There’s no denying, especially this time of year, that Halloween is an iconic and revered classic. It’s one of the most highly regarded horror films of all time. It’s not an effortless one, though, even if the story itself relies on simplicity. Halloween is a technical masterpiece—especially impressive given its meager $350,000 budget. The cinematography, the score, Halloween is a movie in which all elements come together fully synchronized. It just works. And it’s never stopped working.
Michael Myers, as introduced in the original feature, is an incredibly scary villain, the likes of which no one had ever seen before. What made him so frightening was that you didn’t know anything about him. The only information we know is what is given to us by Dr. Loomis and what we see—through Michael’s eyes, no less—in the opening flashback. But we don’t know why he did it. We don’t know what he’s thinking behind that mask.
With each sequel, the franchise took away that mystery, bit by bit. Halloween II introduced us to the sister twist. Even now, some fans forget that we don’t know why Michael is so intently focused on Laurie in the original. Then Halloween 4 confirmed that he was killing off his remaining family members. Halloween 5 introduced some puzzling elements meant to further the mystery. And then Curse of Michael Myers took it too far, outright explaining all of Michael’s abilities away with an ancient Druid curse. The Producer’s Cut took it even further, going so far as to clearly show the shape as a powerless puppet for larger forces.
It’s scary enough to think that this kid killed his sister out of the blue, without warning, at the age of six and then stared at a wall for fifteen years before deciding to break free and kill again. But it’s even scarier to eventually learn that we don’t even know what he is, not really. That’s the enduring appeal of Michael Myers in the original film. His mask is a blank, white slate. A canvas on which you can project your most internalized, primal fears.
At the same time, I do think that Michael does display some character and personality in the original film. Even though he’s silent and stone-faced, there’s delight taken in what he’s doing. In some ways, Michael may be the perfect embodiment of the holiday itself.
He’s not necessarily interested in killing people. He wants to scare them more than anything else. When you look at his actions in the original film, 90% of them are essentially pranks. Appearing outside windows, outside hedges, screeching his car to a halt—he’s just screwing with these people.
Michael Myers spends the bulk of Halloween setting up a haunted house, for all intents and purposes. When Laurie walks back over to the Wallace house at the end, everything has carefully been laid out. He’s left an elaborate display for her: her dead friend Annie lying in front of his sister’s headstone. This is not because he wants to kill her. He’s done this because he wants to terrify her. He even has her dead friends rigged to pop out at her as she walks through the house. This is a haunted house attraction for him, and one that he’s taken extreme care in designing for her.
One of the best things about Michael in Carpenter’s original movie is that you can interpret him about a thousand different ways. If you want him to be the victim of an aincent Druid curse, he can be. There’s evidence in the film’s novelization to support that. If you want to believe that Michael is a manifestation of Laurie’s own repressed sexual frustration and aggression, there are people who believe that too.
You can even believe that his condition is psychological, even if he does have this otherworldly strength. Maybe he’s simply a repeater, doomed to be driven to recreate his original crime in the same manner as so many real world serial killers. He’s singling out a girl who fits the basic profile of his first victim, in this case his sister, and is driven to try and replicate the grisly murder all over again.
You may even choose to believe that Michael Myers as we see him in the feature is actually a manifestation of Halloween itself. That he is the holiday and all its darkness and twisted glee made flesh, come to do some trick-or-treating of its very own.
What makes Halloween work so well is that we don’t know, not really. We can only guess. And ultimately, that’s more interesting and allows for more longevity. That mystery, that simplicity, that’s what truly makes Michael Myers scary. As H.P. Lovecraft famously wrote, “the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” It takes on a different context when written by someone so famously xenophobic, but it still applies.
We don’t know what happened to this boy to make him the way he was, if there were even any outside factors to blame at all. We don’t know why he can’t die. All we’re given, all we really know is that he’s the boogeyman. And honestly, that’s enough.