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Jeepers Creepers is one of those cult horror franchises that never actually achieved much fame, but is beloved by the fans. The franchise was originally created by Victor Salva in 2001 and currently consists of three movies, all three written and directed by Salva, and a reboot movie set to air sometime in 2021. Jeepers Creepers tell the story of a demonic creature/serial killer that wakes up every 23 years for 23 days to eat human flesh. The majority of the franchise’s success stems from the fact that it was made with a relatively low budget (a combined $33.2 million for all three films), but has made almost more than five times its official budget (a combined $182 million for all three films, including home releases and rentals). In today’s article, you are going to find out about the story that – at least partially – inspired the events of the first Jeepers Creepers movie.
And while not based on that story, Jeepers Creepers does take some real-life elements from the murder of Marilynn DePue, who was killed by her ex-husband, Dennis DePue, in April 1990.
Today’s article is going to discuss the true story behind that, at least in part, inspired some plot elements of the first Jeepers Creepers movie. You’re going to find out about the actual case and how some of the elements have been used in the movie. You’re also going to find out about the locations pertaining to the case and how the movie even got its name. Enjoy!
Is Jeepers Creepers Based on a True Story?
As far as the plot of the movie is concerned, Jeepers Creepers is a classical supernatural horror, with the summary of the first movie being:
Trish Jenner and her brother Darry are traveling home from college for spring break. As they drive through the Florida countryside, a rusty old truck follows them briefly and threateningly. The vehicle finally passes them. They later see the same truck parked next to an abandoned church with a man sliding what appear to be bodies wrapped in bloodstained sheets into a large pipe sticking out of the ground. The man notices Trish and Darry’s car passing by and tries to pull them off the road.
After escaping, Darry convinces Trish to go back to the church and investigate. At the church, Darry hears noises coming from inside the pipe and crawls inside with Trish holding onto her feet, but ends up falling. At the bottom, he finds a dying man with stitches running down his stomach and hundreds of other bodies sewn to the walls and ceiling of the basement. After Darry escapes, the two flee the scene and attempt to contact the police at a restaurant. I
n the restaurant, a strange woman calls them on the phone and warns them that they are in danger. She plays the song “Jeepers Creepers”; confused, they ignore her warning. Later, Trish and Darry leave, with two police officers providing a security escort. As they travel, the police learn that the church has caught fire and that all evidence of corpses has been destroyed.
Later, the police are attacked and killed by the mysterious driver, who puts the bodies into his truck. After hearing the same song again on the radio and stopping, they witness the Creeper get out of the police car and suck the tongue from the dead cop’s face. They leave terrified.
Trish and Darry stop at the home of a lonely old woman and beg her to call the police. The woman obeys until she notices the driver hiding in her yard. She attempts to kill him, but the driver kills her and reveals her inhuman face to Trish and Darry, before chasing them once more. Trish repeatedly runs over the driver with her car, but they are horrified to see a giant wing rip his trench coat and flap in the air.
They drive to the local police station, where they are approached by psychic Jezelle Gay Hartman. She reveals herself as the woman who called them in the restaurant and tells them the true nature of her pursuer: it is an ancient creature, known as “the Creeper”, who wakes up every 23 years for twenty-three days to feast on human body parts, which it then uses to form parts of its own body.
She also tells them that it seeks her victims through fear and, by smelling Trish and Darry’s fear, it has found something that it likes, but it doesn’t know what. The wounded Creeper arrives and attacks the police station. After cutting off the power, it gains entry to the cells and eats the prisoners to heal. The Creeper is assaulted by the police, but kills several of them and evades capture.
Trapped, Jezelle warns Trish and Darry that one of them will die a horrible death. Darry demands to know who, and Jezelle looks at Trish. The Creeper finds them, but spares Jezelle as she has nothing it wants. The Creeper corners Trish and Darry in an interrogation room upstairs, and after smelling and tasting them, the Creeper tosses Trish aside and chooses Darry.
Trish offers his life for his brother, but Creeper escapes through the window and flies off with Darry. The next day, Trish is picked up by her parents and Jezelle returns home in regret. At the Creeper’s new hideout, an abandoned factory, it is revealed to have killed Darry to replaced its dead eyes with the boy’s.
As you can see from the synopsis, Jeepers Creepers doesn’t really look like a movie based on true events, right? A bat-like demon waking up every 23 years is really not something you expect to see in your lifetime or read about in the papers. So, why do people state that it is based on a true story? Well, because – partially – it is.
On March 20, 1991, the documentary TV show Unsolved Mysteries aired its episode dedicated to the murder of Marilynn DePue that happened on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990 in the state of Michigan. Marilynn DePue, a high school guidance counselor, was murdered by her abusive, controlling ex-husband Dennis DePue, in her own home.
The couple had been married for 18 years when Marilynn finally filed for divorce in 1989; the hole procedure, despite Dennis’ insistence, was finalized in December 1989. Marilynn was deeply unhappy in the marriage and claimed that her husband had abused her and controlled her life, not letting her make decisions on her own. The couple had three children. When the divorce was finalized, Dennis managed to obtain visitation rights – although the children either completely refused or were reluctant to go with him – and the usage of their guest house as an office.
On Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990, Dennis came to their former home to pick up their two younger children. Julie, the daughter, had already refused to go, while Scott, the son, was reluctant. Marilynn tried to talk to Dennis about Scott, but he became aggressive and threw her down the stairs and then continued beating her up, despite the children’s pleas; their oldest daughter, Jennifer, called the police.
At point, he stopped hitting her and took her up the stairs, saying to the children that he was taking her to hospital. However, they never arrived at the hospital and a search for the murdered began.
Later that day, siblings Roy and Marie Thorton drove around the countryside when a speeding van passed them by on Snow Perry Road. They did not pay much attention to it until they passed an abandoned school, where they noticed the van and its driver, carrying a bloody sheet behind it. Moments later, the van pulled up behind them and started to follow them for a while. Sounds familiar?
Ray finally decided to leave the highway, which is when they noticed the van pull off the road and the driver changing the license plates. They also noticed blood on the passenger’s seat in the van. They returned to the school and found the bloodied sheet, after which they informed the police. Marilynn’s body was found the next day, when it was established that she had been shot in the back of the head. Her killer was confirmed to have been Dennis DePue.
As you can see, the real story of Dennis DePue – who was finally found after the episode of Unsolved Mysteries aired on TV; he committed suicide after a brief shootout with the police in Mississippi – shares some elements with Jeepers Creepers. The van and its mysterious driver, the mysterious hiding of the bodies, and a pair of siblings as witnesses – all of these elements appear in both the real-life case and the movie.
In that aspect, the true story of Dennis DePue partially inspired some plot elements of the movie, but we cannot really state that Jeepers Creepers is based on a true story, even if we disregard the supernatural elements of the film. It shares some elements, but they are more circumstantial than anything else, so we can only state that the murder inspired some parts of the movie’s plot and nothing more.
Where Does Jeepers Creepers Take Place?
Jeepers Creepers was shot in Central Florida, where the movie also takes place. The movie was shot in the cities of Dunnellon, Ocala, Lake Panasoffkee, and Reddick.
What Is the Real-Life Location Tha Inspired Jeepers Creepers?
As far as the real-life location of the DePue murder is concerned, it happened in the state of Michigan. The DePues lived in Coldwater, Michigan, in Branch County, where the murder also took place. As you can see, the locations aren’t really connected, but Salva based some of the sites in his movie on the actual sites that appear in the DePue case.
Where Does the Name “Jeepers Creepers” Come from?
The name “Jeepers Creepers” actually comes from the title of an identically-named song that can be heard in the movie. It was a popular jazz standard, written by Johnny Mercer and composed by Harry Warren for the 1938 movie Going Places. The song was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, but it did not win.
It was initially performed by the legendary Louis Armstrong, who sang it to a racehorse named Jeepers Creepers, as black actors weren’t allowed to sing to each other on screen during the 1930s. Mercer himself stated that he got the inspiration for the title from an earlier Henry Fonda movie, where Fonda used the phrase.
One of the more interesting verses from the song is:
“Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those peepers?
Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those eyes?”
The latter is especially symbolic when the ending of the movie is concerned (see above).
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!