Jeepers Creepers (2001) * 1/2
Written and directed by Victor Salva. Photography, Don E. Fauntleroy. Editing, Ed Marx. Production design, Steven Legler. Music, Bennett Salvay. Produced by Barry Opper and Tom Luse. Executive producers, Francis Ford Coppola et al. Cast: Gina Philips , Justin Long, Jonathan Breck, Patricia Belcher, Brandon Smith ,Eileen Brennan. Co-produced by American Zoetrope & Cinerenta-Cinebeta (Germany). A United Artists (MGM) release. 90 minutes. R (much gore)
Whither American cinema? When I saw this film it was preceded by an ad (for a new satellite radio) consisting of quick scenes of total destruction. Following this were three previews with more destruction and mayhem. The hors-d'oeuvres ended with a fourth "action" preview for a bank-robbing comedy. O tempora, o mores! Hollywood's leaden feet have become leaden everything in carnivals of violence. Where are the witty Golden Ages of American Comedy, the classic "films noirs," the solid melodramas, the New American cinema of the 1970s, or anything else that has a high place in film history?
"Jeepers Creepers" was a song by Harry Warren with lyrics by Johnny Mercer -- both greats-- introduced in 1938 in the MGM comedy "Going Places" with Dick Powell and Ronald Reagan. "Jeepers Creepers" was the name of a horse important to a plot which was silly but had good funny moments. That movie is only memorable for Louis Armstrong's playing and singing. The throaty delivery by Satchmo made this particular song an international hit.
The movie "Jeepers Creepers" uses that song in the background, mostly an instrumental recording by Paul Whiteman and his Swing Wing. The only connection (painfully tenuous, loose and forced) between the old song and this picure is the word "creeper."
The time is unspecified, the place could be anywhere (the film was shot in Florida.). Sister Trish (Gina Philips) and brother Darry (Justin Long) are college students driving home in an old Cadillac. They argue, bicker and show traces of personality. The two-lane highway they're on has no other traffic except for one red herring instance..
But then, from behind there appears an old truck, peculiar in appearance, with some parts that make it look like a poor man's home-plated Brinks truck. It is oddly faster than the Cadillac. Its driver is invisible, its front has something like a cow-catcher/battering ram. It keeps bumping the sedan savagely, damages and forces it off the road, then disappears.. Shades of Steven Spielberg excellent, suspenseful "Duel," originally a 1971 TV movie that later went to the big screen.
This overture is promising, albeit protracted. Later, the siblings spot the truck next to a dilapidated, boarded-up church surrounded by hosts of ominously croaking crows. (shades of Hitchock and Poe.) The mysterious, all-covered up driver is pushing something wrapped up in a sheet with red splotches (a body?) into a big drain. He departs. While his sister objects (women are from Venus) Darry (men being from Mars) investigates. What he finds is too horrid for words. .
Terrified, the young people burst into a gas station's roadhouse. "We need help!" They only get indifference from the customers at the tables. Since this eatery is in the middle of nowhere and has an improbably large number of customers, it crossed my mind that they could be like the locals in the 1956 gem "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and its first-rate 1978 remake. In both, pods from outer space become clones of familiar persons. My guess was short-lived: the cafe's people are "real" persons, though their pan-faced non-reactions is unexplained.
Playing cat and mouse with the viewer, the flick segues with the mysterious driver who morphs into a critter. The camera never lingers on him (it) but there are enough clues that this murderous Thing from Another World (the title of a 1951 classic) is a composite, including the wearing of his brains on the outside of his head, somewhat in "Star Trek" fashion. It can also develop huge bat-like wings. All this evolves into a confusing mess of horror-film cliches.
For bad measure the story throws in a cat lady, but not in the sense of the great 1942 "The Cat People."; an unbelievable and inexplicable female psychic; an attack within the sheriff's department; more nonsense and a plethora of arbitrary incoherences. By far the weakest element is "the Creeper." Was executive producer Coppola (and owner of American Zoetrope) catatonic when he approved this movie?
On the small plus side are some gruesome special effects for the critter's victims; the siblings look natural; and above all the musical score is used in cleverly fragmented fashion. But all this still cannot raise the picture to a two-star level.