"Jeepers 2": Incompetent Rather Than Creepy
- Friday, August 29, 2003
Successful horror films don’t need to make sense; they work at a visceral level beyond (or below) logic, provoking an emotional response with nightmare images that bear little connection to rational fear. For its first 10 minutes, “Jeepers Creepers 2” works effectively on that basis, but quickly stalls (along with the school bus that provides the main focus of the film) in an unsavory swamp of overacting, silly subplots and unredeemed tedium.
The original “Jeepers Creepers,” a modest commercial success in 2001, would hardly qualify as a fright film classic but it delivered enough moments of skillful shock and grotesque gore to leave audiences appropriately discomfited. The story involved the inevitable attractive young couple, traveling through a remote rural county, confronting a mysterious local who appears to murder visitors and to collect hundreds of mutilated, oddly preserved corpses in his lair. Only toward the end of the film does the audience discover that the killer is more than just a freaky farmer who resembles Freddy Kruger: he’s a timeless, unstoppable, all-powerful flying demon who emerges every 23 years for a 23-day feeding frenzy in which he steals desired body parts from his unsuspecting victims.
Since the audience for the new film presumably remembers that the Creeper is a supernatural force rather than a hideous hick, “Jeepers Creepers 2” offers a fatal shortage of surprises or suspense. The Creeper begins by taking the place of a scarecrow in a corn field, then seizes an unsuspecting boy and flies off with him to the great beyond. The next victims are the passengers on a school bus, returning from a triumphal appearance at the state basketball championships. The cast includes the players, their coach, the student manager, a sports reporter from the school paper, assorted sultry cheerleaders and a hard-bitten lady bus driver. The creature knocks out the tires of the bus, quickly gobbles the adults and then slowly nibbles at the remaining teens — leaving room for bitter conflicts among the classmates regarding racism and homophobia. These confrontations, involving indistinguishable, no name, talentless actors (including the fabled Marieh Delfino, the illustrious Jonathan Breck, and the immortal Billy Aaron Brown) who look much too old to pass for adolescents, will provoke unintended titters from even the most undemanding audience.
The special effects recall “Alien”, “Nightmare on Elm Street” and many other superior films, though the surprise hero of the piece (veteran character actor Ray Wise) seems to echo a more high-falutin’ source. As the father of the boy who disappears at the opening of the film, he becomes a mad Melvillean Captain Ahab, devising a doomed but intrepid craft (a modified pickup – or Pequod) with a cunning homemade cannon meant to harpoon the creature. The movie offers not even the most feeble attempt to explain why a timeless demon that’s been flying through the heavens on vast powerful wings for 3,000 years, doesn’t simply swoop down and swallow this annoying enemy.
In the well-shot, stylishly edited opening sequence the movie achieves more revolting resonance than the rest of the pathetic proceedings in part because of its shockingly sacrilegious and patently offensive imagery. At sunset in a deserted corn field, three scarecrows hang on towering crosses in an unmistakable reference to Calvary. The figure on the center cross slowly comes to life, eventually spreading its wings and soaring over the powerless humans below like a dark angel. Does this warped Christological allusion connect with the fact that the producers sometimes refer to their latest “Jeepers Creepers” project as “J.C. 2”?
What makes such speculation at least vaguely plausible is the incomparably horrific background of the movie’s writer-director, Victor Salva. Earlier in his directing career he had been convicted of child molesting for an exploitative relationship with one of the underage male actors entrusted to him. One could easily read a plea for forgiveness and tolerance in this movie’s sympathetic treatment of a sensitive character who is ruthlessly persecuted by his high school classmates for his suspected homosexuality.
The criminal record of Victor Salva would be enough to keep a number of moviegoers away from “Jeepers Creepers,” just as some knowledgable film fans still refuse to support even the superior work of another convicted sexual predator, Roman (“The Pianist”) Polanski. With Victor Salva, however, even those ready to ignore or forgive his personal transgressions should stay away from this slow-moving, inert and inept sequel: it fails entirely on its own, without reference to the off-screen shortcomings of its creator.
Rated R (appropriately), for abundant harsh language and graphic, sadistic but clumsily rendered violence. ONE AND A HALF STARS.
Michael Medved hosts a nationally syndicated daily radio show focusing on the intersection of politics and pop culture. He's the author of eight non-fiction books, was co-host for 12 years on "Sneak Previews" on PBS, and is the former Chief Film Critic for the New York Post.
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