Frankenstein to Star Wars, Best 'Genre' per Decade - 70's
by Troy Brownfield
Date: 14 October 2008 Time: 06:17 PM ET
Greetings, film fans! Please remember that this list doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive; we’re offering some of our takes, and we invite you to chime in with some of yours.So here it is, folks. We’ve gone these past few months through the ’30s , '40s , '50s and ‘60s . It’s time now for the decade that gave you The Ramones, The Muppet Show, and me. Clearly, some good things were going on. Unfortunately, due to our charge to examine the ‘70s only up to the game-changing Star Wars in May 1977, we’ll have to leave out full write-ups on some favorites. However … we’ll give the best of the rest of the ‘70s a quick look before we go back to the main view. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): Hitting just six months after Star Wars, this take on communication with the stars came, of course, from Lucas’s pal, Steven Spielberg. Certainly a classic in its own right, with terrific special effects, CE3K goes in a more character and “humanity”-driven direction than Lucas’s thrill-ride. It can be argued that they’ve gone those separate ways on nearly every project since.
Suspiria (1977): Debuting during August in the Year of Star Wars, Suspiria is one of the masterpieces of Italian horror genius Dario Argento. The first of his “Three Mothers” films, Suspiria is well-known for its particularly vicious murder scenes and the music composed by Goblin. Argento has repeatedly demonstrated a flair for dreamy visuals and unsettling color, and that plays to great effect here (in fact, it was the last major film produced in Technicolor). Lauded by horror critics and filmmakers, Suspiria deserves to be in any serious discussion of genre films. Zombie (1979): Lucio Fulci’s brutal masterpiece gave you zombie vs. shark; pay homage, rabble. Alien (1979): Still an amazing experience, and I don’t believe that the visceral shock of the original chest-bursting sequence will ever be equaled. Phantasm (1979): BOOOOOOOYYYYYYY!!!!!!!! If you know, then you know. Halloween (1978): John Carpenter tapped into something primal with The Shape on a rampage, and this first film of its ilk still retains its relentlessly creepy power. Dawn of the Dead (1978): Night of the Living Dead was Romero’s gold-standard, but Dawn is the movie that’s really shaped the zombiegeist since. Mad Max (1979): A leaner vision of the future than its sequels, Mad Max gave us a new automotive dystopia (and provided the influence for the Rorschach-hacksaw scene in Watchmen). And now, onto the things in the date range ... A Clockwork Orange (1971): This harrowing adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel made a star out of Malcolm McDowell and changed the way that people respond to “Singin’ in the Rain.” Director Stanley Kubrick’s approach would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards (including nods for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing for Bill Butler). Controversial to this day, the film dug into the novel’s tale of teen delinquents and behavior modification with gusto. Explosive violence occurs frequently, and the brutal rape early in the film still spurs discussion. Kubrick’s powers as a filmmaker manage to old the film above being a basic shocker by drawing an amazing performance out of McDowell and finding spots to inject mordant humor and satire. The rehabilitation scene (specifically the apparatus used on Alex’s eyes) has been homaged and parodied repeatedly. Another striking example of science fiction used to relate a social issue, A Clockwork Orange remains an indisputable classic. The Andromeda Strain (1971): Though perhaps ponderously slow by today’s standards, The Andromeda Strain is a solid example of grounded science fiction. Based upon the novel that gave Michael Crichton his name as a “techno-thriller” author, Strain relates the struggle of four scientists attempting to contain an outbreak caused by an extraterrestrial microbe. Both the novel and the film inspired a host of imitators; though Outbreak, for example, was inspired in part by the book The Hot Zone, it’s fair to say that elements of its vibe started here. Solaris (1972): Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky based this lengthy, deliberately paced film on the novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. Centering around psychologist Chris Kelvin, the film follows Kelvin’s journey to an outpost studying the celestial object Solaris. On the station, things have gone very wrong, and the two remaining inhabitants are seeing things that may not be hallucinations. Tarkovsky treats the film as a drama that just happens to exist in a genre world. Critics responded, and the movie was awarded at Cannes with the Grand Prix Special du Jury; it was also nominated for the Palme d’Or. Westworld (1973): Crichton asserts more of his burgeoning techno-thriller dominance by writing and directing this film about an amusement park gone wrong (a theme he would revisit with much success in Jurassic Park). The iconic image here remains Yul Brenner, decked out in his Magnificent Seven finery, as a malfunctioning homicidal android. The gunslinger-‘droid’s implacable nature (and repeated damage that shows its infrastructure) almost certainly informed the deterioration undergone by The Terminator in 1984. The film did inspire both a sequel film and a follow-up TV series. Soylent Green (1973): Of the many Charlton Heston films that can distilled down to one line of dialogue, perhaps only this one packs its entire theme into four words. The story (which draws inspiration from Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison) is an ecological fable, a warning against overpopulation and the consequences that resource strain might incur. The best performance in the film is probably given by Edward G. Robinson, who died from cancer only a few days after filming was finished. He’s the character that actually discovers the dark secret at the heart of the film, and his reactions (more muted that Heston’s) belie the unbearable burden that this truth would engender. While the strong elements are present in other films as well, Soylent Green’s pop culture immortality helps secure its spot on the list. Sleeper (1973): Woody Allen wakes up in the future, and its f@#$ed up. That’s essentially the premise of this classic comedy (inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Sleeper Awakens), wherein Miles Monroe is revived 200 years after mishap involving an ulcer and cryogenics. Monroe becomes involved with a rebel movement with a hilarious agenda, but the best parts really come from Allen reacting to how the world has changed. His frequent comedic foil, Diane Keaton, turns in her usual fine work. Check it out mainly for the typically rapid-fire witty Allen dialogue. Rollerball (1975): James Caan beats the crap out of the future . . . on skates! Do you need more? Okay. Drawn from the short story “Roller Ball Murder” by William Harrison, events of the film turn around the titular sport, a blending of Roller Derby and gladiatorial combat. The central problem of the film is interesting; the corporations that run the globe see the individual stardom of Jonathan E. (Caan) as a threat. They offer him retirement with many privileges, but he refuses. They then begin arranging contests with an eye toward Jonathan perhaps being killed. Director Norman Jewison stages the game/action sequences in spectacular fashion; they’re truly brutal. Don’t blame this one for the terrible remake which chucks the “annoying” stuff like social commentary. Logan’s Run (1976): And speaking of social commentary, we’ve got Logan’s Run. The film, based on a 1967 novel, seems to be pretty polarizing. For example, Siskel and Ebert split dramatically on it, with Ebert offering three stars and Siskel none. Regardless, the film was nominated for two Oscars (Art Direction/Set Decoration and Cinematography) and given a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects. The overall effect of Run is pretty memorable, as most people know some element of the plot (you go to be “renewed” by age 30, and if you run, the Sandmen come to kill you) or very particularly remember the “palm flower” (the crystal implanted in the palms of the citizenry that tracks age). While much of the theme of the novel and film were born amid the huge cultural split occurring between parents and their children in the late ‘60s, the film eschews much of the book’s moralizing for action. Worthy Mentions: Slaughterhouse Five (1972): Not as widely seen as it probably should be, this adaptation of the Vonnegut classic won the Prix du Jury at Cannes, a Saturn, and a Hugo. The frequent criticism is the omission of details from the book, but really, isn’t that the same knock on every adaptation that isn’t Rosemary’s Baby? Fantastic Planet (1973): Another Cannes prize winner (the Special Jury Prize), this French animation (known there as La Planète sauvage) is known for its surreal qualities and interesting visuals. The memorable opening depicts a human woman being pursued by the giant hands of alien children. Anime lovers should definitely give it a look. The Stepford Wives (1975): Forget the awful Nicole Kidman-remake. This is the real deal. A black comedy that employs science fiction to comment upon the Battle of the Sexes, Wives is another terrific bit of suspense from novelist Ira Levin. And that’s it, kids. Any more from the ‘70s you’d like to add or discuss? A Boy and His Dog ? The Man Who Fell to Earth? Death Race 2000?The Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Sutherland and Nimoy? Capricorn One? We’ve been from Frankenstein to Star Wars . . . the floor is now yours.