100 Movies You Need to See Before You Die

Halloween (1978)

Country: USA
Director: John Carpenter
Screenwriters: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Nick Castle, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes, Brian Andrews

The formula, by now, is legendary: Take a group of promiscuous high schoolers, throw in one vestigial virgin and one psychotic killer and watch the horror unfold. John Carpenter’s Halloween didn’t invent the slasher picture, but it set the bar for all those that would follow in its footsteps.

Shot for just $325,000, the film earned close to $50 million in U.S. box office receipts alone, making it—to this day—one of the most profitable independent films of all time. But its success was no fluke. As is so often the case, it was the tight budget that forced the filmmakers to get creative, finding innovative ways to make do with what they had, not whine about the money they were missing. (Case in point: Michael Myers’ eerily blank face, which is just a manipulated William Shatner mask.)

Shot in 20 days, the film is also noted for its camerawork, which has the audience identifying with the villain for the first part of the film (a device used to similarly creepy effect in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas). While the implications of this have been debated by many over the years—feminists have come down on both sides, some calling the film a triumph for women, others calling it degrading—Carpenter himself has dismissed all definitions of Halloween as anything but what it was intended to be: a horror film, plain and simple. And a groundbreaking one at that. —JW

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