With the third installment of Jeepers Creepers finally moving forward we’re seeing a number of outlets share updates on the project, and with those outlets and announcements come a great deal of opinionated individuals creeping from the woodwork to hurl fury and disdain in the direction of Victor Salva.
I get it. I’m a father – I really, really do get it.
Salva was convicted of sexual misconduct after engaging in sexual acts with Nathan Forrest Winters, one of the young boys who fronted his eerie clown feature, Clownhouse. Sentenced to three years imprisonment, Salva would leave the bars behind him in just 15 months. That’s a pretty lenient penalty for a guy who not only abused a 12-year old child, but was also found to be in the possession of pornographic material featuring children. That said, prison systems have been known to be less than kind to rapists and pedophiles; it’s hard to imagine Salva’s time behind bars being anything other than a dreadful struggle to stay alive.
But any savagery he encountered in prison is savagery he earned by contaminating a young boy’s innocence. That cannot be emphasized enough. In effect, Salva sentenced himself the moment he chose to dabble in taboo acts with a child. And sadly, viewers of Clownhouse can quite clearly see Salva’s wheels spinning on screen. In fact, even post-prison stint, Salva has delivered a few very questionable cinematic moments.
Some may remember a little film that performed far beyond expectations. It was a Disney film (well, technically speaking it was a Caravan flick, but Caravan was a subsidiary of Disney) that hit the market in the mid-90s under the title, Powder. As it turns out, Powder pulled down large box office figures and helped to rejuvenate Salva’s career while truly launching Sean Patrick Flanery’s career, all the while employing some serious screen veterans like Jeff Goldblum, Lance Henriksen and Mary Steenburgen. It also featured some eerily familiar sequences.
During the film we see a number of clips featuring young boys not entirely clothed. Rewind the clock a handful of years and look back to Clownhouse and you’ll see a whole lot of the same from that film. Boys running around in their tighty whiteys. Drawn out shots that feel a little too close for comfort. They’re pronounced in Clownhouse and they’re clearly evident in Powder. Powder even stretches so far as to feature a strangely homoerotic physical sequence between Powder and Jeff Goldblum’s character, Donald Ripley. Without jumping into details or reciting dialogue, I can tell you it isn’t a shining moment on Salva’s ledger. If anything, it appears as though the same wheels that spun in Salva’s head while directing Clownhouse, were spinning while directing Powder.
The greatest difference here comes in the fact that Salva was not prosecuted for any form of sexual deviancy in the wake of Powder’s release.
In the years that have passed we’ve seen less questionable on-screen decisions from Salva. It’s not quite as easy to spot the perversion on the screen these days. But the question can and always will linger in the minds of many: Is Victor Salva still sexually abusing children?
Loose logic tells us that this kind of behavior has probably been eliminated from Salva’s daily routine, simply because we haven’t seen a wealth of exploitative shots of children in many of Salva’s recent pictures. If the research I’ve done is accurate, the man hasn’t had so much as a brush with the law since his original 1980s conviction.
Loose logic also suggests – at least to me – that anyone obsessed with something, will always struggle with that obsession. Jeepers Creepers 2, remember, features a scene in which a group of shirtless teenage boys lay on top of a broken down school bus. Is it exploitative? No. Not when you look at it in context, as a straight-forward scene from a straight-shooting filmmaker. But Salva’s past is checkered, he’s far from a straight-shooting filmmaker.
But a film like Jeepers Creepers 2 is a picture that really makes you shake your head, because on one hand we’ve got a scene that seems to cater to the muffled needs of a sex offender, and on the other you’ve got a sequence that doesn’t feel like a forced injection designed to appeal to a pervert. It’s not exactly outlandish to see a bunch of rowdy, overconfident athletic boys taking their shirts off in front of a bunch of cute female classmates.
For me, this scenario features a third hand, and that comes from a very direct, very real conversation I held with one of the Jeepers Creepers 2 stars, Josh Hammond.
A few years back my wife and I hosted a genre-themed podcast. Hammond stepped up to be featured as a guest for one of our episodes. Given his involvement in the second Jeepers Creepers installment, I was chomping at the bit to – damn near – interrogate the man about his relationship and his perception of Salva. To my complete surprise Josh was not only willing to discuss his experiences with Salva, he was entirely open to discussing the man.
What he told me came as a surprise.
According to Josh, Victor Salva was more than just a standup guy, he was kind, attentive and professional and never entered inappropriate territories with Hammond or (to Hammond’s knowledge) any other cast members. Josh went so far as to tell me he’d trust Salva with his own children.
Hammond’s comments left me thinking, a lot. I wondered if Josh could have missed something. If maybe Salva’s head was still in an ugly place, but he just so happened to mask his personal desires well. There were a great deal of things that ran through my mind in the days following that interview. But, having kept up with Salva’s professional career, I’ll admit that I haven’t seen much of the lewd camera work that seemed to be something of a trademark of the man’s earlier works.
Rosewood Lane is a pretty direct film about a psychotic paperboy who torments a radio personality after she moves to a new home. Outside of the paperboy – played by then 28-year old Daniel Ross Owens – I don’t recall many children showcased in the film at all. Not only that, but I don’t recall seeing any sexually sketchy sequences including Owens, a full-grown man.
Fast forward a few years and Salva delivered one of his stranger films, Dark House. It’s something of a convoluted tale equipped with enough ideas to fashion 14 different horror pics. It’s been more than a year since my second viewing of Dark House, but the movie, which juggles the idea of a clairvoyant (for lack of a better term), a mysterious mansion that’s somehow upped and relocated (this includes the original cellar, believe it or not) on its own and weird religious entities, doesn’t seem to feature any sexually suggestive content, germane to minors or adults. I could be wrong (really, the flick is bat-shit crazy and a little tough to follow because it’s so insane) but I honestly don’t remember a hint of perversion from the film.
I haven’t seen the slightest indicator of any lingering ghouls in Salva’s mind in 13 years, since Jeepers Creepers 2 hit theaters, and that is a sequence that can argued as decent.
But what does that mean? Does that mean that Salva has evolved and defied the odds by avoided falling into past practices or preferences? Does it mean that Salva’s become trickier than ever, resulting in what “appears” to be a clean slate, though its markings can still be seen under a black light?
Better yet, if Victor Salva has indeed changed his ways and learned from past mistakes – something that most certainly does happen, whether it be a rarity or not – does the man deserve an uninfluenced and unbiased shake? Should we be viewing the man as a rehabilitated individual who made some terrible mistakes, but has kept his nose clean, so to speak, for the last 25-plus years?
Should we forgive Victor Salva? Can we forgive Victor Salva? If we’re unwavering in our hatred for the man as a direct result of the despicable actions he took part in during the late 1980s, is it fair to say that he never deserves forgiveness? And, if we can’t clearly answer that question, does it not imply that he is entirely unforgiveable, for the remainder of his days on earth?
There’s an old adage that everyone you know has heard at least once: forgive and forget.
I’ve been damaged in my life. I’ve never been molested, thank the good lord above, but I’ve been wronged in terrible ways that have scarred me so deeply that those scars will never disappear in their entirety. I’ll feel them on my deathbed. That’s a part of life, and it’s a part of life that an awful lot of us are familiar with.
I cannot forget those scars. Those harsh moments that have played a serious role in defining who I am as a human being are pieces of my history. They’re pieces of my existence. When I look in a mirror I see them. It’s impossible to forget them. It’s impossible to forget that I was damaged, and who it was that caused that damage. Some things never go away. But what I have been able to do is forgive. It isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. It isn’t even necessarily what I wanted to do. What it is however, is required.
We can’t walk through life harboring deep hatred. Spending days suppressing an untiring rage is spending days in misery. That’s something I’ve learned through personal experiences. I’ve also learned that sometimes people make horrific decisions without truly contemplating the ramifications of their actions, without ever stopping to think about the long list of individuals they’re indirectly hurting, let alone who they’re directly hurting. Sadly, making mistakes is a predestined reality that every man and woman on earth must face.
Have I forgotten the destructive, disgusting and life-changing crimes committed by Victor Salva? No. I can’t ever forget that. And you can bet that Nathan Forrest Winters hasn’t forgotten the actions or long-term effects caused by a severely disturbed man. However, regardless of what any of us feel – positive or negative – for Victor Salva, I sincerely hope that Winters has found a way to forgive the man, at least to some degree, because if he hasn’t, he’s held a horrifying monster in his closet for too long, and the last 28 years of his life have been a true and terrible hell.
Just as Winters never deserved to be abused by Salva to begin with, he sure as hell doesn’t deserve to continue on living a nightmare.
That said you just never know who might be a real monster. And you never know when the world’s monsters will act on their terrifying impulses… or if forgiveness is even reserved for such disgusting beasts; beasts we sometimes call friends, family, neighbors or co-workers. But the question, to forgive and (or) forget, will no doubt rise to the surface yet again when Jeepers Creepers 3 makes its way to theaters in the near future and Victor Salva is once more pushed beneath the bright lights.