The 1970s has long been recognised as the leading decade for producing consistently terrifying horror movies, and is well known for laying the foundations for the horror movie tropes that we saw develop throughout the 1980s, 90s and into the 21st century.
The Slasher horror movie became fruitful in the late 1970s and directors began to push the boundaries of what could be shown on screen. Many were popular at grindhouses and drive-in cinemas, attracting fans of low-budget splatter-horror and gore.
The films in this list were considered to be some of the most shocking horror films of their time, most of them using never-before-seen special effects, horrifying narratives and intensely thrilling performances from their casts.
With such a plethora of memorable, genre-defining releases, the 1970s offered up dozens of memorable horror movie moments, the 10 Best of which will be presented in this Top List.
These are the 10 Best Horror Movie Moments of the 1970s.
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10. Dawn of the Dead (1978) – Basement Zombies
Kicking off our top ten is the second in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead series, Dawn of the Dead. Showing the further extent of the events in the first film, survivors of the outbreak barricade themselves in a shopping mall amid mass public hysteria.
One of the film’s more unnerving scenes comes at the start. Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger) find themselves fighting through a housing block full of zombies before coming upon the building’s basement. Realising that residents have been hiding their dead rather than delivering them to the National Guard, Peter and Roger discover a room of zombies all feasting on fresh flesh and struggling inside body bags. In a drawn-out moment, Peter begins to kill each ‘undead’ individually by shooting, which Roger steps in to help with.
The scene focuses particular attention to the ethnicity of the undead – with the majority of them being black or Latino – a big hint to the awful treatment and conditions of housing for minority communities in the 70s and beyond. Although this scene is not necessarily terrifying by way of jump scares or some of those yet to come in this list, it is scary in a way that points to the true terror of our own world and thus as poignant of a moment in horror as any to come.
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – The Scream
At number nine is Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a remake of the 1956 film and adapted from the novel by Jack Finney. In a world where humans are being replaced by alien duplicates, the most disturbing moment in the film comes at the last minute.
In the final scene, Matthew (Donald Sutherland) reveals himself to be a duplicated “pod person” by emitting an ear-splitting shriek whilst pointing frighteningly at Nancy (Veronica Cartwright). Presenting a constant sense of unease throughout the film, this scene is the icing on the cake. It has since become the stuff of legend, the above shot recognisable to all fans of film, not just those who enjoy this Ivasion of the Body Snatchers, and one of the most memorably unnerving moments of 1970s horror.