Blind as a Bat Outta Hell: Why We Don’t Need Another Jeepers Creepers Sequel
In 2001, the face of modern horror cinema changed forever when American Zoetrope in association with Myriad Pictures and Capitol Films released Jeepers Creepers. Featuring virtually unknown actors, the film garnered several Saturn Award and International Horror Guild nominations, eventually raking in close to sixty million dollars (some five times the cost of the film), while also setting the record for the largest grossing Labor Day weekend film ever in the process. The perhaps inevitable sequel followed when Jeepers Creepers II was released in 2003, and in September of 2015 it was announced that the third film of the franchise would go into production in early 2016.
What Jeepers Creeper brought to the table for modern horror cinema was knowledge that with a solid production and an interesting premise, unknown talent can carry a film both domestically in the USA and internationally. Casting Gina Phillips (Dead & Breakfast, Ally McBeal) as Trish, and Justin Long (Drag Me to Hell, Tusk) as her brother Darry, the only real star power was the addition of Eileen Brennan (Private Benjamin) as The Cat Lady, and her scene was perhaps a little too short.
Despite this apparent lack of star power however, director Victor Salva (previously known for his work on the film Powder, though subsequently better know as a well documented registered sex offender) certainly knew how to get the best work out of his cast while also providing them with a script that was nothing short of amazing—a script that toyed deliberately with some of the typical horror tropes to play into our expectations, and then delivered a thrill far beyond anything that we had expected.
Let’s briefly examine the other standout members of the cast. Firstly, the Creeper’s truck. Sure, some might argue that a truck should not technically be mentioned as a cast member, but few will argue that when that 1941 Chevy COE with a cow catcher in the front is bearing down on you at close to 100 mph, you can bet that damn truck is the star of the film during those opening scenes. Compared to the Lincoln Mark III in The Car with James Brolin, the creepy hearse in Burnt Offerings, even Rusty Nail’s 359 Peterbilt in Joy Ride, the Creeper’s truck takes the cake for most badass vehicle driven by a psychopathic ghoul ever. When you hear it coming up behind you, that V8 engine growling, and see it getting closer and closer in your rearview mirror, you know it means business, and the only thing you can do is keep going, faster and faster. Yet, even when the siblings manage to get away, you know from that first encounter that they will run into the Creeper again, and probably sooner than later.
Another member of the cast worth mentioning is Patricia Belcher (Bad Words, Dark House) as Jezelle Gay Hartman. Playing the part of the local psychic, Belcher informs the kids what they are actually up against. Again, Salva’s casting paid off, as Belcher delivered the role as you might expect from an actress of her charm. By the time she is on the screen, the audience has already seen what the Creeper is capable of, and Jezelle’s character reinforces the concepts with authority and a sense of factual history. The effect of the dramatic irony here is very subtle, but it works as a great subtext of things to come.
Finally, we must talk about the Creeper. Jonathan Breck (JAG, Star Trek: Voyager) portrays the mysterious man in the long duster, and did a fine job of keeping his secret under wraps for the majority of the film. With excellent make-up by Make-up & Monsters, Breck is transformed into the Creeper, and then, transforms again, revealing the true nature of the creature in all its glory. By the time we see this manifestation, Trish has run over the Creeper in her car repeatedly and left him for dead in the middle of the road. The scene lingers long, and just as soon as we think that the film is over, the great reveal happens. The effect is stunning, and the last thing we ever expected. As the final showdown takes place at the police station, and the creature grabs Darry, we know the Creeper’s true nature, we know what’s going to happen, and when it does happen, as much as we don’t want to accept it, there’s nothing else we can do. Just as much as Trish will hunt the world over until the end of time to try and save Darry, we know that is her fate as well. Salva played with our expectations once again and went beyond the call of duty to deliver a thoroughly satisfying horror experience that resonated with audiences at a time that horror needed it most.
It’s important to realise that there is no good reason to continue making Jeepers Creepers films. Even the second installment was one sequel too many, doing nothing as it did but to introduce an ancillary part of the story in an effort to keep it going, as well as further allowing Salva to get his jollies off shooting film of shirtless teenaged boys. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any film depicting homo-erotic undertones, or any tone for that matter, and no filmmaker or writer should ever shy away from diverse yet realistic characterisation, but to allow a known, documented, sexual offender to continue making any kind of film that purposely exploits youth in a way that’s sexual is simply not acceptable. Salva’s bus full of shirtless jocks in Jeepers Creepers II is full on exploitation—how can anyone separate the director’s personal life from his art when so much of his predatory desires are on display for everyone to see?
The first film did everything a good horror movie should. It is scary and entertaining, and the story ended quite nicely, with Trish on hunt for her brother and Darry’s final fate revealed after the credits roll. Any further explanation only dumb down the film’s ending to unnecessary revelations of the Creeper’s origins that take away any aspect of his mysterious nature. You see, the mystery is probably the most important part of the myth. It begs the questions, who is the Creeper? What does he want? Why does he want it? When will he strike again? If you answer these and don’t follow up with additional questions, the mystery is gone, as well as the audience’s need to investigate it any further by watching the other films in the series. Sequels work when you elaborate on the original and bring something new to the table in the process, a twist of events or circumstances that is unpredictable, yet logical; Think game changer like Aliens, which is probably one of the best sequels ever made.
Stories should always ask more questions than they answer, yet still give the audience some kind of resonance and closure, even if that closure is something a character in the story must explore on their own, often off camera, away in their own little story universe. The closure is ours to experience, and when we come away from a film experience with our minds blown yet still have questions about the story, that gives the film a lasting power. The credits are rolling, and we can’t stop thinking about the movie. That’s what good filmmaking is all about.
While some think it would be nice to explore what happened to Trish, the second film in the franchise failed that concept on every level. The film is a continuation of the Creeper attacking more people, then using ‘visions’ to explain, to answer, the origin of the Creeper. The sequel attempts to demystify the Creeper, and while it remains an entertaining film for some, it spoils the mystery for us, and the mythos begins to lose its power. Do we really need to know more about the Creeper at the expense of losing the mystique of the character? The answer, of course, is no. We don’t need another sequel to Jeepers Creepers, especially not if the only intent is to make money, and there isn’t a chance in hell the filmmakers would be able to capture some of that same lightning in a bottle again. Sometimes, not knowing is better. Sometimes, the questions should remain unanswered. The mystery is far more powerful that way.
Like they say, ignorance is bliss.