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Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes, Charles Cyphers
If you were to drain all of the blood out of the 24 preceding movies in this list, you’d have more than enough red liquid to fill up a neighborhood’s worth of swimming pools. Strangely enough, the No. 1 movie here, a.k.a. the best slasher film of all time, is nearly bloodless. Not unlike how Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre defies its hardcore reputation by hardly showing any gore, John Carpenter’s Halloween remains the least visually offensive slasher ever made. Thus, it’s a testament to the old adage “less is more” and the belief that high-quality scares need not be nauseating.
Initially hired to make a cheapie about a lunatic stalking babysitters, John Carpenter couldn’t help but bring his natural-born excellence to what could’ve been a run-of-the-mill drive-in picture. Though its legacy is marked by Michael Myers and its seven sequels (plus Rob Zombie’s two franchise reboot attempts), which dropped all subtleties to mimic Friday the 13th’s “more is more” approach, the original Halloween is shot and paced like one of Alfred Hitchcock’s pristine exercises in suspense—hell, Carpenter even named two of his characters after ones in Hitch’s movies (“Tommy Doyle” in reference to Rear Window; “Sam Loomis” in reference to Psycho).
The end result—made for a scant $300,000 in only 20 days—is cinema’s quietest and least showy murder-fest. Carpenter ratchets up the tension through long takes, his still camera, his amazing and now-iconic self-made score, and wide-angle shots that make you survey the landscape looking for Michael “The Shape” Myers in the camera’s edges. Halloween’s genius is also evident in the few murders Carpenter does stage. Without showing any viscera, he achieves the ultimate terror through mere observation—after Michael Myers pins a guy to door, in mid-air, with his butcher’s knife, Myers just stands there, tilting his head and curiously looking at his work, like he’s a puppy reacting to its human owner’s intelligible gibberish. It’s the kind of downplayed horror moment you won’t find anywhere else in this countdown.