Born in March of 1958, Victor Ronald Salva was a film prodigy who directed nearly twenty short films before he turned eighteen, culminating ...

Director's Dungeon: Victor Salva

Born in March of 1958, Victor Ronald Salva was a film prodigy who directed nearly twenty short films before he turned eighteen, culminating with his 37-minute short Something in the Basement that was awarded first place in fiction at the Sony/AFI Home Video Competition. Something in the Basement garnered the attention of Francis Ford Coppola who produced Salva’s first feature release, Clownhouse.

Silva recycled the cast from Basement to create what he called a “camp fire story” In Clownhouse, three brothers hiding out in a deserted house are menaced by a trio of escaped mental patients who have disguised themselves as circus clowns. Clownhouse was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and International Fantasy Film Award at the Fantasporto film festival in Portugal.

But Salva’s early success was overshadowed by his conviction for sexual abuse involving the 12-year-old star of Clownhouse, Nathan Forrest Winters. The molestation was videotaped by Salva and he pled guilty to five felony counts of child molestation, including one count of lewd and lascivious conduct, one count of oral copulation with a minor, and three counts involving possession of child pornography. Salva served fifteen months of a three year term at Soledad prison and it would be seven years before he would direct another film.

Salva has admitted that the molestation occurred at “a dark time in my confused young life, but also a time when I took responsibility for…the ramifications of growing up in a deeply dysfunctional family” and most of his films post-prison, (especially his horror films) can be read as efforts to resolve issues surrounding the molestation and his own sexuality.

With the backing of Hollywood Pictures, Salva wrote and directed Powder in 1995. The plot centers on an albino boy with special powers that unsettle the residents of a small town and make him into an outcast. Though critics of the film hailed it as “one of the best and most moving sci-fi films ever made,” a move was made to boycott the film, led by Salva’s then 20-year old victim who was shocked that Disney (the distributor of the film) would work with Salva considering his history. Salva’s next film, Rites of Passage dealt with an overtly homophobic father who, unwilling to accept his son’s queer sexuality, pushes him away and into the arms of a killer.

Salva would break out into horror with his 2001 movie Jeepers Creepers, which set a world record for largest Labor Day box office sales. The monster of Salva’s film is a flesh-eating creature named the Creeper who rises every twenty-third spring for twenty-three days to feast on body parts that become part of his own body. He stalks his victims by the smell of their fear, which tells him which parts of them he’d most like to snack on.

Oddly enough, the Creeper seems to have a penchant for young male victims. In the first Jeepers Creepers he sets his sights on the pretty man-boy Darry, played by Justin Long, and completely ignores his sister Trish as a potential victim. Jeepers Creepers 2 continues the trend with an opening scene depicting the abduction of Billy the farm boy. The Creeper then goes on to have his pick of a number of hunky male football players trapped in a broken down school bus (Jeepers Creepers 2 Part 4--6:57-8:25).

Salva’s limited filmography as a director totals only eight films and can be attributed to the storm of controversy that inevitably follows the release of his features. Though Salva has publicly expressed his regret numerous times, explaining to the press "I paid for my mistakes dearly" his history as a convicted sex offender will continue to stunt his career and haunt his future projects.

5 comments:

  1. His tasteless sexual proclivities aside, Jeepers Creepers remains one of my fave horror films of all time. I loved how it began with an homage to Spielberg's "Duel" and then morphed into a great monster story. The sequel, I felt, was pretty lame.

    "Powder" bored me to tears, though I know some people who adore the movie.

    I managed to see "Clownhouse" years ago at a theater in Philly and while it has its moments, it's sort of , dare I say it, dull.

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  2. And Jeepers Creepers III is rumored to be in the works. Egad!

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  3. Interesting post - sensitively written on a subject that could potentially be the source of too much seriousness, or even worse, not enough.
    Great blog - keep up the good work. :)

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  4. There is a reason Victor Salva caught the attention of Francis Ford Coppola -- he has a first-rate talent for writing and directing horror movies, with an elegant visual simplicity not unlike John Carpenter.

    Jeepers Creepers (2001) is a classic horror movie. Beautifully filmed despite a limited budget, the movie has sweep and power, with a tragic ending that elevates it above popcorn entertainment into a contemporary work of art. If Salva made a mistake in his earlier days, so what? Everybody deserves a second chance. Nothing should prevent him from exercising his gifts today. After all, Edgar Allan Poe was no boy scout either, but that hardly negates his cultural contribution.

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  5. How much he has learned from his crimes remains to be seen. His films certainly seem to spend a lot of time leering at teenage boys. Why can't he aim his camera at men?. Because he is a pedophile and he likes young boys. He forced an 11 year old boy to have oral sex with him, among other abuses and filmed it for 'later'. If he didn't make films people liked and was just some average guy, everyone would be calling for his hide. In interviews he blames his upbringing and society but never himself. Anyway, it is an interesting moral conundrum. Do we allow artists to make art, even if their crimes are repugnant?. Koestler was a rapist, Poe, Gaugin, Carravagio, Lewis Carroll were all pedophiles who had sex with children, Charlie Sheen beats up every woman he dates or marrys including his pregnant wife. Mike Tyson admitted he raped prostitutes and beat them, he also raped a beauty queen. No one seems to care though...
    What can we do?.
    We have to hold duality of thought, and admire what they create,but hate the person.

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