by Jack Sommersby
It's got a doozy of a final shot; unfortunately, everything leading up to it is atrocious.Atrociously acted, written and directed, Jeepers Creepers stands as a shameful reminder that none of us are safe from a bad horror film: if it doesn't get you in the form of a direct-to-video rental, than it can just as easily blindside you in the form of a first-run theatrical release adorned with dubious advanced critical praise. While not having been led astray by all the positive blurbs from Fangoria-like publications, I'll freely admit to being swayed somewhat by best-selling author Clive Barker's ringing endorsement of it. The sad and disappointing news, however, is this: Jeepers Creepers is, quite simply, the pits.
"Elicits More in the Way of Yawns than Goosebumps."
First off, you know it's not a good sign when the first ten minutes of a horror film (which should be eliciting a sense of menace to be sustained and relied upon later) are excruciatingly banal. A brother and sister, Derry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Phillips), returning home from college for the holidays are driving down one of those sparsely traveled back roads bickering and one-upping each another in a typical nimwit manner. Instead of snappy, the dialogue is pure kitty litter, and the two teens are a pretty grating duo. Usually, they'd be the first victims to get offed, but I guess their serving as the protagonists is the filmmaker's idea of originality. Anyway, a revved-up, sinister-looking van charges up behind them and threatens to run them off the road. But the unseen loony-toon of a driver apparently loses interest, and drives on. A little while later, though, the teens spy someone dumping a wrapped-up, blood-soaked body down a huge pipe on the property of a boarded-up church. Again, the van takes off after them, but Derry drives off into a field, and, once again, the driver loses interest.
Up until now, Jeepers Creepers, while sub-par in its execution, still isn't a total loss, because we're a little intrigued to see where all this is going. But it doesn't take long for whopping implausibility to seep into the equation. Does Derry drive to the nearest town to see or call the cops? Nope. For this is Movieland, folks, where, for the most part, and in this genre in particular, characters wind up abiding by the illogical rather than the logical so their lives can continue to be put in jeopardy. Contemplating that the body they saw might not be dead, Derry elects to drive them back up to the church and check out that pipe. What?! They have no weapons, and no way of knowing when that van is going to be pulling back up. I don't ask for three-dimensional characters and Einstein-like smarts in a film such as this, but, please, we do need to have a stake in the protagonists to the point where, acting as our eyes and ears, what they're doing is even remotely plausible. I don't have to like 'em; but I do need to empathize with at least one with an acceptable IQ quotient.
Okay, even though the pipe is dark and dank, Derry has Trish lower him into it for a better luck, yet things go awry when rats appear, he panics, and she loses her grip, plummeting him to the depths below. Derry locates the dumped body -- a young man who's still alive and whose abdomen section has recently been stitched up. But he dies shortly thereafter, and Derry discovers a horde of long-dead but perfectly preserved corpses. He and Trish get the hell out of Dodge and into the nearest town, where they hole up inside a diner to call the police. Predictably, the hick cops initially resist Derry's story, and, even more predictably, the villain makes itself known, doggedly pursuing the teens and killing off any innocents who happen to get in the way.
I'd be happy to report the writer/director responsible for this, Victor Salva, managed to go down this well-worn route with style and panache and inventive staging. Not so. It's easy to see what he intended: an eerie Gothic build-up insinuating the majority of the terror, so when the physicality of violence is displayed later on it would have some organic clarity. But due to the schlocky characters and moronic plot turns, Salva has already distanced us from the goings-on up to the midway mark; from then, since we're not properly engaged, and since the story follows an even lamer route, everything plays out in too perfunctory a manner. It's not enough that the monster is unveiled too early on, but when its gruesomeness is put on full display, we're neither shocked nor jazzed-up because, for the upteenth time, here is another one of those seemingly unstoppable monstrosities that, through bullets and car run-downs and the like, cannot be killed off. Jeepers Creepers puts on the high-minded pretense that it's something special, when in fact all it winds up doing is trotting out a generic Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger that can fly and, as Trish grudgingly puts it "can leap tall buildings in a single bound". (Just once, I'd love to see one of these things done in by a single gunshot between the eyes.)
Salva, responsible for 1995's over-obvious Powder (with Jeff Goldblum) and the dandy 1997 road thriller Nature of the Beast (with Lance Henriksen), doesn't seem to have the slightest inkling of how to adequately build up and sustain suspense here. Instead of effectively tightening the noose where need be and frying our nerves, Salva has employed too flabby a film style here, having the badly shaped, sluggish scenes decrease rather than heighten the tension. Clearly, Salva has tried to envelop his audience with a doom-laden atmospheric texture of dread, which is commendable in an age where uncouth frenetic cutting induces more in the way of headaches than goose bumps, but he lacks the necessary precision and control to carry this noble quest out. The scenes go on for much too long, allowing us to practically see the chalk marks the director isn't hitting, with the editing lagging behind a crucial second or two in the scene transitions, which dissipates rather than percolates the tension. Sitting through Jeepers Creepers can be a really restless experience because you seem to have a much clearer idea than Salva of how the film should be working -- instead of gasping from terror, you're likely to be yawning from all the second-guessing going on in your head.
What really chaps my hide in regard to all the great reviews Slava received from nationwide critics is just how unfounded all of it is. I read that not only is the film's atmosphere creepy, which it most definitely isn't but that he's been able to circumvent convention by going at things in a totally original manner, which is simply ludicrous. There are two or three instances of the infamous False Scare on display here, where someone or something jumps out of a corner or appears suddenly to get a temporary rise out of the heroes (and us) for the sake of a cheap thrill. Salva employs selective reasoning to move the story along whereas the creature can apparently fly and land on a speeding police car yet can't seem to nab the heroes trying to get start up their car from a mere twenty feet away. And, hey, if this thing is so damn indestructible, where bullets have as much effect on it as Odor Eaters would on Al Bundy's feet, then why doesn't it just grab the heroes from any number of locations at any given time? (It also doesn't help that, compared to the ghastly heroes, I found myself working up more sympathy for the creature in its understandable desire to sustain its life by woofing down the body parts of humans, which just cannot be what Slava intended.)
Salva not only refuses to play along with his own story guidelines but is also whoppingly ineffectual when it comes to basic convention. For instance, when we see a cop's head severed by the creature on top of his car, the follow-up sequence is that of Trish, who was in the car in front, peering around the wreckage of the vehicle, with the suspense music accompanying her. Naturally, we assume the director is pumping us up over her possibly encountering the creature, so we're brought up more than a bit short when the intended effect was simply for her to discover the head, which, of course, we were already wise to. When a psychic confronts the heroes about the creature's background and purpose, it's unaffecting mumbo-jumbo that doesn't enhance any of the supposed mystery behind it. Apparently, the creature offed two of the heroes' friends from a year back, so we're primed for some sort of nerve-jangling connection, and there isn't one. Furthermore, though the creature is neat-looking, one wonders, with its imposing body structure and sharp talons and teeth, why it needs a battle axe to inflict some of its damage, aside from the feeling of dismay that the producers, sensing a possible franchise in the works here, thought it would look good in the publicity shots?
What Jeepers Creepers ultimately comes down to is whether or not it dishes out the promised goods, which I can aver until I'm blue in the face (or bruised in my typing fingers) that it unfortunately doesn't. The limited number of audience members I remember seeing this with didn't seem to be getting into it on any more a responsive level than I -- trips to the rest rooms and concession stand were plentiful -- and, rather than concentrating on what you've paid perfectly good money to see, you wind up ticking off numerous past horror films (some superior, some not) that Slava has ripped off and failed to make good on. The overwhelming critical praise thus far for Jeepers Creepers is something else altogether -- I can't make hide or hair of any of it! When Clive Barker asserts that it's brilliant and the best horror film to come along in several years, I have to assume that he's championing the fact that it's not as nauseating and disreputable as others of its ilk from the '90s, and completely ignoring the stone-cold fact that it hasn't a single good workmanlike sequence to its credit. The final shot is certainly a doozy -- it hints at a more imaginatively warped sensibility than what's direly preceded it -- but disheartening for it none-too-subtly hints at the sequel we're likely to get if more people are duped into seeking this stinker out and praising it simply because it exists, is tolerable enough to sit through, and is a reminder of how good horror films of the '80s were even if it never even remotely comes close to achieving that unmistakable aura of the "joy of making cinema."Gag me with a spoon, please.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5511&reviewer=327
originally posted: 01/12/03 03:27:45