“Every twenty-three Springs for twenty-three days,” intones self-proclaimed police psychic Jezelle Gay Hartman (Patricia Belcher) “the creature comes looking for things—human things—to eat. What he eats, he becomes. It is what keeps him alive.”
This odious pronouncement comes toward the middle of MGM/UA’s horrifying JEEPERS CREEPERS, and is delivered to a pair of frightened teens, Trish Jenner (Philips) and her brother, Darry (Long.) The two young people have taken refuge in a police station after being stalked by the creature, a winged, two-legged monstrosity called The Creeper (Breck,) who is apparently planning to lay out Darry’s eyes on his next hors d’oeuvres tray.
On their way home from college in Florida, Darry and Trish were unfortunate enough to stumble on The Creeper’s hideout: an abandoned church decorated from wall to ceiling with preserved corpses—most of them bearing crude rawhide stitches where their vital organs were sucked out. Trying to elude The Creeper turns out to be impossible. When he is not pursuing Trish and Darry in his armored, rusted truck, he is flying above them on giant bat’s wings. Eliminating him is just as hopeless a task, as he proves to be indestructible. He is shot by a character known as The Cat Lady, (Brennan) and run over four—count ’em, four—times by Trish. After each encounter The Creeper bounces back, meaner and stronger than ever.
JEEPERS CREEPERS at first seems like a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET rip-off, complete with a hideous, seemingly invulnerable villain. Where it differs is that there is a deadly seriousness to the film, without so much as a hint of Freddy Kruger humor to relieve the considerable anxiety that always seems to be hanging in mid-air. The writer/director, Victor Salva (POWDER, NATURE OF THE BEAST, CLOWNHOUSE), has created his own nightmare, a film that in its brutality, suspense, and gut-wrenching horror—there is a particularly revolting scene involving The Creeper, a severed head, and what might be euphemistically described as a tongue sandwich —is very difficult to shake off.
JEEPERS CREEPERS (the title comes from the 1938 Johnny Mercer song, which, when played on a car radio or an old phonograph, is a prelude to a creature attack ) is not without some unfilled plot holes. It is somewhat difficult to figure out why The Creeper has this obsessive need to stay alive. And just exactly what is The Creeper? Is he a man, a winged demon, a spirit, a shapeshifter? It’s never fully explained. Characters such as The Cat Lady and Jezelle appear and disappear all too quickly; perhaps their only reason for being around is to provide increasingly bizarre encounters with The Creeper. And these encounters are bizarre—and frightening.
The acting is generally of a superior nature. Gina Philips (LIVING OUT LOUD, TELLING YOU) plays Trish as an intelligent and strong young woman, much stronger, emotionally, than her brother. Mercifully, she lets out not even one of those dreadful “fear screams” usually heard in films like these. Justin Long (he played the brainy kid who came to Sigourney Weaver’s and Tim Allen’s rescue in GALAXY QUEST) is particularly good. Struck dumb after witnessing The Creeper’s unique wall decorations, he manages to find his voice and squeak out to his sister, “I’m scared, Trish. I’m really scared.”
We can believe him, because at that point, so are we.