|I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
|Kevin Williamson. Based on the novel by Lois Duncan
|Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki, Bridgette Wilson and Muse Watson
“Look at us. This secret’s killing us” – Julie
It cannot be underestimated the shot of life the slasher film received in 1996 when Wes Craven delivered “Scream”, written by Kevin Williamson. Slashers were heading fast for direct to Video and then along came a supremely entertaining and well written sleeper that took everyone by storm, was a hit in theaters and suddenly slasher films were getting the A-list treatment. Serious minded slashers more or less died out during the middle of the 80’s (apart from the odd one here and there) and veered more towards comedy. “Scream” managed to keep the serious tone (and violence and gore) and go for self-referential-ism to update the genre. It didn’t go for self-parody but was witty enough to give the genre a wink while playing it straight with the things that mattered.
Screenwriter Williamson was given a huge amount of credit for the slasher film revival and, thankfully, he was also a fan of old time scare flicks. So the next time out he delivered a throwback script with “I Know What You Did Last Summer”; an old-fashioned horror film that played it’s terror straight, with flawed characters that nevertheless felt real and a message that secrets always surface.
High school friends Julie (Love Hewitt), Helen (Michelle Gellar), Barry (Philippe) and Ray (Prinze Jr.) accidentally hit a man with their car after a night of partying. Instead of doing the right thing and report the accident they decide to get rid of the body in fear of what would happen to their futures if they came clean. A year later Julie gets an ominous message simply stating “I know what you did last summer” and soon it’s apparent that the group’s buried secret is coming back to haunt them in deadly ways.
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is very straightforward and serious in tone and is all the better for it. It isn’t so much a mystery though it does have at least one surprise reveal and the way it’s fleshed out with some detective elements by Julie and Helen is well played out. The script is well written by Williamson and the foursome involved are all decent characters well played by good performers. Julie can be a fairly annoying character as the film progresses but her paranoia is never taken to extremes and Love Hewitt is quite good. Helen and Barry are more interesting to watch and Michelle Gellar and Philippe take top honours in the acting department. Prinze Jr. is fine but his Ray is the least interesting of the group.
The fisherman with a hook is a good addition to the slasher villains and some kills here are fairly visceral and impressive. Set pieces are really quite good and the initial set-up is well handled and provides the characters with some identifiable dilemmas that render them human and fallible. The decision to play it straight is probably a reason why the film plays even better today then it did when it was released as it was considered a step back compared to the recent hit “Scream”. “Scream”, as good as it is, doesn’t play as well today thanks to it’s many sequels and countless imitators (and parodies) precisely because of it’s inherent self-referential-ism that very much dates the film. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is less flashy and hip and more simple minded and delivers a revenge scenario with a no frills approach that’s admirable and stands the test of time.
The script has a few convenient twists and turns and at least one very-difficult-to-swallow moment but honestly I can’t think of many similar films that don’t have the same problem. Sometimes the viewer simply has to suspend disbelief to let a shock moment have a bit more impact. But it isn’t too distracting and for the most part the suspense builds honestly and director Gillespie maintains has a good feel for pace and staging the set pieces. Stylistically the film looks good and the added budget afforded to these fright flicks in this period results in a much more polished end product. While not a visual triumph it nevertheless has very atmospheric photography that creates the desired look and mood for the film to work better.
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is an effective old school slasher that still plays well thanks to a solid cast, solid story, solid set pieces and a no frills approach and attitude that’s appealing.
|I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
|Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Brandy, Mekhi Phifer, Muse Watson, Matthew Settle, Bill Cobbs, Jeffrey Combs, Jennifer Esposito, John Hawkes, Jack Black (uncredited) and Red West
“We’re all gonna die. He’s gonna kill us one by one” – Julie
Julie (Love Hewitt) is now in college but she’s still plagued by dreams and visions of the fisherman from a year ago. Ray (Prinze Jr.) is her boyfriend now but he still lives in their hometown which Julie is wary of returning to. All of a sudden Julie and her friend Karla (Brandy) win an all expense paid trip to the Bahamas by answering correctly in a radio show the capital of Brazil as Rio de Janeiro. Accompanying them on the trip is Karla’s boyfriend Tyrell (Phifer) and friend Will (Settle). Once there it’s clear that someone who knows Julie’s secret has followed and the island’s population starts decreasing rapidly.
While it’s predecessor had moments of strained credibility and implausibility; “I Still Know” is chockfull of them and pretty much uses them as it’s main driving force. The amount of false scares here is very high, the plausibility of the set pieces is severely limited and character’s actions are fairly ludicrous. The strengths of “I Know…” are nowhere accounted for in “I Still Know…” as it heads in a completely different direction with head scratching scenarios at every turn.
I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t a fan of “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” when it came out. I simply couldn’t get past the absurd goings on, the attitude of the characters, the implausibility of everything and the overall feeling that this was all just a big joke. I have warmed to the movie as of late and precisely because of said faults. A big thing in the film’s favour is how handsomely it is mounted with a knockout location and some great production values. Each murder set piece, no matter how ludicrous or thinly set up, is very well accomplished and visually the film is very striking.
The script isn’t very good at furthering the story although it does have some additional background information on our fisherman. How it ultimately is revealed is very workmanlike and implausible (there’s that word again!) and overall the script is very poor at moving the picture from one scenario to the next. There are at least two big clues early on that should alert viewers to what’s coming and I’ll proudly state that this is one of the few occasions where I spotted both of them. But it’s always a positive when a film is confident enough to give it’s audience a chance at spotting things.
Like I said; the film is very handsomely mounted and it looks great. It has a great director in Danny Cannon (who helmed the underrated Stallone vehicle “Judge Dredd” – 1995) who absolutely milks every worthwhile scene of it’s entire worth and actually makes the material look better than it is. Not unlike what Australian director Jamie Blanks did with “Valentine” (2001); Cannon is saddled with second rate material and he puts extra care into the presentation and packaging so as to create something a bit memorable. The island setting and the isolation as it’s stormy weather empties the place manage to create an eerie mood in itself thanks to assured direction.
The casting is also good with Love Hewitt reprising her role well enough but I think Prinze Jr. isn’t particularly good here. Brandy, Phifer and Settle are all fine but the inclusion of pros Cobbs and especially Combs elevate the proceedings. Combs in particular can create something memorable out of almost nothing and his worthless role of hotel manager here ends up becoming quite good thanks to the actor’s quirky tendencies. Jack Black is also quite funny in an unbilled part for some reason.
“I Still Know…” is not as good as “I Know…” but, in the right frame of mind, it does entertain in it’s own way despite being extremely absurd in most respects. But I think non-slasher fans need not apply as this if for aficionados only.