When I first started writing reviews it was for a dear friend, and respected reviewer Grim D. Reaper over at MovieCrypt. It feels like so much longer ago than thirteen years, but this movie was one of the very first I reviewed. I have a bit of nostalgia for this and *almost* waited to put this on a classics day this month, but I do not think it is quite there yet. I do fondly remember watching this in a theatre alone shortly after my move to Arizona and how I felt coming out of it, which makes this one special to me.
Still riding the early wave of low budget horror that has long since crested and feels more like a tsunami that won’t go away these days, Jeepers Creepers made its debut in one of the worst time slots for any movie, Labor Day weekend. This film closed out the summer and was the start of the September drudge that hits us most every year. The trailer did it’s job on this one though, giving us a pair of teens who saw something odd and did the stupid thing and looked into it. They hinted at a creature and wisely never quite showed it.
The movie was written and directed by Victor Salva. Prior to this he only had Powder to his credit and after Jeepers Creepers 2 is the only worth noting. I consider this a shame as not only did he manage to create an interesting horror universe we had never previously explored, he also was able to obtain wonderful performances from his actors, have beautiful set design, creature design, and camera work. This is no small thing, there are few writer/director combinations that can do everything so successfully. You usually end up with ego (The Nolan Effect) or brilliance. This one, to me, is brilliant.
The stage is set with two college age siblings returning home, even with the laundry, during a school break. One some road in the middle of rural farm country, that could be anywhere in 60% of the US, they think they see a man drop a body into a well. For reasons only twenty somethings and younger might understand they look into it, only to find not one body but several at the bottom of the shaft. They try to leave before the killer returns only to find out it may be too late for them. The rest of the film is a well paced, tension piece building to the climax – which…well see for yourself.
Our siblings are played by Gina Philips, who really has not escaped the horror genre since, and Justin Long in his first starring role. Long had only previously been seen as Brandon in Galaxy Quest and gone on to pretty much hit every genre known to man in the years since of his career; most recently starring in Kevin Smith’s Tusk. With all due respect to Philips, who played the strong horror female beginning to end in this movie, Long is the emotional heart and soul of the movie. You can see the fact that this boy knows how to properly act in this work as he switches from comical doofy brother to so terrified he cannot even speak. I’ve often said comedic actors make some of the best dramatic actors and Long proves the point when given the right material and in Jeepers Creepers he was. You can see it in his eyes through the performance what he is going through.
The technical side of thing, I have no choice but to focus on the Creeper. Brian Penikas was the creature & make up effects supervisor on this project. He had been professionally working in the industry for sixteen years prior and this appears to be his first Supervisory role. I have never quite seen something like the Creeper, from mythos – to abilities – to design, end to end it is an original thing. The production design of Steven Legler, who has equally few credits, works perfectly in conjunction with Penikas.
The biggest problem of the film from any perspective is when the perspective shifts. 95% of the movie we are with our brother and sister. They are the focus and we are with them. Then in Act III there’s a switch and for a few minutes we are taken away from them to focus on the creature. While they don’t shine a spotlight on the creature, keeping most of its mystique, the sudden shift of the film is jarring. I appreciated it as it lended explanation to something I would have wondered about, and Grim was disappointed in it. Years later, I see his point, but stand by mine. It doesn’t bother me all that much and doesn’t take away from the movie for me.
If you need a modern(ish) creature feature – Jeepers Creepers is your film. The effects actually hold up. The story holds. The acting holds. This is surprisingly rare in the horror genre and worth embracing.
I consider Jeepers Creepers a modern cult classic in Horror, that hopefully people come to appreciate in time for all that it does right.