Art & the Artist: Victor Salva’s JEEPERS CREEPERS

 
When Scream Factory decided to re-release Jeepers Creepers and Jeepers Creepers 2, they received a significant backlash from film fans asking how they could support work created by an abusive monster. The monster they would be referring to is the films’ writer and director, Victor Salva, a convicted child molester who preyed upon the star of one of his previous films and also had significant amounts of child pornography seized upon his arrest in 1988. Scream Factory announced their upcoming releases of these films just months after it was announced that Salva was signed on for a third installment to begin production in the coming year. Having already seen some backlash from the announcement preceding theirs, Scream Factory was sure to have known that their decision would bring more oxygen to the flames of a hot topic.

As with Roman Polanski and Woody Allen before him, the question of whether or not we can separate an artist’s actions from his or her art surrounds every discussion of Victor Salva and his work. To judge the work on its own merits is fair, if one is able to do that; however, the emotional nature of crimes involving children and sexual crimes makes that separation a great deal harder. I’ll make my attempt to do just that in a bit. First, however, let’s examine Salva’s seminal works of early oughts horror in light of his crime and the psychological connections between the crime and the films.

Part I: The Artist

Today, I sat in a prison treatment group and found myself reflecting on Salva in connection to rehabilitation and second chances. As someone who makes their living working with men and women in prison and halfway houses on changing their thinking processes and decision making, to not believe that people can change would make me a fraud and render my career choices a complete waste of time. However, my experience has demonstrated to me that men and women convicted of crimes, even crimes of a violent and/or sexual nature, can change their lives. To be fair, a good deal of people choose not to change, as well.

What does this mean when discussing a director who was convicted of molesting a child actor while filming a creepy movie about clowns? I’m not sure, to be honest, but I do know that the question of whether he changed who he was to become a reformed and repentive man matters to me in this discussion. From a psychological standpoint, it’s fascinating to look at his post-release body of work in light of this question.

Before looking at these films, a brief explanation of how prison treatment of sexual offenders typically works. Salva served 15 months of his 3 year sentence in a prison and the remainder under parole supervision. In order to have made parole, he would have needed to complete his prescribed programs, which would have included some level of sexual offender treatment. It can safely be assumed that he was compliant and made appropriate progress in his treatment. Since 1992, when he was released, treatment programs have vastly changed and grown into what I would consider stronger quality. Therefore, it is fair to question how effective the treatment he received in the early 90s was, but it was important to establish that it is a relative certainty that he received treatment prior to return to the “real world” from prison.

With this said, I’m sure some of you reading this are skeptical that Salva changed at his core, or that many do change at all for that matter. I, too, am skeptical, specifically in light of my experiences with the Jeepers films.

The Creeper is a modern boogeyman, whom we know from the first moment he is on screen in 2001’s Jeepers Creepers is other worldly or at least not fully human. This, in itself, isn’t problematic at all; however, when we consider his targets and his methods, it’s hard not to think about Salva’s past and wonder about his present inner demons.

The Creeper attacks young men and women, with the primary targets being teenage boys. In the first film, the Creeper’s attention is focused on high school aged Darry Jenner (Justin Long). In the 2003 follow up, the film opens with the Creeper attacking and killing a pre-teen farm boy and then proceeds to stalk a bus filled with high school students, where his primary attention is focused on the members of the boys’ basketball team. When looked at with his crime in mind, his targets are problematic as the main victim of Salva’s awful real life actions was a 12 year old boy.

The problematic nature of this increases tenfold when the behaviors of the Creeper are taken into account. The Creeper hunts not only by his sense of sight, but very much by his sense of smell. And, with this he displays visible ecstasy when breathing in the scent of his prey. There’s an undeniable deviance about the mannerisms and behaviors of the Creeper that would be evident no matter the artist, but the implications are somewhat startling when this artist’s past is considered.

Was Salva aware of how the Creeper’s deviance could be mirroring his own? Was the connection unintentional and, perhaps, Freudian in nature? It’s hard to believe the motives are necessarily devious or intentionally offensive, but that doesn’t discount how Salva’s demons seem to be flushed out on screen. The cathartic nature of releasing one’s demons through art is not a inherently negative, but considering Salva’s offense it becomes problematic.

Before we move on to discuss the film by its own merits alone, I want to highlight the dilemma once more with a personal story about art and an artist whom was in a similar position as Salva.

When I began my career in corrections, I worked in a prison as a counselor. In the prison, there was an annual art show where inmates were allowed to sell their art pieces to staff. I purchased a gorgeous picture of a fairy done in pastels for my wife whom loves fairies. It was framed and put up in our bedroom.

A few months later, the inmate was incidentally placed on my caseload and when reading his file I learned he had committed a heinous crime against a young girl, whose appearance was very similar to that of the fairy. Was this intentional? I don’t know. However, it made the piece hard to look at daily without being reminded of the heinous crime. Ultimately, we put the piece away in the attic and have not returned it to our wall.

Is it wrong to enjoy the art of this inmate? Is it wrong to enjoy the art of Victor Salva? There’s no single correct answer, but it’s only human to have a ton of feelings swirling inside when faced with art created by people who have done horrible, heinous things.

Part II: The Art

Jeepers Creepers

Roman Polanski was indicted of raping a 13 year old girl. Woody Allen married his “stepdaughter” whom he began a relationship with as she was a minor. JD Salinger was pedophile and mistreated his wife horridly. William Burroughs killed his wife. Chuck Berry committed armed robbery and videotaped women in bathrooms. Charlie Chaplin impregnated a 15 year old then forced her to marry him. Elvis Presley held regular sleepover parties for teenage girls and specifically sought out teenage virgins.

Much of the art from these artists is considered classic. For that matter, this is far from an exhaustive list of the bad people who made art that is regarded among the greatest art ever made. Should we discard countless rock albums, literature, or films? Perhaps we should, but we don’t in many cases. In these cases, many to judge art on its merit alone.

Jeepers Creepers

Jeepers Creepers is a legitimately strong teen horror film, likely one of the strongest teen horrors of the 2000s. If you are new to the series, the film is a supernatural slasher in the tradition of the Freddy Krueger films. The antagonist of the film, the aforementioned Creeper, first appears to be your run of the mill slasher film villain, but as with many other teen murdering psychopaths he is not human, but rather of unknown origin and species. The Creeper is some type of evil demonic humanoid monster, who like Freddy or Jason seems immortal.

Jeepers Creepers

Justin Long is both the star of the film and the Creeper’s primary target throughout. As with most of his roles, Long proves to be a fantastic leading man here, balancing comedic timing, sheer terror, and a compelling relatability. His competence as one of the lead roles does a great deal to bolster the film’s legitimacy as a contender for one of the better major studio horror films of its decade, as does the strength of the other lead actor, Gina Philips, who portrays Darry’s sister Trish.

The Creeper is a legitimately menacing boogeyman. As mentioned earlier, when we are introduced to the Creeper, he seems to just be a run of the mill slasher. Then, Darry and Trish discover his underground lair with the dead bodies of decades worth of victims lining the walls and ceiling of the cave dwelling. It’s not too long before we learn that the Creeper is not human at all, in fact he seems to be some sort of immortal demon.

The plot follows this story through twists and turns, all surrounding the Creeper stalking his prey, Darry. Both he and Trish are eventually confronted face to face with certain death. The Creeper is left with the decision of who he will kill first. And, of course, the film leaves the viewer with a final shot that won’t soon leave his or her mind.

The film is not a five star genre film by any stretch of the imagination, but to dismiss it as one of the better horror films of the ’00s would be both foolish and misguided. It does a pretty great job of selling an interesting concept, includes some scares and a good deal to think about. It’s also, by far, the better of this pair of teen horror flicks.

Jeepers Creepers 2

Jeepers Creepers 2 picks up just after the events of the first. While a good companion piece to the first, it really lacks the legs to stand on its own as a strong horror film. With the loss of the strong pair of lead actors in the first, this film sees the addition of Ray Wise as a farmer names Jack Taggart and a slew of unknown teenage actors. The trope quotient is increased exponentially and that also significantly increases the film’s cheese factor.

Ray Wise’s Jack Taggart is the hero of the story, albeit he disappears for multiple large chunks of the film, while the story focuses on the angsty teens and their broken down school bus. Taggart’s permanent return to the story line has him in the final battle with the Creeper. And, subsequently, he is also the character who utters the dialogue setting up the (then possible, now certain) sequel to this film.

The film, while not nearly as interesting as the first, is not bad at all. It’s typical ’90s/early ’00s teen horror fare. The most honest way to summarize it is to call it wholly watchable. It won’t bore viewers or provide an awful viewing experience, but it is unlikely to wow many viewers either.

The Package

If you are able to get past the Victor Salva factor and get into these films, the best way of doing so is clearly the new Scream Factory releases. Both come jam packed with features and the transfers look great.

The Jeepers Creepers Collector’s Edition features two discs with the first featuring the film and two commentary tracks, one with Salva alone and the other where he is joined by Justin Long and Gina Philips. The latter is a brand new track, the former has been included on previous releases. The second disc is packed with tons of new interviews, an alternate opening scene, an alternate finale, and several more deleted scenes, as well as the requisite gag reel.

The Jeepers Creepers 2 Collector’s Edition also features two discs. The first is the brand new transfer of the film, as well as two commentaries (including a really interesting one with The Creeper, the illustrator, and the makeup artist). The second disc, like with the first film’s collector’s edition is full of numerous brand new interviews. With this disc, there are also several other featurette documentaries and deleted scenes.

You can grab your copies of Jeepers Creepers and Jeepers Creepers 2 at Amazon today.

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the author

Justin Harlan mostly watches kids movies because he has two toddlers who hog the Roku remote. When they go to sleep he occasionally has time to watch films that he wants to. His taste is often questionable according to Liam, but he's still good people.