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:: Jeepers Creepers

Despite the silly title, Victor Salva’s “Jeepers Creepers” is a grimly effective horror film that packs in elements of the great horror flicks of the past into a lean ninety minutes. It is a nightmarish start for two young travellers, in the vein of the classic “Duel” film of the 70s, where they are nearly run off the road by an unseen figure in a giant tanklike truck. Trish (Gina Philips) and her brother Darry (Justin Long) are driving home for spring break and, after this first encounter, see the truck parked by an abandoned country church. The driver seems to be dumping bodies down a drainpipe. Darry’s curiosity attracts him to the idea of stopping to investigate, as he fears there may be people still alive.

Therefore, the intense sequences start. The pipe leads the youngsters into a laboratory of a demented nutcase who has been cutting up his victims and preserving body parts. Once they’ve witnessed the grisly scene, the two become targets for the “creature”. The first half of the film is as tense and unnerving as one can get from a fright flick. The scares are effective and well executed when tinged with suggestion.

Director Salva slowly builds the plot with bits and pieces from urban legends and movies about serial killers and slashers, evoking a litany of skin-crawling visuals. He probably becomes a little too cute and overconfident in the second half of the film. A bizarre old woman (Eileen Brennan) with a hundred cats clutters the landscape, as does the mysterious neighbourhood psychic (Patricia Belcher) who doesn’t seem to weave well into the plot. Salva also gets a bit fancy with musical references (eg the tune Jeepers Creepers).

But Jeepers Creepers is still a startlingly good horror film. The gruesome ending snatched back whatever may have been sidetracked previously, in returning to the visceral edge from when Darry first went down that pipe to arouse his curiosity. The film doesn’t shy on gore, and it has some memorable moments. It also showcases two capable young actors (Gina Philips and Justin Long) who are well focused and create good chemistry. They use a good range of facial expressions. I get the feeling that the audience will care about the characters. The director keeps us on the edge most of the time by building the suspense and slapping in some cool images.

“Jeepers Creepers” is a worthwhile recommendation for horror movie lovers. And be prepared for an unconventional ending.

Screening on general release