A Definite Creeper
Jeepers Creepers, a generally intriguing and scary creature-feature, opens with a college-aged brother-and-sister driving home during a break from school. Heading down a desolate stretch of highway, they encounter a menacing, beat-up truck that nearly runs them off the road before it screeches off toward its destination. Shaken but not stirred, the two see the truck later on, parked next to an abandoned church, its driver stuffing something wrapped in white sheets down a drain pipe.
Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry (Justin Long) can't keep their eyes off the mystery man's strange actions, and after the guy notices the kids watching his every move, he chases them until he finally does run them off the road. Unfortunately, curiosity gets the best of Darry. He and his sister end up going back to the church to find out if the man was actually sliding dead bodies down the pipe -- or something equally sinister.
What happens happens next? You guessed it, Trish and Darry come upon a dungeon-like basement literally packed with corpses, many with severed body parts sewn back on. They flee to contact the police and end up running from a relentless force of evil that won't stop until it gets what it wants: them.
Non-horror fans have no idea how refreshing Jeepers Creepers really is. Victor Salva's (Powder) newest creation harkens back to the olden days of horror filmmaking, a time when Halloween was being hailed as a modern classic, a time before teen slashers eradicated every last shred of respect for the genre. For 45 minutes, Salva builds up an incredible amount of suspense, developing the characters just as much as they need to be before launching them head-first into a horrific situation. Jeepers Creepers does for '80s-era monster movies the same thing The Sixth Sense and The Others did for the supernatural: cretiting its characters and the audience for having some intelligence.
Because he keeps the mystery of who or what the cloaked man is a secret (with views of the creature shot from a distance), Salva maintains a grimly suspenseful mood for his first act. The key to this film's fear factor is that Salva remembers what true horror really is: being pursued by an evil, unknown force that will never rest and never stop until it gets you. Because he hides in the shadows and does his dirty work swiftly and efficiently, the Creeper is a terrific horror villain, formidable against such classic killers as Freddy, Jason, or Michael.
Although it's an unwritten rule that actors in horror films need not deliver Oscar-caliber performances, Long and Philips create a convincing pair, starting off the film with amusing, brother-sister banter that soon turns into screams and a Scream-reminiscent self-awareness (thankfully, Salva spares moviegoers from a script packed with corny in-jokes).
Too bad Salva hits a couple of snags with the film's supporting characters and its climax. In the second act, Jeepers Creepers nearly comes to a screeching halt. Contributing to this lull is Patricia Belcher's character, a psychic who appears out of nowhere to explain the Creeper's motives and to provide a connection between the monster and a 1930's song of the same name. Belcher slows down the story with an irritating speech pattern consisting of screeches and bad renditions of "Jeepers Creepers" (the song). Also hitching a ride is Eileen Brennan, a veteran actress who wastes her talents in a grisly cameo as an old woman with a house full of cats; in other words, she has "VICTIM" stamped on her forehead from the minute she shows up.
The film's unsatisfactory climax, where the kids and a handful of cops battle the Creeper in a police station, lacks the intensity and anticipation of dread evoked in preceding sequences, and Salva's meager $10 million-budget shows in the Creeper's design. Although the filmmaker does such a terrific job concealing the Creeper's identity for the film's first act (by blocking a clear view of his face with shadows, tinted car windows, and distant camera shots), it's a big disappointment when the light shines on the mysterious Creeper, only to find that he resembles Freddy Krueger with skin problems (even more laughable is his urban-legend origins).
Despite these shortcomings, Jeepers Creepers lives up to its advanced buzz. Salva pulls no punches in giving viewers a taste of everything: a vintage atmosphere, a dark sense of humor, an incredibly evil bad guy, plenty of "boo" scares, and a creepy final shot that gives hope to fans who have lost belief in a truly scary ending.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by United Artists and rated "R" for terror violence/gore, language and brief nudity.)
Complete review posted at www.ajhakari.com.