Before we get started, you should probably know something about writer/director Victor Salva. While working on the film Clownhouse, Salva sexually molested the 12 year-old male lead and did a year in state prison for it. Keep that in mind as you watch Jeepers Creepers, a horror movie about a monster obsessed with smelling and fondling teenage boys.
Yeah, yeah, I know. “But Mark, he did his time; can’t you let him move on with his life?” I’d love to. But when the movie centers on an unstoppable child-molesting monster that ultimately wins in the end, I just have my doubts the prison rehabilitation really sunk in for Salva.
Siblings Trish (Gina Phillips) and Darry (Justin Long) are on a typical drive through the remote countryside when BAM! A lunatic in a humongous, rusty truck starts psychotically harassing them. A local psychic (Patricia Belcher) reveals to the youths that the fiend that’s stalking them is a bizarre creature called the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) that comes out of hibernation every 23 years to replace its own body parts with fresh ones. The Creeper cannot be stopped or killed and nothing can prevent it from taking its prey. In this case, it desperately wants a certain irresistible body part belonging to young Darry. The only advice the psychic can give them is this: When the olde timey song “Jeepers Creepers” starts playing, shit’s about to go down.
The Creeper is like Salva’s own self-insertion character; if this were a fanfic, he’d be a “Mary Sue”. Though the context behind Jeepers Creepers makes the film gross and unsettling in all the wrong ways, how does it stack up when separated from the writer/director’s checkered history?
Jeepers Creepers is mostly push and pull between fresh ideas and recycled ideas. The Creeper, ignoring the fact that he was spawned from the diseased imagination of a convicted pedophile, actually has an interesting mythology built up behind him that could facilitate any number of prequels written for a period setting. The absolute invulnerability of the monster and its less-than-subtle methods makes it more of a Terminator and less of a typical “lurking in the shadows” type of slasher, which adds a frightening layer to the villain, as there’s no strength in numbers or safety in densely populated places. If it wants you, you’re fucked.
Unfortunately, much of this back story comes from the worst character in the movie: Jezelle the psychic, who acts as a god awful exposition machine if there ever was one. The connection to the 1938 song you probably thought Looney Tunes made up, “Jeepers Creepers”, is tenuous at best and seems to have been included solely to justify the silly title.
The worst moment comes when they play some updated pop version of the song probably covered by some contemporary 2001 artist that I don’t remember and don’t care to fast forward through the credits to look up. Don’t get me wrong, olde timey music can be very creepy if properly utilized in horror movies (see the cellar scene in The Evil Dead), but this is just stupid.
I thought that the Creeper had an excellent design to him, though; a tattered hat and jacket hiding something truly inhuman and monstrous, which leaks through on close-ups of his face or claws or when he spreads his wings. And if you can ignore that it seems to be Salva’s triumphant battlecry empowering child molesters everywhere, the joyless ending was a nice change of pace for modern horror movies and a refreshing alternative to the stale “happy ending” (Jeepers Creepers 2 suffered from having a happy ending and also from being Jeepers Creepers 2).
Jeepers Creepers begins as a very bad knock-off of Duel; and if you thought Joy Ride was the worst Duel knock-off out there then you haven’t seen anything yet. Of course, this really only matters if you’ve seen Duel before and are familiar with the whole “giant evil truck harasses motorists along a lonely stretch of highway” shtick. If you haven’t, then I suppose “it’s new to you” so it won’t bug you. The bit where the siblings drive past the Creeper’s lair and briefly glimpse him disposing of bodies before sharing an “oh shit” moment was actually really spooky, so credit where credit’s due.
I guess if my review has said anything, it’s that sometimes it is really, really hard to separate a film from the controversy behind its creator. But again, this would be easier if the creator wasn’t a convicted pedophile and the film didn’t star a monster that smells, fondles and “collects” teenage boys. Because every time the villain starts stroking and sniffing the young male protagonist, all it serves to do is remind the audience that Victor Salva is the real “creeper”.