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Jeepers Creepers 2

Jeepers Creepers 2 adheres to the significant rule of establishing a story viewers will be compelled to follow within the first ten minutes with one of the most intense openings in recent memory. It shows a young boy out in a luscious cornfield with his father (played by Ray Wise), fastening a row of scarecrows. As the boy moves to prop up the last scarecrow, the hay-doll leaps to life and snatches the boy away. The action then shifts a few miles to a school bus carrying a high school basketball team, cheerleaders, and their coaches that is disabled on a lonely road by the Creeper, an ancient winged beast who is given only 23 days every 23rd spring to “eat.” The Creeper snatches his prey into the sky, one unsuspecting victim at a time.

These two seemingly unconnected storylines are united by the hate and fear that the Creeper evokes in its victims. Either story on its own is not broad enough to hold together an entire a film, especially since any smart viewer would have to question how much action can be circled around the broken-down bus. The father whose son was stolen from him, a farmer named Taggart (Ray Wise), holds an unstoppable thirst for revenge. This revenge story is involving because Wise uses the worst kind of emotional pain imaginable to drive forward his actions. The situation on the bus is similarly taut because it is handled in an appropriately claustrophobic manner.

The confinement works because this sequel delves into the demon within all of us. The Creeper is far from the only evil at work. While the varsity team struggles to stay alive, many of the team members are forced to confront their own prejudices about race and sexual preference. One character angrily refers to an African-American team-mate as “Bro” in a condescending fashion and another supposedly gay character named Izzy, nicknamed “Izzy or isn’t he?,” is treated as a threat. This look at how people handle the pressure of a terrible situation, and how their prejudices eventually become weapons against each other rather than their supernatural foe, elevates Jeepers Creepers 2 from standard horror fare.

Then the film makes the same unfortunate mistake as the original (coincidentally, also at the halfway mark), by informing the heroes and heroines what the Creeper wants in the least interesting way possible. Whereas a kindly psychic informed the victims in the original, the purpose of the Creeper comes to an air-headed cheerleader (Nicki Lynn Alcox) in an oh-so-convenient dream (which features a cameo by the original Creepers’ Justin Long, who did not survive the previous feast). Someone should explain why the Creeper is telepathically linked to his surroundings and future victims.

Once the team is made fully aware of the Creeper’s origins, the film becomes a comic-book store showcase for fantastic physical effects that frighten with the fierce nature of the title beast. It is treated humorously but never too lightly, so the viewer lets down its guard to laugh and soon realizes it was a mistake to have done so. The Creeper is a character whose actions and reactions are so wild you would have to be amused and terrified at the same time. Writer/director Victor Salva never treats his creation like a circus monkey, but a caged lion with a funny disposition.

The climactic scenes that bring together Taggart with the remaining teenagers abandon some of the earlier outlandish visuals and claustrophobia in favor of colorful destruction. Salva, who used Duel as some of the influence for the original film, has modeled many of the action sequences aboard and around on the bus on the Jurassic Park series, which made the most tottering use of badly damaged vehicles. Through all this, the Creeper is defined as a predator whose combative prey forces it into action, not as an incidental slasher. I feel optimistic about a horror series that is willing to layer subtext beneath a toy-shop full of tricks. For that, I would follow the Creeper down that lonely road.