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
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.