Jeepers Creepers (2001)

Jeepers Creepers (2001)

Fear takes a road trip.

Darryl and Trish are on their way home from their freshmen year at college. But the trip turns into a nightmare as they are first nearly forced off the road by a reckless truck driver and then later they see a man dumping something down a pipe. They recognise him as the truck driver from before and go back later to find out what he was dumping. But what they discover is too terrifying for them to comprehend and soon they are running for their lives, pursed by an ancient demon known as The Creeper.

 

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I went to see at this at the cinema. 2001 was a pretty weak year for big screen horror films as the genre had been slowly drained of life thanks to the never ending deluge of Scream clones. Thankfully Jeepers Creepers blew away the rather feeble competition because it had something that they lacked – originality. It’s been ages since there has been a decent creature flick on the big screen and this filled that void with gleeful abandon. Apart from one throwaway line early on in the film about “people in horror films doing really stupid things” the film is played seriously and doesn’t resort to the hip, self-aware crap that is bogging the genre down at the moment.

Jeepers Creepers is genuinely creepy and actually reasonably scary at times. The first half of the film is excellent. The opening scenes are blatantly based around Duel, in which the siblings’ car is nearly driven off the road by the demented truck. There’s a great shot of the siblings talking to each other whilst the truck slowly gets closer and closer. You know it’s not going to stop but you can’t just scream out at the TV for them to turn around until it’s too late. The shots of the Creeper dropping what looks like bodies down a pipe and then standing to watch the siblings drive past is also a chilling sight. Both the characters and audience clearly know what he was dropping down the pipe but we don’t want to admit it. The scene in which they go back to investigate the pipe is also a long, drawn-out affair of slow-burning tension until the loaded gun is fired and you find out what is lurking down there. And then a bit later on, there’s another great scene in which the Creeper finally reveals himself by standing on top of a moving police car and taking care of the occupants. There are plenty of real stand-out moments here and all of them are creepy, scary or just downright eerie in their own right. The first half of this film packs more punch than dozens of entire films put together. Director Victor Salva has an obvious eye for the genre and he knows what he’s doing to get the mood right.

The menace of the Creeper unfolds to the audience at exactly the same time as the cast so they don’t know more than we do and vice versa. Unfortunately, the more we get to know about The Creeper, the less interesting the film becomes and it’s precisely around this time that the film loses its steam and turns into a more ridiculous affair. There’s the introduction of the psychic woman who’s simply there to provide the audience with an explanation of what the Creeper is. Do we really need that at this point in the film? I think by then we had all got beyond the point of caring and the way in which Victor Salva keeps us guessing as to his motives is enough for me. But because there would obviously be people in the audience who demand answers, we are given a seemingly forced back story about the Creeper being a demon that feeds every twenty three years for twenty three days. Without the back story, the film wouldn’t need the pointless psychic woman.

The film then loses it’s steam, plays out a lot more straightforward than usual including an attack on a police station before heading off into a great, powerful ending which goes against genre regulations. It’s a gutsy decision by the director but one that kept in tone with the opening half of the film. The Creeper looks a little like the Djinn from Wishmaster but it’s certainly an original creation and something you won’t expect to see at the start. In its ‘human form’ it looks like an old redneck, with cowboy hat and white, whispery hair flapping around all over the place which does provide some unintentional laughs. Despite the fact it feeds on humans, there isn’t a massive amount of gore and the worst bit is probably right at the end of the film if you’re a bit worried about gore.

Both of the teenage actors are great in their roles and they’re one of the biggest pluses about the film because their chemistry is spot on and you do really take them for being brother and sister. Justin Long has been mainly associated with being a comedy actor with roles in plenty of silly, juvenile comedies in his time. But he has the ability to do serious and his rabbit-in-the-headlights expression during the search at the bottom of the pipe is great. Gina Phillips also does a great job as his sister. The script treats them with respect, not forcing them to do stupid things just to progress the plot (although if they hadn’t gone back to investigate the pipe, none of the events that followed would have happened!). They’re real kids caught in a nightmare situation and give real reactions to their doomed plight.

 

Jeepers Creepers had a lot of potential and it does live up to that for the most part. It’s exciting, got a decent pace and provides enough scares and tension, and even the odd laugh, to definitely be a modern genre classic. The problems begin when the film changes its direction in the middle because it has nowhere else to go except into familiar territory. And because of this detour, it feels like there is something missing – the icing on the cake if you would.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

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