The 1970s is often regarded as a massive turning point in American culture. It’s seen as a tumultuous time for women, African Americans, Native Americans, gays, and lesbians; all are fighting for equal rights. This cultural fight is set with the protest against the ongoing war in Vietnam as its backdrop. Around the world, these feelings are echoed, and we see multiple shifts in the global climate.
There is no better example of the chaotic nature of life in the 70s than on this list. We’ve included seven movies with conversation-starting shocks, hardcore depictions of the hardships of life, and, put more plainly… some real sick shit. Check them out here…
When Pink Flamingos kicks off your list, you’re in for a wild collection of films. In reality, the humorous tone and wild antics help the shocking parts of this John Waters classic feel a bit more digestible. Not as digestible as the dog poop in this film, which was infamously eaten by Pink Flamingos star Divine in the insane closing moments. Yes, this early 70s nasty has some of cinema’s wildest antics, and it’s absurd to think Waters would become such a recognizable face in pop culture.
During its release, Pink Flamingos was met with rave reviews from art critics, while early shock cinemas fans weren’t sure how to take it. This led Waters to create more films like this, but none ever hit the shock of the 1972 classic. From unsimulated sex scenes, gleeful declarations of murder, and the aforementioned dog poop, push this over the top. Still, you can watch this and have a few laughs, which is rare with the other entries.
Thriller: A Cruel Picture
Unflinching is the best way to describe this 1973 Swedish film. Thriller: A Cruel Picture packs quite the punch, making almost every rape and revenge movie feel like light work after this. In the film, we follow a young mute girl named Madeleine finding her revenge after being forced into prostitution at a young age. It’s a shocking plot that lends itself to some twisted moments. The brutality is hard to look at, but you begin to cheer for Madeleine’s continued slaughtering.
Influential is also a great way to describe Thriller as well. As shocking and exploitation-filled as it is, many filmmakers referenced this after the release. In a 1978 horror film, you can find a poster for this film. The same goes for a handful of others. A few other rape and revenge moves tried to emulate the aggression and style to no avail as well. But Thriller’s impact can be found most in Kill Bill, where Tarantino lifted a lot of Madeleine’s look for Elle Driver.
Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole, and John Gielgud. That is an incredible roster of actors, but none are performers you’d typically associate with shock art cinema. The all-star line-up is what propels this so far up the list; the juxtaposition between prestige performers and frank sexuality is an absolute delight. Caligula is filthy, like Penthouse Magazine funded the movie quite nasty. Yes, it’s still wild to think Helen Mirren starred in a Penthouse movie.
In the film, we follow the rise and fall of Roman Emperor Caligula. Well, the movie actually follows the hardcore sex scenes that surround the vague story of Caligula and Roman Empire drama. The reviews at the time tore the film apart for its upfront sexuality, and there’s some validity to that criticism. Yet, you can’t deny it’s such a stunning viewing; think Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra uploaded on OnlyFans.
A Clockwork Orange
Going from one of the more obscure to the most well-known, A Clockwork Orange’s impact on cinema is incomparable. You’ve seen references to this movie in the Simpsons, Heath Ledger took inspiration for his Joker, and the Droogs even made a cameo in 2021’s Space Jam: A New Legacy. There’s no doubt A Clockwork Orange shifted cinema, but it’s wild to think when you know just how brutal this can get.
Outside of the infamous sexual assault scene as Malcolm McDowell sings I’m Singing In The Rain, the film isn’t much more delightful. There are multiple brutal acts of violence, and a tortuous experimental aversion therapy segment cranks up the insanity. No part of this movie is easily viewed, yet it’s a landmark piece of film that only a madman like Stanley Kubrick could bring to life.
I Spit On Your Grave
In his heyday, it didn’t take much for Roger Ebert to call something a ‘vile bag of garbage,’ but I Spit On Your Grave honestly earned such a title. In one of the decade’s most aggressive films, this rape & revenge classic shook its viewers and became a landmark film in shock art history. While Last House on the Left kicked open the door, this 1978 entry burned the entire house.
Nonetheless, I Spit On Your Grave is not easy to view and feels like a movie of its time. The premise is simple enough: a young girl is attacked by a group of men and seeks revenge on them. That basic plot allows the filmmakers to go further with the assaults and the later revenge scenes than you could imagine. It’s obnoxiously graphic, especially for its time, and easily one of the harshest movies towards women of all time. Yet, you feel the power Jennifer Hills has in the film, and you start to see how some may feel this can be empowering.
Hanzo the Razor: The Snare
Japanese cinema is always at the forefront of progressive cinematic movements. J-Horror shaped the 00’s American horror aesthetic, while the country embraced grindhouse and exploitation movies years before the States did. A prime example is The Snare, the second segment of the “Hanzo the Razor” trilogy. This sleazy and absurd movie is one of the must-sees entries, especially for Shintaro Katsu’s titular Hanzo role.
Much like I Spit On Your Grave, Hanzo the Razor’s second movie uses its shocking absurdity to perfect comment on its prime targets. Hanzo is an officer who will solve his cases by any means, including extreme violence and sexually assaulting women for answers. For modern viewers, the politically incorrect nature of the film will come off as a shock but look at it as a parody of so much happening at the time.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
Plenty of these entries are worth multiple viewings. A Clockwork Orange is an absolute classic, while Pink Flamingos is comedy gold. Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom has almost no redeeming qualities other than its insane gross-out moments. And these moments aren’t even absurd like The Snare or intriguing as in Thriller; they are so unrelenting that it makes I Spit On Your Grave feel tame.
Salo is a well-made film with plenty of good acting moments, but those praises get consumed by its multiple taboo subjects being wholly shattered. If something truly bothers you, you’ll see it in this depraved 1975 film. All of the uncomfortable moments come with a purpose, and the filmmakers set out to start a conversation, but it’s hard to imagine a more shocking and hard-to-watch 70s movie than this.
Which 70s movies deserve a place on this list? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
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