Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

The bus breaks down and the adults are one by one grabbed up and whisked into the sky, screaming.

Jeepers Creepers 2

Director: Victor Salva
Cast: Ray Wise, Travis Schiffner, Nicki Aycox, Jonathan Breck, Luke Edwards
MPAA rating: R
Studio: MGM
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-08-29

The Creeper (Jonathan Breck) exists in his own time. The lore goes like this: every 23rd spring, he emerges from wherever it is that he hibernates, and starts killing selected people for 23 days. In 2001, during his first onscreen outing, he tormented a brother and sister. She's nowhere to be seen this time, but poor Darry (Justin Long) -- who stupidly insisted on going to the wrong place at the wrong time in Jeepers Creepers -- appears briefly as a bloody ghost, warning a busload of high school basketballers on an empty road that they should turn back, er, now.

Not everyone on the bus in Jeepers Creepers 2 actually sees this yucky specter, but the girl who does, a blond cheerleader unfortunately named Minxie (Nicki Aycox) doesn't appear to be the most reliable narrator -- not at first, anyway. The vision comes to her on Day 22 of the Creeper's current adventure, as the basketball team and cheerleaders are riding home in their creaky yellow school bus, following a state championship game that's left several players upset.

In particular, Scott (Eric Nenninger), who is white, is jealous of his black teammates: "Maybe I got the wrong skin color," he hisses to his girlfriend loud enough so the other guys can hear. At this, star player Deaundre (Gariyaki Mutambirwa) gives Scott the evil eye, and so the first tension is set. The other has to do with the usual homosocial hating; a couple of boys trade remarks about crushes on each other, one pees on another's pants to mark his territory, and okay, it appears that the boys are working out their hierarchy in a more explicit way than they do in most slasher films.

But if these tensions seem worth exploring, they won't be, because the Creeper tends to make worldly concerns -- racism, homophobia, picayune vulgarity -- irrelevant. The bus breaks down and the adults (who predictably tell the kids to stay inside the vehicle while they investigate the sharp little bone-and-teeth thingies that the Creeper has thrown at their tires) are one by one grabbed up and whisked into the sky, screaming. No more coach (Thom Gossom, Jr.), no more Bus Driver Betty (Diane Delano): the kids are understandably shaken. "People don't fly the fuck away!" asserts one, knowledgably; snaps back the witness, "It had wings, big fuckin' wings." They proceed to handle their dread like most adults in such Lifeboat-ish situations. They take it out on each other.

Into the midst of their roiling anxiety comes Minxy's vision. Sobby and red-faced, she describes it for her simultaneously skeptical and horrified audience, blubbering, "A dead boy told me!" Told her what? That the Creeper has been around for thousands of years, that he "smells" fear like some nasty dog and that he selects his victims accordingly. Humph, Scott scoffs, "This morning, you were shaking pompoms at people, and now all of a sudden, you're a psychic hotline." He has a point, but then again, you've seen her vision, so you know she's right. (And, of course, he's already shown himself to be a self-centered, insecure jerk whose attack on Minxy says more about his insecurity than her dream-deciphering ability.)

Besides, someone has to explain something about the Creeper, and he's most definitely not talking. Instead, he's grinning and winking, swooping and harassing. He's slicing through the school bus roof, licking the back window, and generally making everyone inside feel trapped and miserable. Little does the Creeper know (or maybe he does; it's hard to tell what he knows) that the father and brother of one of his victims, a farmer named Jack Taggart (Ray Wise, forever a.k.a. Leland Palmer) and son Jack Jr. (Luke Edwards), are trundling his way in their tricked-out pickup truck, with a fencepost-plunger rigged to shoot forward like a whaling harpoon.

The Jacks are both feeling a little angry and guilty because the younger son was taken out of their cornfield right before their eyes. And it's not a little great to see Leland Palmer play action hero, his harshly weathered face set alternately in his possessed-determined look or his flailing-hysterical look (both of which will be more than familiar to Twin Peaks fans). It's almost eerie that he's as agile now as when he was climbing over furniture and in and out of windows with/as Bob.

To see Leland recuperated -- or bizarrely actionated, anyway -- so many years after his terrible abuses of his daughter Laura (Sheryl Lee) brings added dimension to Jeepers Creepers 2. While the film is plainly engaging, if not precisely challenging, generic conventions (the penetrations, the killer's self-mutilation, the kids' irresistible urges to run exactly where they shouldn't), it's difficult not to recall writer-director Victor Salva's own odd history (in 1991, he went to prison for 15 months, for child molestation).

Slasher films are rarely coherent or very original, but they are almost always mucking about with deep cultural, sexual, generational, and/or racial fears, the delineations of identities when set against ghastly, implacable otherness. The Creeper's profound cruelties -- not least being his propensity to return regularly -- make him a fitting emblem for most any of these. Indeed, the image of Leland Palmer sitting with shotgun in lap, awaiting the monster's comeback years into this movie's future, is more unsettling than all the screaming and running and flesh-rending that make up the bulk of Jeepers Creepers 2.

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