Movie curses are nothing new and add something to the enjoyment and mythology of the feature. They tend to make more sense when a nice horror movie is at play. Other worldly interference on films such as the Exorcist and Poltergeist feed off of our fear of their subject matter and make sense to us because audiences understand they are playing with something they shouldn’t or conjuring evil just by starting the discussion. It was famously said movies had the devil or something else dark built into the celluloid. Part of this is coincidence, part of it may be just the law of large numbers, and part is the marketing of the film to make it come across even more terrifying than it might be.
The impact of the paranormal on movies might work the other way, although it may be difficult to determine which came first and whether the unexplained experienced in the shadows may just be the normal made paranormal because of the film connected to it. Jeepers Creepers, a 2001 horror hit inspired by true events, may have given birth to several different haunted legends in Florida. When you look into some of the odd details of the movies and the histories of the locations where they were shot, it may get even harder to tell whether the horror story left something behind or whether they were chosen because there was already something dark there.
The idea of the movie was partly inspired by a real life event, although there is nothing supernatural to the story, and some say the connection itself is only an urban legend. On Easter 1990, Dennis DePue beat his wife, Marilyn, in front of their three children and left the house with her, telling them he was taking her to a nearby hospital. He instead shot her in the head and attempted to dump the body behind a nearby church wrapped in a bloody sheet. A random couple drove by the location just as he was hauling it out of his van, but they were unsure of what they saw. DePue jumped in his van and followed the Thorntons, getting almost close enough to ram them and honking his horn and flashing his lights. The pursuit continued until Ray Thorton turned off unto another road and DePue switched directions and went the other way. A year later the case was featured on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries and Dennis DePue came out of hiding. He was eventually caught, but committed suicide before the police could take him in.
This mirrors the events of the opening of the movie closely, although there are different stories about whether the writer and director, Victor Salva, knew the story when he began to conceive of the movie. What is known is that Salva himself had a dark past. In 1988, he was charged with the sexual abuse of a minor and possession of child pornography, including a recording he made of the abuse. He pled guilty and served 15 months. This would later lead to trouble during the shooting of Jeepers Creepers when he tried to employ high schoolers as extras in the film.
There are several creepy things that happened during the filming of the movie. Insects, always an unwanted annoyance in Florida, were so bad the crew actually had to fire off guns to scatter them before takes. Although the fake county of Poho is used in the film and almost all locations mentioned are made up, there are several references to Lady Lake, the home of several ghostly legends nearby. The weirdest hiccup during filming stems from the White Meat Packing Plant location in the film. According to researcher and author David Goudsward, the final scene was filmed in the abandoned factory which was in such a horrible condition they needed to do very little to dress it up for the shoot. Several members of the crew were so scared of the location they refused to go inside and film, and other who did reported suffering from horrible nightmare for nights afterward.
All of this may just be movie lore. These kinds of things add hype to the premiere of a movie and act as sound bites during promotional tours, like how every actor in a scary movie seems to come out with their true ghost experiences. What can’t be denied is that two of the shooting locations have become famous for the spooky legends that have come to light since the making of the movie.
Listen to Episode 61…Ghost Kids and Their Peepers
Even if there were no movie made there, Tiger Trail, otherwise known as SW180th Avenue (and often misnamed as Tiger Tail) in Dunnellon, Florida, would be the ideal setting for a ghost story. In addition to still being fairly rural and deserted, it has reportedly been the site of many fatal car accidents over the years, especially where the road intersects with Highway 40. In the late 90s people say a truck full of kids flipped, killing several of them.
Ghost children have been seen on the road for at least the last 20 years. Reports always have them travelling together, usually three together, and often holding hands. People have tried to talk to them and they either disappear or move quickly off the road and can’t be seen anymore. Others have said they have stopped only to have the children approach the car and disappear before they get there or to inspire such fear in the witness that they drive off before the children can get to them. This almost always happens late at night or in the early morning, which has led many of the people try and see them and report seeing them at 3:00 am. Backbackerverse has another type of sighting. A man on his way to work in the early morning reported a family of five, describing the “adults” as being teenagers, all of which had deformed faces and black holes for eyes.
Some residents say the whole thing is a hoax to promote the film. While no one ever remembers the legend being told before 2001, one of the accidents said to be the reason for the children happened only a few years before. Besides, it doesn’t make much sense to promote the movie years later, and it is not as if following up on the site brings money or notoriety to the location. Another earthly explanation might be the nearby high school, which is the reason for the road’s nickname. It makes sense for the students there to be out at night, especially after being named on different Web sites as a haunted location. Who would not want to go out and scare people for a good time? It is also worth noting that as the popularity of the location grew the time to see the ghostly children changed to 3:00 am. Initial stories spoke of seeing them at dusk and around midnight, but as the story has become more popular it has taken on the infamous time for hauntings.
The lesser known Jeepers Creepers haunting has a tragic history all its own. Follow 40 into Ocala and you’ll eventually come to the old St. James Church which was used in the abandoned church scenes in the movie. It is said to be the scene of ghostly activity well before the movie was shot there and continues to be frequented by thrill seekers and paranormal enthusiasts. People have said unexplained fog rolls in unexpectedly and weird noises, especially scratching and moaning, can be heard near the church and cemetery next to it. Odd lights and orbs appear in the windows of the church and dark figures are spotted among the headstones, sometimes appearing to bury someone, somewhat similar to the actions of the bad guy in the movie.
Problem with that is the church no longer exists. After the movie came out, local teens were known to hang out and party there. It became an eyesore and sore spot for the community and was scheduled to be torn down. According to David Goudsward, before that could happen arsonist burned it down in 2003. A local paranormal group, The Paranormal and Ghost Society, offers an explanation for the ghostly legend. According to their site, a nearby church name Wesley is the actual location for some of the hauntings attributed to St. James. They have reported activity there, much of which sound similar to the stories coming from the Jeepers Creepers location. Wesley Church, which suffered one of those mysterious fires that part of Florida is famous for in its haunted locations in 1967, is now modern looking, but the graves still date back to the 1800s.
Does art reflect life or does life reflect art? When you’re dealing with haunted legends, you often encounter what is known as the “posta be haunted” factor, or someplace that so looks the part or has such a deep history it begs for a ghost. It set the stage in our mind for a haunting, which tends to create a something creepy out of something that might be explained otherwise. That factor gets amped up when there is a movie attached and goes up even more when the genre is horror. Elements of the film make their way into the narrative of people’s moments there. Details become paranormal, until the residents can longer separate experience from entertainment. It’s easy to say that, but when the popcorn is done and the ghost story has been told audiences might have to deal with another reality. Sometimes the darkness inspires art as well.
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