I have to admit I feel a little conflicted when I see horror movies. As anyone perusing this blog can tell, I’m a fan of or apologist for some pretty wretched films. However, I am also a die-hard horror fan. I like it when a horror film gets under my skin and I have fond memories of the films that terrified me as a child. When a horror film looks like it’s going to deliver something unique and frightening and fails, I’m usually disappointed rather than enthused. I didn’t see the ad for The Boogeyman on TV and think, “Hey, that looks scary as crap. I should watch that.” I was thinking, “Hey, that looks like crap. I should watch that.” Jeepers Creepers was promising to start with, but when it was revealed that the killer was actually a demon, I was disappointed. Even my mom said it would have been scarier if the killer was just some psycho trucker; I love my mom; she doesn’t watch horror often, but she has taste. Nevertheless, I have some nice things to say about it now that I’ve rewatched it all these years later.
The story is fairly straightforward. A brother and sister, Darry and Trish, are taking the scenic route home. They’re scared by a beat-up, old, brown truck that swerves around them, which has a license plate that reads “BEATNGU.” When they pass the driver dumping what looks like a body wrapped in sheets down a sewer pipe by an abandoned church, they wait for the driver to leave so they can investigate. Darry accidentally falls down the pipe and finds a catacomb so packed with bodies in puts the ones in Paris to shame. The two book it to the nearest gas station to inform the police about what they found. A call from a mysterious woman tells them that what’s hunting them is some sort of demon and they should watch out if they hear the song, “Jeepers Creepers.” The cops follow Trish and Darry to the church, but they’re waylaid by the killer, who beheads the cops and stubbornly refuses to die after being run over several times. After a run-in with a crazy cat-lady, who is quickly dispatched by the demon, they drive to the nearest police station. At the police station, they meet Jezelle, the mysterious caller. Jezelle is a psychic and she tells them that the demon is revived every 23rd spring to feed for 23 days; the creature eats parts of people to make it stronger. The demon breaks into the station, kills several officers, then flies away with Darry. The final scene shows the demon in an abandoned factory, puttering with tools while “Jeepers Creepers” plays on a phonograph. Darry’s body sits upright, the head missing with the face remaining, two gaping holes where the eyes should be. And then the demon looks through the eyeholes like a mask.
As I mentioned before, my major complaint was that the killer turned out to be a demon. I was expecting something more along the lines of Leatherface; he would have made a scary human, given his hulking figure, dark trench coat, hat worn low concealing his face, and the heavy thud of his boots on pavement. Still, I can’t fault the creature design. The demon costume is pretty cool and the spare use of CGI for the wings made him seem realistic enough. The problem is that we’re led to believe it’s a deranged trucker when we see him barreling down the highway, scaring the two kids, and when we see him walking around before we get a good look at his face. Even the plot of the two kids alone on the road, talking about the mysterious deaths of two high school sweethearts who died in 1978, suggests more of an urban legend/slasher movie than supernatural monster movie. The transition might have been handled better if not for Jezelle, the local psychic who serves as an awkward device for exposition. I’m not sure what would be a smoother way to introduce the trucker’s true nature, but I have to believe there is a better way than a couple of too-subtle hints and a psychic flat-out telling them that it’s a demon.
Jezelle aside, the acting is pretty good. I’m not talking about the demon’s feeding fodder, though I was fond of the shotgun-toting, crazy cat lady. The two main characters have a realistic brother-and-sister rapport, a kind of semi-antagonistic trading of insults that belies their fraternal bond. The two main characters, particularly Darry, looked genuinely frightened when they encounter the creature. Although there’s not a great deal of psychological depth, since there’s little time for that in a film focused on a scary demon, the characters come off as more relatable and sympathetic than the usual beer-swilling, promiscuous teen/college student stereotypes we’ve come to know and love to see die.
The film also has a few legitimately spooky moments I’m fond of. Toward the beginning of the film, we see a trailer that Trish and Darry pass run off the road; it’s not referred to again in the film, but when we see the killer trucker for the first time, we know why they might have run off the road. The scene inside the catacombs is also chilling for multiple reasons. Before Darry even gets down there, we see crows and rats congregating which signals that they’re waiting for food. When Darry does fall headlong down the pipe into the massive burial chamber, it’s scary because he’s surrounded by dead bodies, which shows the killer’s brutality and killing prowess, and he could come back at any moment to find Darry; add to it, the demon set up shop in an abandoned church’s basement, which is as spooky as it is sacrilegious. I also liked the final scene in the film, which I’ve already described, because it gives the distressing suggestion that the demon might start walking around in Darry’s skin.
Jeepers Creepers also deserves kudos for choosing an extremely creepy jazz song as it’s theme. Even after all the years since I first saw the movie, I still sing “Jeepers Creepers” because it stuck with me and I always remember it in conjunction with this movie. Come to think of it, the jazz/big band era has is share of creepy hits. I’d love to see someone use “Mack the Knife” as the theme song for a horror movie.