Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Jeepers Creepers

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

JEEPERS CREEPERS

8/10

USA 2001
director / script : Victor Salva
producers include : Francis Ford Coppola
cinematography : Don E FauntLeRoy
editing : Ed Marx
music : Bennett Salvay
lead actors : Gina Phillips, Justin Long, Patricia Belcher, Eileen Brennan
90 minutes (approx)

They say music should be fun
Like reading a story
Of love –
But I wanna read
A horror story!
The Fall, Dice Man

A few months ago somebody asked me why I watched so many movies. My instinctive reply was to say it meant I could see through somebody elses eyes for an hour or two. A solid enough response, but I could also have said that, while much rubbish must be endured, every now and again you stumble across an unexpected delight. To use a gambling metaphor, its like a longshot winner that easily pays for all the losers.

Jeepers Creepers fits both reasons equally well, but it wouldn’t be fair to go into exactly why. The less you know in advance, the better. Its a short, silly-titled horror movie with no stars, and thus may be dismissed as just another videorack-bound teen fright-pic. But what an indictment of the current cinema scene if the best American horror film of at least the last ten years didn’t get the credit, and the box-office dollars, it deserved. Jeepers Creepers isn’t a masterpiece its a B movie, with modest aspirations, to scare and entertain. But there are few things more enjoyable than a really fine B movie: ferociously economic, ingenious, and refreshingly bullshit-free.

Salvas startlingly confidence is evident from the low-key opening, with Trish (Phillips) and brother Darius (Long) driving home from college along scenic rural routes. Exposition is disrupted when the pair are threatened by an aggressively-driven old truck with blacked-out windows, license plate BEATNGU. Soon after, they spot the truck outside an off-road building, and the driver dropping what looks corpses down a large pipe sticking out of the ground. Curiosity gets the better of Darius, who turns back to investigate

Jeepers Creepers may lose some viewers at this point, as the kids decision does stretch plausibility its even harder to understand Darius determination to actually climb down the pipe. But most will be sufficiently gripped not to mind, and Salva rapidly ratchets up the tension. He never stops. Jeepers Creepers unfolds in accordance with classical dramatic unities of time and place it virtually unfolds in real time. This gives the film the taut relentlessness of nightmare, as Trish and Darius are pursued by a seemingly unstoppable menace. We follow them very closely, seeing more and more of what they’re up against, at exactly the same rate as they do themselves. And their foe turns out to be nothing like they or we could ever suspect.

While the opening road-games and isolated-farmhouse stuff recalls Texas Chainsaw Massacre, later sections veer into John Carpenter territory, specifically Assault On Precinct 13, when Darius and Trish realise that the local police station isn’t much of a safe haven, and even The Thing. Jeepers Creepers does have the genres now-inevitable nods to post-modernism and urban myth, but these are very lightly done and without any hint of zaniness or camp. There is humour, but the basic mood is deadly serious: this is a throwback to much older tales of terror.

Its already been noted how aspects of Jeepers Creepers recall the best early-70s TV movies (specifically Gargoyles), and The Twilight Zones in there as well. But there are even older models horror comics of the 40s and 50s, movies like Night of the Demon and Carnival of Souls, and the rural-nightmare excesses of Herschell Gordon Lewis. But more than anything, Jeepers Creepers is closest in tone to literary antecedents the macabre, darkly witty tales of Saki (HH Munro), MR James (Night of the Demon inspiration) and Ambrose Bierce.

These turn-of-the-century writers would probably call the story The 23rd Day of the 23rd Spring – part of the folkloric explanation of the movies events provided to Darius and Trish by the local psychic (Belcher). Not that we should take everything the psychic says as gospel her visions don’t turn out to be entirely infallible. Her back story is convincing enough, as far as it goes, but thankfully Salva resists the urge to cross every T and dot every I. While there are loose ends and plot holes, these only become apparent in retrospect, and looking back one actually ends up appreciating the picture more and more. You wait in vain for Salva to put a foot wrong, and it never happens: hopefully hell show equally good judgement by resisting the temptation to fill in any gaps in a sequel. Jeepers Creepers is fine as it is it ends at exactly the right time, with exactly the right shot: a marvellous, shocking, funny image that provides the perfect payoff.

20th June, 2001
(original teaser review posted June 11th, 2001 : click here to read it!)
Alternatively check out our exclusive interview with director Victor Salva

now check these out
1 Ring Atmospheric chiller Japanese style

2 The Hole Thora Birch in nicely creepy British horror

3 Ginger Snaps   – Canadian teenage werewolves!

by Neil Young