While Jeepers Creepers managed to find some level of acclaim among the monster-movie faithful and even a tiny slice of mainstream critics, who were perhaps seduced by the name of executive producer Francis Ford Coppola, even as it was largely dismissed by society at large, Jeepers Creepers 2 managed to lose some of the people who enjoyed the first, but found the second to be an obnoxious dilution of the original's potency. And those people have a point: where JC1 focuses like a laser on the travails of just two people who have no idea what the hell is going on, and keeps us stumbling along after them, JC2 has a fairly huge cast that it's next to impossible to keep straight, and it makes the monster a bit more "knowable" than the first movie: if not by explaining anything more, then certainly by giving the monster a bit more personality and putting him onscreen much more frequently, to the detriment of Brian Penikas's beautiful but only about 90% convincing monster effects.

Still, I found myself liking the movie rather more often than not: if it's less successful than the first one, that is not the same as saying that it's a failure. If nothing else, Victor Salva (returning along with most of the same crew as the original) deserves credit for fashioning a scenario that uses all the standard tricks of the body-count slasher film while not feeling much at all like a body-count picture (that most of the Expendable Meat ends up alive at the end probably has a lot to do with that impression).

Points, at any rate, to the black joke that opens the movie. A title card reminds us of the rules stated in the original: "Every 23 years, for 23 days, it gets to eat". Cut to a field of wheat, with the words, "Day 22". Later evidence determines that it's three days after the first movie ended, and on this afternoon, the men of the Taggert family - Jack Sr. (Ray Wise) and his son Jackie (Luke Edwards) watch in horror as younger son Billy (Shaun Fleming) is snatched away by what looks like a man in a duster and a battered hat, with wings (Jonathan Breck, returning to the role of the creature). Cut to the next day, when a school bus full of high school basketball players, cheerleaders, and the school reporter all return from winning the championship. The creature flings a throwing star made, rather disconcertingly, from bits of dead humans, and puts out the bus's tire; after the adults in charge decide to keep pushing on, with no help coming to this godforsaken corner of the world, the creature is obliged to take out another tire, stranding the bus in the country in the middle of the night.

And from there on you could probably write the thing yourself: bus of teens (the adults are all picked off fairly quickly) on the one hand, vengeance-driven father and brother with a jerry-rigged harpoon (this seems to be the only relic of a Moby-Dick theme that Salva, almost certainly wisely, left on the cutting room floor) on the other, indestructible flying monster that eats people in the middle. In a lot of ways, Jeepers Creepers 2 deserves its measure of criticism, and not merely because it is wildly unoriginal, both compared to the first and in general (originality of scenario is anyways not a terribly good way to judge a horror film's overall quality). Like most "Spam in a can"-type movies, the teens on the bus are rather arbitrarily sketched-out, other than the Racist, Homophobic Jock (Eric Nenninger), the Suddenly Psychic Chick (Nicki Aycox), and the Guy That People Think Is Gay (Travis Schiffner), all the characters fade into a uniform background radiation. Meanwhile, the Taggert plot feels grafted-on, though I for one am never prepared to bemoan the presence of Ray Wise in a movie. And the whole thing, at some 15 minutes longer than the first, is unquestionably draggy; there is no reason at all to have the bus breakdown twice, nor to have the final chase go on for quite as long as it does.

For all these flaws - and they are significant and often crippling - the sheer level of craftsmanship Salva and his crew bring to bear is not all easy to dismiss, and at its best moments, Jeepers Creepers 2 achieves a level of visual horror that is equal to, though wildly different from, the stellar achievements of its predecessor. The sequences inside the school bus are particularly well-handled: locking the camera inside a tight location, the filmmakers achieve an effect not at all unlike the feeling of a top-notch submarine thriller, as the kids mill about in place and start sniping at each other, the tension of their situation erupting in terms of the petty squabbles and annoyances that are typically ignored and choked down. If the film had spent more time inside that location, and if Salva's screenplay had given more attention to rounding out the personalities of the teenagers, JC2 could have been one of the great horror films of the '00s.

The film also boasts a tremendously individual look, achieved through huge amounts of post-production color correction and admittedly artificial as a result: but the sickly look of the landscape (which is, unlike the original, clearly not Florida, but in California), drenched in browns and oranges, gives the whole movie a feeling of decay. It's ugly, but its ugliness is purposeful, to make the audience uncomfortable and ill-eased even before the actual matter of the drama has kicked in.

Ultimately, it's the imagery that saves JC2: the movie just plain looks threatening, and that ends up counting for a great deal. While the script adds little to our appreciation of the creature (and, happily, explains nothing more than we already knew; too much knowledge would be devastating for these films), and the characters are too basic to anchor the story, the film looks nightmarish enough, and the creature itself is enough of a wicked fairy-tale presence, that the experience of the whole thing is a great deal more effective than its curt dismissal would suggest. It's even less of a great movie than the original, but there are moments that have a primal power which cannot be denied.