Jeepers Creepers

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I'm officially impressed. Jeepers Creepers is damn good... for the first thirty minutes. Unfortunately it goes on for a further hour, but it's still very much worth watching.

Really and truly, I adored that first act. Trish and Darry are lively and likeable; I could have listened to their squabbling banter all night. Darry looks a bit dorky, but I'd take that any day over yet another plastic no-talent hunk o' shite stinking up the screen and masquerading as an actor. Their swearing game is a hoot. What's more, you're never sure whether they're the movie's heroes or just Doomed To Die Before The Opening Credits cannon fodder (as seen in the Scream trilogy and probably a gazillion other movies). They're childish, petty, ultra-realistic and two of the best characters you'll see in a horror film. No, really. I'm not kidding.

Admittedly they argue a lot. Some people have found all that bickering made Trish and Darry unlikeable... but I have a theory about that. Personally I think the brother and sister obviously care about each other (see the sister's last scene!) and the bickering is just part of their relationship, especially when they're cooped up together for a marathon drive-a-thon. Look at their swearing game. They abuse each other with creative obscenity... until Darry accidentally repeats himself and we see it's all a game for them. They were having fun. I have a further theory about some types of people who can't see this, e.g. either people who never argue and can't understand people who do, or alternatively people who argue way too much and can't see it as anything but negative. Though I admit that I'm stretching a lot there. Um, let's get back to Jeepers Creepers.

So we've got two great characters, and they're facing some nasty situations. The truck! The pipe! With the Creeper just a half-seen presence and far more credible for it, either driving his truck or leading Trish and Darry to a Really Bad Place, your attention is focused squarely on two great characters in a horrible situation. By keeping everything so intimate, the first act keeps the situations real and avoids lapsing into cliche and horror formula.

Unfortunately other characters eventually enter the fray and things go downhill. You start recognising situations from other movies, be it Terminator or "that old rubbish that introduces a psychic out of nowhere to deliver all the exposition they couldn't shoehorn into the script any other way". The Creeper becomes just another movie monster. He's kinda fun and occasionally even funny, but that's a bit of a letdown after the film began so well. Personally I reckon he looks a bit like Satan's gunslinger.

At one point, I was convinced Victor Salva was deliberately going for laughs. It's a fundamental rule of cinema - horrible things happening in the background of another scene become comedy.

But I liked the ending a lot. For a moment I thought things were going to go in a certain other direction, which would have been toe-curling. That resolution goes a long way towards redeeming the last hour and makes you think much better of the whole.

That's half the story.

However the other half of any discussion of a Victor Salva film is, and will always be, Victor Salva. He hasn't made many films (this is his sixth, in fifteen years) but he'll always be one of the most notorious figures in the genre. For those who never heard the full story or perhaps repressed the sordid details, Victor Salva did time for performing paedophile acts of oral sex with a young actor (Nathan Winters) from his 1988 film Clownhouse. What's more, Victor "genius" Salva went so far as to record it on videotape. We're talking a 25-stone man with a thirteen-year-old. Ewww. But having said all that, Salva's served his punishment and I think he deserves a second chance so long as he keeps away from small boys.

I've never seen Clownhouse myself, but I've heard that it's, um, not hard to spot the director's sexual preferences. There's no gratuitous female nudity, but instead young boys dancing about in their underwear. Jeepers Creepers isn't quite so disturbing, but it's still noticeably disturbed... and I'm afraid I found this perhaps the film's most interesting aspect.

Some films have gay subtext. Jeepers Creepers has pervert subtext. There isn't a heterosexual relationship in sight; Trish and Darry aren't lovers (as they would be in any other movie) but siblings. There's mention of a boyfriend for Trish, but she's mysteriously not driving back with him and she doesn't want to discuss it. The nearest they get to nudity is when they stop to take a slash. (And yes, we see Darry's golden waterfall.)

Meanwhile the Creeper is a panty-sniffing boy-molester who at one point kisses a freshly severed male head. We're talking saliva-swapping with lots of tongue. (There's a twist there.)

If you're into necrophilia, you might get a stiffy from a couple of moments here. Anyone else, no. But this subtext adds its own eccentric vibe to Jeepers Creepers... it's not overt enough to be uncomfortable, but it's pretty obvious once you start looking for it. This film isn't perfect, largely because of its downturn after the first act, but there's enough here to convince me that Victor Salva has genuine talent. And when it's good, it's pretty damn good.

Reviewed by Finn Clark