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5 Must-See Suspense Thrillers From the 70s & 80s

I am an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.


1. When Michael Calls (1972)

This first offering, while not exactly a conventional horror flick, is certainly deserving of attention. When Michael Calls is a made-for-television movie starring Elizabeth Ashley as Helen, a newly divorced woman who begins receiving mysterious communications from a boy claiming to be her long-dead nephew. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the timing of the calls coincides with a rash of murders targeting her friends and acquaintances.

Ben Gazzara, as Helen's alcohol-fueled ex who obviously still carries a torch for her, and a dashing young Michael Douglas shine in their co-starring roles. It's difficult to go into detail without ruining a killer twist that only the most savvy of viewers will see coming, so let's just say that nothing in this film is as it seems.

When Michael Calls is a taut suspense thriller that lures viewers in and plants them firmly in the principal figure's shoes. Sorely underrated, if you happen to come upon this diamond in the rough, grab some popcorn and enjoy the show; you won't regret it.


2. Race With the Devil (1975)

Stories that center around travelers who are unwittingly plunged into a world of trouble don't come any better than Race With the Devil. This gripping tale stars Peter Fonda and Warren Oates as best pals and business partners, Roger and Frank, who decide to treat themselves to a much-needed vacation out west. As you can probably guess, this movie has more twists and turns than a back country road.

Along for the ride are the lovely Lara Parker, who graces the screen as Roger's wife Kelly, and "Hot Lips" Houlihan herself Loretta Swit as Frank's better half Alice. Throw in a shaggy little pooch named Ginger and the main cast is complete.

Setting out in an RV that is equipped with all the comforts of home, the clueless group hit the highways and byways, stopping at parks along the way to rest up and enjoy a bit of dirt biking. Unfortunately for them, they choose to stay over one night in a desolate area of the Lone Star State that, unbeknownst to them, is a meeting place for Satan worshippers.

We get a peek at things to come when Roger and Frank, while shooting the breeze near a roaring fire, glimpse some strange activity taking place across the way. Gazing through binoculars, they are titillated by the goings-on—that is, until they realize that what they are witnessing is not the orgy they were hoping for, but a ritual sacrifice in progress.

Before the stunned pair can decide on a course of action, Alice yells for them to come inside, alerting the suspects that they have been seen. From that point on, all hell breaks loose, so to speak.

To say more would be doing a grave injustice to those who are not familiar with the terrifying game of cat and mouse that ensues. This film, more than most, will keep even the most jaded viewer on the edge of their seat till the very end.


3. See No Evil/Blind Terror (1971)

The concept of a recently blinded woman being left to fend for herself in a secluded manor is distressing enough, throw in a homicidal maniac and you have the thriller See No Evil.

The waif-like Mia Farrow is perfectly suited to her role as a young equestrian who loses her sight in a riding mishap. After spending time in London adjusting to her new normal, the remarkably adaptable Sarah decides to spend some time with her uncle and his family at their country estate before heading off to university.

Prior to being introduced to Sarah, the audience is made aware of a mysterious figure who is seen skulking around town. Although his face isn't revealed, we do get several close-ups of his cowboy boots, which will aid in identifying him later on when things take a turn for the sinister.

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Back at the manor, Sarah's ex-boyfriend Steve, a stable owner, shows up out of the blue and whisks her away to his place. Since her horse was put down following the accident, he gifts her with a new one. Almost instantaneously, their romance is rekindled and happiness abounds, but not for long.

One day, while the couple are out riding, Sarah's family are slaughtered in their home. We learn soon afterwards that the killer left something behind that would easily identify him if found. Unfortunately for everyone involved, he realizes his error and returns to retrieve what was lost, only to find that someone beat him to it.

The remainder of the film is a battle of wits between the ever-resourceful Sarah and a ruthless killer who will do anything to save his own skin. Needless to say, there are surprises galore as the harrowing story unfolds.

While not commercially successful in its day, See No Evil has gone on to gain a loyal fanbase over the years. If you're looking for an edgy, suspenseful thriller, this one will almost certainly fit the bill.


4. The Hearse (1980)

Another film in which devil worship figures prominently is The Hearse starring Trish Van Devere as Jane, a divorced schoolteacher going through more turmoil than she can handle.

We learn early on that, besides enduring the dissolution of her marriage, Jane has also recently lost her mother. Bogged down by depression, she decides to flee her life in San Francisco for a while in hopes of recharging her mental and emotional batteries.

Ignoring her therapist's warnings than running away will only make things worse, she packs up and heads north where a house she inherited from her aunt Rebecca awaits her arrival.

Upon entering the town of Blackford, Jane is spooked by an old hearse that runs her off the road. She doesn't know it at the time, but this will be the first of many near misses involving the ominous vehicle.

As she sets about exploring her new lodgings, Jane discovers a diary hidden away in the attic. Upon delving into her aunt's private world, she learns that her uncle Robert was both a preacher and Satan's right-hand man. Rebecca's writings further reveal that, after falling under his spell, she had agreed to journey with him to the dark side.

The film follows Jane as she attempts to acquaint herself with the locals who, generally speaking, avoid her like the plague. She does, however, find a few allies along the way, including a lovesick teenager she hires to do some chores around the house, and a handsome stranger named Tom who rescues her after a road mishap.

To say that there is a lot to digest in this endeavor would be an understatement. Among the things to look forward to are a love story, betrayal, murder, jump scares, home invaders, and an obligatory, if somewhat obvious, plot twist.

In addition to the always reliable Van Devere, Joseph Cotton playing a smarmy estate lawyer and Perry Lang as the underaged handyman are on hand to show off their acting chops.

This film is creepy at times, silly at others, but seldom boring. While by no means perfect, it's a decent attempt if you like old-fashioned ghost stories.


5. Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

This last entry is a convoluted feature whose goal is apparently to keep both the main player and the audience guessing until the end and beyond. In spite of it's being harder to follow than a blank road map, this movie has just enough going for it to make the effort worthwhile.

Zohra Lampert flawlessly portrays the title character, a woman who has recently suffered a complete mental breakdown. Following a period of recovery, she and her husband Duncan, played by Barton Heyman, scrape together enough money to buy a fixer-upper in the middle of nowhere with a cove at their disposal. Joining them is their mutual friend Woody, who would have been better off someplace else, but that's neither here nor there.

Upon arriving at their new abode, they find that a young squatter named Emily has already made herself at home. Instead of telling her to hit the road, they invite her to dinner and the foursome bond almost instantly. In no time at all, the flirtatious trespasser is asked to stay on indefinitely.

In the days to come, Jessica starts hearing and seeing things that may, or may not, be real. Disembodied voices beckon her to join them while a presence in the nearby bay attempts, on more than one occasion, to drag her beneath the surface. As her world unravels, she becomes convinced that the mysterious Emily is not only making a play for her husband, but also participating in trying to drive her mad.

There is so much going on in this production that it boggles the mind, ours and Jessica's. As if the incessant whispering, otherworldly townspeople, mysterious lady in the lake, and a houseguest with an unhealthy connection to the property weren't enough to contend with, we also learn that one of the major players may very well be a vampire.

Let's Scare Jessica to Death does an admirable job of keeping the audience guessing, though it sometimes feels like the filmmakers weren't sure what story they wanted to tell. While some scenes that are meant to be serious border on comical, a few truly frightening moments make enduring the occasional bit of nonsense worthwhile. If nothing else, view it for the outstanding performances; you won't be disappointed.


·Internet Movie Database

·All images that appear here do so under provisions of Fair Use.

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