Director/Screenplay – Victor Salva, Producers – Tom Luse & Barry Opper, Photography – Don E. FauntLeRoy, Music – Bennett Salvay, Visual Effects – E=MC2 (Supervisor – Bob Morgenroth), Special Effects Supervisor – Michael Arbogast, Makeup Effects – Makeup and Monsters Inc (Supervisor – Brian Penikas), Production Design – Steven Legler. Production Company – American Zoetrope/Cinerenta/Cenegenta/Medienbeteiligungs KG
Gina Philips (Trish Jenner), Justin Long (Derry Jenner), Jonathan Breck (The Creeper), Patricia Belcher (Jezelle Gay Hartman), Eileen Brennan (The Cat Lady)
Brother and sister Derry and Trish Jenner are driving home across country for Springbreak when they are harassed by a truck on a lonely country road. Shortly after, they see the driver of the truck seemingly dumping dead bodies down a pipe. Investigating, Derry finds a pit beneath a church containing hundreds of bodies. This draws the driver’s attention and it starts hunting them, tracing them by their scent. As they flee, it becomes increasingly apparent that they are dealing with a supernatural creature.
Jeepers Creepers is an interesting little horror film. It comes executive produced by no less than Francis Ford Coppola. Although, the most interesting name on the credits is that of director Victor Salva. Victor Salva is a genre regular who made the great and underrated Clownhouse (1989), as well as the psychically gifted teen film Powder (1995), the excellent little-seen backroads psycho-thriller The Nature of the Beast (1995), the interestingly philosophical non-genre film Peaceful Warrior (2006), the stalker film Rosewood Lane (2011) and the deviltry film Dark House (2014).
There is an invariable controversy that dogs Victor Salva, one that emerged during the release of Powder, which is that in 1988 he plead guilty to having sex with a twelve-year old boy. This news had parental groups trying to arrange boycotts of Powder. The controversy has evaporated by the time of Jeepers Creepers, perhaps because Salva is making an R-rated horror film rather than a PG-rated family film. Personally, one feels that Salva should be left alone after having served his time and should not be slammed for trying to get on with life and become a productive community member. Moreover, one feels that an artist/filmmaker’s private tastes should have no bearing on evaluating their work – any more so than say a president’s private affairs should affect his ability to govern a country. Nuff said about the issue – it should not concern us any more here. On with the review.
Jeepers Creepers is not quite the classic it seems to think it is – the promotional campaign even went to the extent of constructing a tv ad campaign that had Clive Barker saying so, while the film was (probably prematurely) called a modern horror classic by Cinefantastique. Victor Salva certainly knows how to create horror and Jeepers Creepers is a well constructed rollercoaster ride of eerie shocks, grisly viscerality and unexpected slam-punches. The Duel (1971)-like pursuit by the truck, the descent into the creeper’s lair and especially the spooky scene where the creeper attacks a cop car are all directed by someone who has a flair for genre material. That said, the film never fully puts the screws on the audience – there are some good shocks but never a single sequence that the audience goes out buzzing about and becomes talked about for years afterwards, the way a classic should. Nor does Victor Salva conjure anything of the genuinely haunting atmosphere that Clownhouse had. [Although, he did in the much superior sequel].
Nor does Victor Salva offer any particular explanation for the creeper, there is never any level of subtext or symbolic function running beneath the film – which leaves Jeepers Creepers a well made but standard issue monster movie. Being a postmodern, post-Scream (1996) horror movie, it is also filled with characters comparing their situation to other horror movie situations, although thankfully Salva never starts throwing in references to other films. The major negative note is the surprisingly abrupt ending. The film ends with one character abducted by the Creeper – in any other genre entry, the film would have built to a climax with the other rescuing them but instead this goes out on a surprisingly downbeat note that leaves most of the audience puzzled.
Jeepers Creepers has a number of similarities to a couple of other films that came out the same year, particularly The Forsaken (2001), which was also about people on an innocent backroads journey having to take on a motorized supernatural force (in this case vampires), as well as the similar non-supernatural thriller Joy Ride (2001) concerning teens stalked by a serial killing truck driver.
Jeepers Creepers proved to be a modest sleeper success and build up a strong reputation in video afterlife. Victor Salva returned to make an even better sequel Jeepers Creepers II (2003), followed by Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017). Jeepers Creepers is spoofed in Stan Helsing: A Parody (2009).