Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Jeepers Creepers (2001)

Siblings Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry (Justin Long) are road-tripping through Florida. After a nasty encounter with a peculiar looking truck, they accidentally witness the shadowy driver (Jonathan Breck) dropping what might very well be a packaged human body into a large pipe beside an abandoned church, driving off again afterwards. Especially Darry is pretty sure the bundle was indeed a human being; he manages to convince Trish to have a look inside.

So down the pipe Darry drops. Below, there’s a serial killer arts and crafts cave, with numerous prepared dead bodies plastered to the ceiling and wells. And the bundle? Well, it does indeed contain a young guy who dies in Darry’s arms. Surprisingly enough, the siblings manage to get away scot free, and – unlike quite a few horror movie characters – the first thing they think about is informing the police. Unfortunately, this unprecedented example of sense won’t save them from a very bad night, for the driver isn’t just your run-of-the-mill serial killer, but a supernatural threat deeply unimpressed by quotidian problems like armed police officers. Worse still, the thing has gotten a nose full of the siblings’ smell, and it very much likes what it smells on one of them.

Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers is a long-time personal favourite of mine I’ve somehow (like a lot of long-time personal favourites, actually) never gotten around to writing up. At the time when this came out, the more mainstream parts of horror were still very much doing the whole pseudo-ironic teen slasher thing we can – and do – blame Wes Craven’s Scream for, with lots of films that were very intent on demonstrating their ironic superiority over their own material instead of putting work into improving the things they were feeling so damn superior about. These weren’t happy horror movie fan times for me, I have to admit.

So Jeepers Creepers, a film bathed in love for traditional horror things from the 50s to the 70s that didn’t feel the need to get all ironic about everything and instead delivered a clever, fun, and creepy monster movie while still showing quite a bit of knowledge of the genre it was working in, just not so much of it that it couldn’t move anymore, felt like a breath of fresh (well, appropriately mouldy) air to me. In fact, it still does, particularly since a lot of what Salva does with it is based on a fine eye for detail that has let the film age well. Or rather, standing somewhat outside of what was typical for the genre of its period, Jeepers Creepers has something of a timeless quality to it.

There is, still, quite a bit of genre love on display, it’s just not primarily used as a basis for jokes but seems to spurn the film on to do things a bit better than would be typical, acknowledging things on eye level. So this is a film where the heroine has enough genre knowledge to know that the killer is going to get up again once hit by a car and proceeds to drive over him again and again, but it is one which plays the scene straight instead of just pointing out the trope to the audience yet still using it unchanged.

Apart from this, Salva does many things just right: the sibling squabbles between Trish and Darry actually read as believable instead as annoying and manage to tell us more about the closeness between the two than long, melodramatic “I love you, brother/sister” exchanges would; the monster is creepy, creative and a bit silly, while staying original and unobvious; Florida here feels very Southern Gothic, the kind of place where a random clairvoyant and bodypart-stealing monsters make sense; and the set and production design is beautiful, atmospheric, and feels just right, the film embracing the dream-like and slightly off whole-heartedly.

Which turns Jeepers Creepers into a small classic in my book.

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