To experience the utmost in cinematic suspense, one must imagine something more terrifying than the screen can create. Though its creepy, well-filmed first half fuels this psychological process, "Jeepers Creepers" degenerates from a realistic and frightening story into silly supernatural shenanigans.
Best known for 1995's only slightly appealing "Powder," Victor Salva doesn't possess much writing or directing experience, and it shows in this low-budget teen-horror flick. Relative newcomers Gina Philips and Justin Long play college students whose drive home along a deserted country highway comes to an unexpected halt when they're run off the road by a lunatic driver. Perhaps wisely, they allow him to pass. In the film's most intelligent and subtly scary scene, they then observe him dumping some mysterious objects (they look like bodies) next to an old, abandoned church.
But in true horror-movie fashion, instead of being content to drive on and report their observations to the police, the students return to investigate. Thus begins their frightening adventure into unknown evil. They spend the rest of the film probing the nature of this menace, but as more is revealed, the suspense lessens. Instead of using the realistic performances, simple subject matter and spare direction to build terror, Salva allows his story to fall apart, thanks to some stereotypical characters and unbelievable plot twists.
Philips (best known for her recurring role as Sandy Hingle on TV's "Ally McBeal") and Long (Brandon in 1999's "Galaxy Quest") work well together. The film's mesmerizing first few scenes, with their crude style and methodical pace, are comparable to "Night of the Living Dead." The best that can be said for Salva, however, is that he is not afraid to have a bit of fun with the horror genre: His use of the 1938 classic "Jeepers Creepers" as the movie's title song adds macabre humor. One is almost tempted to credit him with cleverness, but any hints of that virtue are ultimately drowned in B-movie tripe. (Witness Patricia Belcher's performance as a psychic who warns the kids of their impending doom.)
Salva obviously studied the brilliantly filmed highway sequences in Steven Spielberg's 1971 TV-movie "Duel" before shooting the opening car-chase sequence of "Jeepers." Before he mounts his next thriller, he needs to revisit Spielberg's work to learn how to build suspense by keeping the villain shrouded in mystery and letting the audience's imagination do some of the work of the camera.