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JEEPERS CREEPERS.

An MGM release of a United Artists' Films presentation of an American Zoetrope/Cinerenta-Cinebeta production in association with Cinerenta Medienbeteiligungs KG. Produced by Barry Opper, Tom Luse. Executive producers, Francis Ford Coppola, Linda Reisman, Willi Baer, Marlo Ohoven, Eberhard Kayser. Co-producer, J. Todd Harris.

Directed, written by Victor Salva. Camera (FotoKem color), Don E. Fauntleroy; editor, Ed Marx; music, Bennett Salvay; production designer, Steven Legler; art director, Kevin Egeland; set decorator, Barbara Peterson; costume designer, Emae Villalobos; sound (Dolby), Joe Foglia; supervising sound editor, James Lay; visual effects supervisor, Bob Morgenroth; makeup and creature effects, Makeup & Monster Studios; key design supervisor, Brian Penikas; original creeper design and project illustrator, Brad Parker; visual effects, E=MC2 Digital; assistant directors, George Bamber, Don Sparks; casting, Kimberly Mullen. Reviewed at MGM screening room, Santa Monica, Aug. 23, 2001. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 89 MIN.
Trish                    Gina Phillips
Darry                      Justin Long
The Creeper             Jonathan Breck
Jezelle Gay Hartman   Patricia Belcher
Sgt. Davis Tubbs         Brandon Smith
The Cat Lady            Eileen Brennan


Jeepers Creepers" has a bugaboo, fun house freakishness to it. It's a pared-down horror exercise whose sole purpose is to shock its audience with a series of sneaky, well-timed scares. Pic accomplishes this, at least for a while -- with a welcome absence of teen matinee idols and a preference for Johnny Mercer over Britney Spears on the soundtrack -- until illogic catapults it into that horror/fantasy wasteland of celluloid specters. Trying but ultimately failing to surmount the hokey genre hallmarks its self-aware characters teasingly skewer, pic emerges as the most conventional and least imaginative of the recent crop of high-class fright movies that includes "The Others," "Session 9" and "Wendigo." Late-summer returns for this first release produced through Francis Ford Coppola's low-budget production pact with United Artists should be modest, and pic will undoubtedly find its most faithful viewers on the small screen.

In a classic setup, Trish (Gina Phillips) and brother Darry (Justin Long), driving home during spring break from college, decide to take the "long, scenic route," which involves traveling through rural farm country on a stretch of two-lane blacktop. This is "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" territory -- a world of hidden terrors lurking beneath sunlight, heat and dust. And before long, the siblings find themselves terrorized, "Duel"-style, by a speeding, ramshackle cargo van whose bronzed, rusted-over appearance and blaring, bleating horn create a jolting blast of carnival-sideshow madness.

After a narrow escape comes another genre staple: an abandoned roadside church, where the driver of the van appears to be dumping something (could those be bloodied corpses, rope-tied and covered in sheets?) down a menacing drain pipe. Even though they know better -- Trish flat-out reminds us that in horror movies people always do unwise things that the audience ends up hating them for -- she and Darry make a U-turn and go back to inspect the church grounds and to determine whether any of that drain pipe's denizens are still kicking. It's a choice that, more than earning the ire of the audience, really gets under the skin of the church's unseen, anthropophagic inhabitant, who proceeds to pursue Trish and Darry from one underpoliced hick county to the next over the course of one very long night.

Refreshingly, "Jeepers Creepers" owes more to the "Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits" anthology series of the 1960s than to the mid-'90s spate of teen-centric slasher pics. (In fact, pic resembles a land-set version of Richard Matheson's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.") Perhaps this has something to do with why the film doesn't quite work at feature length, but Salva's preference for creepy, unnerving atmosphere over calculated sledgehammer shocks is to pic's credit. His best scares blindside you. Smartly, the identity of the bogeyman villain is not divulged for quite a stretch, but once it is, the built-up tension escapes like so much helium from a punctured balloon. Once Salva solves this mystery for us, he also relinquishes much of the gritty, "Texas Chainsaw"-esque atmosphere he has established to a supernatural conflagration of ancient demons, prophecies and apocryphal psychics, and pic becomes increasingly silly.

Some of this fantasy jabber is played for laughs, and Salva makes an admirable effort here to maintain a sense of humor, without delving head-first into Wes Craven post-modernism. But by the final, climactic pursuit, it's as certain that we're expected to take things seriously as it is that the characters have forgotten everything they once knew about what not to do in a horror movie.

Though thesps are on hand mainly to serve as available pieces of meat for those out to get them, newcomers Phillips and Long serve well in the leads, affecting a believable brother-sister bond. Pic's real stars, however, are the gymnastic Jonathan Breck and the eye-popping makeup and creature effects that bring his character (credited as the Creeper, but never named in the movie) to life.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:FOUNDAS, SCOTT
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Aug 27, 2001
Words:810
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