Has there ever been a more devilish decade in cinema than the seventies?
It started off with howl as Linda Blair become the object of the devil’s desire in “The Exorcist.”
“The Exorcist” might be the singular most scary film I have ever seen, and to this day I will not watch it. The atmosphere of the film is chilling and the psychological cat and mouse game between the devil and Jason Miller’s character adds to the twisted macabre which feeds upon our sense of existential sense of doubt.
On the heels of “The Exorcist” there was the equally unnerving, “The Omen.” However, whereas “The Exorcist” fed on our fear of losing control of self and soul, “The Omen” was every parents worst nightmare, asking the question; “Did I give birth to the antichrist?” And as a current parent, when my child acts out, the thoughts of conceiving the little devil claw at the brain.
Those were the two headline horrors of the seventies, but there were others of lesser note, including the ridiculous, “Devils Rain” featuring a young, future scientologist named “Travolta” in his first feature role, “The Legend Of Hell House,” a decidedly creepy British flick where a house possessed by an evil spirit has it’s way with the members of the seance party, “The Manitou,” a bizarre twist on the possession theme as an evil, ancient, midget shaman grows out of tumor-like apendage on the back of Susan Strasberg. The manitou/midget does battle with Tony Curtis, a parapsychologist and Michael Ansara who plays “John Singing Rock,” the good shaman. Ansara utters one of my favorite lines of all filmdom; “Hope is for fools and saints. I’m just an indian from South Dakota with a bag of tricks.”
One of the scarier devil flicks of the seventies was “Race With The Devil” starring Warren Oates and Peter Fonda. Oates and Fonda play two, well-heeled business dudes with two trophy squeezes played by Loretta Swit and Lara Parker. The two couples take off to see the country in an RV, and quickly find themselves getting into a road rage incident with the wrong people–Oates and Fonda wind up hassling with satanists on cyles and pick-ups. There’s a similar sense of creepy doom that permeates “The Exorcist” in “Race.” The race leads to an ending where the hubris of Oates and Fondas’ characters become their undoing. The satanists in the film were actual satanists, some of which even had ties to The Manson Family.
But perhaps the strangest and most compelling of the many satanic, cinematic offerings is a cult classic named, “God Told Me To Kill You.” It was originally named “Demon” since the film’s distributors thought it would be far too offensive in most conservative markets.
It was directed by Larry Cohen, a crown prince of the B-Flick, just a notch or two below the undisputed king, Roger Corman. Cohen was a great guerilla filmaker, often skirting the rules in public places to shoot a scene, getting pedestrians and passers by to act as extras.
“GTMTKY” is part supernatural thriller, part science-fiction-fantasy, part muder mystery. Tony Lo Bianco plays Dt. Lt. Peter J Nicholas who is investigating a series of murders that defy explanation, after he stumbles onto to the fact that a number of the killers are responding to God’s exhortations for them to murder. Nicholas (Lo Bianco) begins to unravel his past to come to the disturbing conclusion that he and the being that orders the executions are connected by more than just the crimes themselves.
The film raises some very potent questions about the nature of God, and humanity. It moves crisply as Lo Bianco transforms from a man whose spiritual devotion is his strength, to one that has to use that strength to exterminate evil and thus sacrifice his own life in the process.
Cohen gave birth to “It’s Alive” which made him a ton of money from thousands of drive-ins across America, but never again achieved the psychological sophistication of “GTMTKY” in his other films.
It was a demonic decade that was ushered in by the sonic-satanic-ritual at Altamont and ended with the death of John Lennon, a symbol of hope to a generation of searchers and seekers. The films of the time convey an unholy subliminal that something had gotten loose when the Summer of Love turned to Fall.