Post-Scream horror takes the back roads in Jeepers Creepers. We’re sutured to the rear seat of sultry coed Tricia Jenner’s (Gina Philips) souped-up ’60s Chevy as her younger brother Darry (Justin Long) attempts to motorvate them home from college. After they witness a mysterious figure (a gone-to-seed take on Clint Eastwood’s Stranger of High Plains Drifter) dumping what appear to be bodies near an abandoned roadside church, the ride gets wild.
Is Jeepers Creepers scary? It generated enough chest-tightening adrenaline in me to almost take my breath away. But the chills could just leave you cold. They only work if you can buy the outrageously bad decisions and actions of the Jenner siblings that seem to parody those of the ridiculous kids in a trunkful of slasher flicks.
Writer-director Victor Salva has probably rummaged through that trunk. But it seems he’s also picked through the treasure chest of cinema’s dark side. An early chase sequence seems a study on Steven Spielberg’s 1971 TV movie, Duel; a murder by crows roosts as if flown in from Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963); and Salva sweeps his camera through more than one scene like he’s seen Orson Welles’ famous Citizen Kane (1941) a few times.
But Salva just ornaments his plot with these snippets of classic gold. This grim fairy tale of a brother and sister lured into the presence of ancient evil is ages old — even though Tricia and Darry look and sound as if they could be in the next season of MTV’s “The Real World”: They’re the Hansel and Gretel of the new millennium.
Unlike fairy-tale witches, our recent nightmares (e.g. Hannibal Lecter) may still range free. In the brave, new and ironic world of Jeepers Creepers, a happy ending — disappointingly for some — ain’t necessarily so.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at firstname.lastname@example.org.