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JEEPERS CREEPERS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck, Eileen Brennan
Director:  Victor Salva
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  90 Minutes
Release Date:  January 8, 2002

“Are they ever wrong?”

“You don't understand…”

“Are your dreams ever wrong?”

“I told you…you don't understand…”

Film ***

Horror as a genre never goes away; it merely lies dormant for periods of time.  Every decade, it seems, has at least one picture that awakens the art form, before putting it to sleep again by countless imitations and repetitive formulas.  Think:  Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream…you get the idea.

Jeepers Creepers might have been just the film to revitalize horror for the first decade of the new millennium.  I think it fell just a little short, but it came damn close.  It's a picture with enough freshness mixed with comfortable stand-bys, a terrific pair of young actors, a memorable villain, and an extraordinary sense of style that mixes the best of low budget and pop horror for an effectively creepy and entertaining film.

Writer/director Victor Salva created a movie with some surprises and genuine scares, with occasional flashes of Hitchcockian suspense.  It's clear he's a lover of movies, and the enthusiasm he brings to the project is apparent and appealing.

On a long stretch of empty country road, two sibling college students Trisha (Philips) and Darry (Long) are on their way home from spring break.  The dialogue is real and winning in these opening moments, and both characters are instantly likable.  Which is good, because our emotional involvement goes a long way in adding to the potency of the story.

I'll tread carefully here, because the less you know going in, the better…an unpleasant encounter on the road with a vile looking truck begins a series of events that grow more and more horrific as the plot unfolds.  A long shot of a shadowy figure dropping something down a sewage pipe…is it a dead body?  Young protagonists should never question these things, much less investigate, and Trisha knows better.  “You know how in scary movies someone's always doing something stupid to make everybody hate them?” she asks her brother.  This is that part.”

What they find is chilling and unsettling…and only the beginning.  What starts out looking like a simple but well-styled slasher picture turns, in fact, into a monster story.

I love horror films, and there's much about Jeepers Creepers that I both instinctively responded to and liked.  Salva is imaginative, but he's not shy about wearing his influences on his sleeve.  If you recognize a homage or two to the likes of Duel, Night of the Living Dead…maybe even a little Clash of the Titans, enjoy them.  His script was a good jumping-off point, but even better is his camera work, which sometimes builds suspense in David Lean ways…like a speck on the horizon that grows quickly into something sinister, for example. 

Behind the words and images, however, there seemed to be missing a strong cohesive thread holding everything together.  It's not bland characters, as is often the case…as mentioned, the two young leads are first rate, and their parts are surprisingly well written for this type of film…nor is it the lack of a viable opponent.  It's one of those frustrating intangibles…maybe the villain's motivations were too neatly revealed in exposition and not convincing enough.  Maybe the picture just simply tried to blend the best of the realistic and the supernatural, and managed to end up with the implausible…you can't ground yourself too much and still expect to be believed when you reach for stars.  I never fully suspended my disbelief, and that robbed some of the picture of its effectiveness.

But the film serves its purpose…it offers a few good scares and a number of images that will linger in your brain long after.  That truck, for example, is the scariest looking vehicle I've ever seen on screen, and it's only the start of the images this picture has in store.  True horror fans will definitely like this movie.

The fair-weather horror fans, however, may pass on it, and unfortunately, those are the ones that determine whether or not a new scare flick will be the genre's next big thing or not.  So consider Jeepers Creepers a very worthwhile effort…but not a Halloween for the double-naughts.

Video ***

I mentioned the film blends elements of low and high budget horror films, and part of that seems inherent in the picture.  The anamorphic transfer (full frame also included) is good, yet the images range from the scrappy to the downright expressionistic.  Some scenes are pedestrian in terms of lighting, others are so carefully crafted as to be pure poster shots.  There is a bit of dinginess to the print in the opening shots…surprising for a new film, but overall, the images and colors are well rendered, with only a touch of softness here and there…again, seemingly replicating the look of a 16 mm lower budgeted film.  Night scenes, of which there are many, look great, and serve Salva's visual manipulations extremely well.

Audio ***

This is a selectively good 5.1 track, inasmuch as it keeps much of the audio front and center for dialogue and simpler scenes.  During bigger moments, both stages open, with good use of discreet signals and a more atmospheric, open feel to the music and effects.  The subwoofer gets plenty of work…there seems to be a lot of low, rumbling tones that don't always equate to something on screen, but keep an eerie presence to the audio throughout.

Features ****

Side one includes a commentary track from writer/director Salva…an entertaining, informative and good all-around listen.  He has an ease of speaking and a film lovers' sense of enthusiasm, so he seems to naturally always talk about what we most want to hear.  There are also talent files on this side.

The other features are on side two, which contains a lengthy and detailed documentary, “Behind the Peepers”.  It's broken up in to easily accessible chapters, and features everything from cast and crew interviews to creature design, from choice of cars to effects shots and more.  There are also 10 deleted or extended scenes, including a longer opening and a different (and not as effective) ending.  There is also a photo gallery.  A very nice and well-rounded package!

Summary:

Jeepers Creepers…call this one a sleeper.  It's a stylish and mostly effective horror film with some good scares, suspenseful moments, and memorable images, with a good script, good cast, and good sense of direction.  It may have lacked just enough to keep it from being the next big mainstream horror hit, but it's fair to say that it should join the ranks of cult favorites amongst true fans, and find eternal life on home video.