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The late 60s saw a rise in violent crime from notorious killers including the Manson Family, Richard Speck, The Zodiac Killer, Charles Whitman and The Boston Strangler.
Why the sudden increase in homicide? Blame was placed on the rise of drug use and the collapse of the nuclear family. Even high levels of lead in the air were thought to have increased violent behavior.
This would inspire horror films to shift from tales of monsters and mad scientists to more grim and unsettling tales of the all too-human monsters in our midst, shaping the early stages of the “slasher” genre.
Let’s look at some notable examples.
Lewis, the king of lowbrow splatter films, directs this garish cheapie about Adam Sorge (Gordon Oas-Heim) a painter criticized for his poor choice of color by a noted art critic.
By accident, his girlfriend cuts her finger on one of his works-in-progress. Rather than being upset, Sorge realizes that the color of blood is just what his art needs, leading to a heavy body count as he tries to keep up production.
One of the more shamelessly grotesque films of the 60s, ‘Blood Red’ is a ghoulish guilty pleasure.
Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) is a Vietnam vet who murders his wife and mother before engaging in a deadly mass shooting on the Los Angeles freeway.
He eventually sets his sites on a drive-in movie theater, where elderly horror actor icon Byron Orlock (Boris Karloff) is making a personal appearance for a retrospective.
Orlock sets out to stop Thompson’s reign of terror, resulting in a symbolic battle of wills: an actor known for playing simplistic movie monsters versus a new kind of monster bearing a banal human face.
While one can argue ‘Targets’ isn’t a traditional slasher film given its focus on guns over knives, it established two traits synonymous with the genre: a villain with no motive or remorse and a veteran horror star in an elder statesman role.
This horror comedy takes place at a dilapidated estate housing the Merrye siblings, each afflicted with “Merrye Syndrome”, a rare disorder that causes them to regress though the evolutionary ladder upon puberty.
Caretaker Bruno (Lon Chaney, Jr.) tries to keep them out of the spotlight given their inclination towards violent behavior. But trouble arrives when distant relatives come looking to claim the property.
This invasion of privacy brings out the aggressive instincts of the Merrye children, especially Elizabeth (Jill Banner), who moves on from eating insects to stabbing victims with butcher knives.
Bruno soon realizes he’s lost all control over his brood and is forced to take drastic action before their murderous impulses run amok.
‘Spider Baby’ is a playful horror film that offsets its more disturbing elements with jokes, many of which revolve around Chaney Jr.’s role in ‘The Wolf Man’.
This strange mix made it hard to market at the time but it’s grown small but loyal cult following over the years, and inspired Rob Zombie’s films ‘House of a 100 Corpses’ and ‘The Devil’s Rejects.’
One of the first examples using the slasher template, this Brit chiller follows a group of Mods and their friend from the States (Frankie Avalon) who break into a (supposed) haunted mansion for kicks.
After a member is murdered following an séance, they turn on each other, convinced the killer is in their midst.
The group decides to bury the body and not alert the authorities. As the grapple with their guilt, a police investigation intensifies, pushing the real killer out into the open.
The combo of juvenile delinquents and a murderer shaped by childhood trauma makes ‘Haunted House’ a precursor of the slasher genre.
Our second Lewis entry focuses on a creepy magician who hypnotizes audience members to perform in stage illusions involving axes, swords and drills.
While the participants initially walk away unscathed, each dies days later in the same method as their onstage illusion.
While the authorities remain baffled, a man concerned by his girlfriend’s obsession with the show begins his own investigation into the magician’s reign of terror.
One can never claim Lewis was a filmmaker of great artistic ability, but he had a way with low-budget exploitation, making ‘Wizard’ a scuzzy cult classic.
While the 60s were ending, the rise in violent crime was not. The 70s and 80s would immortalize deranged serial killers like Ted Bundy, Son of Sam, Richard Ramirez and John Wayne Gacy, each seemingly more perverse and grisly than the last.
Slasher films had a symbiotic relationship with disquieting crime rates, continually upping the ante in terms of sex and violence, much to the chagrin of film critics and morality police.
But the seeds of the genre and the moral outrage surrounding it remain in the 60s – a decade defined by the loss of innocence, as violence slowly became the norm, and cinema offered a mirror to the depravity.
So that concludes my list of good slasher movies from the years 1965 to 1970. Which ones would you add to the list? Be sure and tell me in the comments.
And be sure to check out itcher lists of slasher films from 1965-1970, movies like ‘Halloween’ and ‘Psycho’, as well as the honorable mentions below:
Honorable Mentions: ‘Color Me Blood Red’, ‘Chamber of Horrors’, ‘Mantis in Lace’, ‘Twisted Nerve’, ‘The Bushwhacker’, ‘Berserk’, ‘Orgasmo’, ‘Hatchet For The Honeymoon’, ‘The Boston Strangler.’
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