Speaking of prestige, a giant movie star like Gregory Peck was headlining The Omen, and due to a deal he made for a percent of the gross, it wound up yielding him the biggest payday of any movie he had ever done.
Most Important Decade vs. The Best Decade
Admittedly, to say that the horror films of the 70’s are empirically better than that of the 80’s or 90’s is strictly a matter of opinion.
Everyone has their favorites, and the great thing about the horror community is that we can all share our favorites and love for the genre together. So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the 70’s was the most important decade of horror, rather than the best.
The simple fact is the genre we all know and love today simply wouldn’t be the same without this iconic and trendsetting decade.
Do you agree that the 70’s was the most important decade of horror? Which decade is your absolute favorite? Let us know in the comments!