The Creeper at the DMV, or: Dear Scumbags, Quit Your Bullshit

There was a buzz surrounding Jeepers Creepers back in the day when it first came out. While it didn’t get many good reviews from the major news outlets, it did land a couple of magazine covers (Fangoria 206, Shivers 91), Hellraiser director Clive Barker called it “the most scary, stylish horror movie [he’d] seen in years”, and all my middle school-age friends were talking about how “cool” it looked. I know I enjoyed it. My mom even took me to see Part 2 at the multiplex and we had a fun time. In my opinion, it holds up as one of the best horror films of an era that brought us quite a few gems because of its novel concept and gradual way it reveals its monstrous villain’s appearance and range of powers without explaining too much about him.

As we all know by now, but maybe didn’t back then, writer/director Victor Salva is a registered sex offender. His 1988 conviction made headlines in 1995 when Disney produced Powder for him, because it looked awful for the industry leader in family entertainment to associate with a person who preys on children. By the time Salva set to work on Jeepers Creepers six years later, the controversy had died down and people simply forgot. There were plenty of promotional interviews with cast and crew for the first and second films in the series, but nobody seemed all that mindful of the monster lurking on the other side of the camera. I was just a kid with limited internet access, so if Salva’s dark past ever was dredged up in the media rounds and message boards, I missed it.

There are two kinds of registered sex offenders in my book. The ones who get screwed by the system — a very small percentage I’m sure — and the lowest of the low, the subhuman garbage. Victor Salva’s the latter. This wasn’t a case of him being seventeen dating a sixteen year old. Not even close. He was well into his twenties, abusing his position of power as a festival-winning filmmaker backed by Hollywood heavyweight Francis Ford Coppola to victimize one of his actors, Nathan Forrest Winters, for roughly four to six years (sources vary). Sicker yet, he videotaped at least some of it. These facts aren’t pleasant, but they bear repeating.

My heart sank when I learned this. For a long time, the mere thought of revisiting Jeepers Creepers gave me an icky feeling that doing so meant I was somehow supporting a pedophile. Salva’s widely circulated registration photo from 2000 in which he’s smiling doesn’t help. It gives me an unsettling John Wayne Gacy vibe.

Salva claims to have made a “mistake” and “paid dearly” for it, which doesn’t sound like an apology to me. I don’t believe monsters capable of prolonged abuse like him ever truly feel remorse, or change who they are deep inside. They may stop acting on their urges, especially as they age and their sex drives go down, but they can’t be reformed.

The whole situation poses tough questions. Like, is it wrong to knowingly enjoy the work of a terrible person? And, is it possible to “separate the art from the artist?” If so, when do we do that? Always? Or only some of the time? There are no black and white answers. It’s a moral dilemma straight from a college ethics class.

The same discussion came up when professional wrestler Chris Benoit cold-bloodedly murdered his youngest son and wife before taking his own life in 2007. There are still fans who argue that Benoit deserves to be inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame because, despite being a total piece of shit, he was a really good technical wrestler, guys. It’s delusional.

If you don’t watch wrestling, you may not realize how many people it takes to present what you see on TV. Wrestling is, by its very nature, broken up into segments, i.e. matches. For each of those, you’ve got two to four wrestlers (often more), their managers, a referee, a ring announcer, two to three commentators, writers/”bookers”, agents (known variously as “producers” and “coaches”), pyrotechnicians, lighting crew, camera crew, sound crew, and of course all the artists who provided the music, not to mention anyone who runs interference. It’s a machine with a lot of moving parts. The wrestlers are only one piece. When looking at it from this perspective, I consider it chill to enjoy Benoit’s matches.

I find modestly-budgeted films even easier to forgive because more people go into producing them. Jeepers Creepers credits over three hundred. Sure, Salva steered the ship, but the actors and actresses are the ones who brought life to his characters. And the special effects team fleshed out the Creeper. Without them, the movie is nothing. That’s why I say it’s time to lay claim to the series. It belongs to us fans now. Part 4 is releasing this year with zero involvement from Salva, and I for one am excited. It’s an opportunity for a fresh start.

Lamely, Salva wasn’t the first public figure to sully our favorite genre’s good name, and he won’t be the last. Horror has plenty of skeletons in its closet. The sad truth is, terrible people are everywhere, especially in Hollywood.

Film snobs love to forget that Academy Award winner Roman Polanski (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant) is a repeat sex offender who fled the US to avoid prosecution. At least Salva served out his sentence, however lenient it was. Polanski ran like a bitch. Surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) maintained for years that he actually raped co-star Mara Lorenzio in El Topo, ironically for the sake of realism. He only just recently walked back on that story, claiming it was a marketing ploy. Robert Blake, the actor from the hair-raising-est scene in Lost Highway, shot his wife of six months in the head in public, but was somehow never convicted. Harvey Weinstein (producer The BurningHardware, Dust DevilScream, the list goes on) committed untold sexual assaults spanning decades. Should we ban all these movies, these classics? Definitely not. If nothing else, they need to be preserved for history’s sake.

It does become harder to accept something knowing its author exerted near-total creative control over it, as with paintings, written works, small-scale productions, etc. I draw the line in some cases.

For example, I refuse to watch, let alone pay for, anything made by ultra-low-budget “filmmaker” Lucifer Valentine, which, by the way, sounds like a screen name an eleven year old emo came up with. He’s freely admitted in interviews to sexually abusing his (now deceased) younger, blind, mentally handicapped sister — there are so many levels of evil to that — and claims his biggest inspiration is Max Hardcore, a pornographic actor known for his exploitation and rough treatment of women in extreme fetish videos. Those two things tell me all I need to know about Valentine’s spineless maggot ass. I hope he ODs, cold and alone, in some shitty little apartment.

But I’m not here to tell you what to think about the people I’ve named or their movies. I’m here to examine something less serious. A minor plot hole in Jeepers Creepers. And ramble a bit.

The movie’s protagonists are a brother and sister on their way home from college. Darry, apparently short for Darius (Justin Long), and Trish (Gina Philips). We meet up with them on a vacant stretch of North Florida highway in the middle of a game they’re playing to pass time where they earn points by calling out personalized license plates. Darry incorrectly interprets “6A4EVR” as “Gay Fever”. Trish makes the steal with “Sexy Forever”, bringing the score to 5-2 in her favor. After passing the sexy gay motorist, they themselves are passed by a big rusty truck with a plate reading “BEATNGU”. In Part 3, a character identifies the truck as a 1940s Chevy Cab-O (or Coe, meaning “cab over engine”). I’m not a car guy, and wouldn’t have known that otherwise. So thanks, random character. The siblings disagree whether Darry gets a point for calling out “Beating You” because he didn’t do it immediately. I say let the man have it.

They pass the same bucket of bolts a short while later and observe its driver (Jonathan Breck), referred to as Beating You, credited as the Creeper, sliding obvious bodies wrapped in blood-stained sheets down a pipe that connects to the cellar of a boarded-up church. The Creeper notices them watching him and runs them off-road.

The siblings decide to investigate the cellar and find what Darry estimates to be five or six hundred bodies plastered to the walls like “some psycho version of the Sistine Chapel”. It reminds me of the inside of the terraforming station in Aliens. Darry and Trish peel away, seeking help at a gas station diner where they’re phoned by mysterious psychic Jezelle (Patricia Belcher) who plays for them the iconic title song, “Jeepers Creepers” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer, performed by Paul Whiteman and his Swing Wing. The song serves as a plot device and also foreshadows Darry’s unfortunate fate, adding an unexplainable sense of synchronicity to the film’s fictional universe sorely lacking in the sequels. The film ends with its monstrous villain listening to the jaunty 1930s song on a phonograph in a workshop. You can’t tell me the scene didn’t influence Insidious, where another monstrous villain listens to (a cover) of a 1920s song on a phonograph in a workshop. My favorite scene, however, is accompanied by a cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Peek-A-Boo”, itself a take on “Jeepers Creepers”.

One of the key moments of the whole movie is when the characters realize “BEATNGU” actually reads “Be Eating You”. As Jezelle tries to explain, the Creeper is an ancient creature, perhaps a demon, that wakes every twenty-third Spring for twenty-three days to hunt humans. It smells fear and feeds on the frightened to regenerate its own failing body parts (Jeepers Creepers, in turn, was inspired by It). First of all, why would the Creeper advertise that he eats people, bringing unwanted attention to himself? Secondly, having a vanity plate means that at some point he went to the DMV and filled out paperwork to get it.

That’s problematic for two reasons. One, the Creeper has never been shown to be capable of speaking or writing (although he does like to whistle and definitely understands language, as evidenced by his interactions with victims and a police scanner hooked up to his truck). Two, he’s a hideous monster whose very appearance would clear out the building in seconds.

I like to imagine him patiently waiting in line for an hour. He finally moves up to the counter, only to be turned away for not having a first or last name or proof of address.

“Oh, I see.”

As funny as the above scenario would be, it’s just as likely the plate is handmade. I say this because it doesn’t denote what state it’s from, and even old plates did that. The Creeper is known to be skilled with his hands and could have easily made it himself. Like I said, he sets up two different workshops in abandoned locations to craft medieval weapons and practice taxidermy. The frustrating thing is, the cops run his plate, but never announce the results. In fact, they get the results of a skin sample back in less time. What? How does that work?

If the plate is a DIY project, we know the Creeper can write, but that still doesn’t explain why he’d choose to bring so much unwanted attention to himself from police. While it hasn’t been definitively proven that he can be killed by conventional weapons, they do slow him down, and probably hurt.

If I was Darry, or Trish, or Jezelle, the moment I learned he fed on fear, I’d try the ol’ Nancy Thompson technique, tell him “I take back every bit of energy I gave you. You’re nothing. You’re shit…” and turn my back, causing him to phase out of existence. If that didn’t work, I’d encase him in concrete. That’s gotta buy, what, a century or two, until someone breaks it open, out of curiosity or by accident? The good news is, every time the Creeper goes dormant, we as a species evolve intellectually and progress technologically. He’ll eventually wake to a time in which we have laser guns and can psychically explode his head and be greatly outmatched. And then, it’s game over, dick.

I recently re-watched the movies once apiece and didn’t notice a year (they all take place within days of each other, during the same “feeding period”) until the very end of Part 3 when it shows newspapers dated 2001. I consider this a huge missed opportunity. If the movies took place in 2000, just one year earlier, the Creeper would have been active in 666 A.D., which makes for an excellent origin story. Salva really should have done the math before committing to the year that he did.

Another aspect I’m not a big fan of is how much stronger and faster the Creeper gets as the series goes on. By Part 3, he’s laughably overpowered. He can pluck people off motorcycles in midair and telekinetically summon his weapons to his hand. Plus, all of a sudden his sixty-year-old truck is an indestructible tank rigged with limitless booby traps and sentient land mines. Even the rubber tires deflect bullets. It’s too hard to believe — which is weird because I can accept he’s a demon, just not a mechanical wizard. But really, materials have their limits. Cars weren’t widely available to the public until the early 1900s, meaning he’s had at most ninety-two days, or three months, to learn how they work and modify his truck to such an extent that gatling guns have no effect on it. I mean, come on. I’m guessing he doesn’t sleep much, if at all, during his periods of activity, but that’s still not very much time. He’s either supernaturally smart, has access to unknown materials, or… I don’t know what. I just know I don’t like it. I’m hoping Part 4, subtitled Reborn, returns to what made the original great. Subtlety and suspense.

What do you think of this series?