Sexuality is not an uncommon or even reticent discourse within the realm of horror, particularly in the slasher subgenre. Carol J. Clover elaborately deconstructs the “slasher’s” gender roles, focusing primarily on the heteronormative positioning of women within this sphere of brutality and chaos. The “Final Girl,” Clover’s term applied to the last surviving female victim, an ever-present figure in the slasher genre, is “abject terror personified.” [open endnotes in new window] She is the character that experiences the wrath of the hyper-masculinized, knife-wielding maniac. Clover claims that she represents a feminist liberator from male domination in society and the bedroom. While slasher film and much of the horror genre have been looked at in these terms of gender identity and feminist thought, very little on horror, especially the slasher film, has been said about its arguable queer undertones. Harry Benshoff seemingly lends that queer interpretation to the slasher genre by isolating the monster—in the monster films from the Golden Age of Cinema—as representative of the Queer “Other.” However, the monster of classical horror cinema is as far as his interpretation leads. For the purposes of this paper, I will be extending this notion of the monster queer to the slasher film’s killer, hoping to focus a queer lens on the psychosexual slasher film and the subsequent characters/victims within these films.
Additionally, I will utilize Benshoff’s definition of Queer, as his definition allows for a fluid and non-conformative understanding of queer identity as “any people not explicitly defining themselves in ‘traditional’ heterosexual terms.” The monster in the slasher flick, the killer, is typically a marginalized figure, usually male, though with exception (Friday the 13th (1980), Happy Birthday to Me (1981)). That killer arguably exists outside of the heteronormative binary (male/female).  I will use the term Queer, rather than homosexual, gay or lesbian, as this term is representative of the multi-faceted, varying identity formations that comprise the slasher film character makeup. Therefore, and in order to offer a queer interpretation of this subgenre, I will be looking at the way in which those queer elements appear in the sequel Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003). While the original Jeepers Creepers (2001) conforms to this queer interpretation, I will focus on the sequel because of the larger character pool and the monster’s pursuit of a variety of male characters—versus his pursuit of one male character in the original.
Jeepers Creepers 2 tells the story of a high school basketball team that becomes stranded on a desolate, open country road as the young people are returning to their hometown after a game. As night falls, and the authority figures are killed by the Creeper (the film’s slasher figure), the frightened teenagers are picked off one-by-one. As the characters dwindle in numbers, all they can do is wait out the night, for this is the last day of the Creeper’s 23 days existence every 23rd year.
In the first section of this paper I will explore the slasher subgenre as it is set out technically and the ways in which slasher films use archetypal representations of masculine identity. This will provide the context for the killer/victim model that is apparent in Jeepers Creepers 2, and I will show how that model conforms to Clover’s understanding of the “slasher.” The second section will look at the Creeper (the slasher himself) and his victims as forms of desire. For this section, I will be using close textual analysis, highlighting the Creeper’s actions, facial expressions and positioning throughout the film to provide a better understanding how this killer/victim model expresses desire. Finally, I will employ Mulvey’s theory of the “male gaze” the functioning of that desire.
“Slasher” as a subgenre
“Slasher” is often characterized in terms of its narrative construction and stylistic techniques, relying on shadows and penetrative camera work to display the deconstruction of the body as graphically and gratuitously as possible. Clover defines the slasher film as:
Her definition provides a context for the slasher, or the killer, to be encoded as masculine and attributes victimization to female or arguably feminized victims. Furthermore, that definition considers the character pool, typically comprised of mostly female characters, in terms of pursuit and ranges of power. In other words, power is attributed to the masculine encoded psychokiller, and weakness and inability are lent to the female or feminized victims. Moreover, power shifts occur only as the final victim, “the one girl who has survived,” undergoes complete pursuit showing how she can shirk the killer’s advances repeatedly. However, these advances do not include an expression of the killer’s sexuality. The topic of sexuality in the slasher films has engendered many critical discussions, such as that of Robin Wood who discusses the slasher killer as being sexually incompetent (immature) and consequently repressed. Psychopathic killers have been viewed as incapable of consummating their relationships with the opposite sex, or in the case of this essay, with the same sex.
In this definition, the slasher functions on the level of a killer stalking a slew of potential victims, picking them off one by one. Rick Worland agrees with Clover’s definition of the slasher film, moving further to define the range of films as
Worland’s definition does not connote gender, suggesting that the victims and the killer vary in gender. Adam Rockoff claims that the films operate as
Rockoff’s definition focuses on the elements and narrative constructs of this subgenre,”insisting that the genre is “rogue” and difficult to pinpoint. I find that the narrative paradigm as suggested by Clover and Worland, coupled with analyzing the subgenre’s strategic camera work and cinematography, provide the best method to identify a “slasher” film.
Finding methods to define the slasher genre as comprehensively as possible provide the viewer with a framework that sets a baseline from which to evaluate films that subscribe to these paradigmatic formulae. Where there is often crossover between the slasher subgenre with other subgenres and, occasionally, other genres, the most substantial elements (i.e. – lighting, first person POV, narrative adherence, etc…) provide the best context to define a film as a slasher. Jeepers Creepers 2 contains all of the formal aspects of a slasher film, especially in regards to Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), whereby the psychokiller is not necessarily “living” but still adheres to recognizably human actions and personalities. Furthermore, as these films’ killers shift the oftentimes-human killer towards a supernatural representation, the films provide a situation that allows for the killer’s apparent indestructibility. Clover affirms this notion, claiming that: “in one key respect, however, the killers are superhuman: their virtual indestructibility.” “Indestructibility” supplies an explanation for how the killer is mutable, in that he or she will consistently regenerate form and physicality regardless of whether stabbed, drowned, crushed, decapitated, etc.. Conscious of his/her evident “indestructible” form, it allows the psychokiller to pursue victims continually and without respite.
In the slasher film, setting is just as integral to the narrative as the killer’s ability to pursue unsuspecting victims or the inability of that slasher to perish. Rockoff identifies the setting as varying:
The sense of familiarity and then the destruction of these places’ associated comfort suggest a deconstruction of that familiarity. In other words, the positivity harbored in these locations gets fractured by the slasher or psychokiller, creating utter chaos for the unwitting victims. Even when specific locations in the slasher film are unfamiliar, the “characters have come from there.” Jeepers Creepers 2 operates in this manner, where the victims are on the cusp of adulthood but young enough to still warrant some kind of chaperone: the female bus driver; the hyper-masculine, white male coach; and later the paternalistic African American male coach. The young people then get stuck in a broken-down high school bus on the road home. Though this stretch of the road is unfamiliar to them, it is still a route that leads them homeward, evoking a sense of familiarity, enough to elicit in them idle boredom and minimal fear.
Eventually that bus becomes their safeguard, a weak fortress that provides the inhabitants a false sense of security. Against the Creeper the bus is nominally protective, but then it becomes a harbinger of victims, similar to Clover’s argument concerning The Terrible Place:
Clover’s Terrible Place recalls Rockoff’s claim that the genre’s settings evoke familiarity, but she moves further to argue that the teens’ entrapment within a particular setting suggests a monstrosity in and of itself.
In this film, where entrapment satisfies the slasher, it heightens agony for his/her victims, especially as he/she taunts the victim laughingly through the window or from a position that separates killer and victim enough to present danger but not enact a killing. The Creeper does just that through the windows of the locked bus and through holes he created in the ceiling by an incredible display of strength. Such a display of “penetration” shreds the false sense of security their apparent safe haven should provide.
Much of this display is heightened by the refracted shadows in the bus and the detailed facial features of the Creeper. He gives long, penetrating stares at many of the victims in the bus, selecting which unsuspecting person he will devour or kill. In terms of the slasher genre this portentous display of choosing is embellished by first person point of view shots. As camera angles and the cinematography exemplify the victims’ increasingly vicious situation, so too does the camera and cinematography work to enhance the features of the Terrible Place, the slasher and ultimately the Final Girl. Clover defines the Final Girl as the one girl who survives her killer’s repeated attacks, the displays of her friends’ bodies piling up, and “is presented from the outset as the main character.” What most defines the Final Girl is that “abstinence and rectitude evidently give final girls the power to fight back and survive.”
While there is a clear-cut Final Girl (Minxie) in Jeepers Creepers 2, her ability “to fight back and survive” stem not from her own victimization but that of her friends. Moreover, Minxie exhibits similar supernatural abilities to the Creeper, giving her agency to understand and anticipate the creature/psychopath. This insight comes in the form of a vision, whereby she encounters the deceased victim from the original Jeepers Creepers; it’s a golden-hued encounter set in a flashback of the initial victim from Jeepers Creepers 2.
While there is a female Final Girl who does battle with the masculinized Creeper, the array of victims do not adhere to the traditional model of killer/victim as set out by Clover, and arguably perpetuated by Worland. Though there are primary characters that are female, none of those characters perishes at the hands of the Creeper, except the female bus driver. Rather, those victims who are most sought after are male, virile and, evidently masculine. They consist of an amalgamation of masculinity types: alpha and beta males: hyper-masculine ones, submissive ones, and ones in between. These identity types represent the multi-faceted nature of masculinity, but more importantly, the variants contained within the homosexual community. In turn, this paves way for the Creeper to examine these figures much in the same way that one peruses a potential partner in a public setting. It is therefore uncharacteristic that a killer, whom viewers typically identify as in pursuit of female or feminized characters, to stalk and destroy the lives of those types of male victims. The one female who does die is portrayed as ostensibly masculine, her hair in a tight ponytail, rugged jeans and a blue, button-up shirt covered by a navy blue sweater. From afar, she is indistinguishable from the male coaches and attempts to fix the flattened bus tire herself.