Jeepers Creepers 2 is probably the most interesting not-all-that-good movie to come along in a while.
JC2 works fairly well as a simple horror flick. There’s no denying that the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) is a darn sight … er … creepier than he was in the first film, which pretty much fell apart as soon as we saw its man-in-a-rubber-suit monster. Here we see him less clearly, and what we do see looks far nastier than the creature in the original.
The second installment lacks the genuinely unsettling quality of the first half hour of Jeepers Creepers, but that was inevitable since we already knew the premise; it was probably smart on writer/director Victor Salva’s part to take a different approach here. This go-round is straightforward schlock — not much story, no mind-boggling effects — that’s merely an extension of the first film, this time centering on a school-bus load of meat-on-the-hoof teens, all packed together like sardines in tomato sauce for the Creeper’s dining pleasure. Throw in a vengeance-crazed father (Ray Wise, a kind of low-rent Billy Bob Thornton, who appeared in the director’s earlier film, Powder) whose adolescent son gets whisked away by the flying horror in the first scene, and you pretty much have the whole thing.
JC2 is slightly better mounted than the original and shot in the wide-screen anamorphic process, yet it’s notably simpler in terms of design and location. The film works even better as a genuinely perverse comedy — assuming it was meant to be funny. Some of the antics on the school bus (like the kids’ reactions to the Creeper) must have been intentionally amusing. I would like to believe that the last scenes involving the Creeper minus a leg were also meant to provoke laughter, since the seriously impeded, hopping horror brought nothing to mind so much as the old Peter Cook-Dudley Moore routine with Moore as a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan (“I have nothing against your right leg — unfortunately, neither have you”). Whether intentionally silly or not, I can’t say I didn’t have a good time it.
However, there’s yet a third way to look at this movie. It’s not telling tales out of school to bring up Salva’s legal troubles. Anyone who follows the horror genre knows the director was convicted of child molestation with the star of his first feature, Clownhouse — something that probably came as no surprise to anyone who saw it (the boy in question improbably played a good portion of the movie in his BVDs). After serving his time, Salva returned to the screen several years later with the strange X Files-like Powder, at which time his past came back to haunt him — not in the least because the film dealt with high-school students.
The same thing happened to one degree or another on each of his subsequent films. There was even some outrage over Jeepers Creepers, though the film itself managed to downplay the issue by focusing on 23-year-old Justin Long (probably best known as the nice guy Britney Spears doesn’t lose her virginity to in Crossroads). By that point, it was obvious that a lot of people simply didn’t think Salva should be allowed to make films period. With JC2, Salva appears to have simply decided that he’s in a lose-lose proposition, and opted to give his detractors exactly what they expected. He even opens his film with the Creeper making off with a boy about the age of the one in Clownhouse. After that, the director has fashioned a movie where you expect to see a disclaimer that all the boys in it — at least the largely undressed ones — are over 18 (they mostly appear to be the usual 20-something movie high-school kids).
What exactly is one to make of Salva’s cooking up a predatory monster with a penchant for making dinner out of predominately young, male, shirtless victims generally wearing perilously low-hung blue jeans? What indeed (it’s almost impossible not to have an amateur-psychology field day with this). You could make a case for Salva’s bizarre loathing of his own past at work here — but then why does he twice present his monster trussed up like a scarecrow (read: crucified) with two other nonmonstrous scarecrows? (I won’t even bring in the question of the initials of the title.) Then too, what of the business of the Creeper only coming to life to commit mayhem for 23 days every 23 years? Is this a comment on how something may lie dormant, but never really go away?
There’s just no way of not noticing the sheer number of beefcake shots in the movie — and I’d as soon not discuss Salva’s apparent fixation on urination (this crops up in all of his films I’ve seen). And much like the humor in the film, the real question is how conscious any of this is — and on that score, we have no answers. How seriously to take any of this is another matter. It’s so over-the-top in this latest effort that I wouldn’t be surprised if the filmmaker is simply having us on. One thing is pretty certain: There’s one hell of a book — possibly distasteful — to be written about Salva and his body of work, which is a kind of weird accomplishment in itself for a filmmaker whose work has yet to be more than marginally interesting.
Whether or not Salva’s Creeper is to become one of the iconic figures of modern horror remains to be seen, but the director ought to note that his creation lacks one seeming essential of such “crowd pleasers” as Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees: a quickly identifiable musical theme. Every good monster needs one.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke