I’ve recently been gifted with a pile of retro horror films. Among them was 1989’s Clownhouse. I’d been really excited to watch this, confusing it with another film from the 80’s featuring a girl and her creepy clown doll. Popped it in, recognized the director’s name but couldn’t immediately place it, but moved past quickly when I spotted Sam Rockwell’s name in the opening credits.
The premise is rather silly. Three young brothers are left home alone for the night and must fend off a trio of escaped mental patients masquerading as the circus clowns they’ve murdered. The eldest brother, played by Sam Rockwell in his first feature role, is a teenaged jerk appalled that he’s stuck with babysitting duties. The youngest, Casey, has severe coulrophobia and nightmares that cause bed wetting, instilling a maternal instinct in middle brother Geoffrey.
When nothing on screen sparked any memories of having seen this prior, I sought answers from Google. First, I found that the movie I’d actually been hoping for was 1988’s Ghosthouse, not Clownhouse. Second, that director Victor Salva actually went to jail for events transpiring off screen between himself and the film’s 12 year old lead actor, Nathan Forrest Winters. Victor Salva, roughly around the age of 30 at time of production, had been molesting the boy and filming it. WHAT?
He spent only 15 months in jail after confessing to five counts of sexual relations with a 12 year old boy, and having videotaped said relations. Nathan Forrest Winters has no further acting credits to his name, and can anyone blame him? Shockingly, Disney hired Victor Salva to direct 1995’s Powder, and the director relates the lead character to his personal life and the time he spent in prison. Powder flopped, however, in part by Nathan’s public boycotting of the film.
Hollywood has a short memory, though, and Victor Salva found favor again with 2001’s Jeepers Creepers.
Now, of course this is old news, and I’m sure most people are already aware. Hell, Victor Salva’s name held vague familiarity because I’d remembered some kind of sexual misconduct news tied with his name when Jeepers Creepers was released. However, reading this news while watching Clownhouse gave the film a whole new context that was both horrifying and heartbreaking.
Casey’s frail and scared demeanor took on a deeper meaning. That he spent the film scared of the grown men relentlessly pursuing him just felt icky. The tone no longer felt like silly kids horror.
I’m behind the times on this one, and I feel terrible for that. But I, too, will join Nathan Forrest Winters on his boycott of Salva’s films.