[Screen It]

(2001) (Gina Philips, Justin Long) (R)

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Horror: On their way home from college and out in the middle of nowhere, a brother and sister have repeated run-ins with what seems like a homicidal maniac, only to discover that he's something far worse.
Trish (GINA PHILIPS) and Darry Jenner (JUSTIN LONG) are normal siblings who are driving home from college through the middle of nowhere. For a while, their trip is unremarkable, but that changes when an unidentifiable madman tries to drive them off the road in his old, souped up truck. Narrowly avoiding being killed, the two regain their composure and return to their trip, only to pass the madman apparently dumping bodies - tied up in bloody sheets - down some large pipe in the ground.

After another perilous encounter with the truck driver, Darry convinces Trish that they must go back to the pipe just in case what they saw was real and any of the victims might still be alive. She reluctantly agrees, and so they return to the pipe on the grounds of an old and dilapidated church. After hearing what he believes to be a voice at the bottom of the darkened pipe, Darry has Trish lower him part of the way into it for a better look, but a surprise causes her to let go and he slides down inside it.

There, he finds scores of bodies with wounds that have been crudely stitched together and, after a few tense moments, escapes and heads off with his sister to look for help. As they try to get the police to believe their story and the two receive an odd phone call from a local psychic, Jezelle Gay Hartman (PATRICIA BELCHER), as well as have a creepy encounter with an old woman (EILEEN BRENNAN) with many cats, Trish and Darry try to avoid The Creeper (JONATHAN BRECK) who takes on more supernatural characteristics as he continues to pursue them.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
It's not uncommon for films to use the names of songs as their titles. That sometimes occurs just as an effort to sell more copies of the soundtrack or in a desperate attempt to make viewers feel more familiar with the cinematic work simply through association with the well-known song.

Other times, however, the titular connection is appropriate, especially when the movie in question is a biopic about some musician - such as "What's Love Got to Do With It?" or "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" - and the song is one that the artist recorded and that thematically fits in with the film's subject matter.

Other films not only use the songs in the latter regard, but also have them as part of the plot as occurred in "Sea of Love" with Al Pacino. The latest such film tries to do something similar, but "Jeepers Creepers" isn't as successful or effective in pulling that off, which can also be said about its attempts at being a creepy and well-made thriller.

The work of writer/director Victor Salva ("Nature of the Beast," "Powder"), the film tries to use the Oscar nominated title song - first heard in the 1938 film "Going Places" and which contains the familiar refrain: "Jeepers, creepers, where'd you get those peepers? Jeepers, creepers, where'd you get those eyes?" - as one of its creepy effects. Yet, despite the related payoff at the end, the use of the song, like the second half of the film, doesn't work as well as planned and thus feels a bit strained.

Much like Quentin Tarantino did with "From Dusk 'Til Dawn," Salva starts off the film in one direction, and then suddenly switches gears and steers it off the main course, taking the film down a related, but much different path. This unexpected detour partially derails what the film is trying to do and be, although the ensuing camp does somewhat prevent the whole vehicle from tipping over.

At first, however, the film does work rather well as two teenage siblings find themselves terrorized by an unseen truck driver who repeatedly tries to run them off the road. While yet another rip-off of Steven Spielberg's "Duel" - much like the upcoming "Joy Ride" - the early moments are nevertheless still rather effective.

Although their characters aren't anything particularly unique or memorable, Gina Philips ("Living Out Loud," a repeat guest on TV's "Ally McBeal") and Justin Long ("Galaxy Quest," TV's "Ed") generate enough believable sibling chemistry and make them likable enough that we worry - to some degree - about them when the "it could happen to you" terror begins.

This builds at the two spot the truck driver seemingly dumping bodies down a long pipe into the ground, and then decide to throw all caution to the wind to see if that's what really happened and check for survivors if so.

Salva manages to create some creepy and taut moments doing so -- even going so far as to throwing in some "Scream" like horror film observational comments as brief comic relief - and fans of the genre will likely be on the edge of their seats as things become more suspenseful. A gruesome discovery only adds to the mix, as do some creepy local townsfolk and an odd phone call (that introduces the title song).

That's all fine and dandy as the filmmaker manages to creep us out and get us to jump, even when we're aware of what he's doing and what's likely coming. That's part of the fun of such films. Unfortunately, all good things much come to an end and that occurs when Salva decides to turn down that connecting road and take the film on a major detour.

Accordingly, what seemed like a decent serial killer flick - something I thought would never be possible after so many of them popped up over the recent years - suddenly takes a supernatural turn that presumably was supposed to generate further terror, but instead sends the entire production careening downhill toward the little town of Campville.

Not to ruin any related "surprises," but the revelation of the "boogeyman's" true nature is nothing short of a disappointment to say the least and is likely to generate - intentionally or not - more laughs than scares. It doesn't help that the story borrows heavily from a somewhat similar episode from TV's "The X-Files" but feels far hookier in both conception and execution. I won't say which one since that would give away the "surprise," but viewers of the series will recognize similar facts and related motivation.

From that point on, the rest of the film follows the "Night of the Living Dead" and "The Terminator" plots of people trying to flee from an immortal being that's determined to find and kill them. While the results are mildly engaging in a pure "B" movie fashion, the picture begins to fall apart for a number of reasons.

For one, and as is the case in many such films, the protagonists are mostly reactive rather than proactive. Although the fleeing aspect works for a while simply on a cathartic level, most viewers will probably tire of that and wish that the characters would actively try to figure out how to stop the creature rather than just running away.

The biggest problem - that's somewhat present early on but gets progressively worse as the story proceeds - is that the characters begin to do stupid things after previously complaining about just that in other similar films. While horror pictures have always played off the "Don't do that!" and "Don't go in there!" visceral material, it's too familiar and repetitive to work as needed here.

The end result is that we care less about the characters and their plight as both they and the story progressively become dumber and/or more ridiculous. It doesn't help matters that "The Creeper" - embodied by Jonathan Breck (making his feature film debut) - isn't convincing or scary enough - beyond his looks - once the facts about his true nature are revealed, or that certain elements about him aren't explained or explored.

As far as the film's few other parts, Eileen Brennan ("Private Benjamin," "Clue") is appropriately spooky as an older lady the siblings encounter, but Patricia Belcher ("Heartbreakers," "Message in a Bottle") comes off as second-rate playing a psychic who's "seen" the upcoming mayhem. We've seen this sort of character countless times before, and this one pales in comparison.

Decent and rather effective at first - even if not remotely original - the film unfortunately falls apart and unravels as it unfolds. While some may enjoy the B movie shenanigans that ensue, others will be disappointed with the filmmaker's dropping of the ball. "Jeepers Creepers" thus rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 27, 2001 / Posted August 31, 2001

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