I quite liked Jeepers Creepers. It's a third-tier 2001 horror film most likely to surface these days in a Blockbuster's bargain bin, but it's surprisingly well made and had a good grip on its reality and tension. Its only problem is that Victor Salva comes across as a better director than a writer, with the film's story being perfectly serviceable but no more than that. I'd have liked to see a more powerful ending. Nevertheless his previous film, Rites of Passage (1999), had won him the Grand Prize at the Santa Monica Film Festival. He's not just another hack, you know.
There's a reason Salva's not better known, though. He's a convicted kiddy-fiddler, which is what kept him out of the limelight in the late 1990s.
With this film, I wasn't as impressed as I was with the original, but the results are still sufficiently solid that we'll be getting another sequel later this year. On the downside, it has another flat ending and the characters are even thinner than last time. Oh, the character work isn't bad. It's just that there's not enough of it and that none of the basketball team really make a difference to the story, being important mostly in the order that they die. We also know all about the Creeper, which restricts the games Salva can play with his monster, but that doesn't mean he's without recourse.
The most memorable thing about this film is its monster. Salva has a great beastie here in the inappropriately named Creeper. It leaps! It flies! It does absurd biological things that make you wonder if it's really a spider-like alien spine parasite or something. It's also ridiculously strong, which might not seem surprising in a horror movie monster until you realise that this is also true when it's flying. How strong are those wings? You'd think all those sudden accelerations would have ripped them out of their sockets. Besides, it must be hard enough for a gorilla-sized monster to lift itself off the ground in the first place, but the mind boggles when it starts pulling around pick-up trucks like the shark in Jaws. Nevertheless the thing is a definite star, with lots of personality. There's a great scene which Salva nearly cut out of the film, in which the Creeper leers into the bus at its potential victims and kind of flirts with them.
In other words, the monster's a pervert, which has to be regarded as subtext since the film's so screamingly gay. Yes, Salva is openly homosexual. The main characters are a school champion basketball team and they seem to love taking their shirts off. We meet them when they're celebrating their most recent win with what looks like a gay bonding session. There's a scene where a few of them gather together to urinate and pass comment on each other's sexuality. It thus becomes significant when the Creeper marks his victims by winking and doing what the boys describe as to "give tongue action". This is merely following up on similar material in the first film, by the way.
It might seem uncomfortable to be putting together homosexuality and paedophilia, but that's what we have in the person of Victor Salva and that's what he's put in his film. It gives it more of a kick, that's for sure.
Admittedly there are a few women. The bus driver is female and there are three cheerleaders, who manage to make less difference to the film than even the boys. One of them has a psychic link, though it's never explained.
The first twenty minutes are particularly interesting because it's not dark yet. We're in Cornfield Country, the land of the hick, and the cinematography is almost drowning in gold. It's luscious to look at and a nice example of sunlit horror. No, make that sun-baked horror. Furthermore the rednecks are convincingly rednecky as they do chores on their farm. They're putting up scarecrows, fixing cars and finding that the farm machinery doesn't work. Admittedly realism is about to take a knock with the arrival of a supernatural flying gorilla, but I still thought it was pretty good. It's also worth mentioning a bit of subtlety in the characterisation of the principal lout. When we first see him, he's being all grumpy because he's selfishly thinking about himself instead of being happy for the success of the team. He's not a team player, in other words. This crops up again later when he proves just as much of a dick when there's more at stake. However he's also the kind of person who'll suggest leaving the safety of the bus and walking off to a farm instead, since the monster's only eaten three people so far and it must have gone away because they haven't seen it outside for an hour.
For such a simplistic story, there are a lot of unanswered questions. Why did the knife fly off by itself? Where did that cheerleader's psychic link come from? What is the Creeper... supernatural, extraterrestrial or what? Why does it wake up to feed every 23 years for 23 days? (Real answer: Victor Salva wrote it into the first film to try to kill any chance of a sequel.) At the end, why don't they burn it? Why is Ahab Redneck such a good shot with his improvised weapon? Is the entire film going to be set on this school bus? (No, wait. They do answer that one.)
I liked this film, but it gets a little silly later on and you're only interested in our heroes by default. They're perfectly good as far as they go, but have you'd have forgotten about them in an instant had any real characters turned up. That's why the ending's underwhelming, although in fairness we do see our heroes try one stunt that would have been suicidally dumb had it not been for the flying gorilla. I also laughed at the javelin in the head. This film can't match its predecessor for tension, but it's far better than it deserved. If only the script could have matched the direction, we could have had something really good here.