Jeepers Creepers, 2001, 1 ¼ stars

Trite night

From The Orlando Weekly, August 31, 2001

To experience suspense, one must imagine something more terrifying than the screen can create. But instead of allowing its creepy, well-filmed first half to fuel these psychological fears, Jeepers Creepers turns a realistic and frightening story into silly supernatural shenanigans.

Best known for 1995’s only slightly appealing Powder, Victor Salva doesn’t have much writing or directing experience, and it shows in this low-budget teen horror. Relative newcomers Gina Philips and Justin Long play students driving home from college on a deserted country highway. After being run off the road by a lunatic driver, they allow him to pass. In the film’s most intelligent and subtly scary scene, they then observe him dumping something that look like bodies next to an old, abandoned church.

Instead of being content to drive on and report their observances to the police, in true horror-movie fashion, they return to investigate, and thus their frightening adventure with this unknown evil begins. The rest of the film is spent finding out more about this menace, but as more is revealed, the suspense lessons. Instead of using the realistic performances, simple subject and spare direction to build terror, Salva allows his story to fall apart thanks to his stereotypical characters and unbelievable plot twists.

Philips, best known for her recurring role as Sandy Hingle on Ally McBeal, and Long, Brandon in 1999’s Galaxy Quest, work well together. In fact, the first few scenes, with their crude style and methodical pace, are mesmerizing and comparable to Night of the Living Dead.   But even more than in Night, the realistic frights give way to B-movie tripe. The most favorable comparison, though, is not with the 1968 classic, but with Spielberg’s Duel, as the car chase scene in Jeepers was clearly inspired by that movie’s brilliantly filmed highway sequences.

The best that can be said for Salva is that he is not afraid to have a bit of fun with the genre, as his use of the 1938 classic title song adds macabre humor. Its inclusion would seem almost clever if it weren’t for the laughable switch of the human villain to a mythical beast and the bad acting of Patricia Belcher as a psychic warning the kids of their impending doom.

Salva obviously studied 1971’s Duel before shooting the opening scenes of Jeepers. Before his next thriller, he needs to revisit Spielberg’s work to learn how to build suspense by keeping the villain shrouded in mystery and letting the audience’s imagination do some of the work of the camera.