‘Creepers’ nothing to scream about

Jeepers Creepers _ Justin Long

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
August 31, 2001

2 stars

Trish  (Gina Philips)
Darry  (Justin Long)
The Creeper  (Jonathan Breck)
The Cat Lady  (Eileen Brennan)
United Artists Films presents a film written and directed by Victor Salva.
Running time: 90 minutes.
Rated R (for terror, violence, gore, language and brief nudity).

“You know the part in scary movies where somebody does something really stupid and everybody hates them for it?,” Trish says to her thrill-seeking brother, Darry, in the horror film “Jeepers Creepers.” “Well, this is it.”

Right on cue, lil’ bro’ falls down a drainage pipe that leads to a deserted church basement decorated in tacky 1970s gore. There are a few hundred dead (but incredibly well-preserved) bodies here, a sutured stomach or neck part there. Nothing he can’t handle. Yet.

Executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola, “Jeepers Creepers” isn’t quite as frightening as Sofia Coppola’s acting turn in “Godfather III.” The corpses and decapitated heads are fake-enough looking to keep the ick factor below total gross-out level.

A fan of “Creature Features,” writer/director Victor Salva–a convicted child molester who served 15 months in jail–wrote “Jeepers Creepers” in 1999, he says, after a summer spent watching “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Sixth Sense.” Better than the former but not nearly as intricate or entertaining as the latter, “Jeepers Creepers” does have some startling surprises that will make moviegoers jump out of their seats–if not shriek–at least once or twice.

The aggressive soundtrack also gets the filmgoer’s blood pumping and should be credited as a co-star.

Clive Barker proclaimed “Jeepers” to be “the most scary, stylish horror movie I’ve seen in years.”

I wouldn’t go that far. The film pokes fun at the horror film genre, but then places its lead actors in the exact same situations they’re mocking. At least the female lead never falls down. Come to think of it, she’s the strongest character in the movie–and gets to keep her shirt on, which is a nice change of pace.

As Trish and Darry, Gina Philips and Justin Long, respectively, do a superb job of capturing sibling bickering. When a homicidal driver races them off the road, Darry tells her she should’ve gone on spring break with her poli-sci, track team guy. That’s pretty much the only good advice he gives her, because if she had held strong from the get-go, their only worries would’ve been listening to their mother complain to them about having taken the scenic route home.

But that, of course, would be a horror movie of a totally different kind.

The Creeper–a larger-than-life monster that is equal parts Freddy Krueger and Bon Jovi (circa “Dead or Alive” leather trench coat era)–likes to drive around in his nasty old truck looking for potential victims. Every 23rd spring, for 23 days, he gets to eat. But the Creeper turns out to be a picky eater. Not just anyone will do. For instance, when he has the taste for lungs tartare, he selects a macho police officer for his main course.

You’d think that the first time they had escaped from him, the siblings would have hightailed it out of there. But no. When they spot the Creeper dumping what looks like a body down a drainage pipe, they go back to check it out. Never mind that the monster all but spelled out his intentions on the vanity license plate on his truck: BEATNGU.

Trish’s common-sense logic of “we were just attacked” is lost on her brother.

Darry, who apparently was hit with the stupid stick one too many times, argues, “You don’t even want to find out why?”

Had the monster eaten him right there and then, no one would’ve been too unhappy. It’s called thinning the herd.

The plot becomes unnecessarily convoluted when an old woman (Eileen Brennan) living in an empty farmhouse tackles the monster with only a rifle and a bevy of cats for protection. And then there’s the town psychic, who may or may not be a nut job, who mysteriously finds the uncharmed siblings no matter where they are–but she’s incapable of knowing how to stop the Creeper.

Beautiful and calm, Phillips doesn’t drip a bead of sweat when confronted by the monster. And Long convincingly plays the annoying little brother used to getting his own way.

The finale isn’t the pat ending we’ve come to expect from horror films, which is a nice bonus. But it’s also a disappointing end that doesn’t live up the promise of the suspenseful first half of the film.

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