Rated R - Running Time: 1:27 - Released 8/31/01

Note to self: never get in a road rage battle against a large, rusty 1950s vintage truck with a demonic-sounding horn and no driver. This is the way the horror starts for two college-age siblings in Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers, a flawed but suitably chilling slasher movie whose script (also by Salva) blends blood, mystery, mysticism, and a touch of humor with the inevitable complement of red herrings. With a refreshing simplicity of premise and good performances by its two main players, it alternates between moments of sheer terror and ridiculously cheesy effects, taking a great beginning and moving inevitably toward a rather standard and vaguely disappointing final product.

We first meet Trish (Gina Philips) and her brother Darius (Justin Long) as they are driving home from school along a lonely stretch of highway, bickering about everything from the slowness of local drivers to the irritating qualities of each other's personalities. But when they are viciously pursued by a nondescript old truck which almost runs them off the road, they are united in fear. Then they witness something that really bugs them: the driver of the truck stops at an old church and dumps what appear to be shrouded bodies down a large pipe in the ground. When he leaves, they investigate and find a number of corpses stored in what appears to be the church's basement. Horrified, they contact the local authorities, but this only gets them a reserved place located squarely in the killer's sights.

This film starts out very well, with Philips and Long handling the only two speaking parts for the first half hour. The scenes on the road and at the church are freaky and chilling, but when other characters start getting involved, things begin to deteriorate. First there's a psychic (Patricia Belcher) who attempts to help the couple with bizarre rantings about old hit songs. Then there's an old woman (Eileen Brennan), whose insistence on sitting in the dark is just slightly less creepy than the number of cats she owns. (I mean, the smell alone would kill you.) Finally there's the killer himself, who seems to get more silly every time we see him. I like the "crazed inbred local malcontent in the Jed Clampett hat" premise much more than what he actually turns out to be.

Even with its faults, Jeepers Creepers is slightly more effective than its only competitor so far in the 2001 horror season, Alejandro Amenábar's beautifully stylistic yawnfest The Others. The work of Jeepers's two main players usually counterbalances the schlock, edging it just above the mediocre level for its genre. ***½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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