Once you see enough horror movies, they do start to run together somewhat. Common tropes start to stand out and the structure of your average fright fest starts to become very apparent. Some people like to examine and deconstruct these tropes and cliches in an effort to make something new. They introduce a level of genre savvyness into their characters, or make a villain that defies traditional cliches. Sometimes a talented person applies this philosophy to their work and we get an iconic movie like Scream. Sometimes we also get a movie like Jeepers Creepers: A 2001 movie that claimed to be the next generation of horror, standing alongside the likes of Friday the 13th and Halloween. Does it come close?
No. No it does not.
But we can still make fun of it.
Our movie begins with two siblings on a lengthy road as they head back from spring break. The high, whining voice of Justin Long pierces my ears and clues me in to what kind of movie this is going to be right away as he curses his sister, the route they are taking and the world in general. This is Darry, one half of the main protagonists alongside his sister Trish and boy oh boy do these two foster an instant dislike from me. Their back and forth as they drive along open country roads and play a game of spotting vanity plates is interspersed with school yard-level insults and name calling, which do not do much to endear me to either of them. Why must they be so unpleasant? I understand that siblings bicker, but there is a way to write brother-sister relationships that doesn't make me want to reach through the screen and strangle both characters until their voiceboxes are crushed.
Finally their ceaseless nattering is put on hold when a beat up old truck lunges in from behind them and starts honking, swerving back and forth like it's trying to run them off of the road. For a moment I get excited and think I've put in Duel by mistake, but after a solid minute of panicked yelling and honks, the truck drives past them with another blast of it's horn and Dairy yells after him. Then they duck back into the car and get back to their chatter, highlighted by a juvenile game of “Nu-uh, Uh-hu” when they try to name the license plate of the truck; BEATINGU.
We get an entire visual representation of this movie with Justin Long peeing in a field and a little bit of set up: Trish needed a ride home from spring break and wanted to take the lengthy back roads for...some reason. I don't know, maybe she likes country music and radio preachers. They talk about an old urban legend back at their school about two high school sweethearts who disappeared on a country road like this and I think we might be getting somewhere until they jump back into name calling and I start to bounce my head off of the coffee table.
As they drive past an old church, they spot the truck from before parked nearby and the owner, some dude dressed like a cowboy, carrying hefty bundled shapes out of the car and tossing them into a large sewage pipe. He spots the siblings watching him and hops back in his truck, trying to run them over again. This time he does a number on their back bumper and runs them off of the road. And then he just...keeps going, leaving them there. Okay, jerk. You don't wanna eat us right now? Do you have somewhere to be? Fine! We'll just keep arguing with each other!
The issue with characters in most horror movies is that they are by and large disposable. When the credits fade and the protagonists gather on screen, you know that someone is going to die. Maybe halfway through the movie to raise the stakes, maybe at the very end during the climax, but the point is, someone's gonna get it. The job of a horror film is to make us not want that to happen. They have to give us something to like about a character, to make them funny or sympathetic, give them a goal to work towards so that when they die, the audience feels a genuine sense of loss, which is where the stakes come from. Threat of death is the baseline fear in almost ever horror film, and if you don't give us a reason to like or root for our main characters beyond “They're the main characters” then the audience just starts rooting for the bad guy to kill all of these irritating people. And that's not horror anymore. That's just gorey slapstick.
Back at the plot, Dairy has decided he wants to go back to the church and investigate the pipe. This is an astonishingly bad idea considering that they both know that the things being thrown down there were clearly bodies, and nothing good will come of their little fact finding mission. Trish flatly refuses, but Dairy wins her over with the possibility that someone might be alive down there. They head back and Dairy actually has his sister hold him by his feet as he stretches down into the pipe, calling down as Trish explains that this is exactly what gets people killed in bad horror movies. Both siblings get freaked out by a few rats and Darry thrashes around like an idiot until his sister lets him go and he slides down into the blackness.
Darry comes to and tells his sister that he's alright while poking around and telling himself how much he sucks. No arguments here. As his eyes get accustomed to the light, he sees the bagged up bodies nearby and goes to investigate, finding that one of them is still alive. This survivor is either way too into body mods or had a pretty sketchy back alley appendectomy judging by the way his torso has been mesiily sewn up, and quickly dies while gasping out an attempt at a warning. Dairy gets his flashlight back and starts to poke around the basement, finding a table of bizarre implements covered in cobwebs (Which don't make a lot of sense if the Kowboy Killer comes down here often) and a few bottles of goo on a table depicting some kind of demon. While tying his shoes, a little bit of goo drips on his foot and Dairy realizes that the ceiling is covered in mounted dead bodies.
I can imagine that this is supposed to be a big, scary moment, but I can only think about the logistics of such a thing. First of all, I don't care how well preserved your corpses are, something here is going to stink. And I don't mean a noxious odour, I mean Dairy here would be gagging as soon as he went down the pipe. And secondly, unless this murderous cowboy has somehow gained access to the plastinization procedure that Bodyworlds uses, no way are even the most well embalmed corpses going to look like a bunch of actors hired to pose nude after at least 20 years of being mounted. This point even gets hammered in when he sees a pair of bodies wearing a “Class of 75” ring. It is so unrealistic to think that these bodies would be in such good shape after so long that I am completely pulled out of the moment. He finds a way out of the basement, and Trish gets a minor spook from a conveniently out-of-focus truck that barrels past her, then another predictable jump scare when Darry slams against the window like a psycho.
These two shouty kids shout at each other some more, then take their car to a local diner and then shout at the customers until the phone rings. Some odd sounding lady has called them, babbling about cats and how something is hunting them. She claims to know them, pointing out their physical characteristics such as the colour of their car and Dairy's ill-conceived rose tattoo he has on his navel. Okay, I've been looking at that thing since he conveniently tore his shirt in that exact pot in the pipe and I really have to ponder the head space of a guy who voluntarily gets that image emblazoned on their body in that spot. I know for a fact that Dairy Queen here does not have any sort of emotional depth that might grant the tat special meaning, and if you're looking for a way to impress the ladies, I doubt what is barely a step above a tramp stamp will be very alluring.
Anyways, Ms. Cleo tells them over the phone that whatever is hunting them is some sort of devil or demon or hungry thing. She asks the two to think about the song, “Jeepers Creepers” and asks them and the audience to think hard about the license plate that they saw on the truck. “BEATINGU”? “B EATING U”?. Get it? Man, it sure is easy to get the point of all this ingenious narrative symmetry when the film throws it right in our faces and tells us to think about how clever it is. They respond to this helpful info with nothing but wrath, yelling at this lady and generally being terrible. They contact the police and continue to be shouty dicks to the cops that answer their call, until the waitress tells them that there is some creeper outside sniffing their collective panties. I guess that previously mentioned load of dirty laundry in the back of the car payed off. And just watch, soon the monster will be sneaking peeks up Justin Long's skirt and getting nosebleeds. The cops dust for prints and Trish wonders how this weirdo got in and out of there so quickly....
The siblings head back onto the road, with the cops tailing behind them. The police car gets a call that the church they were told about had gone up in flames and meanwhile in the Impala, the worst brother and sister I've ever seen gets into ANOTHER shouting match when Darry hears a disco remix of “Jeepers Creepers” and starts to freak about it, screaming at nothing while Trish screams at him. The Pines Twins, these two aren't. I suppose playing the song summons him or something, because the Jeepers Creeper decides to drop down and start messing with the cop car, which our two heroes are clearly too self absorbed to notice.
One cop gets nabbed and the other gets decapitated with a previously unseen battle axe that we will never see again. The prescence of a severed head bouncing off of their roff finally prompts the duo to stop the car, and they decide to sit there and watch as Jeepers gets out of the cop car and casually starts to make out with the police officer's severed head, until he takes “no tounge” to new levels of enforcement, chewing it out of the head's mouth. The car is stricken with the standard horror movie affliction of not being able to start until it is dramatically convenient and they bail.
Trish is clearly upset about all of this and stops the car at a random house, seemingly out of spite. She plans to call “Someone” for “Some Reason” and calls out the houses resident, some filthy cat lady. She rambles creepily at them and I am worried that I am about to see yet another bitch fest until Cat Lady notices that someone is pretending to be her scarecrow.
She pulls out her double barrel and takes a shot at the Jeeper, managing to completely obliterate half her cornfield but missing the cowboy. Once again I have to wonder what kind of ammo a gun in a horror movie is packing to do something like that with a single shot. The old lady runs into the house to save her cats and is swiftly disposed of. We finally get a good look at our Creeper and he is one jowly man-eating demon. I think he needs to invest in a little botox.
The horrid siblings pile back into their car and attempt to run over their pursuer, but he's fast enough to do some sick backflips and run over their moving car in a way which I suppose in intended to make him look frighteningly competent but ends up being goofy as hell.
Finally Trish manages to nail Jeeper and in a remarkable moment of intelligence, waives getting out of the car to check if he's dead in favour of backing up and running over his body several times. Atta girl. A demonic wing sprouts from his otherwise still body, and the kids hightail it out of there.
They finally make it to the police station and run into the lady who called them earlier. She's a psychic with unexplained precognitive powers straight out of a Steven King story that offers the kids some exposition. I seriously have no idea why this woman is here, beyond acting as a means to elaborate on the monster. Apparently, this creature awakens every 23 years to eat for 23 days. During this time, it devours body parts to replace those that it has damaged or lost, so there seems to be no way to permanently kill it so long as it has a fresh supply of body parts. It chooses it's prey by scaring them, then smelling something in their fear to tell it whether or not they have something it wants. That's why it freaks people out on the road. It can't just turn up the heat a little bit, it has to be TERROR sweat.
Reeling from this info dump brought to them by a ladies very informative dreams, the kids proceed to act like jackasses and angrily grill this poor woman who is just trying to help them for more information. I receive a calming reassurance that one or both of them is going to die very soon when the power goes out at the station and one of the police officers finds a naked Jeeper downstairs, dining on the guys in lockup. Miss Cleo tries to get the kids out of there, and they seem to take every inconvenience to yell at her again. You just found out that precognition is a thing that seems to be totally unrelated to the monster that's chasing you, and you're upset that her incredible future sight doesn't tell you EXACTLY what to do? Entitled pricks, the Precrime guys in Minority Report at least knew that they had to some sleuthing and leg work in addition to the whole “seeing the future” thing.
The cops swarm the staircase and one of them gets a hole punched through his rib cage as the Jeeper descends on them. The kids are pushed upstairs by Miss Cleo, who gets sniffed up by the Creeper, but abandoned. I suppose he doesn't have any interest in a brain that can see the future and is just as confused by her presence in this story as I am. Upstairs, the kids make a half assed attempt at hiding in a room they were specifically told to avoid and get one last, mercifully silent, bickering match in before the Jeeper bursts in, clearly as fed up with this nonsense as I am and eager to put it to rest. He sniffs both of them, and the big narriative twist come crashing home. He was after DARRY THE WHOLE TIME! Yes, that is the big climactic reveal: The monster that has been chasing our main characters the entire movie intended to eat one of them. Shocking, I know.
He grabs the brother and puts on a show for the riot cops who burst in, flaring his wings and flexing his face webbing. The armoured, assault weapon-wielding police officers respond by doing absolutely nothing. Trish comes forward and begs Jeeper to take her instead, sparing her brother. Hey, I have an idea, why not take both of them! This is yet another pointless scene when the Creeper goes “nah” and flies off. The police officers continue to stand there.
The next morning, Trish takes one last chance to yell at the incredibly helpful psychic for not being more helpful after doing exactly what she told them not to do and heads home, looking at a bird for some reason. Meanwhile in some distant, cobwebbed factory, we are treated to the melodious sounds of a screaming Darry and a shot of his mangled body. It turns out that Jeeper was after his eyeballs and hole punched them right out his skull. Get it? Jeepers Creepers, where's you get those peepers? Oh god so dumb, Okay, I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty damn skippy that in order to get those massive visible holes in someone's head, you'd have to hollow out their entire skull. We are essentially looking at the convex side of a spoon. Man, the Creeper put a lot of effort into that last shot.
What to say about this movie? It's biggest weakness is easily the protagonists, a pair of unlikable, immature, inflammatory dickbags that I take no pleasure in watching. This move can really only serve as a creature feature, and they show off the monster so much that it either looks like a dopey cowboy or just plan dopey looking. It's design is pretty cool with those little headwings, but then again, so was the Xenomorph in Alien. And the alien was scary because it stuck to the shadows and didn't hobble around like a naked man who has locked himself out of his house. This movie makes an attempt at being clever with Trish's occasional bout of genre-savvyness, but still falls into the same horror movies cliches that it seems desperate to avoid. It isn't all that scary, not fun to watch and has probably ruined that song for me now. Pass this one up.