Jeepers Creepers Review
If you go to see Jeepers Creepers expecting the "best American horror movie of the last ten years" - to quote one reviewer - you're going to be sorely disappointed. If, on the other hand, you go expecting ninety minutes of diversion and with suitably low expectation, this might just about pass muster... just...
The opening twenty minutes do raise hopes that this film might be something special. Teenage college students Trish (Philips) and her brother Darry (Long) are driving home for spring break in a ropey old car along some rural backwaters left over from Deliverance. At first, the sun is shining, the scenery is spectacular and the chat is slightly more amusing than your average teen horror flick. Neither main character is especially likeable - not to this jaded viewer anyway - but the fact that they are siblings and not lovers is a refreshing change. Suddenly, before you can say "Duel", a rusty old truck drives towards them and attempts to force them off the road. This unexpected turn of events - well, unexpected to those of us who hadn't seen the trailer - is nicely handled by director Victor Salva and he appears initially to understand the basic horror principle that, at the start of a film, less is more. We don't know anything about this truck or who is driving it and as in Spielberg's stunning film from 1971 (DVD please) its this mix of the everyday and the irrational that is intriguing. Salva keeps things moving nicely too as the two kids discover that the truck has pulled up alongside an derelict church and someone/something is unloading large packages covered in white cloth into a big metal chute. Again, this is interesting and slightly unnerving. Salva has caught the same sense of sunlit horror in these early sequences that Tobe Hooper exploited in the - far superior - Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Then, suddenly and depressingly, things begin to go wrong. The truck comes after our heroes again, forces them off the road and then vanishes. Darry decides that the best thing to do would be to go back to the old church and see just where the chute leads. His sister's response to this suggestion is to say, "You know in scary movies where the characters do something really stupid ? This is one of those times", and it was at that point that my heart began to sink. The teenagers, inevitably, go back - otherwise there would be no story - and for all their alleged post-modern savvy they begin to behave in the same idiotic way that teenagers in horror films have been doing since the nineteen fifties. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that Salva appears to want us to take this as a serious horror flick. In Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, the mind-numbing stupidity of the characters was forgivable if taken as a parody of the slasher genre, but the illogical way that Darry and Trish behave goes beyond that and just becomes seriously annoying. One point in particular, where Trish insists on stopping at the least appealing dwelling since the Overlook Hotel in order to make a phone call, is so desperate in narrative terms as to beggar belief.
Now, here's the first problem. It doesn't matter if your characters behave stupidly if you sustain such a pitch of terror that the viewer can't help but be involved. We might place Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween or, if feeling generous, the original Friday The 13th in this category. Nor does it matter if you are consciously sending the genre conventions up, as Wes Craven did in Scream, whether or not you like that particular film (I don't). But Jeepers Creepers tries to have it both ways. It wants us to believe that the young characters know their horror films but still make them naive enough to behave in a way which must have been pretty hard to believe back in 1932 in Michael Curtiz's seminal Mystery Of The Wax Museum.
The second problem is equally common in this sort of film. It's fine when the menace is left relatively faceless and ambiguous, but as soon as it's brought onto centre-stage all credibility exits pretty sharpish, along with all menace. It doesn't have to be this way - you can give horror a totally convincing face if you have some imagination, as John Carpenter demonstrated so memorably in The Thing. Salva, as writer and director, obviously doesn't possess this sort of creativity, and his monster ends up looking like a cross between Swamp Thing and Albert Steptoe. He doesn't even manage to make much of the musical cue "Jeepers Creepers", saving his best attempt for a blackly funny final sequence which is too late to save the film.
To be fair, it's far from being a total disaster. The creepiness of the opening quarter is enough to keep you watching and Salva does pull off a few nicely timed shock moments. His cast work hard as well and the two leads manage to be mildly engaging. It's rather sad, though, to see Eileen Brennan, once a great comedienne, wasted in the small role of "Cat Lady" and not given the chance to be as quirky as she threatens to be at first. The film also boasts good technical credits with particularly impressive work from the DP Don.E.FauntLeRoy. Good work from the visual effects team too, but who on earth chose the awful, awful music score ? It's one thing to have music aid the suspense but quite another to have a score which replaces suspense with unnecessarily pounding synthesisers.
But, in the end, it's hard not to place this with all the other failed teen horror movies that clog the screens of multiplexes. It's better than Urban Legends 2 or the truly dire Valentine but otherwise is only recommended to die-hard horror movie addicts or teenagers who like to have something mindless to watch in-between talking loudly, playing with their mobile phones and fondling their partners.
Jeepers Creepers is currently on general release.