As kids grow up and begin to challenge the images and ideas that once scared them, a common form of conquest is the endurance of a scary movie. The commercials alone for Mars Attacks! (1996) and Bride of Chucky (1998) were enough to fuel my nightmares when I was in kindergarten and second grade, respectively, and I wouldn't subject myself to their full 90 minute terror until well into my teenage years, but by fifth grade I was comfortable enough to up the ante and watch suspense/thrillers. I think the first thriller I watched was What Lies Beneath (2000) starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford. My older sister introduced me to it after she saw it at sleepover, and for the two of us the film would serve as a gateway to the likes of Double Jeopardy (1999), Domestic Disturbance (2001), The Glass House (2001), and Signs (2002).
In those preteen years, I could handle thrillers, appreciate the scares that come from a movie like Signs, and slowly gain enough comfort to delve into the horror genre. Around this time period when I was in fifth grade, there were two films that I remember my friend Brandon Koubratoff talking about extensively, both scary movies released in 2001 that coincidentally both started with the letter "J". To this day they're still burned into my brain, schematically going hand in hand: Jeepers Creepers and Joy Ride. One weekend we rented Joy Ride together and watched it multiple times. It's a striking and suspenseful story about some college kids who play practical jokes on truckers via CB radio on a road trip and eventually discover much to their misfortune that they've messed with a psychopath. Naturally, as this psychotic big rig driver discovers their identity and whereabouts, the chase is on. The film was scary in a clean way; looking back everything about it seems finely polished, especially when taking a look at the choice of actors for the protagonists: Steve Zahn and Paul Walker. Gore and other gruesome trademarks of the horror genre are missing or scarce to be seen; it's a pure thriller. Joy Ride was a crucial movie when I was an impressionable boy that reinforced the idea that I could enjoy scary movies and continue to push the envelope with what I was capable of handling. Jeepers Creepers would have served well as a followup with its tinge of horror and the supernatural, but as fate would have it, I never actually saw it as a kid.
Well, I finally got my hands on Jeepers Creepers a few weeks ago, and after seeing it for the first time, I must say that I was quite impressed. Looking back, Jeepers Creepers shares even more similarities with Joy Ride, as the plot begins with a couple of college kids on their way home from a distant university, this time a bickering brother and sister. Although unsolicited, trouble comes in the form of a lunatic driver in an old 1920s-style truck who runs them off the road. The pair manage to recover but eventually pass this same truck stopped at an old barn and witness a cloaked man disposing of what appears to be a bloody, wrapped body into a sewer pipe. At a safe point in time, the brother and sister return to the abandoned barn to investigate with hopes of rescuing a possible victim. I really like the premise to the movie but especially its name, which gives credibility to that old 1969 episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! "Jeepers, it's the Creeper". When I was little, I always wondered, "Who's the Creeper? I've never heard of him." Jeepers Creepers establishes the character and myth of the Creeper, a feature which I personally think gives the film a strong sense of validity. To my knowledge, there weren't any significant movies before it which attempted to define this character. With the worked-in use of the 1938 whistly tune "Jeepers Creepers", the established lore within this film is masterful.
As far as cinematography, Jeepers Creepers features strong visuals, angles, and contrasts of light and color in its shots, and it's no wonder: Francis Ford Coppola was one of three producers. For a horror movie, I'll say that the acting is very good and even the bullshit dialogue in the exposition feels genuine, insignificant but that's its beauty. Justin Long stars as the younger brother and in my opinion is the cast member who really excels in his role. Released three years before his breakout in DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (2004), I was unaware Justin Long was even in this movie, so to see him have such an uncharacteristic role and perform so well was a pleasant surprise when seeing this movie in 2013. Watching the story unfold was a legitimately thrilling experience which had me on edge until its conclusion. As holds true for most movies, I think the less you know about it ahead of time the better your chances of enjoying it will be. Thankfully, Brandon didn't spoil too much twelve years ago, and Jeepers Creepers manages to hold up surprisingly well today. I can't speak for the 2003 sequel, but if you happened to miss this original back in grade school, it's definitely worth checking out.