Starring Justin Long, Gina Philips, Jonathan Breck
Directed by Victor Salva
Distributed by Scream Factory
There was a bit of controversy a couple months back when Scream Factory announced they would be releasing collector’s editions for both films in the Jeepers Creepers series. This is because writer/director Victor Salva is a convicted pedophile, having videotaped himself molesting the then-12-year-old star of his debut film Clownhouse (1989). Detestable as his crimes are, there are plenty of shitbags working in Hollywood whose crimes have not be made public, so the only purpose of this review will be to judge the film based on its own merits, with no further discussion of how Salva is a huge piece of shit.
The state of American horror in the early aughts was bleak. The cinematic landscape was largely devoid of any lasting titles, save for a few lucky franchises and the odd instant classic. The swill most directors served up was redundant, callow, and – like most of the cast by the time the credits rolled – lifeless. What happened to the time when horror thrived on being unique and weird? Right around the turn of the century, word began to spread of a film that was being heavily touted as The Next Big Thing in horror: Jeepers Creepers (2001). This wasn’t exactly the pre-internet days, but I was rocking a horribly outdated Dell desktop with a 56K modem so horror news had to be learned the old-fashioned way: magazines. Specifically, Fangoria, since it was just about the only horror publication worth reading (how times have changed). All of the written press made it sound like writer/director Victor Salva had crafted something truly worthy of horror fans’ time. Unlike today’s pop culture climate, where on-set photo leaks and spoilers are the norm, the big reveals of Jeepers Creepers were left for the theater. Despite a few missteps the trades were mostly spot-on; Salva had delivered the goods. More than that, he created one of the most interesting, enigmatic antagonists in horror cinema: The Creeper.
Darry (Justin Long) and his sister Trish (Gina Philips) are on a cross country adventure, heading home during spring break to visit their parents. Their idyllic trip through the quiet Florida countryside is cut short when their car is run off the road by a blacked-out, rusty old truck, its horn incessantly blaring as Darry scrambles to get out of the way. Soon after, they spot the same truck parked behind a decaying church where the driver is seen dumping something that looks awfully like a body, wrapped up in bloody white sheets, down a large drainage pipe. Darry convinces Trish, against her better judgment, to drive back so he can investigate. He crawls into the pipe with Trish holding his feet, but a handful of rats spook the two of them and Trish winds up letting go, dropping Darry into the abyss.
Down there, Darry finds himself inside a mammoth lair filled with preserved bodies, intricate weaponry, bizarre decorations… and the wrapped-up body seen earlier. Darry rips open the sheet to find a young man, just barely alive, with a crudely stitched incision running down his chest. Before he can get out a cohesive word, the man dies. Darry freaks out and hurries back to the car so he and Trish can find a phone and call the police. The cops arrive and hear Darry’s tale, agreeing to check out the church, but on the way back they’re intercepted by the “man” they saw earlier. Realizing he is no man, a game of cat-and-mouse ensues with Darry & Trish trying to outrun The Creeper (Jonathan Breck), who proves to be amazingly resilient and full of surprises. The only hope they seem to have comes from a crazy old woman named Jezelle (Patricia Belcher), whose dreams are able to predict the future and may hold the key to the two of them surviving the night.
The inability to distance Salva from his crimes is unfortunate because he really is a gifted filmmaker. With Jeepers Creepers, Salva culls from a lifelong obsession with monster movies and the macabre to deliver a 21st century creature in the vein of Universal’s old-school ghoul heydays. Although, conversely, I have read theories that Salva sees himself as The Creeper and the film was his way of getting back at the young boy who had him sent away to prison. But that’s a long digression I don’t plan to tackle. The film leans into horror tropes as much as it attempts to subvert them; The Creeper is initially presented as a mysterious dark figure, a serial killer looking for his next victim. But as the film moves ahead it is made clear this thing is no man and our two leads won’t be able to rely on tried-and-true methods to kill it off. Though much of the mystery is squandered in the film’s second half, Salva does a great job presenting a horror villain full of wonder. What exactly is this thing? Where does it come from? The Creeper is humanoid, yet so very inhuman. There is a rich mythology there, with only hints of its extensive backstory presented. I hope Salva can avoid the temptation to illuminate The Creeper’s origins if he ever gets a third entry off the ground. The adage “less is more” works best in horror.
Salva almost shows too much of his hand by adding Exposition Character to the film, though. I think Patricia Belcher is a fine actress, but her character of Jezelle nears derails the film. It reeks of studio interference or just plain old laziness. It’s understandable that Salva would want to clue his audience in on what The Creeper is, where his motivations lie, but couldn’t there have been a smoother way to present this information than through the prism of a character whose only purpose is to spout exposition like gospel? Options are limited when dealing with a character (The Creeper) that doesn’t speak, so the info has to get out somehow; I get that. I suppose it’s better than having Darry read it in a conveniently placed book or something. I just found Jezelle as a character to be a bit too ham-fisted in her approach. And if you think she’s bad, Salva actually does worse in his sequel.
Quick note: Trish and Darry are terrible. Long is a fine actor in other projects; Philips has never worked for me as an actress. They both deliver good enough performances here, but I never really bought them as brother and sister. Their interplay comes across as two actors playing siblings; it never felt organic to me and, after having seen the film more than a few times, I don’t think it ever will.
Faults aside, Jeepers Creepers is an effective little film full of some gorgeous cinematography, brooding atmosphere, and injected with something horror always needs: awe. The Creeper is a character we know so little about, even with Jezelle’s revelations, and by the end viewers will still be left with many lingering questions. Rare is the film that’s able to pull of such a feat, even more so when it’s a studio picture. Amazingly, Salva nearly achieves this accomplishment twice, since Jeepers Creepers 2 is every bit as entertaining as this film.
Kudos to Scream Factory for not simply recycling MGM’s old master for this release, instead opting to produce a new 2K scan from the inter-positive. As such, expect to see some improvement in the 1.85:1 1080p picture over the previous Blu-ray release. Film grain looks a bit tighter, clarity is tad greater, and colors are slightly more robust. Black levels seem on point with the last release; strong overall but spotty in some areas. Shadow delineation is average, leaving some images looking muddy in total darkness. If you’re considering upgrading your existing Blu-ray solely for the new transfer, know you really don’t need to.
The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound (or 2.0 stereo) track is a strong effort, largely due to composer Bennett Salvay’s brooding, primal score. There is a great deal of activity in the rears – road rage vehicular assaults, a murder of crows, The Creeper enjoying a late-night snack, completely excessive gunfire. Salva knows the effectiveness of immersing a viewer in the film and this sound mix capably gets the job done. Dialogue levels are perfectly balanced, too. Subtitles are available in English.
First up is a new audio commentary, featuring writer/director Victor Salva, along with stars Justin Long and Gina Philips.
Salva’s original audio commentary track he recorded for the initial DVD release is also included here.
“Jeepers Creepers: Now and Then” – Salva commands this piece, which is a look back at the film’s production history. Select members of the crew are also interviewed about making the picture. There is some good information here but it’s all pretty standard stuff. There aren’t many memorable anecdotes.
“From Critters to Creepers” – Producer Barry Opper sits down to discuss the pictures he’s been involved with during his career.
“The Town Psychic” – Actress Patricia Belcher, who plays Jezelle, discusses her time on this film as well as her overall career.
“Behind the Peepers” features the following featurettes found on the previous DVD release:
– “Finding Trish & Darry” – This focuses on casting the two leads. Salva talks about what he saw in both actors that made him feel they were right for his film. We also get to see some of Long’s audition footage.
– “Designing the Creeper” – Salva, along with artist Brad Parker and FX artist Brian Penikas, talk about how they came up with the film’s creature.
– “Cars & Trucks” – Get a closer look at the classic Plymouth that Trish and Darry drive, as well as the menacing horn-blaring Truck from Hell that The Creeper pilots.
– “The Creeper Comes to Florida” – Meet Jonathan Breck, the man behind the makeup, as he discusses what it was like shooting in Florida’s naturally humid conditions.
– “Night Shoots” – Focuses on the film’s lighting, such as how they lit the street to appear like moonlight using dozens of raised mega-watt bulbs.
– “Making the Score” – Bennett Salvay, the film’s composer, takes us through his process for writing and recording the score, and we get to see some scenes with isolated score to show how it enhances them.
“More Creepers” has the remainder of the old DVD features – deleted scenes, a photo gallery, theatrical trailer, and a radio spot.
The two-disc set comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The cover art is reversible, allowing for display of either the newly created artwork or the key theatrical art. A slipcover featuring the new art is included on first pressings.
Jeepers Creepers (Collector’s Edition)
- NEW 2K scan of the inter-positive
- NEW Audio Commentary with writer/director Victor Salva, stars Gina Philips and Justin Long
- Audio Commentary By writer/director Victor Salva
- NEW JEEPERS CREEPERS: Then and Now featuring interviews with writer/director Victor Salva, producer Barry Opper, director of photography Don FauntLeRoy, editor Ed Marx and actor Tom Tarantini (37 minutes)
- NEW From Critters to Creepers – an interview with producer Barry Opper (19 minutes)
- NEW The Town Psychic – an interview with actress Patricia Belcher (16 minutes)
- Behind The Peepers: The Making of JEEPERS CREEPERS featuring writer/director Victor Salva, producer Tom Luse, actors Gina Philips, Justin Long, Eileen Brennan, Jonathan Breck and more… (60 minutes)
- Deleted & Extended Scenes including an alternate opening and ending sequence (17 minutes)
- Photo Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer
- Radio Spot