The boy Victor Salva raped, Nathan Forrest Winters, was 12 years old when he told his mother that the writer-director, a family friend, had sexually abused him on the set of the movie Clownhouse in which Winters was one of three young stars. In 1988, Salva pleaded guilty to lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14, having oral sex with a child under 14, and procuring a child for pornography (Salva filmed sexual acts with Winters). He was sentenced to three years in prison, serving 15 months, most of which took place at Soledad State Prison. (Salva declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Since he got out of prison in 1989, Salva has made nine movies, beginning with the straight-to-video Nature of the Beast and theatrically released Powder, which both came out in late October 1995. This Saturday, Jeepers Creepers 3, the long-awaited sequel of Salva's successful horror franchise, will air on Syfy at 9 p.m. The original Jeepers Creepers, released in theaters by MGM in late summer 2001, was a surprise hit, and went on to gross nearly $60 million worldwide. A sequel followed two years later, and made even more. (A spokesperson for Syfy declined to comment on being in business with Salva.)
Though Jeepers Creepers 3 going straight to TV seems like a downgrade, the movie did make two stops in theaters across the country billed as "events," one on Sept. 26 and another on Oct. 4, that brought in an impressive $2.3 million. Jeepers Creepers 3's producer Michael Ohoven sees the theatrical events combined with the TV sale as an acknowledgment of the realities of the movie business right now. "We see it as a very successful model on the financial side," he told BuzzFeed News.
This month has seen an explosion of allegations of sexual harassment and assault within the entertainment industry. The New York Times and New Yorker published investigative stories about Harvey Weinstein that have now resulted in nearly 60 women coming forward to accuse him of harassment and assault. (Weinstein has denied all allegations of sexual assault.) The tsunami of denunciations has extended outward: Roy Price of Amazon Studios was forced to resign after a sexual harassment charge became public; a Los Angeles Times investigation into writer-director James Toback has now yielded more than 200 accusers; a new accuser of Roman Polanski alleged this month that the director assaulted her when she was 10; Tyler Grasham, an agent at APA, was fired after a potential client 10 years earlier alleged on Facebook that Grasham had given him alcohol when he was underage and assaulted him; and Bob Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment by the showrunner of The Mist, a Weinstein Company production.
The first New York Times story was published only 22 days ago: There's now a sense that the dominoes may never stop falling. Those aforementioned examples are from entertainment business alone, but these earthquakes are happening in every industry: George H.W. Bush apologized this week for patting "women's rears."
When Salva's Powder came out, the revelations about him having sexually assaulted a minor caused a similar flare-up — and that happened again when the first and second Jeepers Creepers were released, a rarity in the '90s and early '00s. The week Powder was released, Winters, then 20, and five friends picketed a prerelease screening of the Disney film. They held signs that said "Support the Victim, Not the Victimizer" and "Victor Salva: Writer, Director, Child Molester," and distributed leaflets that said, "Please don't spend your money on this movie." The protest drew national attention to Salva's crimes and imprisonment, and hand-wringing followed, especially because of the involvement of Disney, which is often viewed as a national trust, rather than a for-profit company.
Despite the negative press, though, Powder performed well enough at the box office to bring Salva more work. Which is a cycle that's been repeated throughout his career.
Salva, who will turn 60 in March, lives outside of Los Angeles, and is rarely in the public eye. The eruptions around his criminal conviction occur, therefore, only when his work is in any sort of spotlight: And so it's been with this round, too. IGN, The Wrap, and IndieWire wrote about a joke about pedophiliac rape from Jeepers Creepers 3 that was in a screener sent to critics, but was cut from the theatrical version. And the Daily Beast wrote a summary of Salva's past in a story called "The Pedophile Director Embraced by Hollywood."
"Embraced" is an exaggeration — tolerated or not shunned are closer. In these cases — and certainly in those of the more famous and successful who have been accused, like Polanski and Woody Allen (whose daughter has alleged he raped her when she was 7 years old) — people often ask why anyone works with these men. The answers from actors can be stumbling, defensive, or self-serving.
But in Michael Ohoven's case, the question of whether to work with Salva was a thorny one. Ohoven has been a producer for 17 years of more than 30 films (including Saved! and Capote), and met Salva 10 years ago through a development executive at his company, Infinity Films. He had always liked the Jeepers Creepers franchise, he said, and was interested in making a third movie. But other things came along, and they stayed "loosely in touch," Ohoven said. (This interview took place before the Weinstein explosion. When asked whether he had anything to add post-Weinstein, Ohoven said he did not.)
Salva, meanwhile, had found another producer, and was trying to cast Jeepers Creepers 3 in Vancouver in spring 2016 for the lead role of teenaged Addison (the target of the rape joke). When the British Columbia actors' union found out about Salva's conviction, according to Deadline, "they sent an alert to talent agents warning them about his criminal past." Also, the movie's main producer then, Kirk Shaw, pulled out for personal reasons, leaving it financially stranded.
In fall 2016, Salva came back to Ohoven. "He came to me and said, 'Look, I've known you for a long time, I know you've always loved the franchise — can you make the film?'" So Ohoven worked with Francis Ford Coppola's production company, American Zoetrope, which is the main rights holder on the Jeepers Creepers movies, to push the sequel forward. (Coppola has long been Salva's benefactor; after being impressed by his 1986 short, Something in the Basement, which also starred Salva's victim, Winters, the legendary director funded Clownhouse. Coppola had no comment to BuzzFeed News about working with Salva.) There were other companies involved, too, including MGM. "It wasn't always easy," Ohoven said. "I managed to put it together."
Jeepers Creepers 3 began filming in late February in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The movie's action is set in between the first and second movies, with Jonathan Breck returning as the mysterious Creeper, a supernatural creature that gets to feed on people every 23rd spring for 23 days. In addition to the horror standard of preyed upon teen characters — the beleaguered Addison, played by Gabrielle Haugh, and her love interest, Buddy, played by Chester Rushing — Stan Shaw (Fried Green Tomatoes) plays a vengeful sheriff trying to lead a team of those who've witnessed the Creeper's evil doings; Brandon Smith reprises his role from the first movie as a cop; and Gina Philips, Trish from the original film, appears toward the end, setting up a potential sequel. (Infinity isn't working on a fourth movie, at least as of now, but in an interview with IGN, Breck said Salva is writing a script.)
As a director, Ohoven said, Salva is "as a good director should be, enormously forceful and pushing his opinion but still collaborates and listens to his creative team." "I very much enjoyed working with him," he said. It was a demanding schedule in which they worked "day and night." "In today's climate, even if you make movies that are grand and big and with as big effects as you can, you've got to make them at a budget," he added. When asked about Jeepers Creepers 3's budget, Ohoven said, "Can I say under $10 million?" (From the looks of the movie, it's well under.)
Ohoven spoke frankly about the moral dilemmas working with Salva presents. "It's an enormously delicate matter," he said. Ohoven called Salva's crimes, which he learned about when he first met him, "horrific." "It was obviously a big shock," he said. "I'm not the one who's trying to condone anything. I think it's absolutely repulsive and horrific."
Ohoven said he doesn't expect anyone to agree with him. "I think often in life you're confronted with: Do you believe in redemption? Are you willing to give second chances? And again, I'm not advocating for anybody, or trying to make anybody's decision. But I had to make the decision to say, Look, I believe he is a man who's done something absolutely horrific some 30 years ago. I believe he has turned his life completely around."
Ohoven does feel that Salva has faced a double standard in his condemnation compared to Allen and Polanski, perhaps because of who the victims or alleged victims are in each case — because Salva's sexual crime was with a boy. "I'm not condoning any of it," Ohoven repeated. "But I think there's a certain double standard that might not be fair." He said Salva has tried to talk to him about what happened, and he doesn't want to discuss it. "I don't want to!" he said. "I gotta tell you, it is, for me, the idea of it is so horrific. You can see my two beating hearts here somewhere. I know the man, learned to know him, believe he turned his life around, believe he is a great man. On the other hand, nothing ever excuses, no matter how long it is ago, what somebody has done in this case. So it's very hard for me to even delve into the details. There's a moment when I don't even want to know all the details, to be honest."
Salva, who is gay, has not shied away from engaging with matters of homophobia and homoeroticism in his films, and — in the example of the tone-deaf joke in Jeepers Creepers 3 that was excised — pedophilia. In the scene, Addison, who lives with her grandmother because her stepfather was making "overtures" toward her, is being discussed by two boys. One character says to the other: "Can you blame him though? I mean look at her. The heart wants what it wants, am I right?" And in Salva's 2011 film Rosewood Lane, a cop pursuing a male teen suspect complains to his partner about having to go to the boy's parents' house again. "Christ, they're going to think I have a thing for their kid," he says out of nowhere.
These aren't comfortable artistic choices. And in addition to his massive baggage, Salva's insistence on being provocative might contribute to his marginalized career. "I've worked with many great filmmakers, and in terms of filmmaking ability, he could be one of the great ones, in my opinion," Ohoven said. "But he probably will never be, because there's too much that goes with his name, obviously, and he will continue to be punished for it."
Ohoven paused. "And that might be OK — I'm not even making a ruling on it," he said. "We see that there is a talented man that completely fucked up and will continuously for the rest of his life be punished for it. That might be completely OK."