Shifting modes abruptly near the halfway point, "Jeepers Creepers" is
really two movies. The first is a full-fledged creep-out, with a shadowy
killer and his would-be victims placed in disturbingly intimate
circumstances. The second is an old-fashioned monster movie, showcasing
a brazen creature willing to go anywhere, including a packed police
station, to satisfy its vile needs.
What connects the two is Darryl (Justin Long) and his sister Trish (Gina
Philips), a pair of likable college kids who are dumb. Very dumb.
Extraordinarily dumb. I-believe-Miss-Cleo-is-on-the-level dumb. George
"Jeepers Creepers" opens on a sunny day, as Darryl and Trish tool down a
long, empty highway in the country on their way home to visit the folks.
Their squabbling is interrupted when a weathered pickup truck nearly
runs them off the road. Minutes later, while they are still catching
their breaths, they spot the truck parked by an old church. The driver,
anonymous in a wide hat and long coat, totes what appear to be two
bodies wrapped in bloody sheets across the ground and dumps then down a
drainage pipe. Then, with his face in shadow from the brim of his hat,
he stands straight and looks directly towards Darryl and Trish.
The terrified siblings tear down the road, only to see that wretched
truck in the rear view mirror moments later. Like a scene out of a
nightmare (or Steven Spielberg's "Duel"), the truck rams them repeatedly
and the two barely survive the assault. When the truck finally moves on
into the distance, the kids sit, gasping and shaking over their brush
with death. And then Darryl turns to his sister, looks her deep in the
eyes and say, "We've got to go back."
"We've got to go back," he says. Trish stares at him as if he'd
suggested they go swimming in the ocean wearing chum-scented sunblock.
"We've got to go back," he implores. "What if they're still alive? What
if it was you back there?" Trish, showing a welcome glimmer of survival
skills, suggests they call the police, but the batteries in their
cellphone are dead and "who knows how far we'll have to drive before we
find a pay phone."
At this point, I fought the urge to scream, "What about the farmhouses
you pass every 30 seconds? Unless you're driving through Amish country,
they probably have phones! What the fuck is wrong with you people?"
While my head throbs, Darryl and Trish drive back to the church. Darryl
leans in over the drainpipe, while Trish notes aloud that they are
following the classic pattern of idiot teenagers in slasher movies. Then
Darryl faintly hears a voice cry "Help!" and climbs into the pipe. What
a guy. If he had been in "Jaws" when the shark began swallowing Robert
Shaw, he probably would have dove in after him.
Now I realize that movies like this must place vulnerable people in
godawful dangerous circumstances, but would it kill the screenwriters to
at least make a passing attempt to paint the heroes as something more
than imbeciles? For example, how about this scenario: Darryl and Trish
spot the figure lowering the bodies into the drainpipe. He sees them and
heads for his truck. They attempt to speed away but they run out of gas
and their engine dies. Frantically, they pull the car off the road into
a field and hide behind the tall cornstalks. The pickup truck backs out,
fails to see them and goes racing down the highway. Knowing they have
but a few minutes, one of them looks around the church grounds for a
source of gas, while the other checks out the pipe for signs of life.
Sure, my proposal is overly reliant on luck and good timing, but
compared to what is presented onscreen, it is pure genius.
Regardless of the amber waves of stupidity, the first portion of
"Jeepers Creepers" is still scary as hell. TV veterans Long ("Ed") and
Philips ("Boston Public") are credible as brother and sister, and the
opening sequence lasts long enough to allow us to bond with the pair.
Writer-director Victor Salva ("Powder") effectively taps into our primal
fears about strange goings-on in rural areas, aided by Don FauntLeRoy's
skewed camerawork and Bennett Salvay's jarring score.
There is little I can reveal about the latter portion of the film
without spoiling things. Suffice to say that it becomes a much more
traditional monster movie, with a number of people trying to fend off a
bizarre creature (Jonathan Breck) that knows exactly what it wants and
isn't the least bit hesitant in getting those items. While a needless
scene with a whacked-out cat lady (Eileen Brennan) and the presence of a
character with too many answers (Patricia Belcher) muddle up the flow,
the story still delivers a sufficient number of cheap thrills, with a
wrap-up that is both silly and shocking. "Jeepers Creepers" may sputter
in the last reel, but it still delivers enough style and scares to
warrant a look by horror aficionados.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott