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Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Director: Victor Salva
review by Tony Lee
This highly praised teen-horror from Victor Salva (director of underrated Powder, 1995), starts out as a road movie, and then turns into psycho-chiller, before revealing its bizarre creature and entering the subgenre of monster movies.
Trish and Darry (excellent performances from leads Gina Philips and Justin Long) are a casually bickering sister and brother, driving home from college on term break when they are caught up in a noisy road rage incident against a manically driven, rusty old lorry. Shortly after, the youngsters spot the very same truck parked next to a disused church, and witness to the driver's suspicious behaviour, dumping bodies into a cellar. When the kids decide to go back and investigate, Darry makes a shocking discovery...
The opening scene is admittedly inspired by Spielberg's Duel (1971), and is only the first in a handful of borrowings cleverly woven into a fairly unpredictable storyline. Much to his credit, respected director Salva is mindful of what he takes from other films, and how he uses it, so this and similarly notable references are likely to win viewers' appreciation, not our scorn - as genre homage, not random theft. Basically, this film is a variation on modern vampire horrors, with a weird monster - the Creeper, plenty of headlong action sequences in the wake of a suspenseful first half, and a purposely cheerless ending. The choice of an emotionally tragic finale, instead of the typically spectacular but happy closure we may have been expecting, is commendably brave, and it pays off handsomely with some great psychologically wrenching moments that are more believable than any safer option.
However, what makes Jeepers Creepers so worthwhile is Salva's expert balancing of gallows humour and traditional horror movie conventions. There's a grisly 'house of pain' - with fleshy décor that reminds us of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre films, and the graphic 'artistry' of Clive Barker's evil Cenobites in the Hellraiser series, but there's also some originality of design in the displays of curiously preserved bodies, and their rationale within the plot. Although there are a number of ghastly fright scenes, this film is definitely not about pointless blood and guts just for the sake of satisfying fans of gore.
Shot in central Florida, the notion of ancient evil lurking in the American heartland is powerfully evoked, and the film's use of an often-recorded song from 1938 helps to generate an appealing air of sinister fun that haunts the whole picture. Other things in the film, such as the attempted intervention by a psychic during the violent siege at a police station, and a first rate cameo by character actress Eileen Brennan in a mid-story scene ("That's not my scarecrow"), attach myth building elements to the narrative, and the attraction of the sort of quality supporting roles that are required nowadays to support a new franchise. Unsurprisingly, they are making a sequel now, for release next year.
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