The two most talked about movies over Labor Day weekend were the low-budget horror flick Jeepers Creepers 2 and the low-budget child-porn flick Thirteen. One was the top grosser for the weekend, the other was the critical darling. With little to do on a Friday night, a friend and I decided to find out what all the fuss was about. Making our own double we feature saw the two back to back, with only a bucket of popcorn and a vat of Diet Coke between us. The two films, it turned out, have a whole lot in common.
Both films are focused on the problems faced by parents and young people. Holly Hunter evokes Tony Danza's character in the classic film She's Out of Control as her daughter Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) becomes just that, egged on by her new bad-girl best friend (and the co-screenwriter) Nikki Reed in Thirteen. Meanwhile, in Jeepers Creepers 2, a busload of man-candy athletes desperately try to survive a night on a back road with a demon from hell as a farmer tries to deal with the loss of his Aryan son to the hands of the same demon by building a makeshift harpoon.
As far as back-to-the-basics horror flicks go, the first Jeepers Creepers wasn't that bad. In fact, its first 45 minutes were well-written, well-acted, beautifully shot, and remarkably creepy. Following a brother and sister returning home from college on an anonymous back road, the idle banter between two attractive siblings and the literally hellish tailgating by a creepy truck with the vanity plate "BEATNU"-not to mention half-dead bodies wrapped in white cloth and dropped into a "Sistine Chapel" made of human bodies-made for a great beginning. The second half became a standard invincible- monster movie with a fallen-angel-like thing who eats humans for their body parts (in the credits it's called the creeper), and which apparently comes out and feeds for 23 days every 23 years. One of the highlights of the movie was the continued use of the titular song whose lyrics go "Jeepers creepers/ Where'd you get those peepers?/Jeepers creepers where'd you get those eyes?" That the question becomes literal in the last shot, when the creeper peers through the two gaping holes in the head of the brother where his eyes used to be, made the entire movie at least worth renting on a dull night.
Jeepers Creepers 2 has none of the charm of the first one. Following the standard sequel formula of bigger is better, the writer/director Victor Salva (you remember him, right? He made Powder. Oh, why don't you remember?) builds his movie around a busload of interchangeable man-boys. One review related the first half of the sequel to soft-core gay porn, and that isn't too far off. Topless guys lying sunning on top of an incapacitated bus. Topless guys working in fields. Topless guys singing football songs with the word "cock" in them while rubbing against each others naked torsos on a crowded bus. Topless guys here, topless guys there, topless guys everywhere. Considering that the boys on the bus are supposed to be a state-champion football team, it's interesting to note that they have only three cheerleaders, and although they do all have the requisite perky breasts, this is never of much interest to the camera.
Beautiful bodies are a major focus of both movies in this review. Jeepers features the aforementioned man-candy wearing as little as possible, while Thirteen takes the opposite route, genderwise, focusing as much attention as possible on the jailbaits-in-thongs that populate the film. When that's not possible, it emphasizes Holly Hunter's tits. While Thirteen has a nice introduction to lesbian child pornography, Jeepers makes do with shirtless sweaty teenage guys who like to pee next to each other in a straight line on an empty field (not to mention the running joke about a character named Izzy, "or isn't he?").
The monster remained in the shadows for most of the first Creepers movie, making his appearances in the flesh that much creepier (the enemy that you can't see is ALWAYS scarier than the one you can). But the second movie is all about seeing the Creeper up close and personal, which makes him come across more as a redneck mixed with the velociraptor from Jurassic Park than the "Bat out of Hell" the movie claims it to be (speaking of Bats out of Hell, what ever happened to Meatloaf?). "Look at the Creeper's wing!" "Look at the Creeper's tongue!" "Look at the Creeper's nifty hat that stays on upside down!" "Look at how the Creeper can rip the roof off of a car!" "Look at the Creeper's wingspan!" "Look!" "Look!" "Look!" You get the idea.
The one thing that both Jeepers Creepers movies have going for them is that they are beautifully shot. With remarkable control, Creepers does have some beautifully composed shots, like one of the Creeper standing atop a bus with wings spread out, illuminated angelically from the headlights of a pick-up truck. Thirteen, however, cannot make the same claim. Shot on digital cameras, Thirteen is ugly in almost every way. Like a kid with OCD, the camera refuses to stay still and never gives you any clear sense of what the hell is going on. Yes, these girls are in a downward spiral, but that doesn't mean that the audience should feel like it's seeing the Blair Witch Project all over again. Are steady-cams so expensive?
As for the plot of Thirteen, it's a doozy. Tracy's descent into decadence is so unconvincing that I found myself following her lead as the movie went on by trying desperately to cut myself to make sure I could still feel. (Andrew Sarris got it right when he asked how it was that Maggie Gyllenhaal made self-mutilation so tragic in Secretary while Tracy's mutilation struggles to reach even the level of cliché.) As Tracy persuades Nikki Reed to be her friend, she purposefully and methodically transforms herself from a straight-A student into a kleptomaniac, anorexic, drug abusing seventh grader who is such a bad seed that her neighbors either move away or refuse to talk to her. Over the course of FOUR MONTHS. At the point when her teacher tells her that she's going to fail the seventh grade - in a public school in L.A. mind you - I just lost it and started laughing hysterically. Except for a few scant scenes with actual emotional punches, the movie is simply a Lifetime rehash that would have been much better if Tori Spelling, of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? fame, had the Tracy role. What's sad is I'm not really joking. Tori Spelling might be one of the few people I think who could deliver a line like "Look ma, no panties, no bra, no panties, no bra, no panties, no bra," and get away with it.
Thirteen is "that movie" for this fall. You know that movie. The one that gets the fantastic press that every first time director prays for. The one that wins all sorts of awards and plays off of an "issue of the week" ("Oh, why can't we revive Ophelia? WHY?"), milking it for every red penny it can. Holly Hunter really is a talented actress, and unfortunately so is much of the cast (the "Rolling with the Homies"-guy-I refuse to commit his name to memory-from Clueless isn't bad as Holly Hunter's drug- addled boyfriend). But even the good actors couldn't save this formulaic script. It has been praised because it was co-written by Reed (with the director Christine Hardwicke) when she was 13. And even if half of the stuff in this movie has some relationship with the real world, it really doesn't matter. When the movie is ending and Tracy is letting it all out on a merry-go-round, all the audience is left to think is "I wonder how a poor hairdresser/recovering alcoholic like Holly Hunter's character, with two kids to support, could have a pair of $150 Burberry sunglasses?"
Racial tensions are a topic brought up in both flicks. There's a sweet monologue about a world of racial harmony given by Tracy after performing her first blowjob (it's never quite clear if she loses her maidenhead during the film or not), and Jeepers has an almost interesting racial confrontation between a homophobic racist guy (who's probably gay) named Stevie and a level-headed black guy whose name I honestly couldn't tell you. (In fact, the only other name that I can remember from the whole movie was the blonde psychic cheerleader named, I shit you not, Minxie).
Television actresses also populate the two flicks. Thirteen has Sarah Clarke from 24 playing a former alcoholic with her own obnoxious daughter, who crashes with Holly Hunter's family and has her closet raided by Nikki Reed. Jeepers Creepers 2 features the butch lady from the Gladware commercials and the now defunct show Popular (she played the butch science teacher) playing a butch bus driver. Neither character is of any importance.
Neither film is very interested in a typical or believable plotline. And both films literally collapse in on themselves in their second forty-five minutes.