‘Jeepers Creepers’, Where’d You Get That Bad Third Movie?

*before going into the review, let’s get the obvious out of the way: we at Age of the Nerd would like to take a moment to say we are fully aware of Victor Salva’s criminal history and the moral dilemma that is presented when discussing or financially supporting his movies.

The horror landscape has changed rather drastically in the sixteen years since controversy magnet Victor Salva first introduced slasher-starved audiences to “the Creeper” (Jonathan Breck) and his taste for body parts in the ‘Jeepers Creepers‘ franchise. Since then, there’s been the rise of the torture porn sub-genre and filmmakers like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, the supernatural found footage genre, an obnoxious onslaught of inferior remakes (fingers shall be pointed specifically at The Wicker Man, When a Stranger Calls and Black Christmas) and a needed return to form thanks to filmmakers like James Wan, David Sandberg and Jennifer Kent. So where does a demonic ghoul and his creator fit in this narrative? And, a more crucial question, should we care? There’s nary a pleasant answer to be found in this, so let’s see where Mr. Salva went wrong (as a filmmaker).

In real life, it’s been over thirteen years since the Creeper last spooked audiences (and was bested at the box office by slasher titans Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees when they finally engaged in their much awaited “duel to the death”). In the movie’s chronology, it’s been… fifteen minutes since the Creeper made a mess of Poho County’s police department and flew out a window with reluctant eye donor Darry (Justin Long, who doesn’t appear, but people certainly can’t shut up about him) into the night. Sgt. Tubbs (Brandon Smith, reprising his brief role from the original) is further thrust into the Creeper’s world when an old acquaintance, Sheriff Tashtego (Stan Shaw) of the Creighton Duke school of vengeful antiheroes (all the way down to dressing like his foe), and his men arrive amidst the chaos, ready to put an end to the monster’s evil. As this is a prequel, we know that’s not happening, but the effort is appreciated. The moments between Mr. Smith and Mr. Shaw showcase some of the film’s better moments, harkening back to the developed relationship between the original’s protagonists.

Down the road from the hunt comes the first of this entry’s problems: the introduction of “heroine” Addison (newcomer Gabrielle Haugh), her unmemorable dinner plate of friends and love interest (Chester Rushing of “Stranger Things”). Addison, we come to learn, is the granddaughter of Gaylen (genre legend Meg Foster), a destitute farmer whose son came into contact with the Creeper during its previous feeding frenzy and did not live to tell the tale, leaving mother literally and figuratively haunted. The inclusion of Addison as a character does a first for the Jeepers Creepers series: introduce a female protagonist the Creeper actually hunts and pursues instead of making her a “red herring.” But Ms. Haugh and her character are an indistinguishable face in a sea of leading horror ladies who share similar backgrounds, features and behaviors. The only cast member who’s actually having a good time is, surprise surprise, Jonathan Breck. Much like when the genre veterans and the monsters that established their careers, Mr. Breck slips back into the Creeper’s glistening skin with ghoulish relish, playing up its fearsome qualities with gallows humor and swagger to spare.

Next, there’s the issue of quality, which has taken a severe nosedive since Jeepers Creepers 2. Cinematographer Don E. FauntLeRoy, who has lensed all three films, manages to capture some very scenic dawn-set Louisiana (filling in for Florida) landscapes where Ms. Foster’s character is introduced and the opening scenes cleverly play with the Creeper’s silhouette against starless night, but that’s the most positive thing that can be said. The rest of it suffers from a distractingly amateur appearance, an obvious result of the change in budget and financiers. Worse than the look of the film is the Creeper’s makeup. Handed off from series regular Brian Penikas to Elvis Jones, also involved with the earlier entires, there’s something about the Creeper’s makeup that looks less like dried demonic skin and more like an above average Halloween mask that compliments its wearer’s bone structure. And from a continuity point of view, there’s something equally off-putting about the Creeper’s wardrobe looking cleaner than it normally does, especially considering the timeline of the film.

And then there’s the biggest issue: horror. Of which there is sadly not much of. To this day, the original ‘Jeepers Creepers’ does a damn good job of establishing tension from the onset and slowly escalating it to its natural climax. While its successor isn’t as effective, it does showcase a number of nail-biting moments and sequences that hold their own against its predecessor. With the second sequel, none of that can be found. Its most criminal mistakes is to set the majority of the story in broad daylight, which further highlights the rather cheap looking Creeper makeup. Although the Creeper’s truck makes a welcome appearance and we come to learn it’s capable of more than just blaring an unsettling horn.

There’s also something of an attempt to explore the origins of the Creeper, although “something” should be said in quotation marks as Mr. Salva uses the Paranormal Activity trick of answering questions. Meaning it doesn’t answer jack; instead, the film poses questions it has no intentions of answering until next time, which is all but guaranteed as one of the film’s final shots involves another integral character making a brief, but welcome appearance. This welcome appearance is also something of an annoyance when taking into account what the original plot for Jeepers Creepers 3 was supposed to be.

The audience was having a rollicking time during Tuesday’s screening, screaming at some choice jump scares and laughing at quite the number of inappropriate moments (usually involving the development of the teen characters). Sometimes, a disappointing film can be worthwhile with the right audience, but not this one. When a horror film gets to its third entry, it better damn well know where to go or things will go downhill. And when Jeepers Creepers 3 does badly with its fanbase, it won’t be because of Mr. Salva’s past indiscretions. It’ll be because he’s made a really bad film that furthers the argument that Jeepers Creepers should have stuck with one film.

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