**½/**** Image B- Sound A- Extras A-
starring Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck, Patricia Belcher
written and directed by Victor Salva
by Walter Chaw Set on the rural highways and dirt byways of Anywhere, America during a long, hot summer, Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers is a film of two distinct halves--the first astonishingly good, the second derivative--drawn together by a finale that is both fair and surprising. It could have been much better overall had it isolated its sympathetic heroes in the middle of a Texas Chain Saw Massacre nightmare, and indeed, the parts of it that work best are those that most recall Tobe Hooper's rustic nightmare. (Particularly the suddenness of the initial attack and the subsequent discovery of the beast's abattoir lair.) Once policemen and bumpkins are introduced in a series of repetitive "I don't believe your story--hey, why did the lights go out" scenarios, however, Jeepers Creepers, while retaining Salva's indisputably cinematic eye, becomes something a good deal more predictable and consequently safer. The creation of a comfort-zone halfway through is a terrible shame, not because it's horrible in and of itself, but because for almost an hour Jeepers Creepers holds great promise.
Trish (Gina Phillips) and Darry (Justin Long) are college-age siblings taking the scenic route home. Their relationship is based on the kind of acerbic bickering born of a childhood of rules (during a scatological insult contest, for example, repeating a theme constitutes a loss), and their bored and irritable nattering feels natural and comfortable. When an unexpected revelation about one of Trish's secret hurts surfaces through a subtle misunderstanding, Jeepers Creepers creates a level of suture with its two characters that is as expert as any in a mainstream film thus far this year. Since we're invested in their plight and sold on their relationship, when they're run off the road suddenly by a roaring, spitting heap of a souped-up old truck, the shift in atmosphere is terrifying and appalling. I was reminded of the first appearance of a sledgehammer-wielding Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: a muscular malevolence announcing itself with unspeakable violence and then fading away like a great creature beneath the surface of a still lagoon.
When Trish and Darry later see that same truck parked by a dilapidated church and a dark figure dumping corpse-sized bundles down a nearby sewer pipe, it only stands to reason that they'll return later to check it out. Right? Jeepers Creepers' first major problem is its requirement that the audience accept these likable kids behaving as complete idiots when confronted with peril. There is also the frustrating condition that not one of the adults (except for the requisite local loony) believes the boy and girl's tale of a psycho killer despite bulletin boards bursting with "missing" posters. Yet none of this matters very much in the earlygoing, as Salva creates such a pervading atmosphere of dread that disbelief is suspended, and gladly. The impulse to explain too much about the creature midway through the film (even to the extent that it is a creature) hurts the flow of the picture with monologues and tortured explanations that add little to the texture of the monster's lore and sway. There is no explanation for the numerous references to the titular Johnny Mercer tune and too much of its slower second act churns along without fresh ideas. All the same, I suspect that the film's middle seems so soft merely for the hardness surrounding it.
Someone should probably be concerned that Powder writer-director Victor Salva, convicted in 1988 on five counts of child molestation, keeps making movies about lonesome misfits who appear to be devolving. With Jeepers Creepers, Salva should have considered that human monsters are often far creepier than men in monster suits, especially when the setting is the great serio-mythic folk abyss of the backwoods United States. It's a lesson that he, of all people, ought to feel particularly qualified to teach. Even with its unfortunate second act chattiness and nods to convention, Jeepers Creepers is the best horror film of 2001 up to this point. It's stylish and atmospheric; despite some problems with motivation, its main character duo is sympathetic and credible. At a breezy 90 minutes, the picture flies by quickly. And boy, is that final image worth the wait. Originally published: August 31, 2001.
by Bill Chambers Over the past few months, MGM has reinvented themselves as a leader in the deluxe-DVD field; the Jeepers Creepers Special Edition is one of their best yet--the only off element is the transfer of the film itself. Available in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and full frame flavours on the same side of the DVD-14 disc (flip the platter for the extras), the image for both is chalky (thanks to compression artifacts especially noticeable in full frame) and lacking in deep blacks and worse, detailed shadows. The colours are the best and most stable aspect of the presentation. Aces is the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundmix, with its unnerving usage of the split-surrounds and healthy amount of shock-value bass. The Creeper's horn, as vulgar as the creature who honks it, seems to blare from every speaker; it really gets under one's skin.
The only unfortunate aspect of the supplemental material is that, knowing what we know about director Victor Salva, many an offhand remark acquires an unreasonable amount of subtext. (Not unlike his entire oeuvre.) It was a while before I felt at ease with his participation, but that's my cross to bear: Salva's screen-specific commentary is nothing short of excellent. He is prepared, eloquent, gracious (if immodest), and congenial. He wonders why the goal of popular entertainment precludes unhappy endings, a rhetorical question too often unasked. I enjoyed this rap session all the way through.
In a rare show of hands-on involvement, the stout Salva also participated in the disc's 6-part documentary, to the extent that he narrates portions of it and received a "created by" credit with Tom Tarantini. Select the "Play All" option and "Behind the Peepers" runs 60 minutes total. Though the germination of the film's concept is barely discussed therein, casting, the development of The Creeper's look (courtesy of illustrator Brad Parker), and various production challenges are, at length. If you've always wondered how car-driving shots are accomplished, you'll learn here. "Behind the Peepers"' final segment, "Composed by: Bennett Salvay," offers a split-screen view of the orchestra and the sequence they're scoring--unfortunately, my review copy of the DVD fell out of synch just prior and remained so 'til the making-of's close, thus destroying the effect.
The section of ten deleted/extended scenes includes a superior alternate opening, welcome shards of character development, and an inferior alternate ending--without spoiling anything, in the original finish, we're left to imagine what would become a singularly unsettling revelation, the key to Jeepers Creepers' impact and surely its eventual cult status. An eight-minute (!) animated photo gallery of production stills set to Salvay's music plus trailers for Jeepers Creepers, Hannibal, and Special Editions for The Silence of the Lambs, The Terminator, and Carrie round out the fine, fun package. Jeepers Creepers: Special Edition is due in stores January 8, 2002 and already one of next year's better DVDs. Originally published: November 17, 2001.
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