by Del Harvey
Two teenagers driving home from college encounter something horrific in the basement of a church. Before too long something hellish is trying to kill them.
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I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film. I was surprised in many ways, and gladly so. I’d heard some pretty bad things about the film from several of my colleagues whose judgement I usually agree with. Somehow we part company where this one film is concerned.
Director/writer Victor Salva (Powder, Clownhouse) has crafted a very nice homage to the horror films he loves and watched on Bob Wilkins’ Creature Features television program broadcast in Northern California. Some of the worst and most low budget horror films were trotted out on Saturday nights to give us pre-teens, teens, and post-teens (adults) either a good laugh or a good jolt. Both of which you will find in Jeepers Creepers.
Two college teens, a brother and sister (nice choice in pairing, for a change), are first terrorized by some unseen whacko in a grotesque looking old truck that resembles part Ice Cream truck from Hell/part ambulance that had been left to sit in a river. Next they see the truck parked off the road, its driver removing body-shaped parcels from the rear and dropping them into a large metal drainpipe. Well, you know that just have to go look inside that drainpipe, or this film would end right here. It’s what happens next that made this film more fun and exciting for me than many recent horror films.
I had heard that the film was just a dismal collection of cliches. I could not argue with the fact that there were a large number of cliched images and easily recognizable images and plot devices. But what film or book or television show isn’t riddled with cliches, recognizable plot devices or familiar images? And it’s all in how the director utilizes these cliches which makes the difference. Besides, we’re not talking Shakespeare here. We’re not even talking Bukowski. Just a good, old-fashioned horror film. The kind that I used to watch on Bob Wilkins’ Creature Features on a Saturday night in Northern California.
The two teen siblings, Trish (Gina Phillips—Living Out Loud) and Darry (Justin Long—the Brandon character in Galaxy Quest), are very good for virtual unknowns. Jonathan Breck is a good “creeper,” as he’s called in the film. About the only recognizable actor in the entire film is Eileen Brennan (FM, Private Benjamin, Clue) in a cameo as an old woman who owns a helluva lot of cats and one big ass shotgun.
Writer/director Salva has crafted a fun and frightening homage to all those bad horror flicks of the 60s and 70s, and he’s managed to create a horror film that is, in my opinion, much better than so many of today’s weak-kneed flicks. For one thing, many of today’s popular films lack any real surprises and often telegraph their “jolts” so far in advance that most pre-teens can tell you when they’re coming and what they’ll be. It really is pathetic. I believe that what really annoys many people who have seen this film is the thought that many things are never explained. But that is the beauty to this film.
I mean, do we really believe that vampires exist? Do we really believe that tainted blood or the bite from some supernatural creature will turn us into walking zombies thirsting for blood? No. And why do we go to see horror films? To suspend our disbelief if only for a short while. It’s all in the name of a few chills and some fun. So don’t be so serious and go see Jeepers Creepers. If you’re in the right frame of mind, you’ll have a great time.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and lives in Chicago. He is a survivor of Lucasfilm, the Walt Disney Company, and the Directors Guild of America.
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