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The Films of Victor Salva

Clownhouse (July 2/05)

Though it features an absolutely fantastic premise, Clownhouse feels as though it'd be much more effective as a 22-minute episode of Tales from the Crypt (rather than a padded-out, frequently dull 81-minute movie). Young Casey (Nathan Forrest Winters) has a terrible fear of clowns, something his cruel older brother (played by Sam Rockwell) enjoys teasing him about. But when three mental patients escape from a nearby sanitarium and disguise themselves as - you guessed it - clowns, it would seem as though Casey's worst fears have come true. Clownhouse's entire opening hour is essentially superfluous and could easily be condensed into about five minutes worth of screentime, and while the film's third act is admittedly quite exciting, it's almost negated by everything that's preceded it. And while director Victor Salva does a nice job of establishing a creepy, off-kilter sort of atmosphere, there's just not enough substance here to keep the viewer engaged throughout. As for the actors, nobody makes much of an impact except for Rockwell, who delivers an expectedly charismatic and natural performance (this being his debut, that's no small feat).

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The Nature of the Beast


Rites of Passage

Jeepers Creepers (May 16/18)

Written and directed by Victor Salva, Jeepers Creepers follows siblings Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry (Justin Long) as their cross-country drive is interrupted by a mysterious and deadly figure known as the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) - with the narrative detailing the pair's efforts at getting help and, eventually, escaping from the Creeper's clutches. There's little doubt that Salva delivers an almost astonishingly effective opening stretch, as the filmmaker offers up affable, sympathetic protagonists and places them within the confines of a promisingly pared-down scenario - with the strength of the movie's first act heightened by stylish, atmospheric visuals and the superb work from both Philips and Long. And although the picture remains quite watchable throughout, Jeepers Creepers admittedly does suffer from a second act that's not quite as enthralling as one might've hoped - with the central characters' penchant for making boneheaded decisions certainly compounding the comparatively underwhelming vibe. It's nevertheless increasingly difficult to resist the mostly striking bent of Salva's narrative, with the ongoing inclusion of memorable sequences (eg the Creeper attacks a cop car) paving the way for an unexpectedly engrossing climax that's capped off with a fairly unforgettable finale - which confirms the movie's place as a better-than-average horror effort that works more often than it doesn't.

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Jeepers Creepers II (May 25/18)

A disappointingly underwhelming sequel, Jeepers Creepers II, which picks up a few days after the events of the original, follows a school bus full of football players and cheerleaders as they're stalked by the fearsome Creeper (Jonathan Breck) - with the movie also detailing the exploits of a grieving father (Ray Wise's Jack Taggart) out to avenge the murder of his young son. The degree to which Jeepers Creepers II slowly-but-surely fizzles out is ultimately rather devastating, as writer/director Victor Salva delivers a stylish first half that's brimming with strong, engrossing sequences - with, especially, the movie's gripping pre-credits interlude, involving the abduction of Wise's character's aforementioned son, as stirring and riveting as anything contained within the first film. And although Salva does a decent job of initially peppering the school-bus-set scenes with intriguing moments (eg the Creeper menacingly indicates which figures he's targeting), Jeepers Creepers II progresses into a midsection and latter half that grows less and less interesting as it progresses - with the most obvious problem here a proliferation of one-dimensional, entirely underdeveloped central characters (eg it was perhaps not the wisest decision to center the narrative around a group of jocks). The viewer's inability to root for any of these people paves the way for a decidedly ineffective climactic stretch, which is a shame, certainly, given the heavy emphasis on Wise's Jack and his final confrontation with the Creeper - although, at least, the movie does manage to end on a decidedly compelling and intriguing note. (It's just too bad about those teenagers, ultimately.)

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Peaceful Warrior (July 22/07)

Based on the cult book by Dan Millman, Peaceful Warrior revolves around the mentor/mentee relationship that ensues between mysterious gas-station attendant Socrates (Nick Nolte) and ace gymnast Dan (Scott Mechlowicz). The two become fast friends as Socrates passes on valuable life lessons to Dan that assist him in his athletic pursuits, though their work is eventually threatened by a motorcycle accident that leaves Dan virtually crippled. Director Victor Salva has infused Peaceful Warrior with an egregiously deliberate pace that sometimes feels oppressive, and there's ultimately no denying that the film could've used some judicious editing (the two-hour running time is just excessive). That being said, Salva's surprisingly inventive directorial choices go a long way towards keeping things interesting, while stars Mechlowicz and Nolte aquit themselves nicely in their respective roles (Mechlowicz, in particular, more than holds his own opposite powerhouse Nolte). And while there are certainly a number of intriguing concepts and ideas for the viewer to chew on contained within Kevin Bernhardt's script, the screenwriter does occasionally bog the proceedings down in abstract philosophical notions that will undoubtedly leave some viewers baffled. Still, for those patient enough to see it through, Peaceful Warrior does possess more than enough positive attributes to warrant a mild recommendation.

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Rosewood Lane


Jeepers Creepers 3 (May 26/18)

The Jeepers Creepers saga comes to a close with this hopelessly ineffective and thoroughly tedious entry, with the narrative, which is set between the first and second installments, following a team of grizzled Creeper hunters as the attempt to track down and kill Jonathan Breck's horrific antagonist. (There's also an emphasis on the exploits of several bland teenagers and their ongoing efforts at avoiding the Creeper's deadly clutches.) It becomes clear fairly early on that Jeepers Creepers 3 has more in common with its most recent predecessor than with the original film, as the movie, which generally progresses at a serious crawl, focuses upon a series of barely developed, infuriatingly generic characters that remain impossible to root for and sympathize with throughout. Filmmaker Victor Salva delivers a narrative rife with half-baked elements that contribute heavily to the arms-length atmosphere, with, especially, Salva's inability (or refusal) to even partially flesh-out the aforementioned (and initially promising) Creeper hunters certainly standing out as the film's most obvious missed opportunity. The movie, then, only grows less and less interesting as it slowly progresses, and although Salva has peppered the proceedings with a very small handful of attributes (eg the choice to set the picture in the daytime is pretty intriguing, admittedly), Jeepers Creepers 3 is ultimately unable to capture even hint of the magic (and competence) that defined the 2001 original film (and, worse yet, it forces one to look at that movie in an entirely new and far more skeptical light).

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© David Nusair