In 1988, Nathan Forrest Winters was only 12-years-old when he was casted to star in one of director Victor Salva’s debut films Clownhouse. Funded by Francis Ford Coppola, the movie would be Salva’s first full-length feature and impressed many Hollywood big shots.
In the film, three children attend the circus and are later tormented by escaped mental patients posing as clowns. The film may not be particular scary to us seasoned horror fans, but the stories about what happened behind the scenes are chilling.
Salva became increasingly more guarded and secretive while shooting the film, insisting that production assistants and other crew members could not be on-set while they were filming. Behind the scenes, Salva would take Winters and force him to give or receive fellatio and perform other sex acts. On at least one of these occasions, Salva was even so bold as to make a video of him and the boy together.
It wasn’t long before crew members became suspicious and Winters admitted to his secret. Salva had been molesting him. Salva was convicted and sent to prison for three years. He was paroled in 1992.
Most would think that at this point the story would be over, and former daycare worker Victor Salva would be living in a box on Skid Row, but it isn’t over yet.
Three years after his parole, Salva was asked to direct the Disney film Powder. Disney, not thinking anything of allowing a convicted child rapist to work on a film, which features some underage cast members, told the L.A. Times that once they became aware of Salva’s past they, “had people watch him.”
When Winters and his family heard of Disney’s decision to allow Salva to direct the film they were complete taken back. In the same Times article, Winters is quoted as saying, “I can’t believe [Salva] is allowed to work with children again.” But Salva was allowed to work very closely with the underage cast.
Winters started a grassroots campaign to boycott the film’s release in theaters. Day after day he stood outside theaters with picket signs and he and his family contacted different organizations in order to get the word out about Disney’s decision to work with a convicted child predator.
Sadly, Winters’ pleas fell on deaf ears. Salva went on to win an award from the Gérardmer Film Festival and the film was also nominated to win an MTV award for Sean Patrick Flanery’s breakthrough performance.
In 2001, Salva went back to horror and directed the film Jeepers Creepers. The movie was so popular that it shattered records previously held for being the highest grossing film during its Labor Day weekend opening. Salva followed up with a sequel two years later.
Today, Salva is back to work on the third installment of the Jeepers Creepers series and it would seem that he is back to his creepy ways, in spite of his claims that he had paid his debt to society and had been receiving therapy in order to work through his sexual appetite for children. According to an article published by Vice, Salva posted an ad to a casting website calling for an 18-year-old actress to portray the role of a 13-year-old who is brutalized by her grandfather. There is no word on whether or not the scene would include any form of sexual abuse, but given Salva’s past, the casting site chose to remove the post.
As for Winters, his experiences working with Salva traumatized him to the point that he refused to act in any other film. He lives a quiet life of obscurity, while the man who victimized him is free to shrug off the incident as he cashes the checks from his blockbuster films.