SEPTEMBER 15, 2012
I don't know where my DVD of Jeepers Creepers went; I know I owned it and I can see it in my mind's eye on the shelf next to Jaws 2, but I noticed it was gone when FOX sent me the new Blu-ray and I went to get the old DVD to compare the transfer. I guess I traded it in at some point, so props to FOX for re-releasing on Blu-ray! Who knows when I might have noticed it missing otherwise.
Because, while I obviously don't watch it often (as is the case for all movies since I began HMAD - you know I still haven't watched Inside a 2nd time?), it's a solid, scary flick that actually holds up quite well - the sort of movie I'd probably pick annually if I was one of those (lazy!) people who watch horror movies every day in October. Even though it takes place in the spring, there's something very Halloween-ish about it - I can almost see it being an entry in the anthology version of the Halloween franchise, had it taken off as intended.
Because, like Halloween, it works best when not much is being explained and the director is sticking to simple but effective scares. In fact this movie has probably one of my top 5 all time favorite subtle scares, and it's the first one in the movie. After passing a Winnebago on one of the lonely Florida roads where the best scenes in the film take place, we watch our heroes talk in their car, with the camera pointed at the both of them but also the road behind them. After a few seconds, we see the Winnebago suddenly pull off the road and stop, and then if you squint you can see the Creeper's truck further behind - nowhere near them, but visible. Thus, the old couple in the RV saw him in their rearview and pulled off, knowing that he was bad news. There's something so wonderfully creepy about the locals KNOWING about this guy and merely staying out of his way - not to mention that one could miss this entire exchange if they were just focusing on the kids. The timing of the (all one) shot and multiple things being revealed in the film's opening minute is just so impressive to me, and it's things like this that buy the movie a lot of much needed goodwill.
As my friend Jacob S. Hall said on Twitter last night when I said I was watching the movie, each third of the film isn't as good as the one before it; it never tops this first act, which is basically Duel but with an extended scene where our hero (Justin Long) discovers his pursuer's lair. The next act is some more road stuff, which is starting to get repetitive, as well as a rather extraneous scene where the protagonists encounter a crazy cat lady. There's a great scare here ("That's not my scarecrow...") but it just adds one crazy lady too many to this film, as we've already heard and are about to meet another one, who doesn't have cats but DOES have psychic powers.
Now, it's not that I don't believe in ESP and the like; I've had strange bits of clairvoyance myself (the other day I wondered if I'd ever run into a writer who I know works on the same (giant) lot I do at Universal - 5 minutes later I was sharing an elevator with him). But in movies, and in particular this one, it seems that the character with visions is just an easy way to get some exposition into the movie, and maybe try to juice another scare or two out of the audience. So she says "You'll hear this song and something bad will happen!" and then a bit later they hear the song and something bad happens. The problem I have is that it just raises more questions and distracts away from what's important - shouldn't I be wondering what the Creeper is and what he wants with our heroes? Now all I can think of is "Why is this psychic looking out for two kids who are passing through? Where are her powers when the Creeper (presumably) attacks these other folks we see on the "MISSING" posters at the police station? I always prefer the Ahab/Loomis type character who is merely obsessed with the story/killer, instead of information just falling into one's lap out of nowhere. It's not as obnoxious as the repeated use of a character who suddenly has ESP in the Final Destination films, but it's close.
That, plus a rather abrupt and low-key finale, does the 3rd act no favors, as now we know just about everything we're going to know and the film's low budget is getting a bit too apparent. Off-screen attacks are coupled with Hyams-esque low lighting making it difficult to see what IS happening in the camera's range, and just as it seems like we're about to start a big fight scene, the movie just sort of gives up - the Creeper grabs one of them and just flies away. The outcome is admirably grim (though the actual visual effect is slightly silly at first), but it's always bugged me that they don't even put up a fight.
The commentary by Victor Salva (p.s. yes, I know. I'm reviewing the film, not the guy who made it) explains this - there was a bigger, more explosive climax planned, but they had a budget/schedule cut right before production began, and things had to go - including this ending. I'd argue that there were other things that could have been removed instead (cat lady) but he points out that the ending is now more personal and emotional, and I can accept that - the film gets most of its strength from the believable relationship between Long and Gina Phillips as his sister - I've always loved that they weren't a couple but siblings who care about each other but bicker as siblings do throughout the film (love the bit where she's trying to squeeze up to the phone with him). So if the ending lost some of that in its more action-y incarnation, perhaps it was for the best that it was changed. The track as a whole is pretty interesting - he sounds a bit rehearsed at times, but it's chock full of interesting information about its production, and he rarely falls silent.
Some of what he says is repeated on the making of section, which is comprised of 6-7 featurettes that you can play back to back; all together they run just under an hour. Like the commentary, it's not the usual strokefest - there's a lot of actual production info to learn here, and it covers pretty much every aspect of the production (casting, shooting, music, etc). A shame producer Francis Ford Coppola is absent - as he got his start in horror and occasionally returns to it (where the hell is Twixt, anyway?), it would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on the project. Then there are just under 20 minutes' worth of deleted/extended scenes, most of which are simply more dialog exchanges between the heroes, as well as an alternate version of the ending where we can see the Creeper doing his thing in his basement throughout the shot, as opposed to the theatrical ending where we just see his new eye coming into frame. Then there's a useless bit where we see Salva's "cameo" as one of the corpses in the Creeper's basement - he points it out on the commentary so I don't know why they had to make a separate "bonus feature" about it. The trailer and a stills gallery round things out, though I do want to mention that the MGM logo is modified so that it starts with a closeup of the lion's eye - very cool little touch.
I was disappointed with the presentation and transfer, however. First off, there's no main menu - the movie just starts when you put the disc in (after some FBI warnings and company logos), and will loop forever if you fall asleep, as there's no "home" menu to go back to. Also, the transfer was a bit flat - this is why I was looking for my DVD, as that's pretty much exactly what it looks like to my eyes. It's not a BAD transfer by any means - the color and contrast look correct, and the sound mix is quite nice with selective but effective use of the surround speakers, but it lacked the detail and "pop" I have come to expect from my Blu-rays, so I wouldn't be surprised if this was just an upscaled DVD transfer. Add in the ugly new box art (it makes it look like a lost Dark Harvest "sequel") and the fact that the bonus material is identical to the original DVD release, and you come to the sad conclusion that there is absolutely no reason to upgrade if you have it already, unless you really want that 1/8th of an inch extra space on your shelf.
However, if you don't own it already, or somehow still haven't seen it, it's a pretty safe addition to your collection. It's got flaws, but there's a real old-school, late night horror movie vibe to it, not unlike what Ti West was aiming for with The Roost, and, again, "tis the season" for such fare. Just don't bother with the sequel.
What say you?
Film score 8/10
A/V score 5/10
Bonus score 7/10 (docked a point for the complete lack of new material - they couldn't do a new commentary or even a new intro from Salva?)