Back in 2001, a creature was unleashed upon unprepared horror movie fans to considerable success. This creature, known to all as The Creeper, was the star of writer/director Victor Salva’s low-budget horror film Jeepers Creepers. Now, almost 10 years later, Salva has not only contributed a horrific story to the latest Dark Delicacies anthology but a third movie about The Creeper is in early pre-production (affectionately known as Jeepers Threepers).
Dread Central recently interviewed the writer/director about his horrific short story “The Wandering Unholy” in the new Dark Delicacies anthology and got some early “scoop” on the upcoming return of The Creeper as well.
DC: First, thank you so much for taking time to do this interview, Victor. Second, “The Wandering Unholy”!!! WHOA!! EC comics meet WWII and Nazis. Where did this story have its beginnings? And would you give a brief synopsis for those folks unaware of the plot?
VS: When Hitler sends a small group of SS to an abbey of nuns to retrieve a woman who can speak to the dead, the ruthless Nazis get more than they bargained for from the mysterious Sisters of St. Ignatius.
This story is a throwback to all those great Rod Serling Night Gallery and Twilight Zone episodes from my youth. One in particular I recall had the wonderful actor Francis Lederer as Count Dracula who had Nazis storming his castle during World War II.
DC: Backing up a little, how did you get involved in the Dark Delicacies III project? I hear it is by invitation only – how does it feel to be among equally illustrious horror writers?
VS: I have no delusions about my status among the writers who contributed to the book. I am a novice and tried my hand at something (prose) that I hadn’t attempted since high school. It was an honor to be included among many of the talented scribes whose stories make up Dark Delicacies III.
I think I was invited as a result of a long association with editor Del Howison. Del and I have been actively trying to get the magic of Dark Delicacies, the anthologies, onto TV screens for the last year or so, and in the process I wrote a good number of half-hour and hour episodes of what we hope to become our own Twilight Zone/Night Gallery sort of TV offering.
“The Wandering Unholy” was one such episode that seemed to lend itself to an adaptation into a short story. Though there were other stories I considered before choosing “The Wandering Unholy” for the anthology.
A lot of it had to do with the fact that this would be my first ever (and possibly last) published short story, so I wanted to go with something Gothic and atmospheric and something that was a nod to the great old school storytellers (Rod Serling, Richard Matheson) who might have attempted at story like this.
DC: While reading your story, aside from the sheer … creepiness and horror of it, I was struck by the era you chose as well as the characters. Nazi films seem to be a big “thing” right now, with the new films Inglourious Basterds and Dead Snow as well as older films like The Bunker and Robert McCammon’s novel Night Boat. What was behind your decision to set the story during WWII and have the characters all be Nazis, except, of course, the nuns?
VS: It’s funny because I am not a zombie fan. Movies about zombies, stories about zombies, even stories about Nazis, they are really outside the realm of my interest, so I think I would have to hearken back to the nuns that are at the center of my story to really tell you what interested me about the idea.
I attended Catholic School in Martinez, California, where I grew up. First through eighth grades. We had a faculty made up of mostly nuns, and I was exposed to every kind of sister during those eight years. From the wonderful to the nightmarish.
I think in some ways “The Wandering Unholy” is my nostalgic memory and, to some degree, my revenge on them. At the heart of the story are two belief systems: one, Hitler’s, that Christianity was a blight on mankind, and of course, the Catholics’, who had their own grisly history of persecuting and murdering anyone who didn’t embrace their faith.
I did enjoy creating a murderous creature out of a nun, whom the nuns then worshipped. The Nazis were worshipping their monster (Hitler) and the nuns were worshipping theirs. I enjoyed the irony of it all.
DC: Has anyone had any problem with the story being completely about the Nazis with the only “good” characters being the nuns, who have their own agenda.
VS: I don’t read reviews so I wouldn’t know. But again, I feel the nuns are not the heroes with white hats of the story. The sympathy scales get tipped to the side of the nuns because they are essentially a group of old women. And the Nazis come on strong with their arrogance and violence but find the women are in no way helpless.
DC: This is a pretty gruesome story – as I mentioned earlier, it reminded me of something you might read in an EC comic. It is so gruesomely over-the-top – how much fun was that to write, and did you initially plan the story to be so gory?
VS: I don’t enjoy gore. Though you might not know it, because of the end of the story. Sometimes I dip down into the cauldron of blood – I call it – out of a need for punctuation and that childish curiosity about blood and guts that dates back to boyhood and stepping on bugs or watching dad gut and clean the fish you caught.
The older I get, the less interested I am in how many different ways we can eviscerate each other, and the fans tell me this is one of the things they like about the Jeepers films. The horror is often suggested more than it is shown. Upping the creep factor.
But in the case of “The Wandering Unholy” I wanted to go there, to that horrible place. It was, after all, war, the most brutal act anyone can inflict on another. I needed to go there for the integrity of my story, if just for a moment. And find a balance between the poetry of the horrible and the senseless of it all. “The Wandering Unholy” might be the most graphic story I’ve written. But I don’t see it as out of balance or over-the-top with the tone of the story or the venue.
Then again, I might have been trying to show off to the other writers, that I could blood it up with the best of them, being the maker of the Jeepers films, where we deliberately avoid buckets of blood and gore and look for ways to be graphic and memorable without bathing in the blood or resorting to torture porn.
DC: And as bad as the Nazis are, the nuns don’t come off lily-white themselves although they are as close to being the “good guys” as anyone. Why did you choose to have the Nazis find this convent and what was the whole “granite cross” thing about? Field Marshall Stenecker specifically tells Major Grunwald that they are searching for a cross.
VS: There is nothing particularly significant about the cross marking the abbey. But I am interested in what you think it may have meant. This was a Catholic abbey, and the cross above its gates was meant to signify it was.
DC: The quote on the convent’s banner, Abyssus abyssum invocat (translation: Hell calls Hell), is both chilling and a puzzling thing to hang in a convent. Is there some historical basis for this that you learned while writing this story? And how much research DID you do for “The Wandering Unholy”?
VS: Not much research really. I had done work on a script for New Line Pictures called THE WATCH, which dealt with Hitler’s obsession with the occult, and it was set in World War II so I had lived in that world for a year while I worked on it. I didn’t want to get caught up in historical details for my short story and deliberately left some points vague or undetailed.
Both in the interest of time and my basic fear that I have, as both a writer and a filmmaker: I don’t want to bore people or take them out of the story. I knew where I wanted to go with the story because it was originally intended to be a twenty-two-minute short film for television.
I just basically wanted to have these two forces, nuns and Nazis, face off in an atmospheric, snowbound abbey in the mountains. And to eventually have the horrible and unstoppable forces of the Nazi party become helpless in the face of a greater darkness. That darkness being whatever it is, powering the Mother Foundress with her ability to raise the dead, move objects and God knows (pun intended) what else.
The Latin saying is, I think, perfect for this abbey, where the nuns might also be questioning their mission. To care for this horrible woman, who is half-mad and grows more and more powerful over the years. Her power may be absolute darkness, and not the holiness the order is predicated on, so Hell calls Hell is maybe a tiny bit of conscience on the part of the nuns, or maybe their way of justifying or making peace with what they keep in their basement.
I also think this Latin statement is a perfect caution for our own times. Two wrongs will never make a right. Never.
DC: The Mother Foundress was quite a shocking addition to the story as the Nazis had already informed Mother Superior O’Cyrus that they were in search of a “necromancer”. It was rather confusing, historically, that Hitler did not recognize Catholicism, yet he sent troops out to gather relics and other items which could only be found in Catholic churches, convents, monasteries, etc. In doing your research for this story, what did you discover about this dichotomy of Hitler’s?
VS: Hitler felt that if he stumbled across the right relics, and the right spells and ceremonies, his power to win the war would become undeniable. His statements about Christianity might have been intended to be inflammatory, or they might have revealed an inner hypocrisy, or even a deeper understanding of the negative effects the religion has had on people and society. We have to remember that Christianity has a lot of blood on its hands and even today encourages hatred and destroys lives. Not as overtly as the Nazis did, but they are still similar historically, in their destructive powers, if you look at their history and present day dogma.
In the case of Hitler speaking out against it: You can either agree with him or take it as another attempt to polarize people, or even take his comments as another indication of his gradual flight from sanity.
Of course today public figures, some with a great amount of popularity, have crushing hypocrisies in their hate speak, so it seems logical to me that Hitler might make these statements and secretly be obsessed with the powers that might exist in the beliefs they are a part of.
And we can’t forget that one of the reasons we have had such horrible wars throughout history is because each faction moves ahead with the moral certainty that God is on their side.
DC: I have to ask about Jeepers Creepers III: Cathedral. How far along are you with that project, and will we be seeing the return of Gina Phillips, Justin Long, Ray Wise, and Jonathan Breck as the Creeper? Also, will you return to northern Florida to shoot this final chapter – the landscape was MUCH creepier in the first film, which really added to the film (nothing spells “creepy” like Spanish moss).
VS: We thought about having our Spanish moss shipped in from Florida for JC2, but we couldn’t find any great trees to hang it on. We would never venture back into the brutal climate that almost killed Breck and many of us on our first Jeepers adventure, though the people there were wonderful, and I agree, there was more atmosphere in the first Jeepers.
How far along are we? The script has been ready for about two years now. We have scouted locations and found where we would like to shoot the third and final chapter in the Jeepers trilogy.
The financing is just coming together, so perhaps we will be in pre-production shortly. We have been saying this for a year now, but that’s really about all I can with any certainty.
Breck will of course don his wings once again as our favorite flying man-eater, though we have decided, after much fan feedback, to give him his truck back for the new film.
Gina Phillips will be back in Jeepers Threepers (as we like to call it) playing Trisha Jenner, 23 years later, a successful business woman who has her own teenage son, Darry, named after her long lost brother.
We have decided that the third film should, like one and two, be different from each other in look and locale. After all, the highway in question “runs the length of the state.” So you may be missing your Spanish moss again and much of the story takes place in the desert part of our ficticious Jeepers state that includes Poho, Pertwilla, and Kissell County.
DC: What is your theory on why The Creeper is so popular with horror fans?
VS: I try not to overthink things. And since I don’t read reviews, the only feedback I get is from fans who write me on my blog, or who I meet at conventions or book signings. The one idea they clearly express to me about why the Creeper is a new favorite is that it flies in the face of all the conventional creatures of the last two decades. He doesn’t talk, he still has a strange sense of humor, we don’t know much about who he is or why he is here, he is steeped in mystery and keeps surprising us.
These are not my words, but the words of others. I just keep to the rules I have for myself in making any kind of film, horror or otherwise: What would be interesting to me?
When it comes to creating suspense and horror, the questions for me are: How much information is too much? And when it comes to doing the Jeepers films: What would really scare me?
DC: I have been asking everyone I have interviewed for Dark Delicacies III for their opinion of the state of horror these days – both cinematic and literary. What is your opinion? Have we had enough PG-13/CGI overload/pretty 20-something “actors”/nauseating teen vampire films/etc.?
VS: I am as opinionated as the next guy when it comes to horror, but I have found rushing to judgment about other films or my brother and sister filmmakers has no upside. I may find some horror today simply without thought or merit, I may find fantasy and horror looking so digital I call them “over painted”, I may dismiss the trend of hot looking teens having vampire angst, but then I remember that every film is not made for me. Some films are made for other audiences and other tastes and other age groups.
I keep my personal feelings about other people’s specific films to myself and my close circle of friends.
Your question asked if I was tired of CGI, or teen vampires, but the state of horror right now has another troubling trend that I think is single-handedly forcing it into “the horror ghetto” John Carpenter rightly identified.
What really comes to mind when you ask what I think about the state of horror today is this: It is hard to get any film made. Call it a miracle when it happens. But the miracle continues: The pictures we put up on that big screen go right into the hearts and minds of people – young and old – so I am more careful now, as I decide what to put up there and how to present it.
I’m not censoring myself; you really can’t or you are lost as a storyteller as you try and please some invisible audience you don’t know or trust.
But I am careful how I use my darkness in my films. Because it isn’t real darkness. It is darkness of my own invention. The Creeper is mine. I created that darkness; it doesn’t exist in the real world. It is fantasy. But we tend to take our cues from films and TV as what is really happening in the real world. And that is dangerous. Suicidal really.
Many horror films today skip over what, for me, makes horror movies timeless and memorable and worthy of a spot on my video shelf: characters, plot, and moral dilemma presented by a storyteller with a strong visual language as he lets us observe the characters and creatures in hopefully a scary as hell story.
Some horror today is remarkable and really terrific. But again, I keep my specific likes and dislikes to myself. When a brother filmmaker lists favorite films or filmmakers, there is always another brother or sister who gets left out. Whether unintentionally or not, I like to spare the brotherhood this pain of omission whenever I can.
DC: What does Victor Salva have planned for the future? More stories, more films, and/or both? And which do you prefer: writing or directing?
VS: I have a couple of scripts that I have recently finished that I am out shopping. In this biz, you have to keep four or five balls in the air at a time, knowing that most, or even none of them, might ever see the light of a movie screen.
But I have a JAWS-like thriller I am excited about (no sharks in my tale but the tone is the same), a ghost story about Alcatraz, and if Jeepers Threepers hits big enough when it finally comes to theaters, even a series based on the Creeper.
All of these and the hope and faith that Del Howison and I will find a way to get the anthology idea of Dark Delicacies onto a movie or TV screen near you, are pretty much everything cooking in my pot of stew right now.
Which do I prefer more, writing or directing? Each have their pains and pleasures. Since I have been lucky enough, in the fifteen years I have been doing this, to have written most of the films I have made (CLOWNHOUSE, NATURE OF THE BEAST, POWDER, RITES OF PASSAGE, JEEPERS I and II) and have done a lot of rewrite work on others projects and on my latest film PEACEFUL WARRIOR (based on a best selling book), I really find it hard to separate my writing from my directing.
I will always be a filmmaker. I often think of that picture of John Huston directing from a wheelchair, with his oxygen mask on and his oxygen tank at his side, and think: That’s the way I want to go, when I go. Doing what I have loved to do since I was thirteen. Telling stories on film.
DC: What are some of your favorite horror films? And horror novels?
VS: People often ask me this, but it changes so frequently, and sometimes simply because of the way I am feeling at the moment, that I usually avoid specifics. There are a lot of talented souls and brilliant minds out there in the genre, but it takes real ingenuity to be able to create fear and suspense and terror on film, and the people who do it well, both past and present, are few and far between.
DC: Is there anything else you would like to add about your story that I have not covered?
VS: I think that about covers it, Elaine.
Thank you SO much for your time, Victor, and I know I speak for a lot of horror fans when I say we cannot wait to see The Creeper one more time. Be sure to visit Victor at his Official Blog.
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