What’s eating you?
Jeepers creepers, where’d you get those peepers? That’s what Johnny Mercer was asking in a 1938 song. With that song being revived for a 2001 film, those innocent lyrics take on a whole new meaning!
The trailer for Jeepers Creepers provides some downright creepy moments alright. A young couple driving through the middle of nowhere see a mysterious figure dumping a body in a large drainpipe. The man decides to investigate and of course that leads into them becoming targets of a strange, demonic creature of some kind that needs to feed. When a trailer like this is fueled with jump scares, it means that the film is either really great, or they’re putting all the best parts in the trailer. What’s Jeepers Creepers got for you?
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
Two siblings, Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry Jenner (Justin Long) are driving home from college for Spring Break. They are in the middle of nowhere, Florida, where there’s no other cars and the radio only picks up Bible stations. Suddenly a beat-up, rusted truck shows up and aggressively tailgates them, freaking the two kids out. It finally passes them and Darry notices the license plate BEATNGU–”Beating You”–and chalks it up to road rage. But a short time later they pass an abandoned church and see the same truck parked. The driver is dumping what looks like a body wrapped in a sheet into a large drainpipe.
Having seen them, the truck follows them, crashing into their back bumper this time and causing them to slide off the road, completely freaked out. As they get the car back on the road Darry tells Trish he wants to do the right thing. It looked like there was a body in a bloody sheet and they should investigate and then call the cops. Trish reluctantly agrees, so they return to the church and look into the large drainpipe. Darry climbs in for a closer look while Trish holds his feet, but she gets freaked out by a rat and drops him into the hole.
Underneath the church Darry discovers the body he saw dropped into the hole, still alive, but eviscerated and sewn back up. He also finds dozens of other preserved bodies, sewn back together lining the walls and ceiling including the two teenagers of local lore, who died 23 years earlier in 1978. Darry manages to get out but is in shock when they stop at a local gas station to call the police. At the diner next to the gas station the pay phone rings suddenly, and Darry answers it. On the line is a woman asking if he’s seen the cats yet, and to beware the song “Jeepers Creepers.” Darry thinks this woman is nuts.
The police arrive and take a statement. While this is going on someone ransacks Trish’s car and their laundry–seen only by a waitress who says he was sniffing it. When the two officers escort the siblings back to the church, their car is attacked by a scary looking humanoid in a dark trench coat. He kills the two cops and eats the tongue from one body, which he also decapitated. The kids flee to a nearby house to call the police again. It’s the house of a cat lady (Eileen Brennan) who fires a shotgun at the creature. It kills her and comes after the kids.
They try to escape in the car, but it is not cooperating. Once Trish can get it in gear she tries to hit the creature with the car but he just jumps over it. She manages to surprise him and knock him down, running over him multiple times. Giant wings sprout from the creatures back before it flops motionless. The kids drive to the local Poho County Sheriff station to make a report when Jazelle (Patricia Belcher), a local psychic, and the woman on the phone with Darry, arrives to warn them to get out. The Creeper, as she calls him, comes out every 23 years for 23 days to feed. Darry realizes the license plate was not “beating you,” but “be eating you.”
Jazelle has seen one of their deaths, indicating it’s Trish. The Creeper attacks one of the prisoners in the holding cell, eating one of their legs to replace his damaged one. The police come at him in full riot gear but they can’t prevent him from grabbing the two siblings. He sniffs each one, examining their fear for what he needs, and takes Darry with him–flying out into the night. Trish begs for him to take her instead. The next day as Trish heads home she notices crows like she saw around the old church. The camera drifts through an abandoned power station, the sounds of the “Jeepers Creepers” song playing on a record player. It ends on the shell of Darry’s corpse with the Creeper peering through his empty eye-hole.
“You know the part in scary movies when somebody does something really stupid, and everybody hates them for it? This is it.” – Trish
It’s hard to create a new horror franchise that captivates audiences, but Jeepers Creepers is one that did just that. It takes a number of familiar horror elements, or tropes, and plays them out differently than audiences might expect. It starts with the rusty looking truck barreling down on the kids, which is reminiscent of the early Steven Spielberg film Duel. Later, they see a man dumping bodies in the sewer pipe. So this appears to be about some killer, possibly super-human like Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers. But later when this Creeper attacks the police officers he appears out of nowhere, landing on top of the car, and then eats the tongue out of the severed head of the officer. That’s unexpected! And then finally after Trish runs over the Creeper, wings spout from its back. What the heck is this thing?
In the end, not much is really revealed about the monster. This film makes it clear that the Creeper appears once every 23 years for 23 days in order to feed. He eats the parts of his victims that he needs to make himself whole, like the foot of the prisoner, or the guts of the first victim Darry finds. Why does he do it? And how can he be stopped? The answers to these questions are never addressed. The film slowly builds the premise that the kids know the outcome because Jazelle has seen the future. But in the end Jeepers Creepers comes down to a case of fate over free will as they are unable to prevent the outcome she saw. Bad things happen and there’s nothing that can be done to prevent the killings–or the Creeper.
Due to these unknowns, the progression of fear, both for the audiences and the characters, continually ramps up. As the film goes on and everyone learns a little more about the monster and his proclivities, the tension is amplified. At first it was just fear of the characters being on the road and the truck running them down. But soon, it’s evident that the Creeper can basically come out of anywhere, so the original parameters of the fear change. This is atypical of the genre since usually the monster (or killer) has specific parameters leading the audience to anticipate actions that may or may not come to fruition. Usually the frights come due to the creature jumping out of an unexpected place. This film plays it backwards making it seem like the creature can come from almost anywhere and do almost anything.
Jeepers Creepers also does something that some horror movies began doing in the 1990s, which is having the characters acknowledging the fact that horror films exist. This is called metafiction, where the artificiality of the work is shown by parodying the genre or departing from standard conventions and traditional narrative techniques. Trish and Darry understand the conventions of the traditional horror film, as evidenced by the quote above where Trish points out that they are not acting smart. But this isn’t a typical meta-horror film, which often has a subtle wink-and-nod to the audience. Other than that call out, and the non-traditional narrative structure, Jeepers Creepers is much more intent on being scary instead of clever.
Helping the scariness along is the acting of Justin Long, who’s appearance here marks only his third film. Long manages to convey a likeable and friendly character that audiences can relate to. And when the terror starts to hit, he conveys the shock and fear befitting of any audience member in this same situation. As the villain of the piece, Jonathan Breck creates a uniquely terrifying monster, while imbuing it with a tinge of humor to lighten the mood every now and again. For instance, after he loads the body of the officers into his van, he slams the door leaving the audience literally in the dark. But his whistling continues, until the van door opens once again and he tosses the severed head of the officer in as well.
Jeepers Creepers is a horror film that sticks with you for quite some time after the viewing. It’s ability to transform the benign lyrics of the 1938 song and re-contextualizes it so you will never hear it the same way again, makes it memorable. Make sure to check out the remainder of the 31 Days of Horror essays coming all month where I’ll be discussing other great, and sometimes not so great horror films!
- The film spawned two sequels. Jeepers Creepers 2 in 2003 and Jeepers Creepers III which came out in 2017, also featuring Gina Philips as Trish.
- Justin Long has done several other horror films, playing the boyfriend in the Sam Raimi scarer Drag Me to Hell (which is another film about fate), and the Kevin Smith body-horror film Tusk, which is not for the weak of heart.
- Jazelle refers to the Creepers hideout as the House of Pain, which is possibly a reference to the laboratory of Dr. Moreau in the HG Wells story (and film), The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.