Jeepers Creepers (2001)
As stylish and smartly written as Scream was, its huge success, along with the success of subsequent, much less effective teen slasher fare like Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer, have buried the horror genre underneath a mountain of overly slick, increasingly redundant, over-budgeted garbage. With characters breaking down the illusion of reality with tongue-in-cheek dialogue, bad one-liners and self-referential nods that say, "Hey, we're in a horror movie and we know it is," truly frightening movies have become few and far between.
In the past few years, rarely has a hair been raised and seldom have spines been sent tingling. But for the first half of the low-budget horror offering Jeepers Creepers, writer/director Victor De Salva provides just that.
From the film's first moment, a grainy, distorted-by-the-hazy-summer heat shot of a car traveling along an isolated two-lane country road, it's apparent we haven't wandered into yet another slasher movie full of pretty TV stars with perfect hair getting offed by uninteresting and predictable killers.
The car's passengers are a set of siblings (played by Gina Phillips and Justin Long) heading home for spring break. They banter momentarily in a supposedly witty way, just long enough to establish characters slightly more interesting than your average genre entry.
But the second they spot an old pick-up truck steaming towards their bumper, De Salva turns up the tempo and pours on 30 minutes of horror nirvana as the phantom truck terrorizes the pair before speeding off into the distance.
But this isn't some Duel or Maximum Overdrive rehash. We soon find out who's driving the truck. It's a tall, intimidating figure in a long, flowing trench coat that looks more like he stumbled in from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western than a horror film.
Long and Phillips see him tossing large, red stained bundles into an old sewer pipe next to an abandoned church. Of course they go back to investigate, allowing for one of the few moments of Scream imitation when Phillips says "You know that part in horror movies where someone does something really stupid and everyone hates them for it? Well, this is it."
Both of them then spend the rest of movie doing things you hate them for, and blowing numerous opportunities for easy escape.
What they find down that pipe, and the moments that lead up to it, are classic horror. The scares are still based mainly on "jumps" accompanied by sudden pulses in the soundtrack. But what makes Jeepers Creepers different is the sustained tension that accompanies these scares.
Through music, lighting and camera work, De Salva raises the terror to a fevered pitch as Long explores the killer's storage space, full of hundreds of body sewn into the walls like some depraved picture out of "Dante's Inferno."
But after carefully building suspense, tension and terror, De Salva smashes his film to pieces by diving headfirst into the genre's clichés; the avoidance of which made the movie's first half so enjoyable. Jeepers Creepers becomes nothing more than an extended, redundant chase sequence, as the "monster" will stop at nothing to kill one of the protagonists.
You see, our monster shows up every 23 springs and has 23 days to "eat." The creature then absorbs what it ingests (which apparently included Peter Boyle, because it has his hair). We learn this from Jazelle (Patricia Belcher), a psychic who shows up halfway through to spout off some mumbo-jumbo in an extremely lazy exposition device that only raises logic questions.
The most glaring of these being why no one notices that over 600 people have gone missing from the same stretch of highway. You think someone might have thought something was kind of shady and went looking. It isn't like the killer hid his victims in some diabolically clever spot. He tossed them into a church cellar.
The monster itself also loses its frightfulness the more it is revealed. What makes movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Jaws so scary is that they prey upon realistic fears. Some faceless psycho terrorizing you in the backwoods because you saw him chucking some bodies down a garbage shoot is a somewhat realistic fear. A green flying monster that only eats the people who have the right "scent" is not.
The film also takes a misstep in borrowing from the underrated and far superior Final Destination, using the song "Jeepers Creepers" to ominously pre-empt horrible events.
But all these detractors merely drag Jeepers Creepers down from the level of horror classic to merely an above-average genre entry, and a welcome return of mainstream horror to low-budget, inventive films that set their sights on true scares.
The part of The Creeper was written with Lance Henriksen in mind.