One would have to dig clear through the classic era of Universal Monster Movies in order to find a title that is a Jeepers Creepers equivalent in tone, structure, and suspense. And that’s a good thing. Writer/director Victor Salva explores his love of classic creature features with a horror movie that is actually intelligent and frightening. While most critics dismissed the film at the time of its release, this 2001 production is one of the only films to effectively explore the deeply unsettling monster mythos of the idyllic American Midwest.
On a long ribbon of isolated highway, Trish (Gina Philips) and her brother Darry (Justin Long) drive a 1960 Chevrolet Impala toward home. The two characters are obviously close (and its a nice change of pace to the standard boyfriend and girlfriend meet their demise at the horror show in the usual genre flick). Approaching their vehicle at a terrifying speed is a rusty old 1941 Chevy COE. With three long blasts from its demented Viking-like horn, the COE finally passes the Impala. Trish and Darry sigh with relief and continue on their way.
But the tension ratchets up a notch when they later see the Chevy parked next to a boarded up church and its driver (Jonathan Breck), a tall scarecrow-looking figure, tossing bodies into a tunnel stuck into the ground. They slow the car and stare at the bizarre and disturbing scene, getting a good look at the wrapped up bodies and the blood soaking through the sheets. And then they speed off.
Too late, though. The driver catches up with them and forces them off the road as he drives on by. Then, in a noble gesture, they return to the abandoned church with the upended tunnel to see, now that the driver has left them alone, if anyone needs their help before they send in the police.
Their day of terror is only beginning.
Setting the pace of the picture to match the cleverly suspenseful flicks of another era, writer/director Salva pulls off, in an era of one second attention spans, a legitimately ballsy move and actually allows the picture to breathe in the abandoned and bizarre atmosphere of isolation that is inherit in open fields of grain. He then effectively creeps us out with legitimate scares instead of typical slasher jumps. You know, the scenes in which closets are opened and cats jump out, startling everyone. No, large parts of Jeepers Creepers are the real thing; playful, clever, and scary as hell.
When Darry explores the long metal pipe and discovers what he later describes to police as a "psycho version of the Sistine Chapel", the tension – thanks to a gnarly production design that is just to the right side of absurd – is borderline unbearable. The reveal of the creature and his artistry is breathtaking in its three stages.
Suspense is paramount for the creature feature to work and, borrowing more than a handful of shots from Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Sugerland Express, and Duel), cinematographer Don E. FauntLeRoy and editor Ed Marx are to be commended for their work on the picture. Even when we see more and more of the monster, its design never ceases to amaze with its splendid details and layers.
Running through the film is a nice layer of humor. Whether from an oddball character like the crazy cat lady (Eileen Brennan) or from the bumbling police force that can’t match wits with an always meddling psychic (Patricia Belcher), the lighter moments happen too quickly to really lift the tension in this 90 minute feature but they don’t go by unnoticed.
Even if the film loses impact and a bit of momentum in the low-lighted police station shootout scene, Jeepers Creepers is a classically trained monster picture that saves its best scene for the very last. We don’t get a lot of answers about the creature but we get enough to understand that its an artist at work which, to me, suggests a bit of autobiographical information from Salvo as the misunderstood monster tucked away in some private room somewhere alone with his work.
Jeepers Creepers, making its debut on blu-ray this week, is a better horror film than you might have heard or might expect from a legitimate B-movie.
MPAA Rating: R for terror violence/gore, language and brief nudity.
Runtime: 90 mins.
Director: Victor Salva
Writer: Victor Salva
Cast: Gina Phillips; Justin Long; Jonathan Breck; Patricia Belcher; Eileen Brennan
Tagline: On this road in the middle of nowhere evil has found the perfect place to hide. It has a face. It has a home. And worst of all it has a plan.
Memorable Movie Quote: "You know the part in scary movies when somebody does something really stupid, and everybody hates them for it? This is it."
Distributor: MGM/UA Distribution Company
Official Site: www.mgm.com/jeeperscreepers
Theatrical Release Date: August 31, 2001
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: September 11, 2012
Synopsis: A brother and sister driving home for spring break encounter a flesh-eating creature in the isolated countryside that is on the last day of its ritualistic eating spree.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - September 11, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0; French: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
The 1080p transfer, courtesy of MGM, retains a subtle layer of grain that remains throughout and lends to the image a pleasing and film-like appearance. In many cases and probably due to the amount of night scenes, the picture doesn’t lend itself to the revelation of tremendous amounts of detail, but the film does manage to sparkle under more normal lighting conditions, particularly during bright, daytime outdoor shots where there's an obvious depth and high level of detail even in the background. Fine object detail and texture often impress. Black levels are generally solid, and flesh tones never veer too far from a natural shade. The sound is offered in a strong Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. A good sense of aural immersion provides a rather strong atmosphere for the film to creep its viewers out with.
- Provided by writer/director Victor Salva, the film’s commentary is an intelligent one that reveals the inspiration for the movie and offers some of its secrets in how its filming was handled. Salva is a good speaker when it comes to vocalizing the process of filmmaking and this track is worth your time if you are a true lover of the form.
Outside of new cover art and the 1080p convert, there really is nothing new with this release. Its supplementals – including its deleted scenes – are the same ones that graced the original DVD. There’s a nice nearly hour long set of featurettes that cover the making of the movie complete with some original audition footage and a nice photo gallery. Not quite extensive but, combined with the commentary, totally worth the price of admission.
- Behind the Peepers (45 min)
- Extended and Deleted Scenes (10 min)
- Photo Gallery
- Original Trailer