Urban legends have the potential to make truly terrifying movies. Such films have in past decades made countless people afraid to go out in the dark, pick up a telephone or even take a walk in the woods. Horror film Jeepers Creepers (MGM) does not instill terror in its viewers as much as pure disgust.
This tragic movie, written and directed by Victor Salva (Powder), only leaves the audience with a newfound distaste for female lead Trish, played by Gina Philips of “Ally McBeal,” and a general sense of disappointment.
Jeepers Creepers tells the marginally scary story of a brother, Darry (Justin Long) and sister, Trish, who drive home together during a break from college. Trish wants to take the “scenic route” home, and the movie opens as they drive down a suspiciously deserted highway. As local legend tells it, 23 years earlier two locals disappeared mysteriously on that very same “scenic route.”
At this point, audience members will begin figuring out exactly how much money they could have saved just by staying home and renting Halloween.
Seconds later, a large, beat-up truck nearly runs the hapless onscreen siblings off the road. After catching their breath and arguing about what they should next, the shaken duo drive on and come upon an old church. There they see the creature that was driving the truck dumping what looks like bodies wrapped in sheets down a sewage pipe while unabashedly generic spooky music plays and equally generic and spooky crows flap about the scene.
These special effects help the audience understand that a scene of a creature near an old church dumping wrapped-up bodies into a pipe should be taken as frightening. Boo!
As a warning to the many excited septuagenarians planning to see this movie, Victor Salva did not base Jeepers Creepers on the 1939 Roy Rogers western of the same title. But considering the laughable film Salva did create, he could easily have done better by hedging his bets and just doing a remake of the older flick.
It comes as no shock that Trish and Darry, being the dimwitted teens they are, go back to see if they could help the obviously hostile creature with his obviously sinister task. After returning to the scene, Darry discovers that the church basement houses a collection of bodies sewn together and goes into complete shock.
In a plot twist that surprises only the dumbfounded duo, they are chased by the mysterious creature in the beat-up truck and find a gas station/diner where they waste precious time arguing over what to do next, who to call and where to go. They return to find their car ransacked, and a waitress reports seeing a man smelling Darry’s dirty laundry, “and he seemed to be liking it,” she says.
There are a few attempts at humor to lighten the mood, but after the first “in horror movies this is where…” joke the movie’s pathetic attempt at irony stops being amusing.
As Salva’s first major motion picture since Powder in 1993, Jeepers Creepers is a far way from his previous heart-wrenching and powerful work. It seems that the director has laid aside more serious themes and begun to embrace the tragically generic. This film will not win the same acclaim or awards as Powder and can only prove to be a disappointment for Salva.
So far, the most talk that has surrounded the film came from school officials in Marion County, Fla., where Salva shot the movie. The officials complained that they were not notified that Salva was a convicted sex offender.
This information may alter some viewers’ perception of the film, but they should not let that bit of scandal sour an otherwise bland movie.
Jeepers Creepers is in theaters Friday.
This article appeared in the August 30, 2001 issue of the Hatchet.