Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jeepers Creepers II (2003)

Review #0028

Now, here's a treat! An old-school horror film without the narrative embellishments which tend to transform the genre into a steady syrup flow. It's a thing of pure execution that goes straight to the point, without the lenghty detours used by lesser filmmakers to mask technical lacks. Director/screenwriter Salva has clearly understood the key-element to a successful monster film: simplicity. And from that basic principle, he has crafted an effective, memorable film that's a real hoot to watch.

The plot is so simple that it is resumed in a single sentence that flashes onscreen before the initial fade-in: "Every 23rd spring, for 23 days, it gets to eat." That's it! We know all that we should know. And things can get started right away, with the demise of a child, no less. In a very effective opening sequence (that already showcases the intelligence of Salva as a director), "it" is revealed as a very large bird-like creature that captures an unsuspecting farmer's son, then flies off. Cut to a busload of football players rolling down Route 9. Fresh morsels in a tin can. Theirs will be a story of survival against the beast (and against each other).

What's most appreciable about Jeepers Creepers II is the unrelenting pace that results from exploiting a single storyline confined mostly to a single set (the school bus). Again, simplicity! The film doesn't offer pause since it almost unravels in real time and rarely intercuts with other events. The characters' trial thus becomes our own. We share their anguish because we know as much as they do about the beast. Its numerous talents are revealed through incremental evidence, starting with the organic shuriken (made of bones and human leather) with which it punctures the bus tire. The weapon found stuck to the shredded rubber is evidence of foul play, sure, but it is also evidence of a creature with fucked-up hobbies. It's not only a great prop, but also a great plot device! Then, there is this succulent radio announcement that had me clapping enthusiastically. "The fire which gutted the church south of Pertwella four days ago continues to offer up a gruesome bounty, states a radio journalist. County Sheriffs excavating the charred ruins estimate the body count is now up well past three hundred. County coroners say that the bodies were found stitched to each other, covering the basement's walls and ceiling. One on-the-scene witness called it "a human tapestry of torture and sadism," and a sight he will never forget." A human tapestry of torture and sadism? Come on! This has got to be one of the best lines ever to grace a monster movie script! It is creepy, but in a refreshingly self-mocking way, not unlike the creature itself, which winks at the characters and (literally) switches head halfway. It may be a relentless killer, yet it is not completely unsympathetic. Not unlike Freddy Krueger (from whom it took fashion cues), but without the lame lines of dialogues. And when it is finally revealed in full, it is really a sight to behold: a dark, fanged head with a Resident Evil-type parasite attached, sharp claws, large leathery wings acting as limbs, all of that with an intellect to match.

You see, Jeepers Creepers II is mostly about fun. The creature is awesome. The ending is great. The scenario is tight, but humorous. It features innovative kills, and lenghty action scenes showcasing the fluid aerial movement of the creature and one very cool homemade harpoon devised by the vengeful farmer of the opening sequence. In so many words, Salva's film is a welcome return to the unapologetic fun that caracterized the Matinees of yesteryears. With some tight direction to boot, it also avoids the traps of TV aesthetic, which is the new plague threatening Hollywood. There is but one thing that bugged me with the film. It is the highly dubious "dream" sequence wherein one character learns about the beast from two of its dead victims. Why Salva felt he needed to include ghosts in there is beyond me, especially since they don't give the viewer additional information. This sequence bugged because I felt it artificially fueled the story and caused the characters to make many unfounded assumptions. But all in all, this little annoyment is but a thorn in the side of one beautiful beast. Hats off!

3/5: for being a well-made, well-paced, and very fun little time-waster.

Trivia: Victor Salva is an openly gay filmmaker, and this surely has bearing on the film, which features a bevy of buff, shirtless dudes. Although it is not exploitative in any way (trust me, most straight directors are way more disgusting than this), this kind of imagery is nonetheless far removed from the traditional sights of busty co-eds offered by genre cinema. Another thing about Salva: he was indeed incarcerated after he pleaded guilty to charges of pedophilia on the young star of the Coppola-produced Clownhouse (1989). Paroled after fifteen months, it took many years before he could direct the Disney-produced Powder (1995). Upon its release, his young victim resurfaced and caused a media shitstorm (pertaining to Disney's hiring of a known pedophile). This impaired Salva's career once more, and he was relegated to the oubliette for another four years (until the release of the award-winning Rites of Passage). All of his films are very personal oeuvres that attempt to exorcize the demons he is plagued with (a fucked-up childhood, memories of prison, social ire...).