Real horrorshow

See the victims before their lives go down the tube.

See the victims before their lives go down the tube.

Rated 4.0

Jeepers Creepers is a nice late summer present if you like your horror movies gross, relentless and nasty. Scary, stylish and often quite sickening, it’s a creature feature that isn’t afraid to plumb the depths of hell to make you very uncomfortable for 90 minutes.

Halloween‘s Michael Myers has become a dull joke over the years. Freddy Krueger is actually considering a cinematic showdown with the always-lame Jason from Friday the 13th, reducing his status from horror icon to WWF bozo. Besides Jennifer Love Hewitt’s physical attributes, there has never been anything in those I Know What You Did Last Summer movies worth watching, and the Scream movies should’ve stopped after the first one.

Jeepers Creepers represents a nice throwback to films like the first Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street, and a welcomed departure from the slickness and predictability of commercial, big-budget splatter movies. Director Victor Salva wants to scare you the way Wes Craven, George Romero and John Carpenter used to—by being as evil and nasty as celluloid will allow in its running time. He succeeds.

The opening sequence of Creepers is nicely reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as a brother and sister (Justin Long and Gina Phillips) driving on a country highway encounter some nut job on the road, harassing them at high speeds with his souped-up truck. The kids don’t get a view of the driver until they pass an abandoned church and witness a cloaked figure dumping mysterious bundles into a drainage pipe. After another highway showdown with the creepy figure, they return to the church to see what’s at the other end of that pipe.

Yes, the characters in the film are stupid for doing that. They are gloriously stupid like those in the horror movies of old, and you gotta love them for it, because their mistake is the set-up for the scariest monster movie in many years. The bundle dumper, clad in a trench coat and big hat, is not anything remotely human. The Texan get-up and old truck are simply cover for a demonic, winged creature with a taste for body parts.

I want so much to describe the monster, but that would spoil your fun. OK, I’ll drop one minor detail. When I was a kid, gargoyles used to freak the shit out of me, and the Creeper possesses some gargoyle-like characteristics that were enough to make me extremely uneasy. When watching Jeepers Creepers, keep in mind that this is not a big-budget affair. This is old-school horror, utilizing camera tricks, big soundtrack jolts and complicated make-up to earn its chills.

Salva, who also wrote the film, doesn’t skimp on the blood, but he doesn’t shower the camera lens with it either. He knows that a monster hovering over his victim making strange gyrations and some of the more horrifying sounds ever to enter your ears are far scarier than straight-up gore. That’s not to say this film doesn’t have its share of beheadings. The movie has earned its R rating.

Big kudos to Long and Phillips for creating such likable characters and delivering credible, frightened performances as the Creeper pursues them (Long’s state of shock after viewing the ungodly horrors in the church basement is ultra-convincing). Salva gives you a chance to know the siblings before they start getting terrorized and creates that rare thing in horror films these days: characters that we care about. Caring about the characters makes it all the more horrifying when they are in peril, something most horror film directors don’t seem to comprehend.

As I wind up this review and prepare for bed, I’m semi-miserable, because Jeepers Creepers will surely generate nightmares. I couldn’t pay a horror film a bigger compliment.