Every horror fan who aspires to be a writer/director should see Jeepers
Creepers. After you see it, you too will believe that it's possible for
you to be the creative force behind the number one movie in America ($15 million
opening weekend). Yes, you, 15-year old, filming dimly lit scenes in your basement
with your parents' camcorder. Yes, you, sophomore president of your college's
film club. Yes, you, frustrated procrastinating writer who dreams of quitting
your soul-sucking day job and dusting off those half-finished scripts and notebooks
of story ideas.
Here's the deal: You've got a few creepy ideas and a couple original nasty
images rattling around in your head, right? String those together, and fill
in the gaps with a few things you've picked up from a lifetime of soaking up
Lovecraft, King, Barker, and Poe. Write some dialog, seven-eighths of which
is truly clever, and one-eighth which is just you thinking that you're clever.
Keep your scope limited, your plot simple. Make sure that any creatures, effects,
and gore that you come up with can be created by a few talented artists and
a couple of buckets of liquid latex and goo. Your CGI budget is limited to maybe
one or two fleeting shots. Now just find some well-heeled filmmaker (like Francis
Ford Coppola) to throw a few mil in change your way.
A certain percentage of moviegoers come out the theater saying, "I could
make a movie better than that." This time, though, it's true. You could
probably make a movie better than Jeepers Creepers. Not that Jeepers
Creepers is an awful movie. It's actually a straightforward and mildly entertaining
(but mediocre) movie made by a couple of reasonably (but not tremendously) talented
people with a limited budget. Script-wise, though, its nothing you and your
best friend couldn't come up with over a few long pizza-and-Pepsi-fueled nights
hunched over a crumb-strewn keyboard:
A sister (Trish) and brother (Darryl) are driving home from college down a
long stretch of country road where towns and gas stations only come along every
30 or 40 miles. They see a mysterious figure in a trench and a large flat-brimmed
hat dumping something that looks like a body down a sewer pipe. They investigate,
and pretty soon they have some creepy-looking guy stalking them.
What follows is basically an X-Files "monster" episode, stretched
out to 90 minutes. The mysterious figure is supernatural, and "every 23
years, for 23 days, it gets to eat," or some such.
Along the way, we get the usual horror laundry list: rats, crows, an old lady
with too many cats. I'm a great fan of such staples, as long as they're used
in an effective and original way, but in Jeepers Creepers, they're just
kind of thrown up on the screen. Oooh, there are lots of crows perched around
the old abandoned church. Spooooky. And so much of the feel of the movie seems
like an inferior third generation clone of Stephen King's stuff. The lady with
the cats, the ancient evil that eats in cycles, the down-home psychic who tries
to help out the protagonists. Yes, I know, King didn't actually invent this
stuff either, but he's always able to get at the heart of what makes those old
nightmares eternally disturbing. Most of the details in Jeepers Creepers
are not so effectively rendered.
The monster drives a massive brown truck with a license plate that reads "BEATNGU",
and the truck's early appearances in the film are nicely menacing, but even
this bit of creepiness is a kind of cast-off creepiness that comes from associated
memories of films like Duel, Christine, and Maximum Overdrive.
(One could also ask how a scaly-faced demon goes about registering for vanity
plates, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.)
In spite of the generic nature of much of the horror, the movie entertains
pretty well for the first hour. There are basically only two main characters,
Trish and Darryl, and their love-hate sibling dynamic is a lot more interesting
to watch than the usual "cast of Beverly Hills 90210 gets killed
off one at a time" stuff that's been popular since the Friday the Thirteenth
movies. Their dialog is clever and real (for the most part). Unfortunately,
once writer/director Victor Salva throws the southern-fried Miss Cleo psychic
into the mix, all verisimilitude goes out the window in favor of clumsy exposition
and pointless last-minute foreshadowing.
The film's wicked gallows humor somewhat makes up for its lack of genuine
thrills. There are some creepy/funny lines ("That's not my scarecrow"
was one of my favorites), and some understated visual humor. The "Creeper"
has a self-possessed, taunting presence, at least until he hangs up his hat
and coat to become "typical fear-sniffing organ-ingesting guy-in-a-bulky-rubber-suit
Probably the best part in the movie is when Trish and Darryl hit the Creeper
with their car. Darryl asks, "Is it dead?" Trish responds, "They
never are." Then she puts her car in reverse, and backs over the body,
changes gears, runs him over again, then puts it back in reverse and speedbumps
him a fourth time, thereby preempting the obligatory guy in the third row (there's
one in every horror flick screening) who thinks he's being terribly clever by
yelling, "He's not yet, you idiots!"
All this keeps the movie rolling along nicely
until (SPOILERS) Trish
and Darryl end up at the police station, at which point there is a "you're
not even safe at the police station" massacre (think Linda Hamilton in
Terminator, but without any actual suspense), and a climax so (yawn)
heart-pounding and significant that you won't even realize it was the climax
until 15 seconds before the credits roll.
In conclusion, kiddies, if Victor Salva can make a movie that opens nationwide,
and makes $15 million, you can too. So what are ya waitin' for?