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Review: Jeepers Creepers 3

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Where does he get those wonderful toys?

If you've read any of my posts for Flixist, you know that I approach most sequels not with trepidation, but with outright skepticism. This is because rather than being an earnest or needed continuation to a great story, they're cash grabs. So, you say, aren't all sequels, or movies for that matter, cash grabs, or attempts to be so? Without a doubt, but it's one thing to seek monetary compensation, gain, and success for a quality product, it's quite another to seek the same by phoning it in, or trying to paint by numbers, following 'proven' formulas (franchises) and spitting out celluloid regurgitant for mindless chicks (aka we the audience) to gag down like nature intended.

On the surface, you might expect Jeepers Creepers 3, the third installment in a lesser horror series that had seemed dead and buried since 2003, to fall into this category. But despite the 14-year absence of the Creeper (and really, at this point, they should have waited another 7 to play off the whole 'he returns every 23 years' line famous from the franchise), this is not that movie. It's an honest attempt to flesh out the franchise and give life through resurrection to the titular Creeper by developing his character. The problem is, they only half succeed.

Jeepers Creepers 3
Director: Victor Salva
Rating: R
Release Date: October 4, 2017 (one night only)

[Note: Jeepers Creepers 3 showed for a special one-night-only theatrical event on September 26, but was so successful they suddenly announced another, and presumably final one-night only event for October 4; the Blu-ray is scheduled to release on December 26.]

The Jeepers Creepers franchise began as a guy-and-girl-versus-monster movie that launched the career of Justin Long. You know, the guy who made Apple seem hip versus that slightly dumpy PC guy in a long-ago advertising campaign. It was surpassed by its sequel wherein the Creeper returned to terrorize a busload of high school football players and cheerleaders stranded on a country road.

Fast-forward 14 years and fan demand, apparently, inspired the creation and release of Jeepers Creepers 3, a horror sequel that seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of better known horror franchises. The formula goes: successful film, successful sequel, followed by another sequel, etc. Somewhere around sequel 2 or 3, when you can't just make the same movie with slightly different circumstances to the story, an expectation for more occurs. And this expectation leads to backstory development; i.e. where did our villain come from? Yes, it's awesome that Freddy Kruger invades the dreams of teenagers, and it's amazing that Jason can't die, and it's eerie that the Creeper returns every 23 years to eat people for 23 days (and also can't die, coincidentally), but why? Where do they come from?

The franchise follows the older horror tradition of blending brevity with tension. It's one reason I like it. JC3 stays true to its roots in that regard, cutting back and forth between the Creeper and his pursuit of new victims and a secondary story of a team of Anti-Creeper Hunters, individuals who were all touched by its last round of murder 23 years in the past, led by their incomparable leader Sheriff Tashtego (Stan Shaw). Their goal: surprise, to kill the creeper. They're joined by Sgt. Tubbs (Brandon Smith), the local lawman, and mother of a past-Creeper-victim Gaylen Brandon (Meg Foster).

The problem is, despite massive overtures that hint at the impending divulgence of Creeper backstory—Gaylen is literally lifted from the ground by a severed Creeper hand and seemingly possessed to the point where 'she knows everything about it, what it is, and where it came from'— it doesn't happen. Yes, she tells us that the creature is ancient, much older than they thought. She's convincing enough in her post-possession haze that Sheriff Tashtego also takes a go at the floating hand ride and gains the same knowledge. Do they share this knowledge with the audience or use it effectively to defeat the creature? Take a wild guess.

Instead, much of the movie focuses on the Creeper's creepy truck and its many nifty booby traps. Don't get me wrong—this is cool (monster villain with Knight Rider partner has not really been done), and the introduction to the truck (or reintroduction to devotees of the franchise) is used to good effect to open the film as various members of the local police force, and then a group of creeper-fodder come dirt bike riding teenagers are used to run up the body count and cause easy jump scares as the truck (license plate BEATNGU) has some fun at their expense. 

Where this exploration of Creeper gadgets goes wrong is when we lose novelty for banal repetition and gadgetry exploration replaces storytelling; when we expect to learn the Creeper's origin story, we're treated to another shot of the Creeper's truck firing a harpoon at a hapless twit, or the Creeper himself using one of his Batman's array of boomerangs, spears, and weaponry to maim his prey. And while I understand that arming the supernatural villain with cool weaponry allows for some neato marketing materials, the amount of times we watch the creature line up a shot with its axe, spear, or bone throwing stars is several too many. And unfortunately, it also leads to some extremely poor CGI. At one point, when the truck deploys what must be motion-sensing or heatseeking rolling land mine-like devices, it is a low point in the film's visual performance.

But rather than going into the alluded-to backstory, we stick to a lot of focus on the truck, and a lot less creeper than you might want. Which is sad, because the setup for learning about what this thing is was highly effective. I was sold. I wanted to know. And the setup between the Anti-Creeper militia forces and police battle with the Creeper was exciting too! But even this falls short of delivering, as most of the police and militia members just sort of disappear, and their leaders, who don't, lack the action heft to back up their purported character roles. The Sheriff seems to inspire some credible action hero moments only to fail to deliver any. And Tubbs, well, Tubbs is what his name implies, and not good for much at all.

In other words, rather than getting a Predator type situation where a team of elite commandos goes in and battles the unknown, getting picked apart one by one, we bypass all of that and sort of fizzle out instead. This is a lot of criticism to level at a film that I by and large enjoyed—reminder, I am a fan of the franchise—it just had so much more potential that they seemed to head for and then intentionally drove off a cliff instead.

This is pure supposition, but based off the terrible CGI, and the lack of backstory fulfillment, maybe the production ran into budgetary issues—which is feasible, except, the backstory could have been fleshed out with simple, effective dialogue, not adding anything to the bottom line. But instead, it was just avoided, and rather than deliver a meaningful addition the trilogy, they went for a cheap, unfulfilling "twist" to end the movie, a twist that essentially negated the film's impact instead of adding to it.

Fans of the franchise will likely eat this up much as the creeper eats teenagers. It has its moments. It's fun, zany, and will get you to jump at the right moments, but it could have been so much more, and because of that it is ultimately so much less.

UPDATE

As noted by our commenters below, the director and writer of Jeepers Creepers 3, in fact, the entire Jeepers Creepers franchise, Victor Salva, was convicted of child molestation and possession of child pornography in 1988. His victim, a star in Victor Salva's breakout film, was then 12 and 6 when the assaults began.

When viewing the film last week, I'd never heard of Victor Salva, nor of his history. This can obviously be said for the rest of the Jeepers Creepers franchise. But, I've spent some time diving into it today...

Living in a void, the movie's critique stands. But we don't live in a void, we live in a real world with real consequences that effect real people like you and I, and the victim of Victor Salva's crimes. As with any topic as controversial as this, there are other considerations: there is Victor Salva's own troubled history as a youth, there are ramifications towards our justice system and society as a whole, there are issues of how criminals are treated once they have completed their sentences, and there is a consideration towards the separation of 'art' from 'artist.'

In this case, I'm tabling the other considerations as the primary consideration is of the utmost importance and that is that child abuse and child molestation and child pornography are clearly a real problem and one that cannot be not addressed. And far too often society, as a whole, doesn't do enough to address this particular topic, and in the case of Hollywood and its history with not only the sexual abuse of minors, but of sexual exploitation in general, some times points need to be made. Go ahead, search the internet, spend some time reading into this case if you need to--it gets bleak, and quickly--but two things stood out to me: the first was a quote from Victor Salva back in 1995 when he said "I paid for my mistakes dearly." This was when Powder was being released by Disney, and Salva's victim was picketing the movie release. Controversy sprung up because of Salva's history and conviction and Disney's apparent support of the director. Disney claimed ignorance, much as I did, but rather than fire Salva, he was 'watched' and kept away from minors. 

More troubling though, was the quote from Roger Birnbaum, the then head of Caravan Pictures (which made the film being release under Disney's Hollywood Pictures): "If he has something to contribute to society, and it happens to be in film, let him do that. The movie and the incident that occurred eight to 10 years ago are not related and it would be a shame if the movie was not allowed to stand on its own."

But here's the problem with this: Salva may feel he has paid for mistakes, but it is without a doubt that his victim is still paying for them, and the response from Birnbaum is too indicative of a systemic problem in which people are willing to turn a blind eye pre-conviction and to bury the past post-conviction. The movie and incident that occurred are absolutely related and will always be related. It's easy to not want to take a stand in the face of such large and abhorrent issues. But today, I have no problem encouraging all of you to withdraw support for the film. Until the public withdraws their support this man and other like him will continue to be supported by flawed systems that are built more for monetary returns than consideration of what is morally and fundamentally right and decent.


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Jeepers Creepers 3 reviewed by Rick Lash

6.5

ALL RIGHT

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
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Rick Lash
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