2001, R, 90 min. Directed by Victor Salva. Starring Jon Beshara, Eileen Brennan, Patricia Belcher, Jonathan Breck, Justin Long, Gina Philips.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 31, 2001
Jeepers Creepers may not be the most technically accomplished horror film I've seen -- some of the night sequences, of which there are many, have a serious film-grain problem -- but what it lacks in studio-level finesse it more than makes up for with unrelenting imagination and a creepily visceral punch that's hard to shake even after you exit the theatre's darkness for the daylight outside. If The Others is this year's paean to “quiet” horror, then Jeepers Creepers is its down 'n' dirty, punk rock, rip-your-throat-out-and-feed-it-to-you bastard child. Packed with horrific examples of the special-effects technician's craft (not to mention some fine, tight editing, which, I suspect, is how this blood-fest managed to garner its surprising R-rating), the film is a mad ride from the get-go, and continues at roughly the speed of fear until the end. Genre fans will find plenty to gnaw on: The opening scene brings to mind the 1977 auto-schlocker The Car, while later passages obliquely reference everything from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the beloved but little-seen Seventies TV movie Gargoyles. In between there's a serviceable storyline that reveals a director with a genuine affection for horror and fantastic filmmaking (Salva previously helmed the underrated Powder) and an exceedingly well-developed sense of pacing. Jeepers Creepers' story is the essence of spooky simplicity: Brother and sister Darius (Long) and Trish (Philips) are taking the scenic way home for spring break when their '57 Chevy is suddenly, inexplicably involved in a game of cat-and-mouse with an unseen maniac in possibly the nation's most ominous delivery truck. As is so often the case in films such as this, the less I reveal about the plot the better, although I'm tempted to say that with Jeepers Creepers it likely wouldn't do that much harm. Darius and Trish's flight is as straighforward as they come, and when, in the third act, they find themselves corralled within a podunk cop station (a tip of the hat to various John Carpenter films, most notably Assault on Precinct 13), you just know that all those strapping young badges are going to wish they'd slept in that morning. You've seen the sequence before, sure, but when it's done right -- or at least with this much obvious passion -- it's still a thing of fanboy beauty. Is Jeepers Creepers honestly that great? Not really. My gushing reaction to its frankly mediocre (but fun!) charms has as much to do with the complete absence of any horror films of late not bearing either the name Wes Craven above the title or a Roman numeral behind it. It's not just me, though: Jeepers Creepers may have been directed by a relative unknown, but the production company is American Zoetrope, and the executive producer is Francis Ford Coppola. Clearly I'm not the only one who feels there's been somewhat of a dearth of decent shockers these days.