From the beginning, writer/director Victor Salva has always been aloof when asked about his inspiration for The Creeper, the hideous reptilian humanoid that anchors his wildly popular (though controversial) Jeepers Creepers franchise. It’s long been established that the plot of Jeepers Creepers (at least the 1st Act) bears striking similarities to an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that aired in 1990; it discussed the case of Michigan fugitive Dennis Depue (who had murdered his wife) and included a highway chase scene much like the pulse-pounding encounter Trish (Gina Philips) and Derry (Justin Long) had when they crossed paths with The Creeper’s BEATNGU truck.
[For a summary of writer/director Victor Salva’s criminal past and why many horror fans are choosing to boycott Jeepers Creepers 3, follow the link at the bottom of the article.]
With Jeepers Creepers 3 rumored to drop in late-summer/early-fall, interest in all things Creeper related has surged, especially since this next installment promises to reveal more about the enigmatic creature’s origins. Recent research suggests a connection between The Creeper (played by Jonathan Breck) and The Shadow.
Jeepers Creepers 3 Official Synopsis: Taking place on the last day of the Creeper’s twenty-three-day feeding frenzy, as the skeptical Sargent Tubbs teams up with a task force hellbent on destroying the Creeper for good. The Creeper fights back in gory glory as its enemies grow closer than ever before to learning the secret of its dark origins.
The film features Meg Foster, Gina Philips, and Jonathan Breck.
The Shadow is a character developed out of a radio show from the 1930s, made infamous for his catchphrase, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man?” followed by ominous laughter. At first look, there may seem only cursory similarities between The Creeper and the 20th Century crime fighter who was an early inspiration for Batman (namely the black cloak and hat). But whereas The Shadow is debonair and refined, The Creeper’s clad in tatters and acts more animalistic than human. The connection between the two characters may actually be through bona fide Master of Horror Joe Dante.
In 1985, Dante directed an episode of the rebooted Twilight Zone TV series called The Shadow Man; it featured a nervous teenager who discovers a dark entity living under his bed, a fiend who calls himself The Shadow Man. Dante admitted in an interview with Shock Til You Drop (now ComingSoon.net) that the titular Shadow Man is named after The Shadow, and he’s dressed accordingly. If we can establish that Salva was influenced by The Shadow Man, then he was, by proxy, influenced by The Shadow.
There are notable differences between The Shadow and The Shadow Man that suggest Salva’s affinity for the latter. For starters, we never see The Shadow Man’s face; it seems like he’s made of solidified darkness. Also, he speaks in a harsh whisper that sounds almost like a lizard hissing. The rim of his hat is more pronounced that The Shadow’s, and he’s wearing a trench coat instead of a black cape, giving him a distinctively Old Western twang. Also, The Shadow Man comes as goes through a 2nd story window, so it appears he can fly. You can watch the entire episode and/or check out some screenshots below; I think you’ll agree Dante’s Shadow Man looks like a midpoint in an evolution spectrum that starts with The Shadow and ends with The Creeper.
When The Shadow Man first aired, Salva was only 25 and yet to establish his mark, but his love of horror was already well established. Biographical information states Salva penned over 20 horror screenplays before he even graduated high school. The idea that a horror fanatic like Salva would have missed an episode of the new Twilight Zone—especially one directed by Dante who was riding a wave of popularity following the stunning success Gremlins, is almost unfathomable.
And speaking of Gremlins, this could be another link between Dante and Jeepers Creepers. If Salva was influenced by The Shadow Man, he could have been influenced by Gremlins in equal measure. Think about skin texture: The Gremlins’ reptilian skin and color tones are similar The Creeper’s; also, both species have sharp teeth. The Creeper sports a single shock of white hair, strange for a reptilian but absolutely reminiscent of Dante’s most famous Gremlin, Spike.
These characters and details, along with an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that aired half a decade later, could have all been swirling in Salva’s subconscious when he penned Jeepers Creepers—whether he knew it or not. It’s not uncommon to be influenced by things we see, hear, and read; some influences remain in the forefront of an artist’s mind while others sink deeper, emerging as a unique tapestry years later.
Do you think Victor Salva was influenced by Joe Dante and The Shadow Man? Let’s discuss in the Comments section.