It's hardly a surprise "Jeepers Creepers 2" offers little of the foreboding suspense that amped up the fear factor in the original horror flick. Like "Halloween," "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street," the series now centers on showcasing the bad guy -- a bat-winged demon known as the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) -- more than his anonymous victims.
As with Freddy and Jason before him, the upstart ghoul certainly gets more screen time than any of his castmates.
But in certain respects the new film has a tighter premise than its chaotic predecessor, which centered on two college siblings who ran afoul of the maniac. In this latest installment, a bus carrying a high school basketball team, coaches and cheerleaders is targeted by the Creeper, who only has one day left to feed before he goes into a decades-long hibernation. Stranded on a desolate highway at night, the teens (who for once actually look like they're played by actors under the age of 21) begin to realize, "We've just dropped a notch on the food chain."
Although splintered by their own fears and prejudices, they must band together to stop the apparently indestructible stalker.
Writer-director Victor Salva displays an ominous visual style that fits well in this frequently claustrophobic setting. He also favors more symbolism and literary allusions than in most teen slasher flicks.
There's the Christ-like imagery of the Creeper who is first seen hanging on a wooden cross while pretending to be a scarecrow. And Ray Wise ("Twin Peaks") portrays an obsessed hunter of the fiend, whose relationship mirrors Capt. Ahab to Moby Dick -- oversized harpoon and all.
However, an additional layer of symbolism uncomfortably creeps into the movie as well.
Filmmaker Salva -- who was convicted in 1988 of molesting a 12-year-old -- continues his fixation with shirtless boys that he began with 1995's pedophile-friendly "Powder." This leaning is thankfully toned down in "Jeepers Creepers 2," but there are still lingering shots of high schoolers all joining in on a casual group pee to let viewers know where Salva's priorities lie.
It also explains why there are more than a dozen athletes on the bus and only three cheerleaders.
But for audiences that don't want to read too much subtext into their horror sequels, there are a few good jolts and slick action sequences in "Jeepers Creepers 2" to appreciate. And for once the victim "pecking order" hardly conforms to that of the typical gore fest.
Salva's cinematic strong points are most apparent during the scenes that bookend the film. The intro begins in a Midwestern cornfield where the Creeper plays a cat-and-mouse game with a boy who slowly begins to realize an innocuous "scarecrow" is eyeing him. (There's that darn subtext again!)
The epilogue revisits the same family 23 years later, awaiting the return of the now-dormant adversary. Credit the script for including this rather odd finale in such a mainstream spine-tingler.
If only Salva hadn't made the movie so emotionally ugly.
To go along with the constant gay bashing subplot of a student called Izzy "Or Isn't He" Bohen, there's also a surprising amount of racism on the screen. Eric Nenninger ("Malcolm in the Middle") plays a white basketball player who practically becomes a raving Klansman by the end of the picture.
A guy this resentful of black teammates might want to try out for another sport next season.
"Jeepers Creepers 2" likely earned an R-rating for its obligatory level of gore, but the most unpleasant aspects stem from its language. Salva's racial-tinged dialogue and perpetual profanity is just so mean-spirited that it seems curiously out of place here.
Isn't this just supposed to be a summer blockbuster about an ancient, flesh-eating monster?