Friday, June 3, 2011

Jeepers Creepers!

I cannot now remember what prompted me to rent and watch the movie Jeepers Creepers. It seemed like just one more lame slasher flick to me and I don't really care too much for those. But whatever caused it, I quickly found myself enjoying a taut and carefully crafted mystery-horror-monster story which developed wonderful characters and made you watch along with them as they unraveled a truly terrifying truth hidden in the countryside of "Somewhere U.S.A.".

Gina Phillips and Justin Long star in the original flick and they are masterful as a convincing brother and sister team who stumble across a monster and his lair. "The Creeper" as he's dubbed in the credits is kept off screen most of the movie by director Victor Salva and like most every movie of this type that maintains a restraint with such things, the reward is most rich when reveals come. A glimpse is gold in this movie of deep dark and shadow.

There's lots of suggested gore in this one and a few shocking scenes but by modern standards this is a movie that keeps the blood and guts to a minimum (given the story) and allows the moviemaker's most powerful tool, the audience's imagination to work overtime. From listening to the commentary, it seems some of this restraint was the result of budget concerns and so a happy accident.

The movie is a success through and through bringing to mind such classics as The Creature from the Black Lagoon, another monster which Salva says is his favorite and which the Creeper resembles a bit. This monster though is much more "human" in its apparent sense of humor and grisly ways of masquerading as one of the folk. The end of Jeepers Creepers is a beautiful one, not necessarily a happy one but satisfying given what has gone on before. It doesn't cop out.

Now the sequel Jeepers Creepers II is another story. Sadly like most sequels this one falls short of the original's wit and savvy. Despite the same creative crew behind the camera, the new story is overpopulated and overcooked. Salva says this is the movie he originally wanted to make save for money, and it looks like it was a good thing he was short on cash the first time.

The Creeper is back (really he never left since this adventure happens mere days after the end of the first movie) but not content to haggle with a few kids, this time we get literally a busload full of them.

Sadly more is less here, as the kids are not quite the actors the first two were from the first movie, and they are given much less screen time to make us find out who to root for. The action is isolated much of the time to inside a school bus and the pacing suffers as we're in there much too long. When the story finally breaks free it becomes more of an action flick and less of a monster story, at least that was my feeling.

The Creeper is on screen a lot more, and many of the pleasant mysteries uncovered in the first flick are not really built upon very successfully here. As I learned from the DVD extras, some of the backstory needed to flesh out the Creeper gets cut.

Ray Wise is on hand to offer up a solid performance as a vengeful father out to kill The Creeper. The part of the story has echoes of Moby Dick, but again it's a matter of focus. Salva is able to accomplish less with more running time in this movie, and aside from a few of the primary characters this one becomes too much of a dull teenager kill-fest.

There is apparently a third one of these movies in the offing, and it hopefully will reveal The Creeper's past. I'd love to see it, as the creature is a dandy one.

I've intentionally been vague about certain plot points so as to not spoil these movies. The first one in particular is a grand experience and must not be spoiled to enjoy fully. There are some very tasty surprises waiting for a first-time viewer. I highly recommend it. After that, if you'd like more, the sequel is okay, but hardly necessary.

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