Creep

Victor Salva being a certifiably reprehensible human being will not make “Jeepers Creepers 3” a bad movie any more than M. Night Shyamalan being an ostensibly decent person made “Lady in the Water” a good movie. 

The inability to separate the crimes and moral shortcomings of a creator with the objective enjoyability of their creation is, to me, a hallmark of a simplistic, naive mindset. 

As a lifelong horror fan, and also (I like to think) a decent, progressive person, I’ve been wrestling with this subject, and my own mixed feelings regarding the imminent release of the third chapter in the “Jeepers Creepers” franchise. In light of the director’s horrific past, there’s been much chatter amongst fear film fans as opening night draws near. Amidst talk of boycotts, protesting and also some defense of the film, I’ve been wondering what supporting – or boycotting – the film says (if, indeed, it says anything) about me as a consumer and a person. 

Let’s first agree, though, that the three-way relationship between art, audience and auteur is afloat in treacherous waters at the best of times. It’s a thorny issue that has surely bested better minds than mine.

I don’t object to the notion that by boycotting, or protesting, the work of a person whose actions you find abhorrent you are sending some kind of statement or message, potentially a very important one. You certainly are. Although, how effective or meaningful that statement ultimately proves is, obviously, a different matter, one worthy of its own discussion elsewhere. 

However, if you feel strongly enough to protest, or even just sit out, the film based on the past actions of the director, if that’s what you feel you need to do, I would not think of trying to dissuade you. That’s your right, after all. Follow your bliss and all that.

I’m more concerned with the fence-sitters, like myself, who want to do the right thing – but who also really want to see this movie!

I found the first two films in the franchise to be quality flicks all around. The first, especially, I recall as being one of the creepiest, most surprisingly enjoyable horror movies I’d seen in some time. I honestly, genuinely, unabashedly liked the film. 

Yes, the Creeper’s a weird mashup of beloved horror tropes. He walks like Jason, keeps roughly the same schedule as Pennywise, has a lair that would make Freddy envious, and he drives – and sort of dresses – like Mick Taylor in “Wolf Creek.” But the combo is cool and creepy, and the special effects and the acting of those around the Creeper have been skillful enough to pull it off.

Also, in defiance of all odds, the sequel was good, too! This, I remember thinking upon first seeing it, is how sequels should be. Somebody got it right, finally. 

Oh, but how I wish it could have been somebody else getting it right. 

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To summarize, for those who may not know: Director Victor Salva (“Clownhouse,” “Powder,” “Rites of Passage,” Jeepers Creepers,” “Jeepers Creepers 2,” and “Rosewood Lane,” among others) was convicted of child molestation.

From snopes.com: “Salva was convicted in 1988 on charges related to the sexual molestation of 12-year-old actor Nathan Forrest Winters during the filming of his movie ‘Clownhouse.’ Salva served 15 months in prison and finished his parole in 1992.” 

The man is a registered sex offender, whose nefarious past first began to catch up to him before the release of his 1995 movie “Powder,” when Winters, along with friends and supporters, understandably protested the movie.

According to Snopes, Salva released a statement in response to the upset, saying: “I paid for my mistakes dearly. Now, nearly 10 years later, I am excited about my work as a film maker and look forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to our society.”

Producers and studio execs apparently also felt Salva had paid his debt and earned the right to move on. Also from Snopes: “Caravan Pictures, the company that made ‘Powder’ for Disney, also released a statement: ‘He paid for his crime, he paid his debt to society, said Roger Birnbaum, whose Caravan Pictures made ‘Powder’ for Disney and reportedly didn’t know of Salva’s record until the film was midway through production. ‘What happened eight years ago has nothing to do with this movie.” 

Doesn’t it, though?

It’s that last sentiment especially that I’ve found myself dwelling on as of late.

On the one hand: Here’s an obviously talented craftsman producing work, the style and subject of which I already know I enjoy, within an industry otherwise far too fond of reproducing rote, unexciting ideas, who is about to release a new film, which, judging by franchise history, will likely bring me a bit of happiness. Is that not the ultimate point of cinema?

But, on the other hand (the one wagging a disapproving finger), what we have here is a debatably remorseful (at best) predatory pervert, whose livelihood is dependent on public support via cinema ticket and/or home media sales – in essence economic approval – asking me to overlook his awful crimes in return for his having entertained me. Is my entertainment so very important? Are there not other things I could do with my time and money, other artists I could support? 

What’s a conscientious fright fan to do? 

First, obviously, one must concede, as I now have, that there’s no right answer. You have to be yourself when you lay down in bed at night, and you have to see yourself in the mirror in the morning. The real question is: Can you live with your actions? 

I can – and that’s why I’m going to see “Jeepers Creepers 3.”

I have four specific reasons for having reached that conclusion, though I’m still not advocating my choice for anyone else. I’m just offering some thought for those still waffling, because I do feel that choosing to see, or not see, this movie has larger implications for each of us who bothers to ask the question.

1. Salva was already punished. 

This is not a Roman Polanski situation here (though, I suspect there’s some residual cultural anger at that guy – and Bill Cosby too – sneaking into this discussion, as if we should hold Salva accountable for all sex criminals in the arts, even the ones we didn’t get to prosecute). 

Also, creepy as the whole Mia Farrow/Soon-Yi Previn situation may be, prevalent and persistent though the sex abuse allegations might remain, Woody Allen has been thus far officially innocent, making Hollywood’s second favorite go-to living example of the “It’s complicated” excuse also technically not applicable here. 

Salva was found guilty and did his time. He has – so far as we know – never broken the conditions of his probation, and has obviously moved forward in life to be a productive, contributing person in the only line of work he knows. If the guy had been a tax attorney, or a welder or a civil engineer, this discussion wouldn’t even be happening.

It is because we, the audience, feels some sort of ownership over the movies we love, and because we feel the movies we love say something about us personally, that this particular case seems more important, that perhaps there is something greater at stake than there otherwise might be.

And, not that I’m in any way trying to downplay the contempt I have for the man as a person, but that’s really not fair to Salva, right?

If you believe – as I do – that the criminal justice system is, as it purports to be, at least as much about rehabilitation as it is about punishment, then (as uncomfortable a thought as this may be) the guy’s actually kind of a success story.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I do think there’s something to the idea that it all means more, or seems to, because Salva works in movies. There are a whole lot of sex offenders out there in the world working for a living like anybody else, and nobody pickets. But Salva has the gall to be (semi) successful in a very visible and competitive field, and there is something undeniably upsetting about that.

But, then I think: Would we all be more comfortable if the guy was rotting away in some HUD trailer living on the dole, using his criminal record as an excuse to live on handouts forever?

2. The movies have (so far) been good. 

I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe there’s any sort of nobility in denial. I liked the first two films and I want to see the third. The world is an ugly place. If what brings you joy isn’t actually bringing physical harm to another person, I say get your joy in while you can.

Life sucks, then you die – and the road between those two points is shorter than you think.

I work hard and I deserve a fun night at the movies. Thinking about all the rest of this is, realistically, optional. There’s plenty of (almost certainly) more pressing things to worry about, if one’s looking for things to get worked up about.

3. You vote with your dollars. 

That thing I said before, about your seeing the movie being a kind of economic approval, I absolutely do approve – of this movie, that is.

At least I think I do, it’s not even out yet. But what I mean by that is that I approve of it being made.

The first film was great, and the sequel was very effective, it proved there was more story to be told and that it could be done well. A third installment was warranted. That’s the key, by the way, Hollywood (are you listening?). That sequel was earned, deserved and desired, not automatic and scheduled and budgeted for before the first film was even out. 

What would be a better horse for me and my (admittedly scarce) expendable dollars to back? A 73rd “Transformers” movie? How about the 19th “Saw” installment? It’s been 10 minutes, aren’t we do for a new “Spiderman” reboot? Maybe I should just shut up, get in line and enjoy the next mindless mess of rehashed ’80s/’90s fare the Tinseltown execs want to somehow force Dwayne Johnson into this month?

Nay, says I. Hell, nay. 

If we’re going to live in a world of sequels and remakes, let us at least insist on interesting ones, right? And “Jeepers Creepers 3” has, judging from the trailers and despite its complications, at least the potential to be interesting.

I approve of that kind of movie, even as I desperately wish somebody else was behind it. 

4. Decency is not an indicator of ability.  

Returning to my opening statement: Good people don’t necessarily make good movies – or write good books, create good art or tell good jokes. It doesn’t mean the work is without merit. 

William Burroughs murdered his wife, and indeed wrote in the introduction to “Queer” that it was the event which moved him to become a writer. He’s downright venerated.

James Brown was arrested repeatedly for instances of domestic violence. 

Joan Crawford was not exactly “Mother of the Year” material, to say the least.

Jackson Pollack’s no one’s role model, I should hope, and you better watch what you say to Tonya Harding on the subject of personal conduct. She still knows people… 

Also, a genuinely disturbing number of famous figures have killed people in car wrecks, and were then held to widely varying degrees of culpability before being almost uniformly allowed to return to their privileged lives and freedom scot-free.

Sid Vicious murdered Nancy Spungen, but the Sex Pistols haven’t so much as lost their spot on the Hot Topic t-shirt rack. 

Mike Tyson is a convicted sex offender, but wasn’t he funny in “The Hangover?” That makes it OK, right? 

Tupac, too, did some time for first-degree sexual abuse.

All that is to say nothing of the numerous pro athletes arrested for battering a spouse and/or paramour so often one might think it’s just an addition to their workout routine.

Ernest Hemingway was an abusive parent, and an awesomely destructive drunk. Ask a high school English teacher if his work is important… 

H.P. Lovecraft was a vehement racist. Roald Dahl, too. And he cheated on his wife with her good friend for years.

Marlon Brando was certainly nobody’s poster boy for virtue either. 

Martha Stewart’s a felon, too. But, I still spent last Thanksgiving watching her be adorable in the kitchen with Snoop Dogg (also a felon, by the way). 

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The list could go on and on, but the point, I think, is made. I’m a fan of the work done by almost all those people, and I don’t feel like I need to qualify or justify that appreciation. We all like what we like at the end of the day. 

And I like “Jeepers Creepers.” 

In the worlds of sports and entertainment — unlike in politics, say, or law enforcement — the person is not the product. Their values and behavior must be considered separately from their personal actions. They have a skill, and the product, or the performance, is what we must judge.

I will judge “Jeepers Creepers 3” on its own merit, regardless of who is behind the camera.

And, should the third film earn my loyalty, I’ll be in line for the fourth one too. 

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