Dir: Victor Salva. US. 2001. 90 mins.
There's a refreshing innocence to Jeepers Creepers, a stylish horror-thriller from Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope that indulges in the odd knowing genre joke but puts most of its energy into delivering good old-fashioned B-movie thrills. Teens raised on Scream and its imitators might find it all a bit quaint and chaste. Twentysomethings and baby boomers, however, are likely to relish the film's sense of visceral fun and could set Jeepers Creepers on course for a strong late-summer box office run.
Writer-director Victor Salva (a Coppola protege whose recent credits include Powder and Rites Of Passage) handles the build-up with impressive confidence. Trish (Philips, from TV's Boston Public and Ally McBeal) and her brother Darry (Long, from Galaxy Quest and the forthcoming Britney Spears vehicle What Are Friends For) are driving home from college across rural Florida when their sibling bickering - the absence of a hormone-fuelled sub-plot is one of the things that sets Jeepers Creepers apart - is interrupted by an ominous-looking truck that tries to run them off the road.
A while later they spot the truck parked by an abandoned church and see a strange figure dumping what look like human bodies. In the first of a string of deliciously dumb moves, the kids turn around to investigate and stumble on a corpse-strewn lair, home, they later discover, to a demon (Breck) that sniffs out its victims and devours selected body parts.
The plot-turns necessary to keep Trish and Darry within the demon's grasp are preposterous, but they induce the kind of audience response that can turn a horror movie into a cathartic communal experience. Looking for help in the inevitable creepy small town, the siblings meet the inevitable weird characters, including a crotchety cat-lady (the veteran Brennan) and the local psychic (Belcher). Neither the townspeople nor the local cops are a match for the rugged demon, however, and they can't avert what turns out to be the film's surprisingly downbeat ending.
The film's biggest weak spot is the demon himself. Revealed fairly early on, he has a disappointingly generic appearance (although some of the subsequent special effects embellishments are quite effective). And the introduction of a comic note into his character begins to diffuse the tension prematurely. The process culminates in a bizarre final scene that feels like an incongruously goofy parody of modern-day horror classic The Silence Of The Lambs.
Prod cos: American Zoetrope, Cinerenta-Cinebeta
US dist: United Artists
Int'l sales: The Sales Co
Exec prods: Francis Ford Coppola, Linda Reisman, Willi Baer, Mario Ohoven, Eberhard Kayser
Prods: Barry Opper, Tom Luse
Scr: Victor Salva
Cinematography: Don E Fauntleroy
Prod des: Steven Legler
Ed: Ed Marx
Music: Bennett Salvay
Main cast: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck, Patricia Belcher, Brandon Smith, Eileen Brennan