Jeepers Creepers Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
I would like to begin this retrospective review of Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers (2001) by acknowledging the elephant in the room – Salva’s 1988 child molestation and child pornography convictions and subsequent jail time served. A filmmaker’s personal misconduct, no matter how repugnant, doesn’t necessarily need to color one’s perception of their films. Everyone is free to criticize artists/entertainers for their personal failings and boycott their work accordingly. However, unlike Roman Polanski or Mel Gibson, the ramifications of Salva’s transgression actually lie at the heart of his two-part (2020 edit: now three part) horror opus. I understand that I am walking a fine line here, because I risk downplaying the seriousness of Salva’s crimes by contextualizing them this way. Please, believe that this is not my intent as I explore the themes of this shockingly autobiographical movie.
On a desolate country highway, two homeward-bound teens, Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry Jenner (Justin Long), are nearly run off the road by a maniac in a beat-up truck...and later spot him shoving what appears to be a body down a sewer pipe. But when they stop to investigate, they discover that the grisly reality at the bottom of that pipe is far worse than they could have ever suspected. And now they are now the targets of an evil far more unspeakable – and unstoppable – than they could have ever imagined! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Upon release, Jeepers Creepers bridged the gap between the slick, Scream(1996) like, post-modern slashers and the grittier, ‘70s-inspired horrors that followed Marcus Nispel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (2003). There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about Salva’s attempt at creating a new franchise horror villain to fill a void left by Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer’s (1997) fizzling popularity. Additionally, Jeepers Creepers’ “urban fish in a rural pond” plotting evokes a direct link to Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) formula. In fact, Jeepers Creepers is generic enough that it would have been forgotten, had it not been brimming asumingly intended homoerotic subtext. This is seen most obviously in co-lead Darry’s Freudian slips and performative homophobia (for instance, he laughs as he purposefully misreads a license plate – 6A4EVR – as “gay forever”), the reversal of gendered victim stereotypes, and sexualized images of scantily-clad young men. What’s more, the residents of the small, conservative town the villainous Creeper calls home seem to prefer ignoring his presence. This was likely meant to express Salva’s own youthful struggles with homosexuality. Here, the specter of gay sexual urges are cast as a literal monster that prefers young male victims and lustfully displays their mostly nude bodies as trophies. Salva also skews that formula early on by centering the film on two college-aged sibling protagonists, Trish and the aforementioned Darry Jenner, rather than the usual cavalcade of sexually promiscuous couples. This immediately undermines the expectation of sexual tension between the central victims and, furthermore, Salva removes the possibility of romantic heterosexual content by never really introducing any other sexually-primed characters.
The middle part of the movie plays out like an explicitly supernatural version of Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher (1988) – another violent, post-slasher thriller with notable homoerotic undertones – with the man-eating, pseudo-bat-like cowboy creature taking the place of Rutger Hauer’s mysterious hitchhiker. Both villains hound the protagonists along largely empty highways, teasing them, threatening them, and murdering anyone that tries to assist them. The Freudian connotations are minimal during this section, though the Creeper does, at one point, pause to make-out with a severed head, pulling the tongue from the open mouth with its teeth in loving close-up (a scene Salva admits the studio found discomforting enough that they asked him to cut it).
During the climax, the Creeper catches up with the siblings as they regroup at the police station (shades of James Cameron’s The Terminator, 1984). It corners them, smells them deeply, and even tastes their skin, before rejecting Trish for Darry’s preferrable flavor (previously, it obtained Darry’s scent by smelling the dirty underwear sloppily left in the car). Trish begs to take her brother’s place as the supposed virgin sacrifice (it is never specified if either of them is a virgin, but it is implied that Trish is not), but the creature howls in defiance. Salva reverses typical horror genre roles to a certain extent by casting the young woman as the hero and the young man as the damsel in distress, but the subversion isn’t particularly revolutionary, given decades of Final Girls triumphing over masked assassins. Jeepers Creepers ends with leering images of Darry’s nude body, trussed up in the Creeper’s lair. His eyes and the entire back of his head have been removed, allowing the monster to peer back at the audience through his gaping ocular holes. Assimilation is complete.
Outside of autobiographical subtext, Jeepers Creepers is a reasonably successful body-count movie. The first act is an effectively eerie and tightly-knit little mystery, punctuated bywell-staged car chases, in the vein of Spielberg’s Duel (1971). The introduction of a psychic secondary protagonist is a sort of unique spin, but, eventually, the film falters into the more predictable doldrums of every other teen horror movie. It is consistently well-shot and pretty gory for a movie released before the MPAA really loosened their restrictions on R-rated violence. Jeepers Creepers wasn’t Salva’s first attempt at reconciling his homosexuality with horror – shortly after his big, post-prison comeback, Powder (1995), he made Rites of Passage (1999), which revolves around a young gay man with a homophobic father who falls in love with a psychotic murderer.
Jeepers Creepers was released as a special edition DVD by MGM following its original theatrical release and made its Blu-ray debut in 2012 (with most of the DVD extras carried over). The original MGM HD scan also popped up on streaming and digital copy services. To make their 1.85:1, 1080p Blu-ray a worthy double-dip (outside of the new extras, see below), Scream Factory has rescanned the original interpositive in 2K. I don’t have the original BD for comparison sake, but can pretty easily assume that this new transfer is a substantial upgrade, because the details are really quite sharp. Foreground textures are tight and background patterns are neatly separated, leading to only minor edge haloes. Color quality is consistent, its softer lighting schemes don’t appear smeared, and contrast levels are nicely balanced, despite some occasionally greyed black levels. Film grain appears pretty accurate for a semi-recent 35mm production, but there are some compression issues that keep grain structure from looking natural. The slightly faulty encode leads to some clumping along the more subtle gradations as well, but this is only really noticeable in wide-angle shots, where some of the neutral shades appear a bit blocky.
Jeepers Creepers’ dynamic soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. The aural highlights revolve mostly around the highway chase sequences. There’s a nice differentiation between the soft ambience of the protagonists simply cruising through the countryside and the roaring engine and explosive horn of the Creepers rust-bucket truck. Multi-directional sound plays a nice role in setting the mood, even during daylight sequences by contrasting sheer silence with the sounds of environmental terrors. Bennett Salvay’s music is certainly a byproduct of a late ‘90s horror aesthetic, but, despite the perhaps dated style, it definitely fits the material with its slightly Herrmann-esque edge.
Commentary with writer/director Victor Salva and stars Justin Long and Gina Philips – The first commentary is new and recorded exclusively for this new release. This is a relatively uneventful track, unfortunately. Most of the time is spent trying to remember innocuous behind-the-scenes anecdotes that don’t have a whole lot to do with the production.
Commentary with Salva – Salva’s solo track originally accompanied MGM’s first DVD release and is a much more informative portrait of the production. The writer/director comes very prepared, to the point that he almost sounds like one of those Criterion film critic commentators in his mechanical recollection of facts and figures. I admittedly didn’t listen to either track in its entirety (I skipped between them while re-watching the film), but didn’t once note a mention of the obvious subtext.
Jeepers Creepers: Then And Now (36:40, HD) – The first new featurette includes interviews with Salva, producer Barry Opper, director of photography Don FauntLeRoy, editor Ed Marx, and actor Tom Tarantini. Salva begins by discussing the outlet that horror has given him. Again, he never talks about the homoerotic subtext (he keeps referring to both movies as “campfire tales” and “fables”), but he does say that the first movie he remembers scaring him was Nathan H. Juran’s Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), which sounds like some kind of admission. Other subject matter includes the writing process, his various filmic inspirations, early production (including Francis Ford Coppola’s involvement), cast auditions (including pictures of other actors in the Creeper costume), the editing and other technical processes, and how going over-budget before production undermined what was supposed to be a big action climax.
From Critters To Creepers (19:40, HD) – A new interview with producer Barry Opper, who recalls his pre-Jeepers Creepers career in B-genre film production, beginning with Aaron Lipstadt’s underrated Android (1982) and including the Critters series (1986, 1988, 1989, 1992).
The Town Psychic (16:30, HD) – Actress Patricia Belcher discusses her part as the psychic that warns the protagonists in the last of Jeepers Creepers’ new interviews.
Behind The Peepers: The Making of Jeepers Creepers (1:00:10, SD) – This is the original six-part behind-the-scenes documentary that was created for MGM’s first DVD (it was also included with their Blu-ray). The mostly self-explanatory chapter titles include Finding Trish and Darry (concerning casting), Designing the Creeper, Cars and Trucks, The Creeper Comes to Florida (concerning locations), Night Shoots, and Making the Score.
Deleted & extended scenes, including alternate opening and closing sequences (17:10, SD)
The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.