Darry's Dirty Undies
Jeepers Creepers starts out with something like promise. College-aged siblings Trish (Gina Phillips) and Darry (Justin Long) have decided to take the long way home for spring break, so they can catch up on each other’s, and their parents’, lives. Nothing is ever really stated outright, but it is clear that everyone in the family is having troubles of some sort. Trish, for instance, has recently broken up with her “Poli. Sci. guy track star” boyfriend (as Darry constantly refers to him), who, Trish hints, has been knocking her around. The two don’t so much talk about this, or their Mom, as they talk around it all. Most of their drive time is spent making a game of deciphering vanity license plates, bickering, and insulting each other while rolling hills and farmland pass by their car windows.
If this sounds slightly familiar, it is. Like the opening of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Victor Salva’s rural setting establishes that this is going to be one road trip from hell. Such lonely roads, such isolation: things can go REALLY wrong out here and no one would ever know. The concept is hardly original. But then again, it seems pretty hard to make anything resembling an “original” horror movie these days and the films that do succeed make use of this fact.
Anyway, this sibling camaraderie is soon interrupted when the two are nearly run off the road by some maniac in a pick-up truck tricked out like a tank, super-charged and equipped with the loudest, tooth-rattlingest horn ever made. It’s like, sooo Mad Max. Just as Trish and Darry regain their composure, they pass what appears to be an abandoned farm (turns out it’s a church) and spot the same demon truck. Worse, they see a dark-coated man unloading what look like dead bodies wrapped up in blood-stained sheets and dumping them down a drainpipe. Naturally, the bad guy sees them, pointedly staring them down as they drive by. He’s quickly on their tail, and giving the running-them-off-the-road thing a proper go this time around. It is here that Jeepers Creepers shows a bit more promise: these chase scenes are pretty cool, with an intensity that is lacking in the majority of movie car chase scenes, and the overhead, fast-action camera work adds a real urgency to the plight of the two siblings.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film suffers from a distinct lack of urgency or intensity, largely because of the predictability of its plot. So, after the demon truck runs them off the road and drives away (rather than, say, stopping and killing the nosy little brats), Darry insists they return to the abandoned church, rather than go immediately for help, to look down the drain pipe in case someone is still alive.
As they peer down the drainpipe, Darry swears he hears a muffled voice cry out in response to his hails. He shimmies down the pipe a little, while Trish holds his feet. Rats pop up, brother and sister scream and Darry falls down the hole. What he finds is one barely alive boy with his torso all mutilated and stitched back up—he quickly dies before he can deliver his warning. He then finds hundreds of perfectly petrified bodies, variously disemboweled and dismembered, staked to the walls and ceiling of the cavern. Further, there is some sort of ritual altar/workbench/abattoir set up, where the monster presumably plies his unholy trade. Here, a number of Jeepers Creepers inconsistencies and inexplicable plot lines become obvious. Why, for instance, does the monster so carefully preserve the bodies? If they are some sort of trophies, why, then, does he so readily torch the place to throw off the police shortly after? And why use the drainpipe when the underground lair is directly connected to the run-down church?
But why quibble about narrative inconsistencies when the film seems content to ignore them and to merely reproduce lame old horror movie cliches? Following their escape from this hell-hole, the siblings are relentlessly pursued by The Creeper (Jonathan Breck), who tracks his prey by smell and has caught their scent by sniffing, I kid you not, Darry’s dirty undies. (Like all good college boys, he has brought his laundry home for Mom to wash.) Along the way the pair run into all sorts of horror film staples, including the incredulous small-town sheriff (Brandon Smith); the local psychic (Patricia Belcher), whom everyone regards as “crazy”; and the gravely-voiced Cat Lady (Eileen Brennan), who lives alone with her “babies” in the middle of nowhere.
But if these characters are tedious, what is most annoying about Jeepers Creepers is The Creeper itself. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my slasher flick psycho killers to be decidedly human and produced by some sort of psychosexual trauma. Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees (or Mrs. Voorhees for that matter), Freddy Krueger come easily to mind. The Creeper, however, is some nebulous force of pure evil produced by, well, who knows. There’s no etiology, no mythos, no story to provide some context for The Creeper’s blood-fest. Without this, we are left with a ridiculous demon-thing hunting down a bothersome pair of alternately bickering and simpering siblings. It’s impossible to muster up any sympathy for or even any interest in any of them, brother, sister, or Creeper.