Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)

He’s a monster, but he’s taken completely seriously. We’re not doing any tongue-in-cheek apologizing for [having] a monster in the film.
— Brad Parker, storyboard artist, audio commentary, Jeepers Creepers 2

He moves like a man, but he’s not a man. You recognize something about him, but he’s definitely not of you.
— Jonathan Breck, audio commentary, Jeepers Creepers 2

“I’ll whip everybody’s ass on that bus!” Watching himself during a crucial confrontation in Jeepers Creepers 2, Kasan Butcher says out loud what his character, high school football star Big K (a.k.a. Kimball), must be thinking. Butcher’s poser outburst triggers laughter from other participants on the DVD’s commentary track — writer-director Victor Salva and other actors playing playing high school students trapped on “that bus” in the middle of nowhere. They all appreciate the joke, that Kimball has no idea what he’s up against, namely, the Creeper (Jonathan Breck).

They also appreciate the scene’s thematic underpinnings, noting that (black) Kimball’s face-off here with (white) Scott (Eric Nenninger) is laced through with race and gender tensions (“Wonder what he was about to call you,” someone teases). These all come to a series of heads as the kids realize: 1) the bus won’t be taking them anywhere, and 2) the Creeper is gauging their killability by smell (“Whatever it is,” observes Jake [Josh Hammond], “it’s a smell freak man,” another line that incites giggles from the kids). Since so much of the film takes place on and around the school bus, much of the DVD commentary concerns this location. As Salva says at the start of “A Day in Hell,” a doc that follows him around for a 14-hour day, “We are so sick of that bus.”

For the sequel to a relatively low-budget horror flick, MGM has put together a decent set of extras, including several documentaries (“Creeper Creation,” “Creeper Composer,” and “Digital Effects,” as well as “The Creeper’s Lair” and “Ventriloquist Creeper” [storyboard sequences set to faux-scary music]), and “deleted scenes, moments, and lines” (most showcasing sexual language, likely deleted for ratings reasons; for instance, one boy answers a query about a jack for the flat tire with: “I’d love to just whip it out and start pumping it up right now, right here, in front of everybody”; another has the boys sunning themselves atop the broken down bus, verbally jostling for “position”).

More impressive are the DVD’s two, variously engaging commentary tracks: along with the one featuring Salva and the “principal cast” (meaning, sadly, no Ray Wise), the disk includes a track called “Creeper Commentary” (you see how they’re a little in love with the Creeper Concept). Here Breck, storyboard artist Brad Parker, and Brian Penikas (makeup and FX) reminisce about the first film as well as the sequel, joking frequently, oohing and aahing at their “cool” effects (including Breck’s own tongue, not technically an effect, as they decided not to go with a prosthesis, but impressively nasty all the same). As Penikas recalls, “This is the fun stuff about doing Victor’s movies. He’ll come up and say, ‘How can we do this with the budget we don’t have?'” When he sees the Creeper pulling a spear through his skull, Parker notes the “really beautiful old Hollywood lighting,” or when the creature flies up into he sky so he’s backgrounded by the moon, Parker exults, “That came out so Ray Harryhausen, without the clunkiness! What’s so great about how the CGI guys did the flapping is that it’s not like a regular bat flapping… It’s like he’s almost swimming through the air.”

It is pretty great flapping. The Creeper, of course, is the monster who tears up hapless victims in both Jeepers Creepers and this sequel. Breck notes that fans have written him to say they consider the Creeper “the new monster of the millennium,” whatever that means. He 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 the busload of high school students on an empty road that they should turn back now.

Not everyone on the bus 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 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. (Butcher notes on the commentary track that the film sets up for typically raced plot points, then does something else: “Automatically, if I didn’t know about the movie, I’d swear, ‘Oh, the black man’s about to die.'”)

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. This one adds the element of capable girls — fighting the monster with penetrating weapons. Marieh Delfino, who plays Scott’s girlfriend Rhonda, says, “I love how you have a girl coming in over and over, saving the day.” Salva agrees: “I do too. There’s nothing better than a kick-ass girl.”

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, whom Salva and the kids on the commentary track describe as “awesome”): 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 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. The Creeper may or may not know (it’s hard to tell what he knows) that the father and brother of one of his victims, a farmer named Jack Taggart (Wise, of whom Kasan Butcher says, “Ray Wise is not human. Anyone who can keep their eyes open that long”), 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). As Salva describes his notion of the character, who shuts off his radio rather than call for help: “This is where the character of Taggart I wanted to get darker, like Ahab in Moby Dick, who refuses to go help this other ship look for a lost boy. I wanted Taggart to turn off this radio, he doesn’t want the cops out there. He doesn’t care how many of these kids die. The Creeper is his. And all other considerations are secondary.”

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.