Salva directed an almost-perfect horror film with "Jeepers Creepers." One genuinely gets the sense from the first hour of this film that Salva is exorcising some of his own demons. The movie is perhaps best appreciated when one looks at the history of this director, who happens to be a child molester.
Salva was arrested in the 1980s for molesting the child star of his horror movie "Clownhouse," a film produced by Roman Coppola. Salva apparently videotaped the molestation. Like "Clownhouse," "Jeepers Creepers" is about a young male who becomes the target of a sinister presence. In "Clownhouse," Salva's boy star (and eventual real-life molestation victim) is terrorized by escaped asylum inmates dressed up as clowns. In "Jeepers Creepers," young star Justin Long becomes the target of a bizarre, demon-like creature, after the monster sneaks into his car and smells his underpants. Indeed, if there's one thing that sets "Jeepers Creepers" apart from the bulk of the horror films produced during the last quarter century it's that a chunk of the victims are male. "Jeepers" was also produced by a Coppola, in this case Francis Ford himself.
The film's first two thirds are the best. Long and Philips play brother and sister on a road trip. They've decided to take a back route. While passing an old church, they see a figure dumping what looks like a body into some kind of basement hideaway. After being terrorized by the figure (who drives a scary-loooking old truck) they naturally decide to go investigate what he was dumping near that old church.
Things, of course, go terribly wrong from there.
During the first hour or so, Salva draws inspiration from some of the best fear films in history --Steven Spielberg's "Duel," Tobe Hooper's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left" -- to create an atmosphere of real fear. Given the fact that most molesters were themselves molested (or at least suffered some kind of trauma in their own childhoods), it's hard not to assume that Salva is grappling with some of his own ghosts during the first two thirds of the film. There are some genuinely terrifying moments during those parts.
Unfortunately, the last third loses some of the momentum when the movie degenerates into a standard monster movie with a monster that looks a little bit too much like the Wishmaster. Granted, it's still a good movie during its last half hour -- just not a great one. The ending also wasn't very gratifying. Landmark horror films, like "The Blair Witch Project," "Sixth Sense," "Rosemary's Baby" and even "Friday the 13th" - polish us off in the last moments. This ending, however, just sort of closed the picture. In fact, the audience I saw the film with (who had been cheering and screaming throughout the movie) actually booed the last frame.
But the flaws of "Jeepers Creepers" only prevent it from being a perfect fear film--not a great one. At the time of its release, it was still the best to hit screens in years and, with its wide-open ending, seemed likely to spawn a bunch of sequels.