No Thrill

Watching a monster eat the heads of teens in 'Jeepers Creepers 2' just isn't scary.

Why do horror movie-makers hate teens so much? Why kill the teens of the world? Why not insufferable tweens, or heinous children or unnecessary adults? Why, oh why, must we dismember our beautiful teens?

Jeepers Creepers 2, which I think is the sequel to Jeepers Creepers 1, once again takes a group of innocent and attractive young people and subjects them to that universal teenage experience of having their heads eaten by something that just crawled out of hell. In this case, it's a winged monster-man who gives a busload of high school athletes and cheerleaders (the undisputed kings and queens of the teen world) a night even more horrific than their first sexual experiences.

Director Victor Salva (best known for Powder and for being a convicted child molester) follows in the tradition of the great minimalist artists of the 1960s by stripping the horror genre down to its most basic elements and discarding everything else. There are only two sets: a farm and a bus. There's no back-story except for an expository dream that explains how the monster in question appears every 23 years for 23 days to do some teen eating. There's no plot, except for the eating of teens. There's pretty much no characters, either, as the teens are largely describable by simple Homeric epithets: Scotty the Minority-Hating; Minxie the Well-Coiffed; Izzy the Ambiguously Gay; Bucky the Wearer of Nerdy Glasses.

Prior to bringing on the teens, there's a brief sequence on a farm where Jack Taggart (Ray Wise, whom you might remember as Laura Palmer's father in Twin Peaks) watches as his son is eaten by the nasty demon-man. Gorgeously photographed in yellow tint in a field of dying cornstalks, it could well be something out of a Bertolucci or Bergman film, if it weren't for the screaming and the bleeding and the head eating.

The film then cuts to a few days later, when a high school basketball team makes the mistake of appearing in this film. Driving down a lonely country road as night is falling, they are attacked by something that selects its victims in the race-blind manner dictated by University of California Regents v. Bakke. Since the rest of the movie takes place on or around this bus, there's no way to explain why this creature wants to feast on the flesh of the young, so one of the kids falls asleep in order to have the aforementioned expository dream.

It seems that this thing appears on a regular basis for the purpose of youth eating and horror-making. Actually, the dream doesn't explain much of anything, except that if the kids survive until morning, they'll be fine, because the monster's time on Earth will be up. That pretty much establishes the minimal requirements for a horror film: teens, a monster and a time limit. I imagine this is the monster movie Barnett Newman would make if he really hated teens.

As far as fulfilling the basic formula, though, the film can't really be faulted. I wouldn't say that it is a good movie, in either the aesthetic or ethical sense (unless you think teen killing is both morally upright and inherently pretty), but it's not a bad movie, either. I mean, if director Salva said, "Hey, I'm going to hit the side of that barn with this rock," and then threw the rock, and indeed hit the side of said barn, could you fault him?

He pretty much keeps things moving, and the action is clearly photographed and easy to follow, which is a must in a film of this sort. Aside from the simplicity of the formula, the only really cheap move is when the teens split up into small groups, and then most of them just drop out of the film. I guess that's easier than giving a full accounting of who lives and who dies, and reduces the number of actors needed for the final half-hour of the film, but still, it leaves a few loose threads.

Actually, there's one other thing missing from this movie, and, frankly, from most horror movies of the last 10 years: It's not scary. The problem is that in hewing so closely to the formula, Salva eliminates any of the shocks and thrills that are supposed to come from watching this kind of material. It's not that it's a dull film, it just never generates any real gasps or suspense. The audience is cued in to the fact that there's no point getting attached to the characters, and the writing reflects this by not making the characters very interesting.

Since it's neither terribly boring nor terribly entertaining, JC2 is rather like having no experience at all. Of course, that was kind of the point of 1960s minimalism, so maybe in making a minimalist horror movie, that was what Salva was after. Still, I think I'd prefer my monster movies to be a little more terrifying. And maybe to kill somebody who deserves it more than our innocent American teens.

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