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Entries in Jeepers Creepers 2 [2003] (1)

Friday
Jun172016

Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)


Where'd You Get Those Eyes?

One of my favorite conspiracy theories involves Stanley Kubrick and his big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining. Legend has it the visionary filmmaker was instrumental in faking the Apollo moon landing. Wracked with guilt, he left subtle and not-so-subtle clues in the film as both public apology and exorcism of a rage that would not be suppressed. It just so happened that King's novel was also about the deteriorative effects (on people, on buildings, on the very fabric of reality) of keeping secrets locked away.*

I won't go further down that rabbit hole, but I'm fascinated by the idea of an artist sabotaging his or her work, in a way, by infusing its subtext (and text-text) with a cry for help and a soul-scorching admission of culpability. Similar to Kubrick's dilemma (real or imagined), it's easy to apply the word "coincidence" to Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers. The Internet was still a toddler in the summer of 2001, so its likely that mass audiences would not have even known about the writer/director's conviction for child sex crimes a decade earlier. One would have had to dig for that information (as opposed to seeing it writ large on Wikipedia or Google), and the movie itself doesn't, at first glance, suggest that it was made by a child molester.

Viewed through the lens of ubiquitous knowledge, one can interpret the story of a humanoid beast stalking a young man and whisking him off to his subterranean feeding ground as an obvious metaphor for Salva's predatory past--an analysis made chillier by the Creeper's obsession with stealing Justin Long's eyes, and which invites at least a tenuous cosmic connection with the real-life incident. Salva served fifteen months for sexually assaulting a twelve-year-old boy and filming it, ostensibly to add to the collection of child pornography seized from his residence during the arrest.

Two years after Jeepers Creepers, Salva returned with Jeepers Creepers 2, which, like many sequels to surprise low-budget horror hits, delivered a concomitant expansion of the first film's mythology and scope with its larger budget and cast. It delivers little more than the superficial updates one would expect: improved gore and creature effects, and an ostensibly better "On a/In a" premise (instead of "It's Speed on a boat!", or "It's Leprechaun in space!", this is, "It's Jeepers Creepers on a bus!").

A college football team gets stranded in Creeper territory, after the monster disables their bus along a deserted country road. The monster picks off the driver and coaching staff, and stalks the smorgasbord of macho players, hangers-on, and cheerleaders--one of whom manifests psychic powers during the ordeal. At an hour-and-forty-five minutes, Jeepers Creepers 2 wears out its welcome halfway through, as the action moves off the bus, then back onto the bus, then off the bus, then into a field after the bus explodes, and...it's really not compelling.

Still, there's a lot to mine from the sequel. In the cold open, the Creeper snatches a young boy from his family's farm by posing as a scarecrow. Ray Wise plays the boy's father, and his desperation to save his son from an unspeakable evil perched right in his midst is palpable--even if the setup is eye-rollingly obvious. Knowing what I know of the director, I couldn't help but feel a tinge of gloating on Salva's part as the Creeper drags the boy through the rows, struggling, screaming, and confused. Salva drops a sight gag into the ordeal, with stalks popping like mad during an overhead shot of the cornfield.

Outside the greater context, it's just a tone-deaf misstep. In context, this flaunting of the cool-looking monster with awesome CGI wings and a new habit of taunting his quivering prey with Freddy Krueger-esque** pantomimes is really unsettling. In this movie, the Creeper stops being an organism that must feed on terror to survive, and becomes a boastful glutton. It knows the pain it inflicts on its victims, and has no remorse about acting on sinister impulses. In fact, the taunting and the toying become part of the allure.

The dad character resurfaces later, wielding a souped-up post gun mounted to the back of his pickup truck and determined to help what's left of the football team fend off the Creeper. The kids team up with the spiritually wrecked father to dismember, beat, and stab the Creeper into near oblivion, before a natural self-defense reflex cocoons its head, forcing the monster into dormancy for another twenty-three years (ah, kooky lore).

It's not a spoiler to say that good triumphs over evil here (temporarily, at least). Jeepers Creepers 2 ends on a note that can be read as either conciliatory or vengeful--possibly both. In the final scene, we flash forward to the days preceding the Creeper's next awakening. Wise's character has mounted the cruciform monster to his barn wall, and charges ourists five bucks a pop to see the "Bat Out of Hell".

But the display isn't just a roadside attraction. It's a vigil. The dad knows his son isn't coming back, that there will always be a vacuum at the center of his heart and a pock on his world view. But the monster will return, and he won't allow it another chance to ruin more lives. This coda would mean one thing if the film had been made by Salva's victim, or by someone speaking on behalf of the victim. Jeepers Creepers 2, however, was written and directed by the monster himself.

What do we do with this information?

Do we read the Creeper's savage beating as Salva's self-flagellating, public plea for forgiveness? Or is the barn scene fan acknowledgement that Salva will never be "cured" because these dark impulses are in his DNA? Pedophilia, remember, is not a crime. It is a thought, an attraction. Acting on that attraction is illegal, and in the final moments of Jeepers Creepers 2, Victor Salva seems to tell his audience, "This is who I am. This is what I want to do. This is what I have, in fact, done."

Most of us will never understand those specific impulses, but we all have urges that occasionally get the better of us. Some tackle these struggles alone. Others have what are called "accountability partners". Salva has millions of those: a watchful, suspicious society that will likely keep him in check to such a degree that he could have trouble getting his planned conclusion to the Jeepers Creepers trilogy off the ground.

This may or may not be fair. In a strictly legal sense, Salva paid his debt to society a quarter century ago, and has shown no apparent signs of recidivism in the years since. But he knows we're watching, and he knows that we know he wants to be fed.

*To learn more about this theory, and the truckload of others devised and expanded upon by fans over the years, check out Rodney Ascher's wild documentary, Room 237.

**Ah, yes, Freddy Krueger, cinema's other great child molesting horror icon. Why does he get a pass? I have two theories: 1. To my knowledge, his creator, Wes Craven, didn't incorporate actual sex crimes and murder into his research. All of A Nightmare on Elm Street's twisted ideas are rooted firmly in imagination. 2. In the numerous Elm Street sequels, the filmmakers downplayed this aspect of Freddy's villainy and focused on older-teen and adult protagonists banding together to take down a reality-warping nightmare monster.