Saturday, March 29, 2014

Jeepers Creepers


My concert at Happy Hassid Acres nursing facility in Windsor, Ontario, was a stunning success. Cindy, who organized the benefit, managed to squeeze all the residents and their families into the solarium and only one gastrostomy tube came out during the process. There wasn't enough room for my usual pit band so I gave them the night off and Sol Katz and his dancing accordion, from room 312, provided accompaniment. Lester on Lister was incredibly topical as so many of the residents had had some of the more exotic infections mentioned in the piece due to some trouble with the plumbing last year. They cheered at all my references to Holmes and Sammelweiss and the Broad Street pump.

There was one spot of trouble in the second act when Myra Hockenfuss, from the locked wing, decided she wanted to dance along with me. Unfortunately, she slipped on one of the agar culture plates I was tossing on to the stage. The show must go on so I managed to dance her to the edge of the stage and into the arms of an orderly before she could be further injured by one of my more elaborate props. They tell me the hip pinning went well and she should be out of the hospital next week. I finished up with an ode to Clostridium difficle sung to the tune of Hava Nagila in order to honor my hosts. Cindy told me it was the best show they'd had since the team of water skiing elephants back in 1994.

I just had time to take in a film before heading off to Niagara Falls where my next show has been scheduled at the new casino on the Canadian side. The matinee at the Cineplex that was just starting was Jeepers Creepers, which I took to be a 1920s campus comedy so I was slightly perplexed when it turned out to be a modern monster movie. The film, written and directed by Victor Salva, follows the adventures of a college aged brother and sister (Justin Long and Gina Phillips) as they carpool home from school at spring break. Of course, this being a horror movie, they don't take the interstate, but rather secluded back roads through an unnamed state with plenty of Spanish moss hanging from the trees, secluded shacks and forgotten small towns. While arguing in the usual sibling way, they fall afoul of an evil one who drives an ancient truck and who tries to run them off the road, in a scene reminiscent of Spielberg's Duel. Later, they see the same truck parked at a deserted church and the evil one dumping what appear to be bodies down a chute to a cellar. Rather than high tail it to the police (for there would be no film with something that smart), they decide to investigate and discover the unthinkable. Fleeing for their lives, they run into the local law (who aren't much help), a mysterious old cat lady (Eileen Brennan slumming), a lady psychic who knows more than she should (Patricia Belcher), and a whole town full of extras at an apparently abandoned diner.

Much has been made of Victor Salva's other career as a convicted pedophile and, armed with that knowledge, the film, in some ways, becomes an uncomfortable allegory. The monster, who cannot help what he does and must do it to survive, spends a lot of time chasing the nubile Justin Long who is often lovingly photographed without a shirt. I'm not sure if the viewer would pick up all the connotations if they were unaware of Salva's history, but, knowing it well, I felt very uncomfortable. The director seems to be trying to use the film as a sort of expiation and I'm not sure I want to be part of his therapy.

Be that as it may, the film is relatively well made. The young leads are nice looking, adequate performers, and there's a nice rhythm in their banter in the early scenes that makes us believe they really could be siblings with the usual love/hate relationship. It's really their film - the supporting cast pop up for a scene or two and then disappear, usually in some gruesome way. Ultimately, the film fails because Salva insists on taking his character study and suspense film into modern monster movie territory. The film is genuinely good when the monster remains mysterious and faceless - when he and his motivations are revealed, things degenerate into rehashes of the police station gun battle in The Terminator and scenes that could have been lifted from Swamp Thing or Creature from the Black Lagoon. Salva, like so many of today's film makers keeps forgetting that less is more and that our imaginations can fill in the blanks more effectively than they can.

The title comes from the old pop song, which plays an important plot role. And anyone who knows the lyrics to the song will be able to figure out exactly how the film will end so the Carrie 'surprise' is sort of a dud. Other music is used much more effectively. There's also great use of the swampy/bayou countryside to add to the air of menace and foreboding.

Radio gospel. Murder of crows. Slimy drain pipe. Gratuitous bat wings. Rose tattoo. Class ring. Decapitated head munching. Scarecrow disguise. Gratuitous Eileen Brennan. Underwear sniffing.

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