With horror flicks getting the postmodern treatment in parodies such as the Scream and Scary Movie franchises, one had to wonder what would happen to the genre. If they had become so predictable, so easy to deconstruct, where would all the thrills go? Would we be faced with gore or bore?
Jeepers Creepers answers that question, and the thrill is back. Director Victor Salva (Powder) shows an almost heartfelt passion for the horror flicks of their 1970s heyday, patching together a downright scary homage to both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and, of all films, Steven Spielberg's Duel. With almost period cinematography, crisp editing and a nail-biting soundtrack, Salva builds tension in a story that's all too familiar. And that's a neat trick indeed. That Salva's own script betrays him toward the end as he struggles to wrap things up is an unfortunate glitch in an otherwise thrilling ride.
Salva recognizes what the great '70s masters Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and John Carpenter knew: It's what you don't see that can scare you to death. While there's plenty of nasty eye candy, Salva reflects his horror more in his characters' faces more than pouring the buckets of blood that can ultimately numb an audience.
In selecting two relatively unknown leads, Justin Long (of TV's Ed) and Gina Philips as brother and sister, Salva has an open canvas on which to paint his shock and fright. They respond in kind, for not a scene goes by that his tight camera angles aren't met with a short breath or wide-eyed, gape-mouthed expression. As the title suggests, it's all in their eyes. As the story progresses, the two kids, previously too smart for their own good a la the entire cast of The Blair Witch Project, slowly realize they're in a hellish downward spiral and there's nothing they can do about it.
Perhaps the biggest surprise (and obvious nod to his heroes) is Salva's eschewing a typical modern rock-laden soundtrack, favoring instead the vintage song of the film's title as his hook but mainly letting Richie Vetter's score do all the emotional heavy lifting.
Jeepers Creepers falters as Salva tries to explain his creature's motives and the kids' fate. Curiously, he also caves in to a moment or two of self-consciousness; at one point Trish protests, "You know the part in scary movies when someone does something stupid and everyone hates him for it? This is it!"
Otherwise, Jeepers Creepers definitely creeps out an audience that otherwise might have seemed a little too jaded for this stuff.
- 'Yer creepin' me out!': Brother Darry (Justin Long, right) and sister Trish (Gina Philips) can't believe what they're hearing in the horror film Jeepers Creepers.