Directed by Victor Salva. Starring Stan Shaw, Gabrielle Haugh, Brandon Smith, Meg Foster, Jonathan Breck. Horror, USA,100 mins, cert 18. Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray by 101 Films on 29th December 2017.
Of all the modern (i.e. since 2000) horror franchises, JEEPERS CREEPERS – and more specifically, the character of the Creeper – has always had a bit more potential for mileage than many of the other attempts to create a contemporary equivalent of Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, and with the exception of Jigsaw in the SAW series it has sort of succeeded thanks to the cult following generated by the two previous JEPPERS CREEPERS movies. The 2001 original had a proper sense of menace as a young brother and sister fell afoul of the mysterious, moth-like Creeper who mercilessly pursued the pair across the Florida backwoods, and the 2003 sequel had a broader sense of horror movie tropes but still had moments of gory action as the Creeper picked off a group of teens on a broken down college bus, and so now we get the long-awaited third instalment as JEEPERS CREEPERS 3 details what the Creeper was up to between parts one and two.
And if this script is anything to go by then building a Batmobile (Mothmobile?) is the answer as JEEPERS CREEPERS 3 begins with the local police force discovering the Creeper’s souped-up truck (which was strangely absent from JEEPERS CREEPERS 2) and getting chopped and stabbed by the various traps that the ancient being has installed as optional extras. Okay, it makes no real sense or has any real connection to what we have seen already but it is a fun addition to the series and, in a hugely obvious example of the Chekhov’s gun principle, lets you know that anybody who manages to get into the back of the vehicle won’t have an easy time getting out. The trouble is, getting to that point in the movie takes a huge amount of time as the action and tone then shifts down several notches as we are introduced to characters who own a farm and cannot afford to feed their horses, but no matter as the young lad who works at the hay wholesalers has a crush on the young lady who owns said horse and we get to follow their blossoming relationship for far too long before anything else really happens. And when it does happen? Well, you might well ask.
What happens is the Creeper (again played by Jonathan Breck) is apparently well known by a small group of mercenaries, the leader of whom has a history with the winged killer and keeps reminding us every few minutes that the Creeper returns every 23rd spring to feed for 23 days, which is great if you haven’t seen the previous two movies but if you have seen them then it gets frustrating as there is no advancement in the mythology of the Creeper whatsoever. The film is shot almost entirely in daylight which, as well as losing any sense of atmosphere or dread that was present in the previous movies, gives us some great visuals of the Creeper and his knitted red jumper but without any more information about where he comes from, why he kills, why only for 23 days and all the other questions that the character brings up, meaning there is very little interest in watching him leap around picking people off because we’ve seen it all before and done better. Remember when Freddy Krueger finally stepped out of the shadows in DREAM WARRIORS? Like it or loathe it, the mythology expanded to make him a more rounded character but here the now fully illuminated Creeper just becomes a killer with no motive that we can fathom or are given any insight into.
The daylight shooting also brings up other problems, such as the cheap effects that, Creeper make-up aside, look dreadful and contribute to the strange tone that JEEPERS CREEPERS 3 gives off, a tone that the acting radiates. The cast is made up of a few familiar older faces – Meg Foster (THE LORDS OF SALEM), Brandon Smith (JEEPERS CREEPERS) and Stan Shaw (THE MONSTER SQUAD) being the notable ones – and some younger newcomers, and the tone is pitched very differently by both sets, with the younger actors mostly screaming and shouting their mostly absurd lines with no sense of irony and the older cast members going for somewhere between bumbling cops and Rambo-esque soldiers with both approaches missing their mark. Jonathan Breck now owns the role of the Creeper and seems to genuinely relish what he is given to do with a few inventive kills but thanks to some Asylum-level CGI the end result is a B-movie slasher sequel that looks and feels cheap, played out by actors who don’t seem to know how to pitch their line delivery accordingly.
The biggest disappointment about JEEPERS CREEPERS 3 is that we had to wait 14 years for it and this limp and uninspired slog is what we got. The limited theatrical showings and airing on Syfy before it got a home release should have been a clue but given how well the first two movies were received and helped set up an intriguing character with the Creeper there was a feeling that a third film would further the mythology and finally let us in on his reasons for being. However, we get none of that and JEEPERS CREEPERS 3 resorts to lazy base level tactics to make a horror film that has an enthusiastic performance from the main villain and a few well shot action set pieces but nothing else to offer apart from the obvious setup for a fourth film. With that in mind, and given the controversy that surrounds writer/director Victor Salva and anything he attaches his name to, perhaps it is time for somebody else to take the franchise forward and give us the JEEPERS CREEPERS movie that could propel the Creeper properly into the company of Krueger, Voorhees, Myers, et al.