Can Victor Salva Move On?


by Glenn Lovell

Los Angeles — VICTOR Salva — the director of “Powder” and the “Jeepers Creepers” movies — is a big, genial, baby-faced man who, despite his considerable girth, enjoys giving and receiving hugs. He’s also a natural-born storyteller who can hold a listener rapt with tales of ghosts, hobgoblins and children abducted by UFOs. Salva’s specialty: dark fables about being persecuted for being different.

Like a lot of kids growing up in the East Bay town of Martinez in the early ’70s, the adolescent Salva lived on a diet rich in horror and sci-fi. His favorite monster movie: ”Creature from the Black Lagoon.” In 1975, the local newspaper reported that a kid named Salva had sat through ”Jaws” a record 68 times. But unlike most of his movie-going pals, Salva, who was gay and overweight, didn’t identify with the hero or the monster hunter: He empathized with the monsters.

He recalls now, ”When someone in the movie pointed and screamed, ‘Arrrrgh, he’s so hideous! He’s so ugly!’ I thought, ‘No, the monster is the most interesting thing about the movie. I wonder what he’s thinking and feeling.”’ Today, in some eyes, Salva is the monster. The 40-year-old writer-director has been at the center of a public safety-vs.-civil liberties debate Hollywood would just as soon not have with itself. Francis Ford Coppola and Mary Steenburgen have spoken out on Salva’s behalf, but they and a few others are the exceptions. More typical is director Nora Ephron, who waves off the Salva issue with, ”I wouldn’t touch that with a 50-foot pole.”

Victor Salva

Salva is a registered child molester who, in 1988 at age 30, was sentenced to a correctional facility in Soledad for having sex with a 12-year-old Concord boy who starred in his first feature, a low-budget horror film. He pleaded guilty to lewd and lascivious conduct, having oral sex with a person under 14 and procuring a child for pornography. He was released in 1989, after serving 19 months of a three-year sentence. Six years later, with the release of ”Powder,” a bizarre fable about an albino shut-in with telekinetic powers, Salva’s past caught up with him. ”Disney Movie’s Director a Convicted Child Molester,” screamed a representative headline in the Los Angeles Times.

Disney brass and at least one ”Powder” producer immediately distanced themselves from the filmmaker, denying knowledge of his criminal past. But the bad publicity, in one of those strange twists, may actually have boosted the box office. “Powder” returned $77 million on a $10 million investment and, on video, became a must-rent with teens touched by its pariah hero.

Life imitated art as a ”devastated” Salva retreated to his Hollywood Hills home. He told a friend, ”I’m going to have to crawl into a hole; I’ll never be able to walk out of my house again.” Associates deserted him, studio contacts didn’t return calls. He got by on residual checks and, between bouts of depression, tried to write himself out of his predicament.

Now he has another movie, a low-budget, independently financed thriller called ”Rites of Passage.” He says he’s ready to return to work as a studio director. But is Hollywood, and society at large, ready to take him back?

”Victor Salva deserves another shot,” insists ”Rites of Passage” producer J. Todd Harris. ”He has a lot of fans, a lot of fans around town…. It [his past] was never a consideration in our moving forward on this film.”

Salva, in his first interview ever, is, by turns, defiant and contrite. ”It’s not like I don’t know the terrible ramifications of my actions,” he says. ”I’ve been very upfront with the family. I’ve been very upfront with everybody about what happened. I’ve done my time. I’ve paid restitution. I’ve done everything possible.”

But ”everything” in this case may not be enough. No matter how talented Salva is, or repentant he now appears, his crimes may have been too heinous for most of us to contemplate, much less forgive.


Victor Salva has been making films since age 12. His childhood goal was to become ”the thinking man’s Spielberg.” Like his idol, he was a movie prodigy: His 35-minute short ”Something in the Basement” took first place at a video competition at the American Film Institute. One of the judges, Francis Ford Coppola, was so impressed that he produced Salva’s first feature, a $200,000 cult item called ”Clownhouse.” The then-12-year-old Nathan Winters, who had starred in ”Basement,” played Salva’s adolescent alter ego, a pudgy, incontinent kid whose fear of clowns proves well-founded when escapees from the local asylum don fright wigs, red noses and big floppy shoes.

Winters as Casey is systematically terrorized in ”Clownhouse.” The film ends with a brother cradling Casey, assuring him, ”Nightmare’s over, Case.”

For Winters, the nightmare had only begun. Suspicious behavior on and off the set caused Nathan’s artist mother, Rebecca, to question her son’s attachment to Salva, a close family friend and a former day-care worker. The boy told of ongoing sexual abuse and videotaped sex acts at Salva’s nearby home. A search warrant was issued by Concord police and Salva was taken into custody on the way to a dubbing session at Coppola’s Napa studio. Salva’s lawyer, acknowledging his client’s ”inappropriate relationship with a young boy,” plea-bargained 11 felonies down to five. Coppola’s Commercial Pictures, which produced ”Clownhouse,” was sued by the Winters family for $5 million. They settled out of court for an amount ”barely over $100,000,” according to Rebecca Winters.

As all of this was unfolding, ”Clownhouse” had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Salva did not attend. He was in prison.

At the California Training Facility in Soledad, Salva says he was beaten ”beyond recognition” for his Hollywood ties and his crimes against a child. ”I was never more scared or closer to death than I was in prison,” he says. ”I received no therapy there. Prisons are not places for rehabilitation or learning to understand yourself or your actions. They’re monster factories.”

Behind bars, Salva poured his rage and confusion into five scripts. One became a creepy little road picture called ”The Nature of the Beast.” Though well-executed, with intense performances by Eric Roberts and Lance Henriksen, this homage to Spielberg’s ”Duel” went straight to video. ”Powder” fared better. After being passed from studio to studio as way too strange, it was produced by Caravan Pictures and distributed by Disney’s Hollywood Pictures in late October 1995. The cast included Steenburgen, Jeff Goldblum, Henriksen and, as Salva’s tormented, sexually conflicted alter ego, Sean Patrick Flanery.

Salva insists he was upfront with everyone about his crimes, including the Disney brass. Still, he knew it was only a matter of time before his past caught up with him. And sure enough, in September, a month before the film’s release, Bay Area entertainment writers (this one included) received an anonymous e-mail, asking, ”Did you know Disney’s new ‘Powder’ was directed by a convicted child molester?”

After weeks of media silence, Daily Variety checked Contra Costa County court records and ran an item on Oct. 24 slugged ”Disney Dilemma.” The next day, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times reported on a Westwood preview of ”Powder” picketed by Nathan Winters and five friends who shouldered signs that read ”Writer, Director, Child Molester” and ”Disney Supports Child Molestation.”

Salva’s friends and handlers attempted to defuse the situation by evoking the names Tim Allen (who did 20 months for selling cocaine) and Roman Polanski (who fled the country in 1978, after being charged with having sex with a 13-year-old girl). Steenburgen waved the flag and said ”the chance to redeem [ourselves]” is every American’s birthright. Salva released a statement through his lawyer: ”How deeply I regret my actions. I paid for my mistakes dearly. Now, nearly 10 years later, I am excited about my work as a filmmaker and look forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to our industry.”

The story traveled around the world when the Winters family went public (they appeared on ”Geraldo Live” and other talk shows) and the religious right, once again, called for a boycott of Disney (a target since the company agreed to significant-other benefits for gay employees).

I’m moving on

We’ve arranged to meet at a patio restaurant in the lobby of a hotel, just off Sunset Strip. Salva, his bushy hair now gray at the temples, arrives alone, 10 minutes late. He’s friendly but guarded. He requests an armless chair to accommodate his 350-pound frame. At first, it didn’t look like our meeting would come off. ”I have to be frank,” said Salva’s assistant over the phone. ”When he heard from you, he thought it was happening all over again. When ‘Powder’ opened, he felt like O.J. Simpson, that the press was out to get him.”

Salva says his agent’s last-minute admonition was: ”Don’t let [the interview] turn into a therapy session.”

Why has Salva agreed to talk now? Since his arrest, he has been called many things–”con man” (Contra Costa County Deputy D.A. Patricia Sepulveda), ”stone-cold pedophile” (Rebecca Winters), ”talented young director” (Coppola). Salva wants it known he’s not a pervert or a threat to society. ”People don’t know who I am,” he insists. ”They have the strangest ideas about me. I want them to know, just for the record, that I admit to all my mistakes and I’m moving on.”

He adds evenly, for the record, ”I do not advocate inappropriate sexual behavior with children.”

Now with what he euphemistically calls his ”little hiatus” behind him, Salva hungers for mainstream acceptance, the opportunity to exit a preview screening in style, not through a side door, as he did for ”Rites of Passage.”

”Rites,” a drama about a father (Dean Stockwell) and two sons who bond while staring down the barrel of a gun, had been screened for friends and industry types the night before. The recruited audience responded with nods and murmurs. Not a good sign. ”Rites” will most likely go straight to cable, then video.

Prior to the screening, ”Rites” producer Harris gingerly skirted the minefield that is Salva’s past. He admitted to not knowing all the facts in the case. ”I won’t tell you everybody flocked to work on this picture,” he said, pacing his office. ”I did have people who said they wouldn’t work with me when I told them I was working with Victor. The venom in their voices! It’s so ironic because Victor is such a gentle man.”

Harris went on to stress that ”Rites of Passage” was never meant as family fare. And, though 10- and 12-year-old boys figured in a flashback shot at Big Bear Lake, Salva was never alone with them.

”Yes, [the parents] were told about his record–they made an informed decision,” said Harris. ”I didn’t do the telling. Our casting director did the telling. We made sure that that was addressed.”

Like Salva’s other pressure-cooker dramas, ”Rites of Passage” is disturbingly candid, purgative. It draws on the director’s strict Catholic upbringing, his ”falling out of the closet” (at age 17, when gay magazines were found under his bed), his time behind bars, and, most of all, his ”warlike relationship” with a stepfather who, according to Salva, had washed his hands of his stepson long before the Concord arrest. Betrayal by a father figure is a unifying theme in Salva’s work.

As dark as it is in places, ”Rites of Passage” shows Salva in a more affirmative mood. The gay son (Jason Behr) and hard-case father finally reconcile, in a prison yard during visiting hours, no less. This is Salva proffering and asking forgiveness, a second chance. ”This movie,” he acknowledges, ”is about me forgiving my stepfather” (who still resides in Martinez).

Salva knows Disney isn’t about to forgive or forget. But he hasn’t given up on the other studios. He has two ambitious sci-fi scripts he’s shopping around town. One, described as a ”’2001′ for the millennium,” was pitched to 20th Century Fox. He also has been trying to interest Universal in a remake of ”Creature From the Black Lagoon.”

Salva concedes that, with his ”little tag,” he remains a financial liability. ”I’m not sure people are comfortable being seen with me…. But I think [studio execs] saying, ‘He’ll never work again’ was all for show. My God, if they were to take the [arrest] records of every filmmaker or actor, they’d have to shut this town down.

”Let’s face it,” he adds with a hollow laugh, ”anybody can work here who makes money.”

While Salva’s cynical assessment may be right, it angers those who argue Hollywood has always put profits before the public good.

It also angers his victim. Nathan Winters, now 23 and delivering newspapers in Clinton, Wash., is outraged by the turn of events: ”It’s just ridiculous that he served 19 months. I deal with what he did every day. It makes it hard for me to function normally. I have problems with depression, like getting really down on myself … feeling extremely bad.”

Nathan and Rebecca Winters don’t want to see their onetime friend blacklisted; they just want to make sure he never again directs children. ”As far as the law goes, he’s paid his debt,” says a resigned Rebecca Winters. ”But I don’t think he should be around kids. Period.”

Child-abuse experts say ongoing treatment can help men who have been diagnosed as pedophiles, but that there is still a high rate of recidivism, as high as 50 percent, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

”Clinical studies tell us [pedophilia] is an addiction, a repetitive compulsion,” stresses San Jose child therapist Lucia Chambers. ”Therefore, even after prison time, [Salva] should be watched all the time.”

But in Salva’s mind, he’s cured, the nightmare is over, a ”painful memory of something that happened over a decade ago.” He doesn’t buy into Justice Department surveys or, to borrow child therapist Chambers’ metaphor, the argument that pedophiles are like alcoholics–always one drink away from a relapse.

”If you accept yourself as any kind of statistic, I guess there’s truth in that,” Salva responds. ”But I would never say that. It’s just more political hokum, legislation passed to take away more rights. I don’t think [the clinical studies] are true. The more people believe them, the more they become self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Is Salva now tailoring his scripts to not include children? Salva thinks about this, then says, ”I don’t choose my subject matter, it chooses me. In the very early part of my filmmaking, I wanted to see every story through the eyes of a child. In ‘Rites,’ the boys are grown. My movies now are about younger men, not children. But–this is difficult to say–I would never allow anything to get in the way of anything I wanted to say. If that means: Would I tell a story about a child? I probably would.” Salva fully expects more fallout, more opening-night pickets. ”It’s something I have to deal with for the rest of my life, unless [Winters] gets tired of it or the press says, ‘Hey, we did that.’ It’s just my cross to bear, I guess.”

Nathan and Rebecca Winters don’t have more demonstrations planned. ”We told the world,” says Rebecca Winters. ”If any parents allow their kids to work with him, that’s on them.”

Echoes Nathan, ”Basically, it’s up to the public: His career is in their hands. If they choose to support him and go and see his films even though they know that his trip is, what he’s about — it’s in their hands.”

First published in San Jose Mercury News’ Sunday magazine, March 28, 1999. Also see Lovell’s “Victor Salva Proves H’w’y ‘Powder’ Keg” (Daily Variety, 3-29-99).


29 Responses to “Can Victor Salva Move On?”

  1. Mark Stevens Says:

    Between POWDER and RITES OF PASSAGE, didn’t Salva have a couple of medium “comeback” successes with JEEPERS CREEPERS and JEEPERS CREEPER II?


  2. lacroix Says:

    Can Salva move on?! How about can Winters move on? He was ignored, even sued over a breach of contract when Victor Salva raped him during the production of Clownhouse. Talk about some pedo sympathizing.


  3. Doug Denslowe Says:

    Rosewood Lane’s (I haven’t seen the film) villain is a paperboy. Is that a coincidence that Nathan Winters is now a paperboy? Just asking. It does seem like a little payback after his protesting “Powder.”


    • Doug Denslowe Says:

      When I wrote this I didn’t notice that this was written in 1999.I still think it’s a valid question, although Nathan Winters may have moved on from delivering newspapers.


    • Glenn Lovell Says:

      Interesting point, Doug. But, yes, this is a reprint of a piece I wrote for a magazine a few years ago. I’ve added a couple of more recent titles, but, overall, it’s the original piece.


  4. riverwolf1 Says:

    I am now 50 years old,and was molested by a “heterosexual”male about 9 years older than myself. It went from ages 4-6 y.o. I let my bad experience go by the time I was 20. I think molesting a child is one of the worse things a person can do. I am not qualified to say if this illness is curable or not,but Salvage did do his time. I enjoy the mans movies,and that’s all that matters in my opinion. I hope he harms no other kids.


  5. riverwolf1 Says:

    Since it has been 26 years since the molestation charges,if I read correctly, I would say yes, he already has moved on. He has done some great horror pictures since as well. I also understood article to say that the boy who was abused has stated he was done with actions againstSalvas movies. Seems to me that both have moved on. That leaves either enjoy his movies or don’t. I will.


    • Marla Says:

      No he should never be allowed to move on after doing something like this. Paedos don’t change and they cannot be cured. They are dangerous people and that’s a fact!!


  6. Nora Says:

    I think Victor Salva has paid his dues. If he continued with this atrocious behavior, then that would be a different story, like W.A. however, since there are no reports of his continuing. .. strongly hopeful. I totally enjoy his films, and am looking forward to seeing Jeepers Creepers 3. p.s. The psychic should return..loved her!!


  7. Ash Says:

    Who gives a damn about HIM moving on? Worry about the victim(s).


  8. lm k Says:

    He does not deserve anymore chances that’s it . ADIOS MUCHO !


  9. Angelo Giorgerini Says:

    It would be a shame to stop a very talented man as Victor Salva. I knew him from school.


  10. chonchko Says:

    Has anyone that believes he has talent SEEN “Jeepers Creepers”? Quite possibly one of the worst horror movies of the 2000s.


  11. chonchko Says:

    Also, where did he say he was sorry, like it says in your subheadline? I see that he takes full responsibility for his actions, but that’s not at all the same as apologizing.


  12. S. Kirkpatrick Says:

    I’m appalled at just about everyone who would like to see Mr. Salva crucified and driven out of Hollywood. He’s made films that have entertained millions. But because of shear human ignorance, he was driven from his home and now lives in a motel in the far northern part of L.A. County. A motel. So much for doing time and paying one’s debt to society, especially when society is nothing more than an angry lynch mob. I’m NOT defending him. I just think that 20+ years of not re-offending in any way says something about the man. People used to accept the adage, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” I guess times are different now. It’s now, “Kill the bastard, or at least make him as miserable as possible.” A motel. Sad. Regardless of ANYTHING in his past.


    • sunny Says:

      abusing a child is the same as murder. life in prison no parole for men who sexually abuse children. Francis Ford Coppola hangs out with pedophiles. Victor. Bob Villard. probably many more at Zoetrope


  13. Nickolaus Pacione Says:

    Pedophiles should never be rewarded or celebrated; they’re on the lowest rung of the criminal ladder as they’re up there with slash fanfiction writers and troll fabulists like SomethingAwful that fabricated journalistic hoaxes as one plagiarized.


  14. sunny Says:

    as long as Francis Ford Coppola is alive Victor will be ok. Francis worked with pedophile Bob Villard too. wonder if charlie sheen will ever talk about apocolypse now.


  15. Films I’ve Never Seen: #6 – Clownhouse – It's Happening Again! Says:

    […] on Powder, a film about a boy with telekinetic powers. Nathan Winters and five friends picketed the preview, holding aloft signs that read: ”Writer, Director, Child Molester” and ”Disney Supports Child […]


  16. wm3revelations Says:

    Victor Salva’s a scumbag and so are you, defending this worthless child rapist, who was trying to rape Nathan Winters since the boy was 6-years-old. Are you actually defending a guy who was trying to fuck a 6-year-old? A guy that spent 6 years meticulously grooming a child?

    He had worked with Winters since he was 6– during his initial short film, Something in the Basement!

    He abused this kid for 6 whole years!

    Nathan Winters in an interview from Sky News, where Winters lays out how Salva got him away from his parents and then began to groom him and abuse him:

    ‘”Essentially he became a close friend of the family and it turned from ‘How about I take Nathan for a few hours tonight, give you guys a break’ into full weekends at his house.”

    ‘Winters said Salva invited him to stay at his apartment, where they watched Disney’s The Jungle Book together.

    ‘”He started talking about Mowgli’s loin cloth so that he could make me one,” he said.

    ‘”He got two bandanas and tied them together and made this loin cloth and as he’s tying them, he’s fondling me. And that’s my first memory of when the abuse started.

    ‘”It progressed over the next five years… For him, everything was sexual. He videotaped all of it, it was full-blown.”‘

    Winters was blacklisted by Hollywood and Salva’s friends for telling, much like the victims of Harvey Weinstein or anyone who tells about their abuse in Hollywood.

    ‘”I was basically black balled for telling the truth. He’s been coddled completely, big names in Hollywood have been backing him throughout the entire process. Seems like there’s an exclusive club and Victor’s part of that club.”‘

    Salva’s very lucky we no longer execute child rapists in this country. Do you really think someone like Salva, a child predator only tried this once? That it was a stupid thing that he tried only once… for 6 years on a whim… for six years…forcing a child to perform oral sex on him? To video tape a child performing oral sex on him? To rape a child over and over and over and over again? Just on a whim you know? No, I’d be certain, that like with most pedophiles he tried or considered trying such behavior with other children. A man in his 30’s doesn’t just suddenly one day cook up a plan to groom a child and video tape it all a serial killer.

    This guy’s a monster.


    • Glenn Lovell Says:

      Thanks for feedback — You May want to reread my 1997 feature w/ Salva — Nathan & his aunt get last word. Salva, who was intvw,d three times, hated the piece as well as a shorter, more industry-oriented piece I wrote for Variety.


  17. Fuck pedophiles Says:

    Fucking disgusting asking if salva, a fucking child molestor, can move on. This is the problem with society … it will never be the time to move on from this.

    He’s a repulsive child molestor yet in the first paragraph it’s cited that he enjoys giving and receiving hugs?!?!

    Whoever wrote this article, whoever defends child molestors and all those goddamn rapists out there deserve a bullet to the head, nothing less.


  18. Josh Says:

    Why does the writer keep saying the boy got the last word? The writer did. Such a horrible, horrible way to write this. You can feel the sympathy for a child molester. He served his time??? 19 months?? Drug dealers get more time than that! Really shows in the article how you are trying to ride the fence but only talk about the good things a child molester has done. Oh he made one little mistake??? Bull! He knew what he was doing and only regretted it once he was caught but let’s just give everyone a second chance. Just because he hasnt been caught again doesn’t mean he isn’t still doing it. Hollywood should be burned to the ground and all the writers that twist and turn stories can burn with it.


  19. Cherri Wright Says:

    Even if Victor Salva has supposedly paid for his mistakes(19 months isn’t really a long sentence, he barely served time), he admitted that he has no therapy whatsoever. Why hasn’t he tried to get therapy for his pedophilic convulsions? Also, it is best if he does not work around children or if he does; he has to be supervised closely because what if he relapses and ends up molesting and/or raping another child? I think he should get therapy for his convulsions (that is if he CHOOSES to get therapy, if not he’s just a lost cause) and if he is working, he should not be around children so then the chances of a child being molested or raped are significantly decreased.


  20. Kevin Says:

    His molestation of boys explains the creepers fascination of male victims.the creeper is definitely a gay horror character as he only kills and sniffs out male victims in the movie in parts 1 and 2.the first jeepers creepers is an all time great horror 2 and 3 not so great.he had a film idea that could’ve had as many sequels as Halloween,Friday the13th and nightmare on elm street series but totally dropped the ball with parts 2 and 3.After it became public that he was a child molester before the release of creepers part 3 it was well anticipated but due to protest the movie never made it to the theaters.protesters won’t let him move on this man will never have another film in the United States in a theater.protesters won’t allow it.


  21. Iraida Says:

    Pedofiles only redemption should be a bullet to the brain and any person that defends them deserves the same… we as a society do mot want these filths around us or our children… do us all a favor and off yourself


  22. 336. Jeepers Creepers: Reborn (-#37) | the m0vie blog Says:

    […] Glenn Lovell at CinemaDope considers the career of Victor Salva in light of his criminal record, Mar…. […]


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