You could easily write a graduate thesis on why the original Halloween works so well. There’s no way I can tackle that in a few paragraphs. However, I have watched this film just about every year since I was a kid and every time I notice new little details and have new thoughts about it.
For me, Halloween excels because of its simplicity. The key to that simplicity is that it flows throughout every element of the film—the dialogue, the plot, the music, the mythology, and even the effects. This isn’t A Nightmare on Elm Street with its fantastical dream worlds or buckets of blood shooting from Johnny Depp’s bed. This isn’t Friday the 13th with its mystery killer and legends. This is a crazed killer who wants nothing more than to kill. The mythology of Laurie being Michael’s sister wasn’t added until the second film. It’s just lean and without even the extravagance of gore. There’s basically no blood or gore throughout the entire film, despite being the progenitor of the entire slasher genre. It’s interesting to imagine the genre going a different route that followed Halloween’s lead with less yuck and more tension, even if Halloween itself threw that out with the second installment.
A lot has been made over the years of Michael as this tabula rasa of evil. His white, expressionless face allowing audiences to project whatever fears they may have. I used to try an experiment with students where after showing them the film I’d ask the class what Michael’s face looked like when his mask gets removed late in the film. I’d get all sorts of descriptions of disfigurement but, of course, there is none. Maybe it was the expectation of some Other that drove their descriptions, or maybe it was simply fear. Whichever the case, they saw something that scared them.