The 10 Best Horror Movie Protagonists of the 1970s
The 1970s are hailed as the greatest decade in American film history, thanks to the bold and experimental styles of the New Hollywood movement led by such influential filmmakers as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.
This groundbreaking reimagining of American films extended to the horror genre. The 70s gave way to horror masterpieces such as The Exorcist and Halloween. Audiences were introduced to such lovable protagonists as Ellen Ripley, Laurie Strode and Chief Brody in groundbreaking ’70s horror hits.
ten Sally Hardesty (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Sally Hardesty’s Role as ‘Last Girl’ in Tobe Hooper’s Masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an ironic satire on the meat industry. In the opening scenes, it’s established that the Hardesty family has profited from the slaughterhouses for years.
After lining her pockets with the systemic killing of thousands of cows, there’s an ominous subtextual sense that Sally is getting her reward when Leatherface targets her and serves her friends for dinner.
9 Sergeant Howie (The Wicker Man)
Robin Hardy’s Folk Horror Gem The wicker man revolves around police sergeant Neil Howie, brilliantly played by Edward Woodward, as he travels to the remote island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a little girl. Howie’s role in the film hammers home the religious message.
Howie is a devout Christian who is horrified to learn that Summerisle has renounced Christianity in favor of a sinister form of Celtic paganism. This hypocritical religious feud turns into a heartbreaking finale in which Howie is sacrificed in the sadistic eponymous pagan ritual.
8 Suzy Bannion (Suspiria)
Dario Argento’s bloody masterpiece Suspiria is widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Jessica Harper stars as Suzy Bannion, an American ballet student who has been accepted into a prestigious German dance academy and learns it’s a front for a paranormal conspiracy.
Suzy is a sympathetic lead to anchor the giallo theatrics of Argento’s take on supernatural horror. A lot of horrible things happen in this movie, but audiences sympathetically follow Suzy through it all.
seven John and Laura Baxter (don’t watch now)
Horror movie villains have included an escaped mental patient in a boiler suit and William Shatner mask, a 25ft great white shark targeting the residents of a seaside town, and a dead man stalking teenagers across the dreamscape in a fedora and a bladed glove.
But at Nicolas Roeg don’t look now, the real villain is grief. The unenviable John and Laura Baxter lose a child in the opening scene – every parent’s worst nightmare – and spend the rest of the film trying to come to terms with that loss.
6 Carrie WhiteCarrie
Brian De Palma’s Filmed Version of Stephen King’s First Novel Carrie remains one of King’s greatest adaptations and one of the greatest horror films ever made. De Palma reprized the film’s metaphorical portrayal of teenage struggles and the ugliness of bullying.
Sissy Spacek gives a pitch-perfect performance as the titular high schooler, who discovers her telekinetic abilities around the time her schoolyard bullies and abusive mother drive her to her inevitable breaking point.
5 Father Karras (The Exorcist)
by William Friedkin The Exorcist was the first blockbuster horror film and remained the genre’s highest-grossing entry for decades. Jason Miller plays arguably the film’s most likable and compelling protagonist. Father Karras is a quiet, brooding priest who loses his mother, attaching audiences to her early in the film.
When he reluctantly accepts the exorcism job, Pazuzu relentlessly taunts him, “Your mother sucks c**ks in hell!” In the shocking finale, Karras allows Pazuzu to possess him so he can launch himself through the window and up the iconic staircase so he can save Regan or anyone else from being consumed by the vicious demon.
4 Jess Bradford (Black Christmas)
Olivia Hussey gave an unforgettable ride in black christmas, one of the first slashers, as Jess Bradford, one of the genre’s first “last girl” characters.
Jess’ characterization – and her sinister stalker – draw on the genre’s inherent theme of misogyny to a satirical degree. The film’s use of abortion as a major plot element just one year after the landmark Roe v. Wade was truly revolutionary.
3 Chief Brody (Jaws)
Steven Spielberg changed Hollywood cinema forever with his Hitchcock thriller Jaws. In the half-century since then, every studio has filled the summer release window with conceptual attempts to reproduce Jaws‘ Success.
The 25-foot great white shark is the film’s USP, but its emotional backbone is its regular protagonist, Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider. He’s a heroic cop, but he’s also scared of the ocean, which dramatically makes him the perfect opponent for a giant, bloodthirsty shark.
2 Laurie Strode (Halloween)
John Carpenter got meta with the cast of ‘the last girl’ Laurie Strode in his hugely influential 1978 horror masterpiece Halloween. Jamie Lee Curtis is the real daughter of psychologythe iconic “Scream Queen”, Janet Leigh. Curtis became full-fledged horror-movie royalty when she played Laurie as a badass woman.
Throughout the film, Michael Myers effortlessly navigates his way through Haddonfield’s babysitters. He encounters his first bump in the road when he meets Laurie, who manages to defy the odds to outsmart and overpower him.
1 Ellen Ripley (alien)
From the behind-the-scenes documentary The Beast Within: The Creation of Alien, all roles in Extraterrestrial were written as unisex. The writers decided to leave it up to the casting team to decide the gender of the characters. The decision to cast a woman as Ripley ended up breaking new ground for female action heroes.
Sigourney Weaver’s ferocious performance as Ellen Ripley – the only Nostromo crew member to survive the xenomorph’s wrath (let alone kill the xenomorph himself) – proved that women can be as badass as men in action-oriented roles.
NEXT: The 10 Best Horror Movie Villains Of The 1970s
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