Classic 1970s Horror Movies Coming to Criterion Channel in October

Criterion’s boutique streaming service is reminding us this Halloween why the ‘70s were a golden age for horror cinema.

Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Photo: New Line Cinema

It’s a great time to be a horror fan. Not only are Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and Shudder awash with all kinds of horror movies old and new, but the Criterion Channel is getting in on the gruesome action with a month’s worth of horror titles from the 1970s.

The subscription service is the digital offshoot of the Criterion Collection, which for more than 35 years has been providing definitive archival home video versions (first on laserdisc, then later DVD and Blu-ray) of classic and contemporary films from around the world. Criterion launched its streaming service last year as a way to offer a curated cross-section of its library of films online.

Horror has always had a respectful home at Criterion, with the company publishing definitive editions of a number of the genre’s landmark films. The October rollout of horror movies for the Halloween season is similar to what other companies are doing, but the focus is the difference here.

The 1970s is often considered the single greatest era for horror in the history of cinema. There were previous golden ages for sure, such as the 1930s, which was dominated by the Universal monsters, and the 1960s, during which Hammer and American International Pictures rose to prominence with an emphasis on color, more blood and more bare skin.

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But fueled by racial unrest, political turmoil, terrorism and war, horror largely cast aside its Gothic old world trappings in the 1970s, turning modern concerns about violence, revolution and society into provocative tales that were more frightening, hard-edged, bleak and brutal than ever before. The era was led by filmmakers like George A. Romero, David Cronenberg and Wes Craven, who injected social commentary and dark satire into the mix as well.

All of those directors and more are represented by at least one of the 28 films Criterion will highlight this month. George A. Romero’s early, prophetic tale of a rampaging virus, The Crazies (1973), will be on hand, along with another rare and little seen Romero title, Season of the Witch (1972). Cronenberg, meanwhile, will have three of his best “body horror” movies on display in the shape of Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977) and The Brood (1979).

The sole Craven offering is perhaps among the most sadistic films of all time, The Hills Have Eyes (1977), which is joined by Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) as standout examples of what happens when inhabitants of the modern world crash head-on into the residents of some of the more remote, darker corners of the United States.

You can’t go wrong with any of this month’s titles, which also include Hammer holdovers like The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), plus the influential folk horror movie, The Wicker Man (1973). But if you want some lesser known fare, we suggest the surreal Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), the Vietnam-infused vampire tale Deathdream (1974), the acidly satiric Theater of Blood (1973), the experimental classic Don’t Look Now (1973) and the brutal urban horror of Death Line (1972).

You can visit the Criterion Channel here and get all the info you need on how to subscribe. In the meantime, scan the service’s full October 1970s horror list below:

Trog (Freddie Francis, 1970)

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The Vampire Lovers (Roy Ward Baker, 1970)

Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kümel, 1971)

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (John D. Hancock, 1971)

The Nightcomers (Michael Winner, 1971)

Dracula A.D. 1972 (Alan Gibson, 1972)

Images (Robert Altman, 1972)

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Death Line (Gary Sherman, 1972)

Season of the Witch (George A. Romero, 1972)

The Crazies (George A. Romero, 1973)

Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)

Ganja & Hess (Bill Gunn, 1973)

Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1973)

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Theater of Blood (Douglas Hickox, 1973)

The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)

Deathdream (Bob Clark, 1974)

It’s Alive (Larry Cohen, 1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)

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Shivers (David Cronenberg, 1975)

The Witch Who Came from the Sea (Matt Cimber, 1976)

The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven, 1977)

Rabid (David Cronenberg, 1977)

Coma (Michael Crichton, 1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)

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Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston, 1978)

The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979)

The Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara, 1979)