Before we get to know the Creeper, we get to know his truck. From the first moment Darry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Philips) see the beat up 1941 Chevy COE and its cow catcher grinning at them from behind, we know Jeepers Creepers (2001) is about to deliver on its promises of being a terrifying ride between serial killer and the supernatural. With much derision from Darry and Trish, they write the Creeper’s truck off as nothing more than an asshole “redneck” trying to cause trouble – a take on the typical arrogance often initially displayed by white, middle-class teens at the start of most cliched horror films.
However, from the first obnoxious wailing of its horn, to the brash collisions that are about to follow, the Creeper proves that his truck is equally as terrifying as he is…
Horror and Vehicles
Horror loves a creepy vehicle. Well, as much as a genre can love anything. Horror consumers love a creepy vehicle would be more appropriate. From Stephen King’s “beserk” 1958 Plymouth Fury in Christine to the 1955 Peterbilt 281 tanker truck in Spielberg’s Duel, we have no dearth of car horror movies to choose from. And, of course, it’s not just cars that feature heavily. Ghost Ship and Triangle make excellent use of big ole’ boats. Exorcism at 60,000 Feet, World War Z and Snakes on a Plane all exhibit horror amongst the clouds… but where films like Jeepers Creepers and Joy Ride exhibit true distinction from their counterparts, is that their vehicles are much more than just a setting – they’re characters in their own right.
Jeepers Creeper’s Truck and Joy Ride’s Big Rig
Decrepit. Vandalised. Ominous looking. Strangely aggressive. When we think of these terms and horror it would be easy to forgive someone for thinking of a haunted house or a run-down former asylum. Yet these adjectives also work with the Creeper’s truck from Jeepers Creepers. As it brashly tries to intimidate Darry and Trish, for no other reason than intimidation’s sake, we are introduced to one of horror’s iconic vehicles. The military-esque, oddly reminiscent of Jasper and Horace’s van from the cartoon version of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. Its rusted and scarred façade implies practicality over beauty. Its tongue in cheek license plate “BEATNGU” is a touch of campy horror in an otherwise spine tingling film.
Compare this then with the imposing, clean, modern looking big rig in Joy Ride (Roadkill to those of us in the UK). The violent loudness of the big rigs horn, along with the very real ire of the driver inside form a new type of fear. While no one would say this is the scariest big rig in horror (that honour goes WHOLLY to the logging truck in Final Destination 2 and I’ll hear no argument against it) it is one of the more menacing.
Joy Ride’s premise is that Lewis and Fuller (played by Paul Walker and Steve Zahn respectively) get up to some immature hijinks on a CB radio and convince the big rig (“Rusty Nail”) driver to meet at their Wyoming hotel and meet a woman there called Candy Cane. The prank is both on Rusty Nail and the racist businessman that is in the room beside them, room 17. When the brother’s wake the next morning they find the businessmen from room 17 dead on the highway – missing his lower jaw.
Okay, okay, so both of these films take place on America’s highways, and both have big jerks behind the wheel of imposing vehicles – so what, Conner? Well the so what here is how uncannily these films use their vehicles to recontextualise that old inherent fear that dogs home invasion films, haunted house horrors, and any other movies that rely on the same trope each of these films are utilizing.
Fear on the American Highway
My absolute favourite urban legend is the one about the woman at the gas station. After she’s pumped her gas, a man she doesn’t know, and who creeps her out rushes over to her car and begins banging on the window telling her to “Get out! Get the fuck out of the car!”. The woman, being a normal person, takes this wild man as a creepy weirdo and hot tails it out of that gas station and back onto the I-whatever number. So far so what, right? Well, this guy then follows her like a madman. Speeding, swerving trying to get in front of her, flashing his lights frantically trying to get her attention (in case all the other madness wasn’t enough, of course).
As she watches the car behind her swerve off the road, or collide with another car, or something like that, she checks her rear-view mirror to make sure the guy is gone. Yet, in the mirror, grinning, is a man with a knife, having sat up from where he was lying on the back seat.
Dun, dun, DUN!
And it’s this fear that Jeepers Creepers and Joy Ride take delight in. While Darry and Trish are rude and a little classist, the Creeper in Jeepers Creepers can’t hear them, he’s just doing what demons do – being an asshole. What Lewis and Fuller do, however, is cruel and the behaviour of a couple of douches, they have just picked on the wrong guy and, while they’re both unfunny idiots, they certainly don’t deserve the extent of Rusty Nail’s murderous ire.
Yet what each film does is imbue their vehicles with the characteristics of their respective drivers in order to heighten the continuity and tension between murderer and murderee. Jeepers Creeper’s truck is old, practical, camp, and overtly creepy AF. The truck in later sequels (no I will not go into Jeepers Creepers 3 booby trap territory, for that film was awful) is shown to have a certain synergy with the Creeper. Yes, it’s a little obvious and it sticks out like a sore thumb, but c’mon, the Creeper is doing the best he can. He makes his weapons out of old teeth for Pete’s sake. Do you think there’s a mechanic’s garage in Hell?
What Joy Ride does so brilliantly is completely the opposite, and arguably more scary. It anonymises the big rig Rusty Nail uses (as much as a film can) and contains the terror to radio communiques and wide shots of the darkened cabin. Rusty Nails big rig could be any big rig. This in turn means that, to who he pursues, all big rigs they encounter are Rusty Nails. And while his doesn’t have magic chain spikes (please, don’t make me say anymore about that film) like Jeepers Creeper’s truck, tell me, monster within aside, which one would you rather was chasing you down Route 97?
The obviously creepy rusty truck or the immaculate, one of many, big rig driven by Rusty Nail?
Last Updated on January 14, 2023.