Inspiring Scares (Day 30): Horror Actor/Composer Lito Velasco (FOUND, SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY)

It is getting close to Halloween my horror friends and we have just two Inspired Scares left to share with you and they are both centered around one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, slasher film of all time: John Carpenter’s Halloween. Actor and Composer Lito Velasco shares his experience with the seminal classic and why it has made him the horror lover he is today.

“A gunshot shatters the stillness of the night, followed by brief silence. Five more shots erupt before all is quiet again. The hero exchanges words with the victim and we are safe: evil has been defeated.

Or has it? The ground that the vile shape fell onto is bare. It…HE has escaped again.

No one is safe.

We’re reminded of his powerful presence and insensate evil by the sound of his ragged, robotic breathing. We’re shown locations where his evil manifested: the living room, the stairwell, and the home where it all began. HIS home. Cut to black.

No one is safe.

I inhale sharply as my bulging eyes struggle to adjust to the newly darkened room. I hear my sister and babysitter, Desi breathing shallowly beside me. I FEEL their fear: as icily palpable as my own. None of us dare move or speak.

Desi’s warm hand finds my clammy forearm. “It’s only a movie,” she offers reassuringly. I repeat those words in my head, trying to convince myself with the mantra. We’re safe, right?

Before the end credits roll, the screen cuts to a commercial for the new release, Halloween II. More of the night HE came home. I stop breathing as I realize: the bogeyman lives. HE is lurking, watching, and waiting. HE cannot be stopped.

And no one is safe.

I look to the living room window, peer outside the half-closed blinds, see darkness enveloping the suburban neighborhood that closely resembles the one I’ve just witnessed being stalked by evil.

I am not safe. He knows where I live. And one day…HE will come for me too.

To this day, I don’t know if my parents know the story: being allowed to watch the NBC premiere despite my VERY young age, the film somehow blurring my already vaguely understood and perceived line between fiction and reality (in my defense, I was a very young child at the time), and as a result…me only sleeping two hours that night due to The Shape’s mask haunting my dreams. And I never told them about how those nightmares continued for years.

And yet, as terrified as I was of Michael Myers’ visage and the film, I also became oddly fascinated…obsessed with both.

I taught myself how to play the theme on the piano. On “video rental nights”, I usually picked Halloween. At 10, I bought my first Shape mask, planning to rid my dreams of that blank, pale, emotionless face that plagued my sleep by staring at it as I drifted into slumber.

It worked: gradually the nightmares stopped. And the somehow during those years, the terror turned into love. It strikes me as somewhat bizarre when I see it written so plainly: I’ve embraced the fear that held me captive for so many years. Am I suffering from lifelong Stockholm syndrome? Perhaps. The film set me on my path: my willingness to embrace all things horror, my dream of eliciting scares from viewers with my own projects, my need to hold onto and embrace that fear I felt on that very night. The film has shaped (pun intended) my life in a way I never would have thought possible the first time I viewed the movie.

When asked what my favorite film is, without hesitating, I reply: “John Carpenter’s Halloween”. I’ve purchased various versions of the film in different formats. One of my favorite Halloween costumes is the Shape, and my latest version of his mask occupies a place of honor in our entertainment center. Every night, Michael’s black eyes stare blankly at me, just as they did when I was a child. Only now I respond by smiling broadly instead of shivering.

I apologize for sounding like a narcissist, but I imagine that many people who love Carpenter’s Halloween have come to this adoration in similar fashion. And several reasons for why we love this film are obvious.

It’s terrifying. It scared me like nothing before or since: it actually made me feel unsafe while watching. Undoubtedly my age had something to do with that, but setting and era also had much to do with instilling that fear. The film played upon the fears of suburbanites everywhere at the time. And as Moustapha Akkad said many times, in the era the film was made, everyone knew or had a babysitter. Surely the similarity of my companions and setting to what I saw on-screen was a large reason for the terror I felt.

It’s fun. Yes, it’s a relentlessly frightening film, but it’s not cruel or sadistic. The film sets out to scare you, but I feel like it lets you “enjoy the ride”. Surely my repeated viewings served as evidence that the film worked in this manner. And sharing someone’s first-ever viewing is so much fun: I can see the dread on his or her faces, the terror in their eyes, and I’m able to recapture that feeling again.

It holds up. To this day, I say that despite its minor flaws, it’s one of the greatest pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever seen, even more so when you take into consideration all the limitations on the production. It’s simply a masterpiece of suspense and horror.

Then there are all the reasons why it’s a masterpiece. The music (like the film) grabs you and won’t let go. Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis are superb in their roles. As is Nick Castle and his wonderful, creepily graceful movements as The Shape. The mask is a stroke of genius…allowing viewers to project their own fears onto the blank face.

But perhaps the biggest reason I love the film is because of the evil that Carpenter created in the persona of Michael Myers.

Unlike filmmakers who came after him, he understood that the unexpected makes a villain terrifying. To see an innocent child with a seemingly normal life inexplicably turn into the physical embodiment of evil is inherently more terrifying than the countless imitators, sequels, and reboots that followed which featured clichéd back stories and explanations as to their killer’s motivations (ie, a child from a broken home who suffers abuse from family and peers turning into a psychopath). To witness a man who is “normal” in his stature do impossibly powerful things is scarier than watching a behemoth bulldoze his way through a movie.

These things make Carpenter’s Michael Myers completely terrifying. HE is the personification of evil in the most unexpected of forms and is able to do things no one can comprehend. The ultimate evil lives not in the body of a giant, but in that of a “normal” man. Despite his unassuming size, he is a supernatural force of nature: death personified.

And as the finale of the film tells us…HE…it is everywhere. It is in the living room, the stairwell, and the house next door.

The Shape…no…death…is watching and waiting. And no one is safe.

Of course, it’s only a movie, right?

Just in case, I always check the back seat before getting into our car at night. Just in case.”

Lito Velasco on IMDB: