Jeepers Creepers (United Artists, 2001)

"Jeepers, Creepers, where’d you get those peepers?" -- Louis Armstrong

Siblings Trish and Derry are heading home for Spring Break, taking the back roads so Trish can get over a broken relationship before she breaks it to her parents. In the middle of nowhere they are frightened by an aggressive driver in a large rusty truck who nearly runs them off the road several times before passing them. They later see the driver of that truck dumping large objects wrapped in bloody sheets down what seems to be a sewer pipe. They investigate further and realize that they have met The Creeper, a boogeyman who comes out to feed for 23 days once every 23 years. This creature chooses victims that have "something it wants," and it soon becomes apparent that one of the siblings has caught The Creeper’s attention. Welcome to Jeepers Creepers, another entry in the relentless stalker genre.

The moment you find out that this creature searches for particular people and specific body parts, you know what it wants from one of the siblings. But don’t worry, I haven’t let the cat out of the bag; the fact that they use Louis Armstrong’s wonderfully catchy tune as the title of this movie lets you know that you are supposed to be in on this bit of information. In fact, you hear the song several times during the movie, giving you plenty of warning as to what may be coming down the road for Trish or Derry. But which sibling will be chosen? How will they both react to the impending doom? And will The Creeper succeed in his grim task? Those are the real questions.

The opening scene of this movie is a pastiche of various urban legends. Trish and Derry discuss a prom night tragedy that neither one can really pin down with any accuracy. The Creeper’s car, with its "BEATINGU" licence plate and blacked-out windows, is a composite of several "devil car" and "killer on the road" stories. The movie provides a possible outcome for those stories, and in doing so creates its own legend.

Controversial filmmaker Victor Salva acts as writer and director for this film, and proves himself a capable storyteller. This film grabs your attention in the first few minutes and doesn’t let it go. It is a fast-paced 90 minutes with few unessential bits. As I watched the ending credits roll, I wished it had been a little longer; the bits of exposition as well as the glimpses of The Creeper’s lair hint at a larger mythology that I would like to have learned more about. As it stands, it’s a well-paced thrill ride that goes by so quickly you don’t have time to think about wanting more until you realize it’s over. Oh well, I guess it just leaves room for the sequel, Jeepers Creepers 2.

Actors Gina Phillips and Justin Long portray siblings Patricia and Darius Jenner. Not only do they look like they are related in real life, they gleefully bounce insults off each other like true brother and sister. Their interaction feels so real that I found myself thinking about the character study this movie could have been had the director chosen to take those characters in that direction. The sibling bond is the lynchpin of this movie, and they seem to have a real connection. If Trish and Derry don’t care about each other, if they aren’t truly connected, there is no poignancy to the film, and all you have is a pair of teenagers playing demon roulette. Luckily their bond makes you care about what happens to them, which makes for a compelling tale.

Patricia Belcher plays Jezelle Hartman, a psychic that tries to aid the siblings. Eileen Brennan plays The Cat Lady, a woman whom the siblings turn to for help. These two character actors give life to their parts, giving depth to what could have been hammy, stereotypic roles.

Jeepers Creepers is a movie with a small cast, and that intimacy gives it the feel of a modern day fairy tale. The siblings move from place to place, finding no welcome anywhere. When they ask for help, they are ignored. They are given strange information by the town "witch" that gives them no comfort. And when help does come, the siblings still find that they only have each other to turn to.

As moviedom’s newest creature, The Creeper doesn’t seem to be truly evil so much as a neutral force of nature. He requires body parts to regenerate himself, so he takes what he needs, building a shrine to those he has taken from as a sort of twisted homage. Time will tell if The Creeper will be as popular as other movie boogeymen, or if the story of The Creeper will begin to change and disappoint as the sequels roll in.

Continuity is sacrificed for a brief moment when Derry finds The Creeper’s House of Pain (an apparent homage to H.G. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau). Attached to the ceiling are various bodies, all in a soft focus. Suddenly the camera picks out one body, zooms in on its head and shoulders and pauses for several seconds as the music gets a bit more ominous. I thought to myself, "Why are they focusing on that particular body? Oh, it must be the director." It was. That bit of ego stroking was a needless act of showmanship that pulled me away from the story. The talent of the actors and the skill of the director pulled me right back in again, but it was a disappointment to see such an obvious play for attention in an otherwise well crafted film.


[Denise Dutton]