Director: Victor Salva
Cast: Gina Phillips, Justin Long, Patricia Belcher
Plot: A brother (Long) and sister (Phillips) are travelling home for Spring Break, when they pass a mysterious stranger dumping bodies into a sewer.
Jeepers Creepers is a bit of a hidden gem and all the better for it. The best horrors are the ones subjected to remake after remake. Nightmare on Elm Street really only has one good movie to its name and the Saw franchise started off strong, but descended into monotony. It is hard to track down a decent horror, especially in the teen horror category, that hasn’t been mined to death. Jeepers Creepers seems to the exception to the rule, with only one mediocre sequel to its name (although a second sequel is allegedly trying to hit production right now), coasting safely under the radar. Therefore the central mystery hasn’t been ruined by media saturation, meaning that this scary movie still hits home as it did on its release.
Jeepers Creepers is one of those rare breeds of movie that just wants to be a Friday night thriller, but decides not to let its meagre aspirations reflect the quality of the film. Yes, this movie is little more than a horror movie about two kids fleeing a gruesome movie monster, but director Salva is determined to keep up the standards of film-making. The cinematography surprises, the movie holding some beautiful shots. Justin Long nervously creeps through the basement of the church, the camera panning across the dark landscape around him, throwing a terrible reveal into the mix. The two teenagers peer down a shadowy sewer pipe, dread and foreboding waiting for them on the other side. As well as keen direction, the writing gives the two leads something to do. Gina Phillips and Justin Long are always consistent performers in the world of acting, but often with teen horrors, the crew forget that. Why bother on a witty script when the audience just want to be scared? However, Salva understands that we are going to be a lot more invested in the thrills and scares in store later on if we bond with the central characters. Therefore, he spends time developing and exploring the two leads. There are the cheap tricks to overcome the main flaws of shoddy characterisation. For one, making his leads brother and sister, rather than a couple is a surprisingly effective decision, breaking away from the pack in the opening twenty seconds and also meaning that when the two bicker, it is easy to forgive, as it seems the norm for siblings, rather than the horror trope of the frustratingly unhelpful boyfriend/girlfriend. It also helps that the characters are decent people, getting into the terrible situation they are in, because of a willingness to help. They don’t deserve the torment they receive and it makes the thrills even more hard-hitting. We don’t want these two to die and it helps Jeepers Creepers achieve maximum suspense in the final third. It is also a nice trick that the pair of them take it in turns to be helpless. While Gina Phillips has her own share of scenes where she is too petrified to be of any use, relying on the male hero to get her through the situation, a few scenes later Justin Long’s character might break down and it will be her turn to think of their escape. The constant role shifting makes for an interesting watch and also means whichever character you bond with the most is never going to be hard done by.
Pacing wise, Jeepers Creepers also hits the right notes. It says a lot for the writing that the first twenty minutes consist of the two leads driving along a road with little scenery and it still captivates. Praise should also be given to the writers for falling back on a ‘psychic character’ popping up at the end as an excuse to tie all of the clues together, without it ever seeming like the writing team trapping themselves in a corner with the plot. This horror also understands the suspense/terror ratio better than most. No, it is not one of those movies that shows its hand far too early out of a sense of impatience or lack of faith in its writing. Yet it also isn’t one of those horrors that ends up frustratingly devoid of a good reveal or jump scare to satisy our more primal horror movie needs. Salva focuses on the slow burning dread for the first half of the movie. We only ever glimpse our villain in the distance, cloaked in a chilling scarecrow outfit and long coat, or personnified by his surprisingly menacing truck. No, it is the actions of the villain that Salva focuses on, taking us on a nail-biting journey through its home, showing us the extent of what we are dealing with. It makes the later showdown even more exciting, because we know what is waiting for the heroes if they don’t manage to get away from the thing hunting them. Even when Jeepers Creepers embraces a more traditionally action-packed approach to its horror, the reveals are done cleverly. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a new trick is pulled out of a hat. The finale is full of shocking imagery. I won’t spoil what Jeepers Creepers chooses for its ‘Creeper’ figure. That surprise was ruined for me and I have a feeling that twist would be even more shocking if you go into this film oblivious. This is another reason I am against Jeepers Creepers becoming yet another installment in an over-played franchise. Leave this movie to shine in its original glory – perhaps one of the few teen horrors done absolutely right.
Final Verdict: A gripping teen horror that neatly side-steps most of the common flaws, creating an original scary movie. That’s a harder challenge than it sounds these days.