Jeepers Creepers 2

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The first part of this review will be about the movie “Jeepers Creepers 2,” and only about the movie. The second part will address some external factors that may color one’s view of the film and that have been weighing heavily upon me.

First, the movie. It is a sequel to the mildly successful 2001 horror film in which two teens, a brother and sister, flee a man-eating monster that uses its victims’ body parts to replace its own as they wear out, thus giving itself immortality. “Jeepers creepers, where’d you get those peepers?” is how the old song goes, and the answer here is, “I got them from that kid I killed,” which you will admit is not an especially catchy lyric for a pop song.

At any rate, the deal was that this monster awakens every 23 years and feeds for 23 days before going into hibernation again. This bit of information seemed irrelevant at the time, but in the sequel, taking place just days after the first film, it matters. For you see, it is now day 23. If those being pursued by the monster can last one more day, they will be safe.

The intended victims this time around are a team of high school basketball players. (The creature, like the film’s director, seems to prefer the flesh of young boys — but I promised I would wait before getting into that, didn’t I?) The boys, fresh off a state championship, are returning home by bus, traveling with a school newspaper reporter, a couple coaches, some cheerleaders, the whole entourage.

Then they get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, and then it gets dark, and then the winged monster starts swooping in from out of nowhere and carrying them off one by one. Do the remaining students stay on the bus, where it’s relatively safe but where they have no way of summoning help, or do they make a break for the farmhouse that must surely be down the road?

Writer/director Victor Salva (who pulled the same double-duty on the first film) is a student of horror films and has demonstrated in his “Jeepers Creepers” series that he knows a cliché and how to avoid it. The result is that the “JC” movies are several degrees less loathsome than your average teenage slasher flick, even if that’s what they really are at heart.

What Salva forgets, though, is that the less you see a monster, the scarier it is. The earlier film kept the creature mostly hidden until the last couple reels — which is when the film became significantly less frightening, too. This time around, the monster is highly visible right from the start. We see him way too much, up close too often, and we grow too accustomed to his ghastly, fearsome face.

Salva does know the value of a good claustrophobic setting, though. Being hunted by a monster is scary enough; being hunted while trapped in a small space like a school bus is even better. There are many quiet, suspenseful moments, and more than a few thrilling surprise attacks. The special effects are universally seamless and organic: You don’t notice them, and that’s impressive.

I have not mentioned the cast. Nothing against them, but they’re not very memorable. The characters are a little more fleshed-out than usual, but I still had trouble telling many of them apart. Ray Wise plays a father bent on revenge after his son was abducted by the monster in the film’s prologue, and I guess the lead student would be Scott, played as an arrogant sore winner (he didn’t get enough time on the court, apparently) by Eric Nenninger.

Salva used a psychic to tell us the story in the first film; this time one of the girls on the bus, named, improbably, Minxie (Nicki Lynn Aycox), has some prophetic dreams that give her the low-down. Admittedly, it would be hard for the kids to learn about the monster and its 23-day feeding cycle otherwise, since they’re stuck on a bus with no outside communication. But couldn’t one of the students have heard the legend before? For that matter, do they even need to know? With or without intricate details about the monster, their strategy is the same: Don’t let it eat you.

Aside from a ridiculous epilogue, the film offers enough chills and adventure to sustain itself. It is a genre picture, for sure, but a reasonably good one.

Then there is the matter of Victor Salva himself. In 1988, he confessed to having sexually molested a 12-year-old boy. When Salva’s film “Powder” was released in 1995, the boy staged public protests against Salva and Disney (which released the film), saying audiences should not support a man who had been a child molester.

My position, generally, is that a director or actor’s real life should have no bearing on how one views his films. It is unfair to judge a movie on anything other than the movie itself. If you’re going to allow factors like an actor’s private life or a director’s criminal record to determine whether the movie is good or not, then you might as well also factor in things like the temperature in the theater and the quality of the popcorn.

That said, Salva doesn’t do himself any favors by taking every possible opportunity to photograph his young, smooth male actors with their shirts off. On its own, it’s absurd, perhaps even amusing, to see the teens go topless so often; but knowing Salva’s past and what surely prompted such costuming methods, it’s creepy. The creature’s attitude toward the young men — leering at them, choosing his favorites, even licking its lips — is all the more unsettling if one compares the monster’s fondness for the boys to Salva’s.

If I were guilty of Salva’s crimes, and if I were truly sorry for my actions, I would take every precaution thereafter to manifest to the world my reformation and repentance. I wouldn’t allow anything to appear in my work that would give skeptics fuel for believing I was the same old lech I had been before.

Salva is either outrageously ignorant of public perception, or else he is flipping us all off. “Yeah, I like to look at young-looking men with their shirts off,” he seems to say. “What are you going to do about it?”

The answer to that question is up to the individual. I can recommend the film on its own merits as a competently made, relatively scary horror flick. The writer/director’s attitude and history don’t necessarily have to play a part in one’s decision to see or not see the movie. It’s just something to think about.

B- (1 hr., 40 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity, a fair amount of gore and mayhem.)

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