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Dustin Putman

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Jeepers Creepers (2001)
3 Stars

Directed by Victor Salva
Cast: Justin Long, Gina Philips, Jonathan Breck, Patricia Belcher, Eileen Brennan
2001 – 91 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for terror violence/gore, profanity, and brief nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 31, 2001.

A nasty, ingenious little item that forgoes the glossy style of today's slasher movies for genuine scares and almost non-stop suspense, "Jeepers Creepers" is the best thing to happen to the horror genre since 1999's groundbreaking "The Blair Witch Project." A welcome, gritty throwback to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" era, the film offers up a generous helping of edgy gore and violence to tell the story of two normal, everyday college kids who find themselves inexplicably being stalked by the most vicious, unrelenting psychopath this side of Leatherface.

It's spring break, and siblings Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry (Justin Long) have bypassed the boring freeway to travel home on the backroads of rural America. Following a nasty run-in with a trucker with serious road rage issues, Trish and Darry spot a dark figure getting out of the very same automobile (license plate reading "BEATNGU") a few mile down the road, as it dumps two bloodied, life-sized objects wrapped in sheets down a drain pipe. Making the serious mistake of going back to investigate, Trish and Darry are hurled further and further into a whirlwind of terror as they try, and fail, to escape the cleaver-wielding, trench-coat-wearing, possibly inhuman maniac.

Borrowing its title from the classic 1930s Louis Armstrong song ("Jeepers Creepers/Where'd you get those peepers?/Jeepers Creepers/Where'd you get those eyes?")—a running theme throughout—"Jeepers Creepers" couldn't have come at a more opportune time. A gratifying return to the days when horror movies weren't about selling pop/rock soundtracks and starring the latest television starlets, the picture is unapologetic in its singular goal to scare audiences out of their wits.

Wasting no time in setting up the premise, savvy writer-director Victor Salva (1990's "Clownhouse") quickly hurls our two realistic protagonists, and subsequently the viewer, into a freakish nightmare that can't be woken up from. At a fast, highly appropriate 90 minutes, "Jeepers Creepers" runs at a clip pace that makes each scene all the more ineradicably absorbing and tense. The tight, expert editing by Ed Marx helps to make the goings-on all the more nail-biting.

Virtually a two-character show, Justin Long (1999's "Galaxy Quest") and Gina Philips (1998's "Living Out Loud") make for a believable, charismatic brother-and-sister pair. Credit Salva for choosing to make the protagonists related; it makes the situations they get in all the more real, and does away with the inevitable romantic subplot that usually hinders films of this ilk. Their love-hate relationship is set up with many delightful nuances in the early scenes, as they hold conversations and bicker childishly while driving in the car. Even when arguing, however, it's obvious they love each other as siblings only can. In small roles, Patricia Belcher (2001's "Heartbreakers") is a standout, not to mention subtly funny, as a local psychic who has visions of what is in store for Trish and Darry, while Eileen Brennan (1997's "Changing Habits") memorably plays an ill-fated backwoods local they seek for help. As she describes, she's got "more than a couple" cats.

With atmospheric cinematography by Don E. FauntLeRoy that paints the back country roads as a location you would never want to get stuck on alone, "Jeepers Creepers" cleverly taps into the deep-seated fears everyone has about feeling helpless in the eyes of great danger. And like the excellent dessert that comes after a fine main course, "Jeepers Creepers" saves its most unforgettable image for last—a horrifyingly disturbing, surprisingly touching final shot that courageously proves, once and for all, good does not always prevail in the face of pure evil.
© 2001 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman