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JEEPERS CREEPERS (2001)
aka HERE COMES THE BOOGEYMAN
Directed by Victor Salva
Written by Victor Salva
Starring Gina Philips, Justin Long, Patricia Belcher, Brandon Smith, Eileen Brennan, Peggy Sheffield, Jeffrey William Evans, Patrick Cherry, Jon Beshara, Avis-Marie Barnes, & Jonathan Breck as the Creeper!
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Victor Salva’s greatest claim to fame, JEEPERS CREEPERS is getting the collector’s edition treatment this week along with its sequel (which I’ll be covering in a future column). There are those who will immediately head to the talkbacks ready to start calling for his head for the crimes the man was convicted while making the film CLOWNHOUSE, but while I find the crime disgusting, I can separate the man from his work and he has paid his debt to society for his crimes. Say what you will about the director, but he did write and direct a pretty iconic and downright scary movie in JEEPERS CREEPERS.
The film opens with a brother and sister (Justin Long as Darry and Gina Phillips as Trish) driving across the country and home from college. After a brief session of getting to know the characters as they try to spell out phrases from license plates, they are practically run off the road by a rickety truck. After the truck passes them, they witness the driver of the truck disposing of what looks to be bodies down a metal chute beside a rundown church. Giving into curiosity and a sense of responsibility to see what exactly going on, Darry and Trish investigate the chute only to find seems to be a mass dumping ground for dead bodies. Taking off in their car, the driver pursues them relentlessly and turns out to be some kind of demon/curse/serial killer once his form is fully revealed.
To Salva’s credit, I really do struggle to find a more original and iconic movie monster created in the oughts than the Creeper (played by Jonathan Breck). From it’s distinctive look with extended frilled lizard flaps on his face to his bat-like wings hidden under his trench coat, to his bone-like weaponry, the Creeper looks wholly iconic and really does make an impression every time he appears on screen. And while he doesn’t really have any lines, the Creeper does actually show a sort of gruff personality and a morbid sense of humor in the way he disposes and collects his victims. There’s a lot of mythos about the monster that Salva adds in the sequel, but the peppering of this origin show up in the original showing that Salva actually had some kind of grand plan about this character more than just some kind of effects experiment. There’s a history of the creature. He’s some kind of artist using body parts to decorate his lair. He is smart and covers his tracks when the cops are alerted and is able to drive a car, unlike most movie monsters that seem to usually be brainless creatures acting on animal instinct. Because of the way this monster is so well thought out, it really does add a layer of effectiveness and it’s no wonder this film caught on and warranted a sequel (and a soon to be second one).
On top of having a monster that really is rather scary, Salva does a lot of things right in terms of building tension here that shows the man really has talent. Right off the bat, when the Creeper first appears, there is a two shot of Darry and Trish from the POV from the hood of the car. As the conversation goes on, a car slowly approaches in the background and as a viewer, I didn’t notice it at first. But as the car gets closer and comes into focus, the tension comes from the realization that this is a quickly-advancing car and the kids are oblivious to it until its too late. This is spectacular tension and it not only shows up here, but later in the film numerous times as something is going on in the periphery or in the background and the fear comes from the fact that the audience is privy to it before the characters in the movie.
The acting in JEEPERS CREEPERS is pretty awesome as well. Justin Long is kind of a hidden treasure of an actor if you see his credits and have seen his performances (specifically in TUSK and a personal favorite of mine, THE SASQUATCH GANG, as well as his appearances on PORTLANDIA). Here, Long’s role of Darry is interesting in that he very much is playing the stereotypical “girl in peril” role here. It is the dichotomy of Trish being his older sister (a protective role) and actress Gina Phillips playing her part with a gruffness not often seen in these types of films that makes Darry really feel like the one in hysterical peril all the way through the film with Trish being the tough voice of reason and stability.
I understand why folks might be tough on Salva, and even with this film, it does seem to lift a lot from Stephen Spielberg’s DUEL. In the director’s commentary Salva admits that he is a huge fan of the Speilberg film as well as Hitchcock (his background threat sequences are set up similar to the plane sequence in NORTH BY NORTHWEST), but he doesn’t explain why the opening sequence is so similar to an episode of UNSOLVED MYSTERIES which aired long before JEEPERS CREEPERS was made. If you click the link and watch that clip, everything from the license plate game to the car chase sequence was directly lifted. Yet, to play devil’s advocate, Salva does divert from this story and go into more original territory after this aped opening sequence. The rest of the story is quite compelling and it ends with a particular amount of balls that gives this film much more bite than one would expect from a mainstream horror film.
This Special Collector’s BluRay comes with a new commentary by Salva, Justin Long, and Gina Phillips, a separate commentary with just Salva, a new making of featurette entitled “Jeepers Creepers: Then and Now,” an new interview with the producer Barry Opper, a new interview with actress Patricia Belcher, an older making of documentary, a few deleted and extended scenes, photos, trailers, and radio spots. That’s pretty much everything you’ll ever want and more from JEEPERS CREEPERS but were afraid to ask for all in one pretty little package.