“I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER” came out in October of 97 and it certainly was a key film in the resurgence of the slasher genre to a new generation. Along with the front-runner easily being “Scream” that came out a year prior. The cast was filled with relevant teen stars on the rise. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippee all combined to play a group of high-school friends that on a night of partying hit someone in the street. In panic mode they attempt to dump the body. But the following year they learn that someone in fact, knows what they did last summer.
Not all of the film has held up over the years, but I still think it has a fun charm to it. It’s campy, the performances are not perfect, and it has some blatant plot conveniences. But all of these elements to me are what make it stand-up as a naturally charismatic slasher film. The mystery gets going and it doesn’t take its foot off the gas as characters start dropping one-by-one from the hook of a mysterious killer in a slicker. It creates a fun foreboding atmosphere despite following a lot of genre tropes. It’s also satisfying to see these young characters get killed in a variety of violent ways never knowing who will be next.
It was genuinely intense at times. It was also over-the-top during others. But it’s cheesy it all the ways you kind of want it to be. The cast performances certainly add personality to generic characters-types. It was a star-studded cast for ‘97 and it’s fun to go back and see these younger actors in these roles. There were moments over-overacting, some forced emotions, and clunky dialogue. But they make it work, and despite the flaws it still comes across as more nostalgia than anything. Because despite the material not being the cleverest, or intricately written, the chemistry of the cast and their energy that can lure you in for some genre fun.
They give the film a collection of naturally likable characters to invest in despite not caring if they live or die. It also delivers an action-packed third-act that builds suspense. There’s an endless amount of ADR screaming that would make for a great drinking game with friends. Characters are running from a shrouded killer, screaming at the top of their lungs routinely, with plenty of blood, plenty of violence, a horrifically dated soundtrack and it’s pure 90’s horror fun. The film knows what it is, and it has fun with itself which results in a charming viewing experience with a slasher film that showed a series focus on not being serious and letting its personality shine.
“I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER” came out a year later trying to capitalize on the success of the first. It’s basically the same plot only moved to the Bahamas so a tropical resort could be used as the playground for murder. Jennifer Love Hewitt was back, and Freddie Prinz Jr. was too, kind of. Mekhi Phifer and R&B singer Brandy filled out the foursome, but it was a massive swing-and-a-miss for me. There was no chemistry. Their personalities didn’t feel genuine, and none of the characters were likable. The dialogue was pretty bad, and the cast didn’t make it any better with forced emotional swings and overacting.
Hewitt felt like she was sleep walking and she lacked nearly all of the energy from the first movie. Prinz Jr. was mostly absent but somewhat amusing in his role of lone ranger with an unintentionally comical pawn shop scene. Mekhi Phifer has had some great roles, and this was not one of them. The constantly horny pouting routine didn’t work for me and his tantrums did even less. Brandy was, not good. Her character was not well-written but with her performance it wouldn’t have mattered much even if the dialogue was phenomenal. This movie does give us Rastafarian Jack Black who brings energy but was more comical in a bad-taste sort of way.
The movie tries to build tension and uneasiness, but nothing feels inspired or ambitious. And with a clear knowledge of who the killer is from their first scene it completely hinders all the unpredictability. It goes through the motions of characters getting killed off in a variety of violent ways and feels stale from the jump. It tries misdirection at times, but when coming off as blatant misdirection, it fails to land. This movie also beefed up the intensity of the musical score so much to try and heighten the mood of scenes that generated no mood to begin with and when looking back at it, the result was comically bad and not in a good way.
Despite coming out only a year after it was lacking all of the momentum the first film built. It tried to duplicate story layers instead of building from them. And with bad casting choices it shined a massive light on an already major weakness in the film. Regardless of who was in this movie. It would be missing that charisma of the first cast, but with some questionable casting choices and cut-and-paste character types there was nothing to invest in. This movie didn’t need to be great to be entertaining, but it did need to show some effort. And regardless of a fun topical setting it was a film that felt flat from the first minute.
So, in closing, to grade these two movies. I would give “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (85%) on the entertainment meter. For what this film attempted to accomplish, I think it did by creating a fun, 90’s-era slasher film with a vibrant cast. And enough self-awareness to build an engaging setting as well as a charming atmosphere for a murder spree. “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” was quite the opposite. The cast didn’t work, the story progression and each of the layers to it felt played out and with its lead star lacking energy it wasn’t able to hide the fact it was an assembly-line cash grab.
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