Queer eye: New Jeepers has strange slant

Watching Jeepers Creepers on cable in preparation for the sequel, I decided I had underrated it somewhat the first time around. Or maybe it's just easier to take when you're not locked in a dark theater with its obnoxious protagonists.

Jeepers Creepers 2 has a bigger budget, which means a bigger cast, longer running time and more (sometimes better) effects. That's not necessarily all to the good, as money is no substitute for imagination in filmmaking, and a lack of money sometimes stimulates the imagination.

Another double-edged sword is writer-director Victor Salva's refusal to play by the rules of horror movies, in part because he's gay. That's why, for example, even though three of the female characters are cheerleaders they don't shake their pompoms at the camera; but the male characters, mostly high school jocks (talk about unsympathetic protagonists!), have trouble keeping their shirts on.

Despite the mostly teenage cast of characters (most of the adults are killed off early), none of them have sex to be "punished" for. Both the good and bad die young, and a lot of interpersonal conflicts that are set up are resolved only by someone being carried off to be eaten. At one point, several people run away and are never seen again; we don't know whether they escaped.

One advantage the first film had was not having to show the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) right away and not revealing his ability to fly until near the end. Like Jaws, it created a fear of the unknown that was more visceral than the fear of something we can see, however horrible it looks.

Another Jaws parallel, though not developed, is a scene of six shirtless hunks sunning themselves on the roof of their school bus. To the Creeper flying overhead, this must be like all those legs in the water were to the shark.

Although authorities have uncovered the Creeper's "house of pain" with over 300 victims dating back over 200 years, it doesn't appear that the National Guard, FBI, or any other reinforcements have been sent to aid the local rural authorities in their pursuit of the killer. He's nearing the end of his feeding period– 23 days every 23 years, as we're reminded at the outset.

After snacking on a blond boy in a cornfield for an appetizer on Day 22, the Creeper blows out the tires on a school bus carrying the winning basketball team back from the state finals. They don't act very happy for winners, especially star player Scott Braddock (Eric Nenninger), who didn't have enough playing time in the final game. He blames racism, that he's the "token white boy," and takes it out on Deaundre "Double D" Davis (Garikayi Mutambirwa, the most likely to succeed of this crop of newcomers; he has moments when he seems to be channeling the young Sidney Poitier).

Besides being racist himself, Scotty is homophobic, as he shows Izzy Bohen (Travis Schiffner), who's suspected of being gay (they call him "Izzy or Izzn't He?") because he was involved in a fight outside a gay bar.

We never find out whether he Iz or Izzn't, but when the chips are down, Izzy and Double D race to Scotty's aid. Does this awaken him to the error of his ways? We don't find that out either.

The kids learn about the Creeper from a radio report and dreams one of the cheerleaders has in which she sees Darry (Justin Long) from the first movie, and he tries to warn her.

The bus comes equipped with a flare gun and a javelin(?), which our jock heroes fail to use at some pretty obvious times. They also struggle with jammed doors, never thinking of exiting or entering through windows that have been blown out. But that's all typical horror-movie stupidity, as is logic like "Let's run out in an open field where we'll be safe!"

Help may be on the way from a farmer, Jack Taggart (Ray Wise), who's waited all his life to play Charles Bronson. He's the father of the blond boy the Creeper carried off in the beginning, and he's loaded for bear– or whatever.

As he's done for centuries, the Creeper replaces any of his damaged body parts (like a robot) with those taken from his victims, whom he chooses because he likes their scent. At one point he replaces his head, but it quickly takes on the hideous look of the original.

To Salva's credit, he resists loading the soundtrack with heavy metal to spin off an album, instead using atmospheric original music by Bennett Salvay.

Jeepers Creepers 2 is just different enough to be interesting, just familiar enough to go down as easy as popcorn– or body parts, if you're the Creeper.