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The Terrifying, Terrific Horror Movies of 1972

In 2022, we got a slate of great horror movies from X and Pearl to Glorious and Barbarian. What a lovely year for scares. And there’s no time like now to look way back to a classic horror year with amazing and scary (though often underseen) films that came out fifty years before these films. Who knew 1972 was also such a good year for horror? Here are some of our favorites from the barrage of boo that hit the screens in ’72.

Variety Distribution/American International Pictures

All the Colors of the Dark

The early 1970s were resplendent with giallo movies, the Italian mystery-thriller cycle that began to merge with horror in dark and interesting ways. Director Sergio Martino made five of these films in the early 1970s, and the spookiest of those is All the Colors of the Dark. It takes the murder mystery and gives it an infusion of psychedelia and witchcraft. You truly cannot beat raven haired actress Edwige Fenech in her prime, nor can you beat Bruno Nicolai’s electrifying score.

Asylum

In the 1950s and ’60s, Hammer Films were the unstoppable in the realm of British horror. By the 1970s, however, they struggled to keep up with mainland Europe and America. In the UK, upstart Amicus Films took the top spot with a series of anthology horror films starring the likes of Lee and Cushing. Asylum was one of two such movies in 1972. This one sees a potential new head physician at a mental hospital listening to the terrifying and unbelievable stories of the patients. The orderly wagers he can’t figure out which of these patients is the former head physician.

Blacula

The Blaxsploitation movement in the early ’70s brought Black culture to the mainstream, and also gave us several traditionally white film types through a Black lens. One of these latter type movies that absolutely shouldn’t work is Blacula, cleverly an African vampire prince instead of a Transylvanian one. Despite the silly name and exploitation vibes, Blacula is a surprisingly creepy, romantic horror flick. And it features character actor Thalmus Rasulala, maybe the coolest name in history.

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things

Before Black Christmas, Porky’s, and A Christmas Story, director Bob Clark made a weird little spooky comedy with a silly name. A theatre troupe go to an abandoned island for a mock satanic ritual. Always a good plan. While they spend most of the runtime bickering and boinking, their insufferable leader (co-writer Alan Ormsby) actually manages to raise the dead. Oops. The final act of this movie is truly gnarly zombie carnage.

Don’t Torture a Duckling

Medusa Distribuzione

Lucio Fulci is the king of Italian splatter with his ’80s offerings Children of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetery. But in the late-’60s through the late ’70s he made a number of different kinds of movies, like westerns, sex comedy, and, as in this case, giallo. This tale, of a rural Italian town beset by unsolved child murders, is one of the darkest of the genre. Fulci picks apart provincial superstition and prejudice while showing us grisly violence and lost innocence. Fun!

Dracula A.D. 1972

Remember when I mentioned Hammer Films earlier? This was the kind of thing they were doing in the ’70s. The penultimate appearance of Christopher Lee as Dracula for the company, this one moves from the moody Gothic period films of the series into sexy, swinging modern day London. It’s a weird movie, to be sure, and the supremely gaunt Peter Cushing can’t quite perform as the action hero Van Helsing he once was, but it’s pretty fun regardless. And has a killer theme tune.

Horror Express

Speaking of Lee and Cushing, they got to team up for real in another movie in 1972. (That’s three already just on this list!) The Spanish-produced Horror Express takes place entirely aboard the Trans-Siberian Express in the late 1800s as rival scientists Lee and Cushing have to contain a monster. Lee has brought a block of ice with a prehistoric ape onto the train for research. So you’re thinking, oh I bet the giant ape wakes up and gets loose on the train. Not quite. The ape is actually host to a sinister alien lifeform which takes over people’s brains. So it’s like Victorian The Thing. It’s rad as hell, trust me.

The Last House on the Left

The late Wes Craven’s legend looms large on the horror world. A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream will never not appear on people’s yearly best-of horror lists and marathons. But we mustn’t forget his first film, made with heavy Vietnam-era frustration and downbeat attitude. A loose adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, The Last House on the Left features a lengthy, brutal torture and murder sequence of two innocent young girls, and that’s only halfway through the movie. When the psychotic group of killers arrive at one of the girls’ parents’ house, things get even rougher.

Sisters

American International Pictures

I have a real love-hate with Brian de Palma movies. Like, dude, just admit you’re ripping off Hitchcock, it’s fine! Everybody does it. Despite that, I can’t deny he’s very adept at suspense and weirdness. His 1972 thriller mixes a Rear Window set-up (reporter swears she saw a murder across the street) with psycho-supernatural twin stuff. De Palma begins his fixation with split-screen here as well, which is definitely a trademark to have. Margot Kidder plays the titular twins and she is dynamite.

Tales from the Crypt

T’other Amicus anthology film to come out in ’72, this one adapts several stories from the classic E.C. horror comics. This is one of the more moody and gloomy of Amicus’ bunch (probably because it was shot entirely in overcast England). A group of strangers find themselves in a strange cave where a hooded man tells them why they’re there. This leads into each story, wherein not good people find their comeuppance. Stories include a woman who murdered her husband at Christmas only to be menaced by a lunatic in a Santa suit; a military taskmaster takes over a home for blind veterans who don’t take kindly to their new treatment; and an adulterer who desperately tries to get to his mistress following a car accident.

The best story hands down is “Poetic Justice” in which the horrible rich people trying to force a kindly old widower (Peter Cushing) out of his home and very quickly wish they hadn’t.

Tombs of the Blind Dead

Euro-horror of the ’60s and ’70s is some of my very favorite. The tone, the style, and the premises are so fascinating. This Spanish film checks the boxes on just about all of them. A trio of young people—two women and a men—aboard a train to the country find themselves menaced by mummified Knights Templar from the Crusades who have no eyes and hunt via sound. It’s such a weird little movie but incredibly effective and gruesome.

Other 50-Year-Old Screamers

Honorable mention goes to other movies turning 50 this year. Godzilla vs. Gigan is a ton of fun; Night of the Lepus is about giant killer bunny rabbits; The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is another excellent Gothic giallo with a scary masked murderer; Alfred Hitchcock himself made the giallo-inspired Frenzy; and who doesn’t love backwoods banjo nightmare of Deliverance? Darn good movies all around!

Also there’s the 1972 British horror movie The Asphyx which I don’t think is a very good movie but has an amazing trailer.

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.

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