Dir: Victor Salva. US. 2003. 106 mins.
Writer-director Victor Salva's sequel to his modest summer 2001 horror hit Jeepers Creepers is as efficiently jolting as the original but not as refreshingly spare or classically creepy. Opening wide in the US (through MGM) and UK (through Pathe) this weekend in the middle of a run of horror releases - from the surprisingly successful Freddy vs Jason to the forthcoming The Order, Cabin Fever and Underworld - Jeepers Creepers 2 should be able to beat the original film's $38m domestic take but may struggle to go much beyond that level. In the international arena - where the original managed around $17m - more than half of it from the UK - performance will depend on competition in any given territory and the marketing savvy of the distributors that have licensed the film from sales company Myriad (which also produces with original partners United Artists and American Zoetrope). Video results should be good wherever the original film made a mark.
Probably for commercial as well as creative reasons, the sequel is built around an almost entirely new set of characters. The only returning figure is the Creeper itself (played again by the heavily made up Breck), the hulking winged demon that, every 23rd spring, emerges from its rural lair for 23 days to sniff out terrified humans and consume selected body parts. With his current bingeing window about to close, the Creeper homes in on a busload of high school basketball players and their cheerleader girlfriends stranded on a lonely highway. The kids' only hope of rescue is a revenge-crazed local farmer (veteran character actor Wise) whose young son the Creeper recently snatched.
Salva (whose other films include 1995 studio release Powder) shows his touch for the horror genre in the film's opening sequence: a nicely staged prelude that introduces the Creeper - posing, as if crucified, in a row of scarecrows - in the incongruous setting of a sun-drenched wheat field.
Most of the subsequent action takes place at night on or around the stranded bus as the Creeper begins to pick off his prey. The setting gives Salva (who cites Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat as a source of inspiration) a chance to play with the relationships between the trapped teens, among them a sulky white jock (Nenninger), the team's black star player (Mutambirwa), a psychic cheerleader (Aycox) and a school newspaper reporter who may or may not be gay. Tensions come to a head when the Creeper appears to point out his intended victims, effectively dividing the kids into the doomed and the saved.
The character relationships keep the film interesting but keeping the jolts coming feels like the primary concern. Whereas the original film built suspense slowly and delivered its shocks sparingly, the sequel seems always to be trying just a bit too hard. Between the nifty opening and the over-the-top climax the action falls into a predictable rhythm as the Creeper attacks the bus, grabs a body, gets repelled and then returns for another go.
The setup gives the Creeper (who seems this time out to have borrowed Hannibal Lecter's trademark slurp) more screen time than he had in the first film and requires more special effects work. The close-up effects are reasonably good (for a film with a reported budget of $25m), but shots of the demon flying leave something to be desired.
The ensemble cast of little-known young actors performs convincingly enough but won't give distributors and publicists much to work with - of the most prominent members, Nenninger is making his feature debut, Mutambirwa has credits including Clockstoppers and Bones, and Aycox (a series regular on TV's Ed and Providence) last appeared in Slap Her, She's French.
The sequel's closing scene does more than just leave the door open for another instalment of the Jeepers Creepers franchise - cheekily, it actually plays like the first scene of a would-be next instalment.
Prod cos: United Artists, Myriad Pictures, American Zoetrope.
Dist (US): MGM.
Intl sales: Myriad.
Prod: Tom Luse.
Exec prods: Francis Ford Coppola, Bobby Rock, Kirk D'Amico, Lucas Foster.
Director of Photography: Don E FauntLeRoy.
Prod des: Peter Jamison.
Ed: Ed Marx.
Costume des: Jana Stern.
Special effects makeup: Brian Penikas.
Visual effects supervisor: Jonathan Rothbart.
Music: Bennett Salvay.
Main cast: Ray Wise, Jonathan Breck, Eric Nenninger, Garikayi Mutambirwa, Nicki Aycox.