- Pick out a fistful of horror movies I haven’t seen.
- Watch them.
- Write a review of one every other day until Halloween.
It’s simple with a relevant holiday theme.
Jeepers Creepers was first up on my list. It doesn’t lend itself to a simple review.
Here’s what I knew about Jeepers Creepers before sitting down to watch it:
- It was something of a surprise mini-hit during its theater run.
- It was popular enough to spawn at least one sequel, with another one lurking in the future.
- Someone deemed the movie important enough to release a “special edition” DVD.
Here’s what I didn’t know:
Victor Salva wrote and directed it.
This was a complication. I knew that I’d filter every frame of Jeepers Creepers through my understanding and opinions of the writer/director.
Just in case you didn’t know it, Victor Salva is a child rapist.
Victor Salva’s first feature, Clownhouse, was in the can. The movie told the story of a little boy who was victimized by a crew of sadistic felons in stolen clown garb.
The cops were more interested in another Salva movie–a little homemade video he kept in his house. It featured Salva, the former daycare worker, and the twelve year-old star of Clownhouse engaged in sexual activity. Salva used his longstanding relationship as a trusted adult with the child and his position as a director to create an opportunity for abuse far more horrific than anything his creepy clowns did to the child’s character.
Salva pleaded down eleven felony counts to five and got what he wanted–a relatively light prison sentence. He did less than two years of a three-year stint before getting out and resuming his career in movies.
His first post-prison movie was Powder. He wrote and directed the story of a supernatural albino high school boy who found himself the target of derision and bullying. I thought its scenes of actors portraying high school kids tussling in the rain and a magnet force prying away the buttons on a pair of Levis were more than slightly unsettling, considering Salva’s history as a pederast.
The Disney-produced Powder caught the attention of protesters who couldn’t believe that the family-friendly conglomerate would allow a child rapist to make features. Somehow, despite the protests and the lukewarm reviews, Victor Salva managed to hang around Hollywood and to make Jeepers Creepers.
Once upon a time, Salva was a kid who loved movies. He particularly loved Jaws and saw it over five dozen times. Later, he discussed his childhood fascination with the movie. He didn’t relate to the human characters in the movie; he was focused on the shark.
He related to the monster because people thought it was ugly and frightening. Salva saw himself as a reviled outsider–a fat, gay kid in a world of less-than-tolerant people. He said:
When someone in the movie pointed and screamed, ‘Arrrrgh, he’s so hideous! He’s so ugly!’ I thought, ‘No, the monster is the most interesting thing about the movie. I wonder what he’s thinking and feeling.
I think those comments may shine a light on the way he makes movies.
If he finds a sense of kinship with the villains, Clownhouse makes sense and is even consistent with the unspeakable behavior in which he engaged. He took something children are at least theoretically believed to love and trust, clowns, and turned them into predatory monsters.
Powder becomes weak apologia in which Salva the outsider tries to show us just how hard it is to be a misfit. He begs for sympathy or makes excuses with the lead character–a freakish albino with strange powers who stands in for the fat kid trying to figure out how to survive in a world that doesn’t understand him.
What about Jeepers Creepers?
The Creeper comes out of hiding every twenty-three years to feast for twenty-three days. He chooses young people, high school/college students, as his victims. That’s all we really know about the villain. He’s a strong, unexplained evil force hellbent on maiming killing kids without justification or developed backstory. You never grow to hate the creeper or to understand his motivations. They defy explanation. The Creeper is a teen-seeking monster who can only keep to himself for so long before he must feed again.
Is this Salva’s way of addressing the twisted, sick parts of his brain that led him to rape a kid who trusted him? Is he telling us that the evil inside of him “just is”? Or, even more frighteningly, is he warning us that the destructive compulsions that put him into prison can only lie dormant for so long before they’ll override his sensibilities?
Maybe this is a case of a “cigar just being a cigar”. Perhaps it’s just an almost-decent B-grade horror movie and the Creeper story is shallow because Salva didn’t write a great script. Maybe the victims are kids solely because kids are the target audience for these horror movies and Salva needed to pitch something marketable.
I suppose Salva’s movies and his crimes could be unrelated. A horror movie that takes the idea of kid-friendly clowns and sets them loose as terrorists targeting a boy might not have anything whatsoever to do with the fact that a friendly Salva was simultaneously abusing his position of trust to sexually violate the kid who played the Clownhouse boy. Powder could just a be a vaguely shitty movie about a powerful outcast. Jeepers Creepers could be one of millions of semi-forgettable fright flicks. In Jeepers Creepers II (which I won’t be reviewing), Salva’s camera’s attention to the detail of tanning shirtless guys may be nothing more than acceptable eye candy.
I have my doubts.
And that’s what makes Jeepers Creepers scary.
If I could divorce myself from the knowledge of the writer and director being a child rapist, I wouldn’t have much to say about Jeepers Creepers.
The opening portion, in which an unknown pscyho in a truck that looks like ‘Mater from Cars engaging in Duel-like activity with a brother/sister teen duo is relatively good. Then, like most throwaway horror flicks, the whole thing begins to fall apart, circling the drain faster and faster until it reaches a lame conclusion.
Jeepers Creepers has a posse. Some people absolutely love it and consider it one of their favorite movies. I don’t understand these people. Sure, the movie has a few “BOO!” moments that might make one shudder in his or her seat, but there’s nothing that new, great, interesting, creative or impressive. The Creeper’s scariness shrinks the more we see him and the teenage stars are really nothing more than speaking props.
The production values are decent. The movie isn’t horrible relative to its genre. Then again, horror is littered with extremely bad movies and very few great ones. Perhaps it shines a little only because the options surrounding it are so very dull.
If you’re looking for a way to scare yourself before Halloween, don’t bother watching Jeepers Creepers. The scariest part of this movie is a name in the credits.