13 Traumatizing TV Horror Movies from the 70s by Mykki Newton

Back in the day...before Netflix, an infinite number of cable channels, and straight to video releases, the non-theatrical movie market was ruled by the three major television networks. ABC, CBS, and NBC didn't give their made-for-television movies lavish budgets. The term "low-rent" comes to mind when talking about these movies, but so many of them had great stories, great performances, and great atmosphere.

Of the three major networks in the 1970s, ABC reigned supreme in the TV movie market with its ABC Movie of the Week. That still doesn't mean the other networks didn't have their fair share of outstanding and memorable movies. This article looks at some of those memorable movie moments in the genre of Horror. The TV movies in this article are not in any particular order or category of worst to best. That is up to you the audience, and 13 seems to be a nice spooky number for you to choose from.


Darren McGavin in The Night Stalker (1972)

Darren McGavin’s most famous role is without a doubt that of Ralphie’s father in A Christmas Story (1983). His second most remembered role is probably that of Carl Kolchak in two television movies and a series. The Night Stalkers started it all as an ABC Movie of the Week.

Carl Kolchak is an investigative reporter who's on the trail of a murderous vampire on a killing spree in Las Vegas.

Barry Atwater in The Night Stalker (1972)

I have never come across a better story than The Night Stalker. The first inkling we had something on our hands was at the screening. The audience was gasping, screaming, laughing. It was incredible. The highest rated TV movie at the time was Brian’s Song and we blew it out of the water.” {1}

-Dan Curtis, producer of The Night Stalker

DUEL (1971)

Duel (1971)

Duel was another ABC Movie of the Week and it was the feature-length debut of one of the most acclaimed directors of our time. Steven Spielberg crafted this classic horror tale which was so successful, it garnered an international theatrical release.

Dennis Weaver and a Plymouth Valiant run for their lives when a mad 18-wheeler seemly powered and driven by pure evil, is bound and determined kill them.

Dennis Weaver in Duel (1971)

I haven’t seen Duel in a longtime, but my memory of Duel is as a film I was really proud of it. I look back at it and said ‘How did I get all those shots in 12 or 13 days?’ To this day, I don’t think I could do it again. If I had to go back right now and recreate Duel in 12 or 13 days, I couldn’t do it. It would be impossible.” {2}

-Steven Spielberg, director\of Duel

SALEM’S LOT (1979)

Kurt Barlow in Salem's Lot (1979)

Boasting the star-power of its writer Stephen King, legendary actor James Mason, and 70s Starsky and Hutch pop culture superstar David Soul, this CBS mini-series floored audiences with its creepy atmosphere and scream in the dark scares. Its reputation was enhanced by the mere name of its director Tobe Hooper who in 1974 directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one of the scariest films ever made.

Salem’s Lot is notThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it proved Tobe Hooper was not a one-trick pony when it came to making horror. Salem’s Lot is the story of a writer who returns to his hometown only to find its residents have turned into vampires. It is more in the tradition of Val Lewton than it is Leatherface.

David Soul in Salem's Lot (1979)

It was quite amazing when we went to the screening, because as you know when you shoot it’s all done in different pieces where my part was my part and so forth, but when it was put together and when we saw it in a theater with an audience with the cast and crew you were totally terrified! It was so scary! I really need to see it again, I have it and I need to re-watch it. Tobe Hooper was a fantastic director and he mastered this film perfectly. It was suspenseful and then also on top of that there was this “shock” element. There were these very effective shock moments that were just amazing.” {3}

-Julie Cobb. co-star of Salem's Lot


Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is one of those rare truly traumatizing TV movies and again this one came from an ABC Movie of the Week. It also inspired a 2010 feature film remake.

Tiny vicious onion-headed evil whispering gremlins living in Kim Darby's basement have been patiently waiting to drag her away.

"Sally, we want you. Sally, we want you. Sally, we want you." -the evil whispering gremlins

Kim Darby in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

“As a kid, for my generation it was the scariest TV movie we ever saw. And we used to say to each other ‘Sally’ and it creeped out my whole family.” {4}

-Guillermo del Toro, director of 2010 remake


Karen Black in Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Score another one for ABC Movie of the Week with this three-story house of horror starring Karen Black in all three stories. The first story involves a college professor who enjoys strange relationships with her students. The second tale is about twin sisters who are total opposites and their bizarre sibling rivalry. However, it’s the final of the three stories that’s so memorable. It involves Karen Black and a crazed knife-wheeling 12-inch Zuni doll maniac that comes to life and chases Karen Black around her apartment.

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

The doll itself was quite goofy. It's the silliest thing in all the world -- it was just a joke.

The version seen on television was not the most frightening version. There is another version which was so frightening they didn't put it on television. It was more intense and incredibly frightening for the time. They couldn't leave it the way it was and show it to the American public. Even so, it was still frightening. This is a wonderful movie. Dan (Curtis) should be applauded for his work with it.” {5}

-Karen Black, actress


Bernie Casey in Gargoyle (1972)

This is one of the creepiest TV movies made during the heyday of the three major networks. To those who saw it in 1972, they never forgot it and it still gives them the creeps almost 50 years after it premiere on The New CBS Tuesday Night Movie opposite ABC's Movie of the Week-Marcus Welby M.D.

Cornel Wilde is an anthropologist who kills a gargoyle with his station wagon. The other gargoyles want the body of their gargoyle friend. The boss gargoyle played by Bernie Casey wants the anthropologist's daughter played by Jennifer Salt wearing the most popular ensemble of the 1970s. Scott Glenn is the kind-hearted leader of some biker delinquents on a mission to rescue Ms. Bell Bottoms and Halter Top.

Bernie Casey and Jennifer Salt in Gargoyles (1972)

“I thought of the gargoyle as a highly intelligent being, superior to man, not as a maniacal monster, I tried to show this with body movement, the way I walked, in nuances of speech. This was about all I had left, with my physical features covered up by either costume or makeup. I’m glad that I did the part.” {6}

-Bernie Casey, actor


Michael Sarrazin in Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

Well, you’ve seen the Frankenstein story told many times, but apparently this is the true story. It was an American/British television production which aired in two 90-minute segments on NBC.

With an all-star cast which includes Jane Seymore, James Mason, Agnes Moorehead, and Michael Sarrazin as the Creature, Frankenstein: The True Story is reminiscent of a Hammer Films horror classic. Maybe that’s because the makeup was done by Hammer’s makeup guru Roy Ashton.

James Mason and Michael Sarrazin in Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

“At the time, the Frankenstein: The True Story script was one of the hottest properties in show business. Major filmmakers at the top of their game, including Francis Ford Coppola immediately following The Godfather, and John Boorman right after Deliverance, begged Universal Pictures to let them direct this movie – but only if it would be a theatrical release. The powers-that-be insisted on keeping it as a made-for-television movie. Even so, producer Hunt Stromberg Jr. was entrusted with the highest budget ever given to a TV production up to that time – and he put every penny of it up on the screen, maximising the talents of his formidable cast and A-list crew. Stromberg wanted it to have the lavish feel of an epic feature film like Doctor Zhivago and he succeeded in his quest,” {7}

-Sam Irvin, cinema historian and filmmaker


Arthur Kennedy in Crawlspace (1972)

CBS didn’t exactly rollout a big budget for this horror/thriller, but they did give it an interesting story to work with and a talented cast.

When an elderly couple’s furnace goes out, the mentally unstable repairman arrives and overstays his welcome. He makes himself at home in a crawlspace in the elderly couple’s house. Since the couple is childless, they decide to raise the repairman as their son. That decision leads to tragic consequences.

Tom Happer in Crawlspace (1972)

“Crawlspace is a decent little low-rent, no-budget shocker. While it obviously has its drawbacks due to its status as a made-for-television film, it makes the most of what it does have, which is decent acting, competent direction, and a tense, moody atmosphere.” {8}

-Brett Gallman, film reviewer


Bradford Dillman in Moon of the Wolf (1972)

ABC Movie of the Week liked turning a murder mystery into a horror flick. It did that with Moon of the Wolf.

David Janssen is a sheriff investigating the brutally murder of one of the town folks, but when the full moon rises and two people are ripped apart in his jail, the sheriff realizes he’s got a wolfman on his hands. Turns out this lycanthrope is from old money and the wealthy are very protective of their werewolf heritage.

Moon of the Wolf (1972)

…some creature feature fans will find the lycanthrope horror quite lacking here. The movie is more concerned with the investigation as opposed to showcasing a monster rampage. The werewolf action isn’t frequent at all. This was undoubtedly due to budget constraints, but at least the film manages to craft an engaging story and some suspense around the murders. But the finale brings the creature fun, and there’s an excellent shot of the monster standing behind some flames.” {9}

-Kiaran Fisher, film reviewer


A Cold Night's Death (1973)

Another ABC Movie of the Week makes the list with this literally chilling movie that seems more like a murder mystery until it delivers a horrifying image at its conclusion.

Robert Culp and Eli Wallach are scientists trying to discover the cause of a suspicious death at sub-zero frozen mountaintop research station. The research station conducts cruel experiments on primates to determine the effects of long-duration spaceflight on astronauts. If you enjoy frozen mountaintop monkey movies, this is the film for you.

A Cold Night's Death (1973)

“The bleak snowbound atmosphere and palpable anxiety between the two characters will be familiar to anyone who has seen John Carpenter’s The Thing, but here the action is almost exclusively psychological and there’s nothing and nobody around to break the formidable tension. It’s really astonishing how much is done with so little here.” {10}

-Unkle Lancifer, film reviewer


Louis Jourdan as Count Dracula (1977)

The BBC scored a hit with its adaptation of Bram Stoker’s immortal classic novel. It this version, Louis Jourdan plays the immortal title character and Frank Finley is Professor Van Helsing.

This is version is considered one of truest adaptions of Bram Stoker’s original story. Like any version of Dracula, the atmosphere is the real star and this movie has plenty of creepy aspects. The creepiest may be Louis Jourdan himself.

Dracula's Brides in Count Dracula (1977)

What is so interesting in playing Dracula is that I try to make monstrosity, or, if you prefer, villainy, attractive, very attractive. If we succeed in that we have won our day. If the audience can be troubled enough to say that maybe Dracula is right in what he says, then we have won... He is an angel, a fallen angel. I think Dracula should be played as an extremely kind person, who truly believes he is doing good. He gives eternal life. He takes blood and he gives blood. Therefore, he gives an exchange which is symbolic of love and the sexual act.” {11}

-Louis Jourdan, actor


Lee H. Montgomery in Dead of Night (1977)

Like Trilogy of Terror, NBC’s Dead of Night is an anthology with three stories. Among the stars are Ed Begley, Jr, Patrick Mcnee, and Joan Hackett. Like Trilogy of Terror, Dead of Night saves the best story for last. In it, Joan Hackett mourns the loss of her son Bobby who drowned. Bobby’s mom will do anything to bring him back and she succeeds much to her horror dismay. The story was so popular, it was stolen and remade in the 1996 made-for-television sequel to Trilogy of Terror.

Joan Hackett and Lee H. Montgomery in Dead of Night (1977)

It’s not a movie that boasts a lot of special effects, but the stories are strong enough to stand by themselves if viewers can learn to manage without the extra frills and thrills that seem to have so much an inflated importance these days, and the final scenes in ‘Bobby’ should send many a chill down the spine for many years to come.” {12}

-Steve Colvert, film reviewer


Scott Jacoby in Bad Ronald (1974)

Finally, score one more for ABC Movie of the Week. This TV movie was number 90 in David Hofstede’s book What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, but now nerds are cool and what could be more traumatizing than a murderous nerd.

Ronald (Scott Jacoby) wasn’t always so bad, but being bullied by everyone finally pushes him over the edge and he pushes his sister, accidently killing her. His mother (Kim Hunter) then hides Ronald in a secret room she has made for him to live until the whole incident blows over. Unfortunately for Ronald, his mom dies and the house is sold to a new family with crazy nerd Ronald still living in its walls

Kim Hunter in Bad Ronald (1974)

The film truly belongs to Scott Jacoby as Ronald as the quintessential fantasy nerd gone malevolent. He is spindly and awkward, edgy and moody and completely out of step with the rest of the world. Jacoby’s deluded accidental murderer turned frightening fiend finds his strange strength through his own creations – his intricate and also delicate fantasy world of Atranta. He brings a psychosexual dangerous edge to his clumsy and accidental tragic geek and his twisted utopia is at the core of his growing madness.” {13}

-Lee Gambin, film reviewer



{1} 2004 MGM Home Entertainment Interview

{2} 2001 Universal Home Video Interview

{3} 2019 COMINGSOON interview

{4} Clevver Movies Interview

{5} 1998 Anchor Bay Entertainment Interview

{6} The Master Cylinder. March 8, 2018 Gargoyles Retrospective

{7} The Story Behind Frankenstein the True Story by Nick Clement, March 18, 2020,

We Are Cult

{8} October 19, 2009, Oh, The Horror!

{9} Moon of the Wolf Brings Some Southern Gothic Flavor Lycanthrope Lore, April 19, 2020, Film School Rejects

{10} February 4, 2009, Kindertrauma

{11} Photoplay Magazine, December 1977

{12} A Passion for Horror

{13} He Who Rules Atranta, February 9, 2019, DIABOLIQUE Magazine  

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