I’m so fascinated by that era of 90’s horror that followed in the wake of SCREAM’s success. I was too young to really be there for the “slasher” boom of the 80’s, although I did get to see some of the latter FRIDAY THE 13TH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and HALLOWEEN sequels in theaters towards the tail end of that cycle. But with SCREAM, I got to see a cultural horror phenomenon happen right in front of me, and then bear witness to the dozen-or-so genre films that followed in its wake and tried desperately to capture the magic of Wes Craven’s decade defining masterpiece. The only one that came close in terms of popularity and success was the Jennifer Love Hewitt fronted I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, which – although based on the young adult novel by Luis Duncan – was penned by SCREAM’s creator, Kevin Williamson.
A year after I KNOW destroyed at the box office, a quick cash in sequel was churned out and my memory of it wasn’t very kind. In fact, at this point I have no memory of it at all except for the annoying stoner white Jamaican guy. Well, this week’s Double Take, I teamed up with Kat Canipe Wells of the Boys & Ghouls podcast and we put on some flannel, traveled back to the ’90s and watched a double feature of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER paired up with its sequel I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. The results?
Directed by Jim Gillespie, I KNOW follows a group of 4 popular kids (two couples) celebrating their impending graduation, late at night, on the beach with booze in hand and sex on the horizon. The gang consists of Julie James (Hewitt), her boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), her best friend Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Helen’s boyfriend, the douchey Barry. (Appropriately named!) After having one too many, Ray insists on driving Barry’s car. They’re maybe going a little too fast and cranking their tunes a little too loud when they suddenly hit something on the road at full speed. At first they think it’s an animal, but upon closer inspection, they’re convinced that they’ve accidentally killed a man. After a brief argument, they decide they have to dump the body in the neighboring harbor. (That plan never ends well.) Moments before dumping their victim, he lunges forward, still alive and they still dump him, hence killing an innocent man for real. Or so they think.
One year later, the foursome are all back home for the summer, their lives drastically altered by the secret they’ve all been keeping when, suddenly, they each begin receiving notes that threaten “I know what you did last summer.” Before you know it, a creepy big guy in a slicker is stalking and playing with them before he finally starts taking them out one by one. Could it possibly be the guy they hit with their car the prior summer? Or is it someone that knew their victim and is out for revenge?
Well, I guess since I’m about to talk about the sequel in a few paragraphs, I have to spoil it for you. It is the guy they hit with the car! He survived and he’s a fisherman named Ben Willis who was out on that road that night murdering his deceased daughter’s deadbeat husband! So he kind of had it coming! Alas, the fun in the movie is setting up the traditional slasher tropes. On original viewing, I remember enjoying it a whole lot. On this viewing, while still fun, there sure are a hell of a lot of coincidences that line up and allow the Fisherman to pop up conveniently in the oddest of places. In particular, when the cop is driving Helen home, he sees a road block and actually says, “oh a road block. Guess we better take this back alley instead.” So he’s a cop in this tiny town and didn’t know about this random roadblock? Also, why wouldn’t he just drive through it? He’s a cop! He can break the law! But instead, he goes down this dark, suspicious alley way, and there’s a suspicious guy with his car hood popped open, working on his car. Late at night. Turns out to be the Fisherman and he immediately hooks the cop to death and begins chasing Helen, who very, very easily breaks the back door window of a cop car an escapes. (Pretty sure those things are made so that you can’t escape from the back seat.) Even if the Fisherman set up the road block, how’d he know that they’d come down this particular alley? And let alone that it’d be with one of the kids responsible for his supposed death? OK, I’m overthinking an I KNOW WHAT YOU DID movie!!!
The opening 5 or so minutes, I was a bit nervous, because these kids didn’t at all feel like natural kids, let alone did they speak the way any kids I knew as a teen spoke. But I was reminded that this was just prior to DAWSON’S CREEK and it has that dialogue. However, the moment they hit Ben Willis with their car, all the actors suddenly get really, really good and the drama of the situation is believable and tense. When they return a year later, 3 of the 4 characters are drastically changed, in particular Julie who becomes kind of gothic-y post the incident.
Overall, the movie still remains a lot of fun, sports some pretty brutal and bloody kills (something the 90’s cycle of horror never really shied away from), and featured some great supporting characters played by recognizable actors such as Johnny Galecki, Bridgette Wilson and Anne Heche.
I STILL KNOW opens with a nightmare sequence, which essentially allows Julie to also claim that the ending of the last movie was in fact just another nightmare, like the ones she’s been suffering since the supposed second death of Ben Willis. She’s best friends with Brandy now and apparently, this terrible friend of hers is anxious for her to dump her high school boyfriend and hook up with her college buddy Will Benson. (Remember that name, kids.) Even more random, Julie gets a phone call from a radio station offering her and her friends a free trip to the Bahamas if they can answer the question “what is the capitol of Brazil?” They say Rio and are off to the Bahamas!
I know, I know. For starters, that’s not the capitol of Brazil. Also, when has a radio station ever randomly called someone and given them a prize, let alone an exotic trip? Oh right, right… Doesn’t matter. They must’ve been writing this backwards and they just need to get these characters to the Bahamas.. On off season! During a weekend where it’ll rain and hurricane and trap them there! I’m getting ahead of myself.
So they end up in the Bahamas. Julie leaves Ray home and Brandy invites Will, forcing her friend on a double date, even though she already has a boyfriend. The downside: there’s a fat, white, annoying, stoner guy that thinks he’s Jamaican. Turns out it’s Jack Black. Now in retrospect, and because of what we know of Jack Black nowadays, it’s obvious Jack Black was trying to be annoying and hence was actually among one of the better actors in this flick for succeeding in making me believe he was that character.
Upside? Caretaker of the hotel is Jeffrey Combs in an all-too-short couple of scenes.
OK, let’s skip to the end. Ray knows the Fisherman is back, so he sells his engagement ring for Julie, and trades it in for a gun. He gets one super easily. He also manages to get a boat out in a hurricane to their island just by pointing the gun at the captain. So Ben Willis is back and he’s planned this whole thing to… I really don’t know why..? To surprise Julie with the fact that Will Benson is actually Ben Willis’ son? Didn’t you see that coming? I mean, as he tells Julie with a duh expression on his face, “my name? Ben’s son?” I want to see the prequel movie where this idiot kid somehow changes his name to Will Benson and manages to get into college and become Julie’s best friend/love interest in under a year.
Anyways, some more stuff happens, yadda, yadda, yadda. And this movie lasts an hour and 40 minutes, which is way too long. I was pretty miserable by the end of it. It had its few glimmers of sunshine, mainly Jeffrey Combs and the few unbelievable-yet-awesome reveals, such as the capitol of Brazil actually being Brasila and again, the name of Ben Willis’ son being Will Benson. (God, that’s still amazing. Like, At least a hundred people that worked on this movie has to read this script and at no point did someone pipe up and say, “well, that’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?) Let me point out that Kevin Williamson did not write the sequel, it was instead scripted by Trey Callaway.
Final thoughts? If you have to watch I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, the only way it’d be mildly entertaining is if you did it on a double bill with the first movie like we did. Otherwise, it’s a pretty pointless and disappointing sequel. The first I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is still a lot of fun and perfectly encapsulates every cliché, trick and trade of the 90’s “slasher” rebirth. Might make a better double bill with the first SCREAM! And yes, there is a third film in the franchise titled I’LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, but really? If you make it past 2, you shouldn’t punish yourself further. Although I hear it has a zombie version of the Fisherman, so maybe I do have to see it after all.
BONUS: If you really want to round out your double feature? The Blu-Ray for I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER features an early short film by director Jim Gillespie titled JOYRIDE that’s worth checking out. The I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER Blu-Ray features the following hit single “How Do I Deal?” by Jennifer Love Hewitt that I thought I dreamed up in another life. But no, it’s real!!!