Monsters! Jeepers Creepers

WHAT DOES THE PROTAGONIST WANT? We’ll get to that.

WHO IS THE MONSTER? Some weird kind of demon-creature who eats body parts.

WHAT IS THE WARNING? Let’s table that discussion for now.


Jeepers Creepers does a number of things right — it’s well shot, very well paced, well edited, reasonably well acted. It’s a thoroughly pleasant movie-watching experience — it thrills, it scares, it teases out loads of spine-tingling suspense, it contains more-or-less believable characters who are enjoyable to watch. All of which, when you’re dealing with low-budget horror, is a big plus. What it does not do is add up, which is a shame, because it’s got a lot going for it.free stats

It starts out as a Hills Have Eyes/Last House on the Left/Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Wrong Turn-style horror movie — a brother/sister duo, on their way home from college for the summer, run into a Big Creepy Guy On a Lonely Stretch of Road. And horror ensues. The big twist is that the Big Creepy Guy turns out not to be Leatherface or Freddy Kruger, but some kind of weird, magical demon-creature who eats body parts for some reason that remains ill-defined.

The three acts are each nicely divided into two parts, for a total of six well-paced, clearly-limned "chapters." Act I introduces our protagonists, Darry and Trish, and brings them to their first confrontation with BCG, who is introduced in a Duel-style road-rage sequence. (Which reminds me, Duel qualifies as a monster movie — it’s a shame they didn’t think to call it Monster Truck.) The second half of Act I involves Darry and Trish foregoing fleeing from danger and turning back to investigate BCG’s creepy lair.

Act II gets Darry and Trish back on the road, where they deal with suspicious locals in a diner and are contacted by a mysterious stranger who knows more about their journey than they do. The police are contacted but prove to be, shall we say, ineffective against this particular threat. The second half of Act II involves an extended confrontation at a rural house, and ends with Darry and Trish seemingly besting the BCG forever (a nice inversion of the "end of Act II low-point" cliche).

Act III puts Darry and Trish in a much more receptive, nice, "real" police station, much closer to "civilization," where their mysterious stranger catches up to them and reveals herself to be a psychic who has seen all this coming and unloads a pile of exposition. The second half of Act III is an extended confrontation between the BCG and the local police, and ends with Trish offering herself to BCG in Darry’s place, an offer BCG refuses.

All this is perfectly entertaining, and almost none of it bears close inspection. BCG rams into our brother-sister duo because why? He then stops pursuing them when they are onto his shenanigans because why? Darry finds, in BCG’s lair, hundreds of dead bodies, stuck to the ceiling, sewn together and preserved, which BCG does because why? The BCG’s lair is in the basement of a church, a fact given great import and then dropped, because why? The BCG singles out specific people for their body parts and kills indiscriminantly because why?

Jeepers Creepers does an excellent job of developing its central mystery, but then refuses to supply the satisfaction of solving it.  It looks to me as though it was conceived of as a series of artfully-rendered suspense/horror scenes, and then stitched together, crudely and haphazardly (just like the dead bodies in BCG’s lair), after the set-pieces were all laid out. Kids on a lonely highway get chased by a BCG, cool! And then they stop to investigate his lair, cool! And his lair is in some super-creepy place, like the basement of an old church, and he deposits his victims there and does weird experiments with them, cool! And the BCG can reassemble himself if you try to kill him, cool! And then, watch out, it turns out BCG isn’t Leatherface, he’s some kind of weird demon-creature, cool! And so forth, without any forethought as to where this is all going, with the helpful-animal Psychic Lady as a late-in-the-movie glue to hold it all together.

What does the BCG want? It’s never clear. This collecting-and-eating of body parts seems to be a simple survival mechanism, but there doesn’t seem to be anything beyond that. That’s enough I guess (Alien hinges on the horror of another creature’s natural bodily functions), but it makes for an unsatisfying monster and worse, it has little connection to the protagonists’ journey, which is barely there to begin with.

Darry and Trish are fun to watch, even if they do a bunch of things that make no sense. We could say that their motivation is "to seek justice" and that their desire runs counter to a creature who has no understanding of the term (fully half the movie involves the BCG’s attacks on police officers), but the BCG’s motivation is biological, not legal. A more resonant desire for our protagonists is "to see," ie they want "to see" the BCG’s lair, even though they know it’s a bad idea, which is why it becomes ironic that the BCG is chasing them so that he, too, may be able "to see" (meaning, he wants to swipe Darry’s eyes), and the Psychic Lady ties in with that theme with her ability "to see" in ways neither Darry nor BCG can, and I suppose one could make a case for justice being "blind," but what is the warning?  "Don’t go seeking justice?"  "Turn a blind eye to wrongdoing?" — It doesn’t hang together.  It is, ironically, a collection of "movie moments" in search of a spine.

(As toysdream points out in the comments, the desire "to see" is spelled out pretty directly in the movie’s title.  But spelling out a theme and developing it in the course of a compelling, coherent narrative is a different thing.  Jeepers Creepers is plenty compelling, but coherent it is not.)
 

Comments

44 Responses to “Monsters! Jeepers Creepers”
  1. toysdream says:

    I haven’t really watched this movie (just catch bits of it on TV now and then), but considering that the expression “Jeepers Creepers” is so often followed by “Where’d you get those peepers”, I think the “seeing” theme is a pretty logical inference. The same could be said of a lot of classic slasher flicks (like the original Friday the 13th), but they usually don’t spell it out for you in the title. :-)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I thought the first act was really effective. The scene where the siblings catch a glimpse of the mysterious man burying something inspired real dread in me. After they got to the police station, it all kind of went downhill. And the reveal of the killer as a 8th Level Balrog unstoppable winged demon was very disappointing.

    Turns out that effective opening act was cribbed wholesale from an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, right down to certain shot compositions. I’ve seen a side-by-side comparison and it’s pretty definitive. Unfortunately, while looking up a link to provide here, I’ve found the Unsolved Mysteries folks have had the footage removed from YouTube.

    TomG

  3. curt_holman says:

    It occurs to me that if you’re interested in recent monster movies, The Ruins may be worth checking out. I haven’t seen it and, frankly, heard pretty mixed things about the film, but the book (by Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan) was “un-put-down-able.” Maybe other among your readers can say “Aye” or “Nay” on that one.

    Have you seen Burn After Reading?

    • Todd says:

      I adored the movie Sam Raimi made of A Simple Plan, but The Ruins was not on my radar when it came out (except that once, as we were driving past a billboard for it, my son mistakenenly identified it as The Runs, which I’m afraid, perhaps unfairly, affected my view of it.

      I haven’t yet seen Burn After Reading. It’s at the top of my list.

      • curt_holman says:

        “as we were driving past a billboard for it, my son mistakenenly identified it as The Runs”

        (Insert Montezuma’s Revenge joke here)

        This isn’t quite the same, but my favorite movie marquee pairing ever was:

        LICENSE TO KILL
        BABAR

        • Todd says:

          I was once driving through Northern California and saw a theater marquee that read What Lies Beneath Erin Brockovich, which I thought was pretty good until I saw the photo of the marquee that read Erin Brockovich Screwed Crocodile Dundee in L.A.

        • Anonymous says:

          HAHAHA!
          Even accidentally, Sam is awesome!
          My favorite marquee pairing (The Ken Cinema, San Diego, circa 1983):
          CASINO
          PUSSY
          RULING

          It was a Peter O’Toole film fest.

    • greyaenigma says:

      I saw The Ruins after a long streak of not getting to see much in the theaters, and walked out — no, before that — less than halfway through I was asking myself, “Why did I spend money on this?”

  4. ruinednet says:

    I enjoyed this one, mostly for it’s refusal to explain everything behind the big gargoyle. At the time, most of the prevalent horror genre were Scream-copies where ‘Whodunnit?’ was the central feature. Looking back, yes there’s not a lot of connection between points, as you said.

    I was sad to see that the sequel reverted back to the ’80s horror model: a large group of kids that get whittled down, along with some vaguely explained backstory for the creature.

  5. T

    I would like to see you tackle THE GATE, one of my favorite late 80s horror flicks that does some really nice stuff with playing with expectations. Enjoying these pieces.

  6. craigjclark says:

    I was warned away from this one before it came out based on writer/director Victor Salva’s unsavory past. I trust I don’t need to go into too much detail about that.

    • Todd says:

      Jeepers Creepers was about half-way over before I remembered Mr. Salva’s past. Since the movie was a pretty decent viewing experience and didn’t involve any overt pro-child-molestation arguments I decided to give him a pass. Kind of how I feel about Walden Entertainment — as long as they’re not sticking their beliefs in my face, all I ask is that the movie be good.

  7. greyaenigma says:

    Again, you point out what I didn’t realize was bothering me about the movie. The first act seemed really captivating, but once the monster was revealed (and the exposition started gushing) the movie almost completely lost my interest. It just seemed like I’d seen everything before.

    But if they’d started solving the mystery instead of making it all more random, I might have caught the sequel.

    • Todd says:

      By putting a monster in their slasher-movie scenario, Jeepers Creepers betrays both the stark simplicity of the slasher narrative and the cautionary tale of the monster narrative. The result is a slasher movie with pretensions and a monster movie with no subtext.

  8. memento_mori says:

    Duel re-make…

    Blue-state liberal driving a Toyota Prius is stalked by a merciless red Hummer through the winding roads of Pennsylvania.

    In my brain it’s called THE HUMMONGOUS. Or RED STATE: ROAD TO HELL. Or SUV: SATAN’S UNGODLY VEHICLE. Or something.

  9. chrispiers says:

    This movie totally lost ne the moment BCG jumped over a car. Loved the creepy first half but I’ve since heard the Unsolved Mysteries comparison. Bleh.

    Skip the Ruins. It’s interminable. No lesson learned, that’s for sure.

    As long as you’re covering recent monster movies, how about the Dawn of the Dead remake? Zombies are a fascinating monster because they’re us.

  10. mitejen says:

    You raise an interesting point with the strong first act mention; I’ve lost count of how many horror films (or anything, really) start out strong with a good first act and sort of lose their composition towards the end.

    A friend had a weird and stupid theory about this movie: he said that it was a ‘coded’ monster movie, in the vein of Celluloid closet, in that the monster was clearly gay. He was after Derry with his sexy belly tattoo, he loved to sew, was fairly solitary, and listened to show tunes.

    It was marvelously wrong, but it also made me laugh quite a bit.

  11. noskilz says:

    Many of the horror movies I can think of don’t really have a clear message, but maybe if someone had to put one to this film “sometimes, despite your best efforts, you really are just in over your head” is as good as any(if not very specific.)

    It may be my wobbly memory combined with suggestions from years of reading b-movie reviews, but I thought the monster had to regularly replace his component parts, but could only use materials taken from people who reacted in some specific way when frightened. If that isn’t just a memory glitch, harassing motorists seems like as good a way as any to see if someone handy is in the vicinity – but like you say, such a thing was never explicitly stated. Maybe some of those loose ends are revisited in the sequel – but having never seen it, I couldn’t say.

    • Todd says:

      Your memory is correct, that’s what they say the monster is doing. Why it has to do this, why it has a lair in a church basement, why it feels the need to destroy evidence (sometimes), why it does half the things it does, none of it is answered.

  12. stormwyvern says:

    Do you think it’s possible to have a monster movie (or a horror movie in general for that matter) where the protagonists don’t seem to score any kind of victory against the monster and still have it be satisfying? Not so much the ambiguous “there will be a sequel” ending many slasher flicks employ, but a film where you really don’t feel that the villain has been deterred or even effected in the slightest by the events of the film? I couldn’t stand the American version of “The Grudge,” partly because it was a absolutely wretched moviegoing experience audience-wise and partly because I left the theater feeling like no one in the movie had actually done anything.

    Also, how do psychics stack up against prophecies as lame movie devices?

    • Todd says:

      Off the top of my head, I would say that George Romero’s Dead movies represent one long triumphal march for the monsters, who always win in the end and are undeterred by anything the protagonists can throw at them.

      I was puzzled by the American remake of Ju-on for many reasons, first and foremost of which was that it was a scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot remake, employing even the same sets, shot by the same director, and yet without improving the script, which is formless and unsatisfying on its face.

      Psychics are lame, but there are still ways to present them that can make them fresh and interesting and viable narrative devices, whereas whenever I see a written prologue coming I just dig in my heels and resist at this point.

  13. I just want to know how the demon monster got a vanity plate for his truck.

    • Todd says:

      Uh, yeah. Well there’s that. Or how it souped-up his truck, for that matter. Or why it would need to, since it has wings. Or how it gets its wings, since it can only get body parts from things its eats. Oh, I could go on forever.

      • Did it go down and stand in line at the DMV? Is it a registered driver? If so, what insurance company does it favor? Also, what state will actually issue you a plate that says “be eatin’ you”?

        • Todd says:

          If it had been a bigger hit, I could totally see a commercial where they remix a scene from the movie where the BCG runs somebody’s car off the road, then picks them up by the throat and says “I just saved fifteen percent on my car insurance.”

  14. adam_0oo says:

    One part I remember liking is when they show how invincible he is. Often in monster or slasher movies, when people confront the monster or killer or whatever, they drop boxes on him, shoot him in the shoulder, hit him on the head and run away and so on…so you know that the bad guy is tough, but they leave so much open to interpretation. I am always shouting “SHOOT HIM IN THE HEAD!” and so on.

    But in this movie, BCG walks right into a bunch of cops with shot guns fireing at him 20 feet away, so you can be sure how tough he really is.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Jeepers Creeper

    Is it just me, or does The Creeper, the Mothman and Pazuzu, the Demon from Exorcist One all look alot alike…wings…bird like feet…7 foot tall…similar facial features…ect…

  16. Anonymous says:

    Jeepers Creepers, The Mothman and The Exorcist.

    Is it just me or does the Creeper, the Mothman and Pazuzu, the demon from Exorcist 1 all look alot alike…

    llk36@hotmail.com

    1st time posting a comment on a blog of any sort..

  17. Anonymous says:

    Jeepers Creepers, The Mothman and The Exorcist.

    Is it just me or does the Creeper, the Mothman and Pazuzu, the demon from Exorcist 1 all look alot alike…

    llk36@hotmail.com

    1st time posting a comment on a blog of any sort..