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Jeepers Creepers 2

Return of the Deadly Whatever-It-Is

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See, there's this winged man-freak of unknown origin who appears every 23 years and eats for 23 days (no reason given for scheduling). By sniffing a victim's fear, the creature learns which body part it needs to eat. But, it's choosy: It sniffs some folks, determines their innards to be less than Grade A, and just inflicts a little light terrorizing (never really explained). Jeepers Creepers 2 doesn't answer a single one of my questions from the first film. Returning director/writer Victor Salva appears to have studied his first version, adopted the same basic premise -- and then simply started over.

If in his first Creeper film Salva paid homage to Duel and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- teens menaced on a road trip and locked in a death house -- in the sequel he strives for a little more sophistication (and, yes, more gross-out special effects). But in JC2, he's clearly also tipping his hat to films like Hitchcock's Lifeboat, where half the drama is being trapped in a small space with your contemporaries and seeing how quickly personal survival trumps community spirit.

I also wouldn't be surprised to learn that Salva has Terence Malick's Days of Heaven in heavy rotation in his DVD player. Interspersed with the action, Salva favors similar languid, painterly shots of corn fields drenched in late-afternoon sun or stark moonlight, and he wisely knows that silence is the scariness noise of all.

The film opens in one of these quietly rustling, golden corn fields. There's just a flicker of a shadow and whoosh! young Billy is plucked by something into the sky. His deranged, grief-stricken father (played by Ray Wise, whom you may recall as the deranged, grief-stricken father of Laura Palmer in TV's Twin Peaks) sets out in his trusty Ford pickup vowing revenge.

Meanwhile, a school bus packed with an assortment of high schoolers (basketball players, coaches, cheerleaders and a few token nerds) is brought to a halt by the monster-thing on a deserted, rural two-laner. It quickly dispenses with the adults (too bad -- I liked Diane Delano as the tough-talking bus driver), and the hunt is on. In a handy plot device, one of the cheerleaders (Nicki Aycox) starts channeling warnings from the first movie's victim (Justin Long).

It's no mean feat to shoot a dozen people trapped in a school bus and make it visually interesting, but Salva keeps his camera lively. Naturally, the film must end in some prolonged battle (is that thing dead yet?) that while executed adequately by the conventions of the genre lack the verve of the film's earlier less-typical and quieter moments. But who knows what Salva's watching these days? Perhaps the inevitable Jeepers Creepers 3 will be even artier.


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