Will the Creeper be walking among us again soon? This is the question all of us in the Jeepers Creepers universe have been asking ourselves for over a year now -- and keep asking ourselves as the third and biggest JEEPERS film, JEEPERS CREEPERS III: Cathedral finally moves toward preproduction.
Heading, to all our great joy, for the big screen and not to the direct-to-DVD shelves of your local Blockbuster.
Hard to believe it has been six years since JEEPERS CREEPERS II hit movies screens Labor Day Weekend of 2002. And became the second largest Labor Weekend opening in the history of movies. The largest ever before that? The first JEEPERS CREEPERS,
I have wanted to do a detailed Jeepers blog for a while now but was never sure just what I should do. I guess I decided not to follow any plan, -- good thing since I don't have one.
Just going to talk about anything that comes to mind. Not just about the upcoming film (affectionately branded Jeepers Threepers by cast and crew) but the long and strange trek through the first movie, and then a sequel and now a trilogy.
But more importantly, the birth of my very own movie monster.
That's pretty heady stuff for a kid who grew up loving the classic monster movies that kept Universal Studios profitable in the 30's and 40's, the kid who loved the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and had his bedroom wall lined with glow-in-the-dark models of many of the monster elite, the same kid who never missed Hitchcock's THE BIRDS or Spielberg's DUEL on TV, and who saw JAWS at least 55 times in the summer of '75 when it hit movie screens.
The same kid who, when first given the chance of a lifetime, the chance to make a feature length film with a guaranteed theatrical release, a chance given him by one of the greatest filmmakers in the cinema's history: chose to make CLOWNHOUSE -- a film that even I described, as young and bubble-headed as I was, as basically STAND BY ME meets Carpenter's HALLOWEEN.
IN THE BEGINNING
In the summer of 1999, two really terrific horror films graced movie screens. They were smart, believable, and wonderfully scary. The exact opposite of the popular horror trends back then and that continue today: what I call "all gory and no story ."
These two summer hits, while both unique, were structured like the best of the classic horror films. With an innate understanding of what really thrills and scares an audience, M. Night's THE SIXTH SENSE (produced by Roger Birnbaum who a few years earlier produced my film, POWDER) and the terrifically unnerving BLAIR WITCH PROJECT by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez.
When these two flicks hit screens the same summer -- suddenly I was back in love with my favorite genre: the horror film.
I came out of the theater after each with an old and very familiar "fire in my belly". I had been reminded that these were my favorite kind of movies.
The only kind I was interested in making when I first picked up a camera in high school, and to be honest, the kind of film I had stepped away from then when the success of POWDER suddenly validated me in a very different genre.
But The Sixth Sense and Blair Witch were inspiring for more than just good horror movie reasons. Each of those films brought in major box office, which revitalized the horror genre and sent every studio door flying open. Each of them aggressively looking for their own horror hit.
This was good news for me because I was also getting very low on cash and had bills stacking up. I needed a project and I needed one fast. That's not something you'll hear most directors or writers say.
In fact, I always have a good laugh when actors or directors in interviews are asked "What was it that interested you enough to accept the project?" They never seem to cop to the fact that nine times out of ten, they just really needed a job.Well I did. And the surprise horror hits that summer suddenly made it the perfect time to try something I had wanted to try since I first came to Los Angeles, something I always knew I would try the moment the right circumstances presented themselves.
I wanted to make a good, old fashioned monster movie.
The kind I loved as a kid. I'm talking about the kind of horror and suspense that you rarely see anymore. The kind that thrilled you, kept you on the edge of your seat, made you laugh, made you scream, but even as it terrified you, it was still an immense amount of fun.
I GUESS SINCE IT'S MY BLOG -- I GET TO RANT
And in keeping with my full disclosure agreement regarding this blog, I'll rant here, and briefly wag my finger and vent my feelings about what is happening to my favorite kind of movie: the horror film.
I'm not an easy mark when it comes to horror movies today. That means, to make me sit up and really watch a horror film from beginning to end these days, it takes something more than just paper thin characters being puppeted through a tired reason for gore and sadism.
Reasons that seemed perfectly entertaining when I was younger.
(Justin Long explores the Creeper's underground lair and finds the grizzly aftermath of a century of human -- off screen -- carnage)
I need story, I need character and I need a filmmaker well versed in the art of visual storytelling. I strive to supply all of these things when I make my own films and I learn a little bit more about how to create them with each film I do.
Rarely do I rely on shock for the big scary set pieces in my horror stories. I think creepy is scarier. I think suspense is stronger than triggering the gag reflex in people -- and at the end of the movie when the lights come up? I think the audience has had a much stronger and potent horror experience.
"Hey Creeper dude!" actor Jonathan Breck got asked at a Fango convention where I was sitting in the audience, "Is the new Jeepers movie going to have like more blood and more gore and shit?"
This guy (thirty- something, leather, heavily tattooed) was clearly disappointed the Jeepers films didn't have a satisfying amount of gore or splatter in them to meet his movie going needs.
I don't feel like I'm letting the splatter kids down. If you need or like splatter great. There's plenty to go around.
And plenty of other filmmakers working today who do splatter because it's what they like or all they know. For me, take the gore out of their films and its like taking all the sex and cum shots out of porn. There's nothing left even remotely watchable.
I don't do gory. I don't do sadism. I take the audience on the only ride I can: the one I want to go on, when the lights go down and a scary movie starts.
Let's be honest: even someone with no storytelling skills at all can shock you or gross you out. Any idiot can pick his nose and then eat it and make you squeal and scream and be shocked and repulsed. Which is why I call much of today's horror entries, just "booger eating".
Fun for some, no fun for me.
Would it be scarier to see Dante's head torn off his body by the Creeper's wing in JC2? Maybe scarier to you. To me? It would only be grosser. And I'm not making my films to be gross. I want people to remember them because the ride was suspenseful and unusual -- not because I put booger-eating in them.
I think it's twice as terrifying to see the wing wrap around Dante -- take him up through the hole in the roof -- and then deposit him back down -- the way we might have experienced it if we were on that bus.
Watching him crash back down, headless and flailing, while everyone else crams both ends of the bus trying to get away from this horrific sight, turned out to be incredibly potent and horrifying.
The violent act is missing, which makes it more awful in your mind, and the aftermath, the shots of the headless body trying to reach out and grab you, that much more powerful.
(Me on the set of Jeepers II, with the entire Bannon County Bantaams Basketball team)
Hey, every good horror film needs terror. Terror happens when death and danger is suddenly a possibility. That means every good scare flick needs death and shocks, and good scares for it all to be really scary.
And if I sound like a Class A hypocrite or that I'm just splitting hairs (no pun intended) because of the violence in my Jeepers films, don't think I haven't been called on that.
But don't call the Jeepers flicks slasher films, splatter films or torture porn. They don't deserve, nor do they share the criteria, to be thrown into that dark dungeon, or as Carpenter might call it, that " horror ghetto".
I defend my horror films vehemently, and tell people that if they can't see the inherent difference in a splatter film and the films that the Jeepers movies are, then it is perhaps a nuanced difference they're not picking up on.
These are not immoral films. There's all kinds of morality and moral dilemma in each of them. (And hopefully some good scares too)
Since I'm already preaching, and sounding like a cranky old man -- or even worse, my father: what I think most of today's horror makers miss, is that it isn't the gore that makes a story scary -- it is the suspense about when -- and if -- those various gory horrors will happen.
Like Hitchcock said when asked why he didn't use the artificial torso they built him for PSYCHO, a torso that would bleed wherever they stabbed it, for the famous shower murder scene. He said a graphic shot of flesh being stabbed is only a millisecond of shock and terror.
Hitch said the anticipation of that moment, and then when the moment arrives, not graphically showing it, is where true horror and suspense live.
(I retain the "squirm moments" in my films, mainly for the Creeper. He's not flesh and blood and so we can abuse him in ways it would not be fun to see a human being abused)
Do I think films should be censored? No. Do I think people should be careful about what kind of images they dump into their minds or burn into their memories? Yes.
The image is a powerful thing. And it can do real damage.
I have been a student of Hitchcock all my filmmaking life. And while in fairness, I only truly love a handful of his films, of all the directors who's techniques I have read about and studied, Hitch seems to have had the best understanding of the language of film and the psychology of fear.
And most importantly, how to use them.
For me, a good horror film was one that after you were properly thrilled, chilled and traumatized, you didn't feel like you needed to take a shower --you felt like you wanted to take the ride again!
Even in their most graphic moments, and there are some of course in the Jeepers films, these moments are predicated on suspense and the shadowy hint of horrible violence, not the actual execution of it.
Hitchcock knew exactly what he was talking about. Avoiding gore made him the master of suspense. I don't see any masters of suspense out there today.
Okay, rant ended. (If you even made it this far)
CALL ME OLD FASHIONED
If you're interested in what are some of the scare flicks for me that meet that criteria of being great and scary and a ride you really want to take again, look no further.
I have listed a bunch below. But remember, if you scratch your head over some of them, the majority of these films I saw in a crowded theater on a big screen - the way horror movies were intended. The crowd, sitting in the dark, the shared experience of laughing and screaming with a bunch of other horror ans suspense lovers, gave these films their full power.
Here are just a few that come to mind, listed with the year they were released and their director, and if I saw them in a theater, how many times, as it was my habit to go more than once to films I thought worked incredibly well.
I saw these films during what I call my formative or my impressionable years:
Jaws '75 (Steven Spielberg) (55 times in the summer of it's release) Give me a break - I was sixteen and falling in love: with the movies!
The Omen '76 (Richard Donner) (7 times in it's first release, each time in 70 millimeter)
The Birds '63 (Alfred Hitchcock) (This one is a slow burn, patience required)
Halloween '78 (John Carpenter) (At least 15 times in the theater when it was released and re-released)
Black Christmas '74 (Bob Clark) (10 times as it was double billed with Halloween when I first saw it)
Tremors '90 (Ron Underwood) (Twice in theaters - umpteen times on TV)
Creature from the Black Lagoon '54 (Jack Arnold)
The Horror of Dracula '58 (Terence Fisher)
The Blob '58 (Irwin Yeahworth)
20 Million Miles to Earth '57 (Nathan Juran)
The Thing '51 and '82 (Christian Nyby and John Carpenter)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers '56 and '78 (Don Siegel and Philip Kaufman)
Alien '79 (Ridley Scott) (Several times in theaters - twice in 70 mm in San Francisco at the now defunct Northpoint Theater)
Aliens '86 (James Cameron)
Curse of the Demon '57 (Jacques Tourneur)
The Fly '86 (David Cronenberg) (Twice in theaters)
The Tenant '76 (Roman Polanksi) (Five times over the years) (Another slow burn but worth the wait)
These movies aren't all "balls out" terrifying or suspenseful from frame one, in some cases they had maybe a single scene or moment that to me, worked so well, that I needed to see it again.
What works for us in movies is totally subjective, since each of us sees a different movie, because we see that movie through the filter of our own individual psyches.
For me, the above were all films, that whether on TV or a movie screen -- were rides I took that when finished, I wanted to take again.
THE EVER EXPANDING NIGHTMARE
In fact, seeing them listed together, it occurs to me that a lot of them subscribe to a very basic, and maybe my favorite, horror film template: "the ever expanding nightmare..."
Movies that were about real people discovering something scary that then just keeps getting scarier because it keeps escalating.
(Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy and young Veronica Cartwright are attacked by sparrows who suddenly find their way down the chimney in one of the most brilliant "ever expanding nightmares" put on film, in Alfred Hitchock's "The Birds")
And watching the nightmare unfold in these films, put you right in there with the characters. I think good suspenseful storytelling needs to do this. To put you in the story and unveil it the way the characters are seeing it unveiled.
The ever expanding nightmare, gets worse and worse, meaning more and more frightening. And the film itself, was horrible and gut wrenching to watch, but you couldn't turn away.
You didn't want to! You wanted to cover your eyes sometimes, but you really wanted to go on the ride!
Without realizing it, I was trying to emulate just that kind of horror movie with JEEPERS CREEPERS.
An old truck terrorizes a couple of kids on a lonely road -- but it drives on, until they see it again and this time, see the driver of the thing, dumping bodies down a pipe. This is a nightmare that just kept getting worse and worse.
As brilliantly presented on YouTube, the opening minutes of Jeepers Creepers was very loosely based on a true life nightmare that actually happened to an elderly couple on a midwest road trip -- and no, they didn't encounter a real life Creeper.Although I think it is usually a mistake for a filmmaker to dictate to people what his film was supposed to be: I will tell you that Jeepers was meant to be a very scary, but very fun campfire story. A campfire story that I hoped people would want to experience over and over again.
It was meant to feel real, scare you, involve you and take you on a dark but devilishly delicious (pun intended) roller coaster ride.
(Darry and Trisha -- take momentary refuge in a lonely diner after seeing wall to wall bodies in the cellar of an old church)
Whether or not I accomplished this for you, is not for me to decide, but that was the concept that became JEEPERS CREEPERS. Dark, scary fun in the tradition of a campfire story.
(Brad Parker snapped this sunset shot of Jonathan Breck, goofing in the parking lot of a warehouse in Central Florida where we built and shot the Creeper's "house of pain")
The French and the Italian fans are crazy about both Jeepers films. They like to refer to JEEPERS as "a dark fable" which I love. Their perception of my intention is right on the money. A fable is basically the same as a campfire story.
To be honest, once I made up my mind to do it, I created the script very quickly (in about two weeks time) Not because I am some script writing prodigy or anything, I really had no explanation how a 110 page script could come out of me so fast.
POWDER and my other scripts, took sometimes five years to get a finished first draft. I think finally the reason Jeepers came rushing out of me so quickly was that it had been waiting to come out, like the Creeper himself, for years and years.
That kid had a monster movie waiting in him that he had been repressing for years -and like most parts of our bliss when we truly envision it and get in touch with it -- look out!
The JEEPERS script exploded out of me like an alien chest burster!
But this is where, what I call my Jeepers Creepers complex comes in: Once I had a first draft, even though I was excited, (and I mean no disrespect to Jeepers fans or horror fans of which I count myself one) when I gave my agent JEEPERS CREEPERS I asked him if he could send the script out maybe "on the sly".
I didn't want Francis Coppola or any of my POWDER producers to even know about it. In a way, I was feeling guilty about it. You know, like I was "slumming" somehow.
But it didn't matter: the Jeepers script hit the studios in just the right market as I had hoped it would. There were no less than three studios interested in the script and one (I won't mention names here) said they would offer me a pay or play offer to buy the script with me as director.
This is the first and only time I had been offered a "pay or play" deal of any kind. (That's where they pay you every penny of your salary whether the film gets made or not) I was starting to feel more and more silly about thinking a horror movie would be bad for my career or some how a step down.
Then suddenly I was told by my then manager, that if I didn't show the script for JEEPERS CREEPERS to my mentor Francis Coppola, he might feel slighted, something I never even considered. So off it went --and Francis immediately said he wanted to set it up and produce it himself, through his own Zoetrope Studios that had financed CLOWNHOUSE.
Suddenly the playing field had changed. Francis saw JEEPERS as a commercial film that could help a slate of nine other indie films get financed at MGM/UA. He had already found some German companies who would partner with them on the films, leaving MGM/UA to pick up much less than the lion's share of the production costs.
Suddenly, Jeepers Creepers was the one very commercial title that joined a list of much more diverse indies. Many of which went into production shortly after we did, including Hal Hartley's NO SUCH THING starring Sarah Polley, PUMPKIN a comedy with Christina Ricci, and CQ, a great film for filmmakers -- about a young director and his adventure in commercial movie making, complicated by the fact that he falls in love with his lead actress.
CQ was written and directed by Roman Coppola, Francis' son, and now the president of Zoetrope Studios, the happy home of the Creeper and all his escapades, past, present and future.
(Breck for the very first time in full, "naked Creeper mode", for a show and tell for the director. That's Brian Penikas in the ape T shirt, hidden by one of the Creeper's wings he is holding up. The weird looking structure behind them is the "cell block set". On the other side of those wooden walls is the jail we built for the scene where the Creeper feeds on captive inmates to regenerate his arm and foot)
Needless to say, with Francis' enthusiasm and endorsement, the cunning and ravenous creature, the one that would be aptly labeled "The Creeper" based on the monster's affection for the 1938 song "Jeepers Creepers", would now become a reality.
(Jonathan Breck (who plays the Creeper) and Ray Wise (the Ahab-like grieving father Jack Taggart in Jeepers II) at the film's premiere at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd.)
Brutal weather seemed to follow us on each of the Jeepers shoots. For Jeepers One, we arrived in Florida just in time to shoot the Creeper in 110 degree weather, which even to the locals was a freak heat wave.
The first shooting day, our 2nd camera operator got dehydrated in the brutal heat and humidity and had a seizure and fell off the top of the camera truck during a shot.
I thought, holy sh**! And this is just our first day?
I am a California boy. Always have been and always will be. So my first trip to the East Coast to shoot my monster movie - didn't prepare me for something that is unheard of on this side of the country - humidity.
It is brutal in Florida. If you don't know what it is? It's water, invisible water that hangs in the air and makes the air thick -- and you VERY wet.
The moment you get off the plane in Florida, it hits you like big wet fist that goes right into your lungs. It's hot and hard to breathe. You actually have to acclimate to it. And it takes a while.
And if you are a hundred or more pounds overweight? As I was on the Jeepers films? Plan on spending your time in Central Florida sopping wet whenever you are outside.
It was like a running gag with me. We actually timed how fast it took me to be sopping wet after stepping bone dry, out of a cool, air conditioned building: nine seconds to complete saturation.
There are pictures of me directing the first Jeepers that are so unflattering, that I can't bring myself to share them, even here where I am committed to being truthful and forthcoming about my life and work.
I explain it to people like this: I was a sopping wet tea bag for four straight months. And if Breck is reading this (the actor who played the Creeper in all that latex) he is probably laughing and calling me a p***y because he had it much worse.
(Actor Jonthan Breck (in an air conditioned room) and make-up effects genius Brian Penikas. I think it's funny how old man-like the Creeper looks when clearly his teeth are not yet in. The Creeper's grandfather maybe?)
(Jonathan Breck getting some finishing touches from my make-up genius Brian Penikas)
The pure stamina of the make-up guys and the courageous actor who wears all that latex and still manages to push a performance through it, even in the brutal Florida heat, have earned my utmost respect and admiration.
FAME IS A STRANGE THING
(Shooting the first Jeepers Creepers in a small town in Central Florida. Here are some onlookers who stayed into the wee hours of the night as we shot at one of their closed down schools, which doubled as the exterior of the Poho County Police Station)
What tickles me most about the picture above, is that Jonathan Breck is signing autographs for the kids. It makes me laugh because they don't know even know what Jeepers Creepers is, they don't know who Breck is, they don't even know what the Creature is at all.
It will be months maybe even a year before anyone ever hears of the Creeper, Breck, or a movie called JEEPERS CREEPERS. All these kids know is that the actor in front of them is playing the monster, and whoever he is -- they want his autograph.
On a busy street in a Los Angeles suburb, shooting the hazardous but spectacular looking motorcycle accident in PEACEFUL WARRIOR, this kid came up to me, about fourteen or fifteen and asked for my autograph.
Believe me, people asking for my autograph, with the exception of maybe a Fango convention or something, is not a standard occurrence for me. The kid was very shy about it, and was clearly being egged on by a few of his friends standing not too far away. Pretty soon though, a large audience had gathered.
I, of course, thought the boy was a Jeepers fan. When I do get noticed, I can count on it being the horror fans: they are as loyal and appreciative as fans can be. I should know, I'm one of them. Feeling very pumped up by this autograph request, I asked him who to make it out to and then asked him what his favorite film of mine was.
He went completely blank. And I realized -- as internally my ego tumbled off the pedestal I had just put it on -- this kid didn't know who I was. He was just told by someone that I was the director of whatever it was they were shooting there. (Peaceful What...?)
I smiled and said: "You don't even know who I am, do you?"
"Yes I do," he insisted. "What's my name?" I asked him as I handed him his autograph. He narrowed an eye, not about to lose face in front of the fifty or so people watching and smiling with us.
He snuk a quick peek at the paper in his hand, looked at my unreadable scrawl and said "Vince Salsa!"
WHAT KIND OF A SICK MIND WOULD THINK UP SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
Love it or hate it, the whole horrible ending of JEEPERS CREEPERS was indeed sort of reverse engineered knowing we would be using the song and it lyrics during our final shot.
My challenge to myself was: what would be the most horrifying interpretation of those lyrics as we hear them for the last time? And so was born, the eye-less Darry Jenner.
I have often been told the end of JEEPERS CREEPERS was too dark, too sad or just a long way to go for a bad pun. There are times when I agree with all these ideas, but other times, I think those people are missing the point of what this film is: a campfire story.
And a good campfire story doesn't send you to your sleeping bag with a good feeling, it sends you back with butterflies in your stomach, wondering if this horrible tale was real or if it could happen to you.
( I love this widely released still, because the Creeper looks scary in it, and Justin, with that great look and bulging eyes, harkens back to one of my all time favorite genre films: ABBOTT and COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN)
Believe me, I didn't like killing Darry Jenner! In many ways, I was him! I loved him! Having Darry die was a tough call for me. But in telling stories, you pick things that have impact. I was following the rule of tragedy.
And in JEEPERS CREEPERS, after my original ending, the battle that Darry and Trish were supposed to have with the Creeper and his truck, as they race away from the police station, had been abruptly cut due to a severe and sudden budget problem, I was left with the challenge of finding a way to make a very inexpensive yet chilling end to the film.
And I knew instantly, that we had to kill the thing that the audience loved the most. And that was Justin Long. Or Darry rather. It was Justin's great characterization of Darry Jenner (I have never seen him better) that had worked into our hearts by the end of the picture and that is why JEEPERS CREEPERS concludes with its campfire tale ending, an operatic tragedy and a terrible play on words from a classic song from the 30's.
It works for some. Not for others. Such is the nature of art.
Back in Los Angeles, months after our grueling shoot in a Florida heat wave, we went to the stages over at Panavision out in Woodland Hills, not far from Hollywood, and recreated a section of the Creeper's lair that matched the one we filmed at an old slaughterhouse back on the East Coast.
I like these pictures for a couple of reasons, one it shows off the amazing skill and craft of our make-up effects wizard Brian Penikas.
He and his effects house Make-Up and Monsters have done both Jeepers films and these shots show their incredible likeness of Justin Long, who now naked and without his "peepers" is just another work in progress in the Creeper's lair.
They cast Justin's entire body from head to toe for this amazing life-life Darry cadaver, one that was so anatomically correct someone tied a trash bag around its waist in these pics in the interest of modesty.
(Some rare snapshots taken the day we filmed the last shot of the original JEEPERS )
These pics show off Penikas' great work in more ways than just dead Darry though. The Creeper is Brian's handiwork too. And what makes these shots so rare, is that this is the only time Justin Long himself played the Creeper.
For our final shot where the creature looks through Darry's eye socket at us, we needed the eye that looked at us to be Darry's eye! Because the Creeper now had Darry's eyes, right?
The only solution was to take Justin Long and put him in full "Jonathan Breck Creeper" regalia. And it was a strange day indeed shooting this shot where Justin as the Creeper, peers through his own dead head's eye socket.
The shot took about a half a day to set up, light and shoot. It was really grisly looking at that Justin Long cadaver all day, so I was happy to get the shot over and be done with it.
(Me peeking out the eye hole of the absolutely chilling and authentic looking Darry Jenner corpse that Brian created for the final shot of the film)
AND SPEAKING OF ART
No Jeepers Creepers blog would be complete without mentioning the artwork of my long time friend, the fiercely talented Brad Parker. Brad not only did the first concept designs of the Creeper but ened up pretty much designing him.
( Brad Parker, artist emeritus, Jonathan Breck, who plays the Creeper, and me at the Saturn Awards the year Jeepers II was nominated for best horror film of the year)
Not only that, as if all that were not enough, but he storyboarded both Jeepers films and did props, sets and concept designs for them as well.
The last time Brad and I got to work together was when he boarded my latest film, the big screen adaptation of Dan Milliman's book Peaceful Warrior.
Dan Millman says that everyone we meet in our life is our teacher. With Brad, I'll take it a step further and say I think the universe puts people together for a reason. For many and varied reasons.
When I first met Brad at a party, I had just gotten the word from Francis Coppola that Jeepers Creepers was a "go" picture at United Artists and that I needed to start storyboarding the film to get a realistic budget and an idea of what the shooting schedule might be.
At that party, I met Brad for I think, only the second time in my life. The first had been a year or two earlier, standing in a long line of anxious movie goers at the Hollywood Galaxy Theater on Hollywood Blvd, waiting to see JURASSIC PARK on opening night.
When we met up again at this party, and I said I was about to make my first ever monster movie (I was known primarily for POWDER then) and was looking for a storyboard artist -- Parker proclaimed he had just made the decision to take his formidable art talents and try his hand at storyboarding!
I mean, we were two ships that didn't just pass in the night -we collided gloriously, in perfect synchronization to the other's needs. I didn't know then just how perfectly Brad would be in meeting mine.
(On the set of Jeepers II, Brad and I in the background as Breck and Justin talk over the good times they had in Florida. JC2 was shot in Los Angeles)
If I had to pick only one person to define as my monster muse, Parker would probably be it. We both grew up lost boys and like most lost boys fiercely dedicated to monster movies. His lifelong love for monsters, funneled through that incredible artist's eye of his, was about to bless me and the entire movie experience of Jeepers.
After the party, Brad read the Jeepers script that weekend and by Monday brought me some of the most stunning sketches I had ever seen.
All ideas and suggestions for what the Creeper might look like (given my highly interpretive description in the screenplay) Suddenly, I fell in love with Brad Parker and with my monster that for the first time, I could see visually.
And he was going to be great.
The first person I sent these early sketches too was Francis Coppola, who also fell in love with Brad's concept art too. And I will share a few of them here:
Brad stayed in Los Angeles as a working concept and storyboard artist. He worked for DC Comics, created various strips in numerous publications, storyboarded for some of the hottest filmmakers in town including David Fincher and Bill Condon -- designed, boarded and did concept art for three of my seven films (both JEEPERS and PEACEFUL WARRIOR) and then suddenly, chucked it all for a life on the islands.
(Brad today, living in Hawaii with his partner and friend Abbas, and whatever that thing is on his head)
Brad has drawn most of his life, and it was a shock to hear one day that he
and his partner were moving to Hawaii to take a crack at starting their own beach ware and clothing line, called Tiki Shark.
Brad had another idea as well -- he wanted to learn to paint. Though he had drawn his whole life, painting is a whole other universe, different from drawing with pen or ink. And Brad was determined to learn it.
The way he chose to learn the technique of painting, was by studying and creating Tiki art. I didn't even know what Tiki Art was until Brad Parker showed me.
A few short years later, as happens whenever he puts his talented mind to work on something, Brad's totally cool and inventive take on the world of Tiki Art, has put him on magazine covers and websites and his artwork on beach towels and summer gear.
MORE OF THE JEEPERS CREEPERS FAMILY
Lots of films big or small like to take pictures of the entire cast and crew gathered together to capture the adventure that was making the film. Think of it like a yearbook picture -- but in this case, to commemorate the trials, tribulations and friendships the making of a motion picture takes you through. On picture day for Jeepers One, the only good location for our family photo was the set were still shooting on: the Creeper's HOUSE OF PAIN.
So we took a break on one of the last days of shooting and did our group photo. Here it is unannotated (you can click on the image for a larger pic):
And here it is with a handful of people identified. There wasn't room to put everyone's name in, but Brian Penikas and his amazing team are in there as well as many others from all departments.
Both Jeepers films were photographed by my longtime friend and incredibly talented director of photography, Don Fauntleroy. There is way to much to say about Donnie in a few words here.
I'll give you the very basic: Don started as a loader/clapper and worked his way up the cinematogrpaher's heirarchy over the last thirty years. He has operated cameras for James Cameron, Sam Peckinpaw and a many more of Hollywood's most notable storytellers.
(Oh the joys - make that pains - of shooting most of your movie on a school bus. I told Donnie it was like shooting 12 ANGRY MEN in a toothpaste tube)
Donnie is married to the lovely and talented actress Lesley Anne Down, who I am hoping to finally work with on Jeepers Threepers. His father was a technical effects cameraman, leading the way for Donnie and his brothers to follow in dad's footsteps and work behind the camera in the wild, wild world of Hollywood moviemaking.
He recently has moved out into directing himself, so I am happy to have him shooting the third Jeepers flick -- since the first two bear his rich, handsome, old school, (what I call old studio) look.
Did I mention that he is also one of the greatest and sweetest guys you can ever work with? This D.P. protects the movie like no one I know.
(Donnie lines up a shot for Jeepers II. Breck's stand-in is one of our assistant directors. See our hi-tech, state-of-the-art camera mount? I'm told that outside the glamorous world of Hollywood, it is referred to as "a ladder")
The Jeepers Florida crew brought a TV icon and a bit of nostalgia that had me blushing when I was first introduced to him. He was one of our grips, and a former child star of the 60s. Luke Halpin, of the TV series FLIPPER, was a crew member for the first couple of weeks of shooting.
Why blush? The memory of Luke, from my tender little seven year old brain, and my tiny ticker going pitter-pat a little faster when I saw him in all those Flipper episodes, might have been an early indication of my sexual orientation....
Somehow I don't think it was the dolphin.
Though the Jeepers films themselves were grisly and disturbing sometimes to make, I don't think we've ever had more laughs and more giggles making films than we did making the Jeepers films.
There is something about shooting dark movies that makes you want to joke and laugh more in between set ups!
THE DAY WE DECIDED TO PUT A PEE-PEE ON THE CREEPER
It was great have Justin come back for a day on Jeepers 2. In the original script for 2, because we wanted Darry to appear in the dream sequences just as he had last appeared in the final shot of Jeepers one -- we asked Justin if he would do his dream stuff naked and with no eyeballs.
(The British poster for JC2. The movie posters for their cinemas run horizontally rather than vertically)
Justin is one of the bravest and committed actors I know and he said yes and we storyboarded the film that way -- and none of us minded getting a little more sex appeal into the visuals of the film either -if your idea of a hot guy is a naked one with no eyes).
But then the dream sequences became more elaborate and we needed Justin in more shots and walking around in cornfields, leading psychic cheerleader Minxie (Nicki Aycox) by the hand, and finally we decided it would be too distracting to have him in the buff for all of this.
I think Justin was finally relieved that we decided to do this.
Common sense prevailed, as it did in the big question in Jeepers One - when the Creeper is naked, shouldn't he have genitalia?
He was anatomically correct in every other way. Are we going to pull a "Barbie and Ken Doll" cop out and castrate our R Rated movie monster?
Brad Parker drew up some pretty hot pictures of the naked Creeper and we were convinced this was the way to go! It was the all wise Francis Coppola, who, always supportive of any idea the filmmaker wants to try, told me he thought the Creeper looked great in the all together.
Brad and I thought we were really pushing the envelope here, because we could not cite a monster who was naked and anatomically correct in any monster movie ever, and we thought this would elevate or differentiate the Jeepers series even more because it had never been done!
Then one day, Francis asked me if I was willing to risk losing the audience's focus and attention every time the naked Creeper was show below the waist.
I got it instantly. in our culture, where male nudity is either childishly giggled at or considered tantamount to destroying the culture, any evidence of male anatomy, even a Creeper dong, is going to have everyone staring at IT instead of watching the movie.
And no filmmaker wants their audience ripped out of the story every time they cut to one particular character. Naked or not.
But Brad and I didn't want to just give up completely. We still wanted to address the fact that the Creeper was male and had a male body -especially when he had ripped off his Creeper rags.
So the Creeper was fitted with a bushy tuft of Creeper hair between the legs (I called it his Chia-pet) and it hides whatever Creepers have down there.
And Justin's dream sequences were done with the clothes that he abandoned in the first half of Jeepers One. It was a dream after all, we rationalized, and in dreams you can break any rules you want.
But the most important rule was the one that said, give the audience something to look at, but not so much to look at that they stop watching the movie.
Are you listening young filmmakers out there?
TRIVIA and LITTLE KNOWN FACTS
1. Actor Lance Henriksen was originally slated to play The Creeper uncredited, a nod to the original FRANKENSTEIN, where in place of Boris Karloff’s name, they only used a question mark.
(Brad Parker's very cool study of what the Creeper would look like if actor Lance Henriksen played him. We did this to convince Francis Coppola and the studio that Lance was our man)
2. Two weeks before principal photography began, we had to remove ten pages of the screenplay to adjust to sudden and unexpected budget cuts . The pages included Trish and Darry driving the Creeper’s truck away from the Police station, the creature’s continuing attack on them, and the Creeper truck with Darry at the wheel, forcing himself and the Creeper to collide with an oncoming freight train.
3. There were three Creeper trucks created for the film, (one that didn’t have an engine for smashing into the moving freight train) and three specially modified Chevy Impalas for Trish and Darry’s car.
Did you know there is a great website devoted to Jeepers Creepers and the horrible truck from the film? It's run by a guy named Tom Redemer -- who actually owns one of the original Creeper mobiles we used in the original film!
Tim Glace, a great guy -- and the first guy -- to buy one of the three Creeper trucks from a Florida junkyard after MGM sold them for scrap metal weeks after shooting wrapped (no I'm not kidding) I count among my very good friends.
And ironically, Tim may be renting his Creeper truck back to the production company for Jeepers Threepers, as the script calls for the truck's return to the big screen.
You can also check out Tom Redemer's very cool website for all kinds of cool Creeper stuff: thecreepertruck.com
4. The license plates on the cars in JEEPERS CREEPERS were designed specifically so that no state could be identified. I wanted anyone watching the film to feel like it might be his or her own state or at least "anywhere USA".
4. When the production company received pictures of an old abandoned church that was exactly what we were looking for, it was the final straw that made us decide on shooting the film in Central Florida.
The church has since burned down under suspicious circumstances and one theory is that local horse ranchers got tired of people trekking out to the see the infamous church from Jeepers Creepers.
5. Locations in Ocala Florida were only a few miles away from locations used in the original CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON where the local springs were filmed as the Creature’s underwater home. I was asked by Film Commissioner Jude Hagin if I wanted to visit a local home that reportedly still had one of the original gillman costumes in it.
The heat, the workload and my daily exhaustion precluded me from ever taking her up on the offer, even though I was there in Florida for four months. An indication of just how brutal the shoot was on me. When I turn down a chance to get a peek at one of the original Creature from the Black Lagoon suits from 1954? You know I'm beat. The Gillman remains my favorite movie monster.
6. The studio wanted the title of the film changed, citing "Jeepers Creepers" as one of the worst horror movie titles they had ever heard. They also insisted the Creeper needed to speak and that a backstory be presented in the film so that he was less of a mystery and more like a Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees.
Being the good little boy I wanted to be, so everyone was happy, I reluctantly started a draft with these changes -- even though they were clearly against my better judgement.
Thankfully, Francis Coppola saw a draft with these changes, including The Creeper talking to Darry at the Cat Lady's house. He had one line. After pushing the screen door to her house open with her head, the Creeper takes a whiff of Cat Lady Elieen Brennan and says, "She don't smell too good, Darius."
I thought it was funny because the Creeper had clearly learned Darry's name by reading the dyed-pink undershorts Darry' mother had marked with his full name -- the pink jockey shorts we see Darry picking up off the diner parking lot. The same shorts that the Creeper must of been holding when diner patrons saw him out the diner windows sniffing laundry.
I thought I had increased the "laundry sniffing" creep factor of the diner by referencing it here at the Cat lady's house -- and -- made the Creeper talk just like the studio wanted.
Francis saw the Creeper was suddenly talking in this new version of the script and pulled me aside and said, "What the Hell is this?" I explained I was just trying to keep everyone happy and Francis said to get rid of all the changes that had a backstory for the Creeper or the Creeper actually speaking.
I suddenly felt a little ashamed that I hadn't stuck up for my initial ideas.
7. The song Jeepers Creepers was written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer and originally performed by Louis Armstrong in the 1938 film "Going Places" with Dick Powell, who also took a turn singing the song in the same film.
8. In it’s original theatrical release, Labor Day Weekend 2001, JEEPERS CREEPERS set a new world record for the largest Labor Day opening in movie history.
But the second week of a film's box office really tells the story -- and for Jeepers, that was the week the twin towers came crashing down. The nation went into shock and mourning, and people stopped going to the movies and everywhere else. I know I did.
Jeepers had set a world record -- and then quickly disappeared from theaters. It's true box office potential never to be known. Only hinted at by the reported 120 million dollars it took in when it came to DVD six months later.
9. By the second film, myself, Brad Parker, Brian Penikas and cinematographer Don Fauntleroy, knew what we liked and didn't like about how the Creeper looked on film.
So we overhauled our whole Creeper look for JC2. We lost the lighter ash gray of his make-up and opted for a
much darker, charcoal or cinder gray for the Creeper's pigment.
This made him much more sinister looking but difficult to photograph at night -- until we added the tried and true ingredient for a lot of successful monster movie make-ups: KY Jelly.
In other words, we slimed him. And when the lights hit that gleaming and beautifully sculpted skin, we got a much more realistic looking phantom of the night.
We made other changes as well: Penikas wanted him to have bigger teeth and I wanted the Creeper's hair to be more natural looking and less "Halloween wig-like" as I felt it looked in the original.
(I wanted hair that would flow and flip in the wind. The ratty, frizzy pony tail look in the first film seemed too artificial looking when we got into the editing room)
Everyone had ideas and many of these ideas were screen tested.
The only thing I was sure about, was that I wanted to add something to the Creeper's physiognomy that we hadn't seen in the first film. I wanted him to keep surprising the audience. Like, you can never know everything about him. He keeps revealing more things about him, more powers, more physical traits -- I never wanted him to become a known or familiar quantity.
And this is why we added the split in the bridge of the nose for enhanced sniffing in JC2.
10. The script never had us look inside the Creeper's truck -- but a sudden and impromtu need for an unschedueled shot, made me ask if the art department could quickly throw one together, for a momentary glimpse into the shadowy Creeper mobile. The art department wasn't too happy with me that day, I can tell you that. Like every other department -- they do not like, nor can they afford, surprises.
The makeshift interior was helped when we decided to shoot the scene from inside the very dark Creeper truck, keeping its innards in mostly darkness as we looked toward its back doors.
I got my shot, I helped the art department with their problem, and I facilitated one of the biggest laughs in the movie, the tossing of the Trooper's head, as an afterthought, into the back of the truck.
(Jonathan goes over his business of tossing the headless Trooper into the back of his truck)
11. The various stages of new and experimental looks for the Creeper on JC2 - included some color tests for the membrane on his face when it opened. I was more than shocked the first time I saw this very colorful enhancement.
The Creeper's face had so much red in the membrane, he had taken on the aspect of either some Aztec Demon Warrior -- or to me, too much like he was wearing a bonnett like Scarlett O'Hara from GONE WITH THE WIND. In fact, I called, this version of the Creeper, the Scarlett O'Hara. And I said that while I thought it was cool in many ways -- to me it wasn't scary.
There was an entire photo shoot done of Breck in the Scarlett O'Hara, so I could see how the new look would read on film.
The pictures only confirmed my earlier concerns: this was too ornate looking and
is not a scary look for our Creeper.
I told my producers I didn't want
these pictures to go out to anybody. Not MGM or even Zoetrope. I didn't want them to get into the hands of the press.
This was a look that was veto-ed by me and the pictures as well.
Needless to say, when the movie was finally ready for release -- wham, someone at MGM or Zoetrope or Myriad or any of the many companies that had a stake in Jeepers II, had not only seen the pictures but distributed them!!!
The forbidden pictures which didn't even resemble what the Creeper would look like in JC2, showed up on horror websites and in genre magazines.
The pictures went on to become DVD and Poster art for the film's European releases - and to this day when I see them, I can only
laugh at this bizarre Scarlett O'Hara version of my movie monster.
When one of the shots turned up on the cover of FANGORIA -- I was livid.
Looking back on it, I was taking the whole thing way too seriously. My concern was that the Creeper's image and look be carefully controlled -- and I found out the hard way, if I had wanted control here, I should have confiscated the negatives.
Below is a Close-up of the new and approved Creeper Make-up for JC2. And shows off not only Breck's great talent for pushing a performance through all that latex, but Penikas' mastery of sculpting prosthetics, shading, painting and application.
The Creeper was a better looking, scarier looking Creeper than he was in the first, and that was really all we wanted to accomplish.
(If you click on this image you can download a larger version suitable for a desktop)
One of the coolest bits in the new Jeepers film is that we are doing a sequence in the Old West, to show how the Creeper has been around for a long time and has honed his hunting and sniffing skills over centuries of observing -- and feasting -- on mankind.
We suspect, but are not sure yet, that this great old Western town set, discovered on a recent location scout, will be the setting for this historical chapter in the Jeepers Creepers mythos.
Another interesting note about Jeepers Threepers is that I really have decided, after being enthralled by the great genre drama BATTLESTAR GALLICTICA became, and getting hooked on a handful of other gripping, quality television series of late, that Poho County, the Creeper and the Jeepers universe could actually make an interesting series.
In the intermin of waiting for our "go money", I have been quietly writing a two-hour pilot for JEEPERS CREEPERS The Series and, with Brad Parker, created a 13 episode story arc for a first season.
All based on characters and a storyline that would continue from the story that is Jeepers Creepers III: Cathedral.
With Zoetrope on board, and what I'm hoping is a good strong turn out for Jeepers Threepers in theaters, and my longtime desire to create a television series, the terrific ending of the new Jeepers film, does suggest that the third film doesn't have to be the end of the Creeper's dark adventures.
Sound crazy? Maybe.
As I prepare the show, and write the episodes, my process includes playing around with music and images, and in the course of the last few months, learning MOTION, a program that is part of Final Cut Pro.
I fiddled around and came up with very rough idea for a possible title sequence. Created only to communicate the energy and tone I would like the series to have, it is probably something I would never take to a pitch meeting or anything, but it was fun putting it together and dreaming a little about the idea of Poho County becoming something weekly.
I only share it with you here, with your understanding that none of the actors featured are contractual, or even know an idea for a series exists. But it might be worth a giggle to die-hard Jeepers fans.
I fear I have yet again over-blogged. A friend said, "You really don't blog, Victor. You essay."
That's rediculous! A writer who is long winded? Unheard of!
I guess the big question that I haven't answered here is: where the Hell are we in the production of Jeepers Threepers? Here's basically what I can tell you with certainty:
We have scouted various location ideas in the United States and decided on one.
I have a finished screenplay that everyone likes and we are moving forward with. We meaning American Zoetrope and myself.
The screenplay brings many characters from the original back to Poho County and that includes the Creeper's formidable truck, which we will get to see in action again.
We have financiers interested in bankrolling the third and final Jeepers film -- the toughest part of getting any film off the ground -- and are now going about the frustratingly slow process of putting that financing together.
When it does get together, it's going to be an interesting summer. Because, if it comes together fast enough, we will be on a set somewhere, almost ten years after the first Jeepers was committed to celluloid, completing the Creeper trilogy.