I caught Jeepers Creepers on cable last night and I realized that it’s been a decade since I first saw the original (released in 2001, duh!). JC is one of my favorite horror films because it scared the living sh*t out of me, not because of its gory nature but because of its well paced approach to unfolding the story.
The film stars a younger Justin Long as Darry Jenner who is travelling back home with his sister Trish (Gina Phillips) for Spring Break. Along the way, they find a man alight from a beat up truck with the dubious plates “BEATNG U” who appears to be dumping bodies in a chute near an old cathedral. Darry resolves to investigate but accidentally falls into the chute himself. Underneath, he discovers hundreds of mutilated bodies preserved and attached to the ceiling of the tunnel, much like a perverted version of the Sistine Chapel. Darry gets out of the tunnel but the siblings find themselves in more trouble as they are relentlessly pursued by the same truck. Through an anonymous call at a local diner (where they seek refuge to call the cops), they find out that their pursuer is not a regular psycho who want to cover up his crime but rather a creature with an acquired taste for their body parts –a beast (Creeper) that comes to life every 23rd spring and binges on humans that catch his fancy for 23 days. Apparently, the creature is in the habit of scaring potential victims and smelling their fear to see if there is something in them that he likes. Unfortunately for Darry, the creature wants his eyes. The anonymous caller, who turns out to be the psychic Jezelle explains that whatever the creature eats becomes part of him, and so they must protect Darry from the creature at all costs lest he be part of the collection of the Creeper’s victims.
I can’t believe that I remembered so much about the movie while I was watching it. Some might say that Jeepers Creepers is too slowly paced to convey any sense of urgency but I beg to disagree. I maintain, even a decade after that director Victor Salva made a wise choice in the pacing of this movie, which was mostly comprised of the Creeper stalking the Jenner siblings on a long stretch of Florida highway. Unlike most horror films of today, Jeepers Creepers provided plenty of time to let the tension simmer rather than give out fast thrills from killing the characters in rapid succession. In so doing, the film managed to provide breathing room for the audience to digest the horror along with the main characters and demonstrated the fate that would befall the victims of the Creeper in various scenes peppered throughout the movie, which made it all the more scary. Justin Long in this movie, was amazing as Darry because the look of horror and panic in his face was absolutely priceless. Gina Phillips was no slacker in this film as well as she successfully portrayed the role of a tough elder sister who wants to protect her brother, all while trying to figure out a way to get out of their nightmarish ordeal.
What makes for a good horror movie, in my opinion, is the overall effect it has on the human psyche — and while getting a few scares at the cinema is a good thing to determine a film’s success, it is even better if its impact translates to a lingering sense of terror that the audience can associate with the film, even years after its release. For me, this was the biggest factor that Jeepers Creepers had going for it. I, for one, couldn’t sit still while I watched Trish and Darry drive away from the Creeper while he stalks them purposefully. I still couldn’t stop myself from uttering “Go, go go go!” with Darry as their car stalls for the nth time. And I still couldn’t get over the last frame where the Creepers eye looks through his victim’s skin hanging from a hook (I won’t tell who for the sake of potential viewers who have yet to see the movie) while the Jeepers Creepers song plays in the background on an old phonograph. All in all, the movie still works, even after a decade. And while there were sequels (and possibly a reboot), I think that the original still holds the record as the best in the franchise.