Valdosta Daily Times

October 7, 2013

Making up a real scareĀ 

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Like a lot of scary stories, this one starts with a kid. John Millias was just 7 years old when he got his first experience of seeing a haunted house.

His family was living in a house at the end of a creepy cul-de-sac. Some of the lights didn’t work right and would blink on and off all of the time.

His dad decided to take advantage of this at Halloween, hooking up a haunted house montage of opera and organ music to their speakers.

Kids would approach the house and then, when the lights started flickering and the organ music was flowing, they’d stop, afraid.

“I realized I really enjoyed being a part of haunted houses,” said Millias.

Growing up, it’s something that he and friends continued, making haunted walks in the neighborhood and working on props.

Eventually, he found himself auditioning to work at a theme park called Castle Park, a kind of renaissance carnival in California.

As way of audition, he was asked to scare the people interviewing him.

So he stood there, quietly. He stared. He stood. Then he jerked a muscle, stomped and screamed all in sudden motion.

Two days later, they hired him.

“It’s the simple stuff that really gets the bigger scares. Alfred Hitchcock once said that the anticipation of the balloon popping can be scarier and most often is scarier than the balloon popping.”

He worked on an attraction called Terror on the Tracks. A small train would carry passengers along a track while Millias and company would frighten them.

When the lead make-up artist had to leave, his assistant took over, and he made Millias his assistant.

“I really wasn’t interested in makeup until he showed me what it was about. I was completely new to it, and I had no idea what I was doing. I was trying to talk myself out of it, to talk him out of it.”

He started making gashes, burns, torn flesh. A makeup job can run anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours, so he started learning more and more.

“When you’re working with 15 people ... every day and every time it’s a little bit different but somehow the same kind of makeup, you get a feel for what you’re doing real quick.”

Millias learned that through careful detail work, you could create a much more terrifying effect.

“The guy that taught me was an amazing teacher. I was able to click with him so easily.”

Millias soon took over the make-up work, honing his skills. He started establishing certain rules: The basics always work. Know where you’re going with a design. When in doubt, add blood.

Three weeks in, he went all out. His face was torn apart, with a huge gash across it. His clothes were torn, covered in fake blood. His arms looked like they had been covered in dirt for weeks or months or years.

When he heard the train coming around the bend, Millias ran with everyone else to hide, but his foot got caught against the track, and it rolled.

“At full running speed...I heard kkkkkkkkkkkkPOP!”

He crawled into the bushes where some friends found him. An EMS worker with the park looked at his ankle, which had swollen to the size of a fist, and warned him that it could be broken (he would later learn he had torn every ligament in his foot).

A friend dropped him off at the emergency room. As Millias was sitting in the waiting room, filling out what seemed like

endless paperwork, the staff wouldn’t leave him alone. Nurses kept whispering to each other, a doctor came out every few minutes to urge him to finish the paperwork faster, everyone in the waiting room kept sneaking looks at him.

Then it dawned on him: all of his makeup was still on. He was sitting quietly, working through form after form, dripping fake blood with a face that looked like it was hamburger and clothes that looked like they had been through a shredder.

He turned the wheelchair he was in around, facing the rest of the room. People started to freak out more now that they could see how just how bad the gash was, so Millias tried to reassure everyone.

“It’s OK. It’s honestly OK.”

Then he grabbed a piece of the fake flesh hanging off his face. He meant to say that it was all makeup and then pull it off, but with everything that had gone on that night, he forgot the first part.

He ripped the skin off. The revulsion on people’s faces made him realize his mistake and he quickly explained that it was all makeup.

“You could feel the room expand a little bit because of all the exhales.”

After the scaring season ended, Millias kept studying.

He started hunting down Youtube videos and books on haunted house design. He also started studying how fear works, how the body and the mind react to fear.

“When someone is scared, they give off a pheromone. Those closest around them pick that up and it makes them scared ... that pheromone gets left behind. When you walk into a room where 100 people were just scared, that’s a whole bunch of fear pheromones sticking to everything. Your body picks up on that.”

Millias still does makeup jobs and hopes to make it his full-time job eventually under the banner Dead Man’s Touch. He’s added prosthetics to his repertoire, making severed hands and fingers, among others. And he’s still got a love for it, an enthusiasm he brings to all of his projects.

“You don’t even have to have a haunted house. You can have a haunted yard and if you have a bunch of enthusiastic people who are energetic and ready to go, it doesn’t matter.”

He’s come a long way since he was 7 and helping his dad wire speakers, watching what you could do with a few faulty lights and the right music.

He’s come a long way, but some things are still the same.

“It wasn’t about the scare, it was the reactions after they’re scared that brought me into it. ... People were laughing all the time and enjoying it and talking about it all the time. As long as they’re having fun, so am I. Even if they weren’t scared but still had a great time, then you did your job.”