Monday, July 6, 2020

‘I Still Know What You Did Last Summer’ Is a Slice of Silly Slasher Cheese [We Love ’90s Horror]

The ‘90s often get a bad rap with horror fans. After the numerous successful slashers and creature effects films of the ’80s, the ‘90s offered a different variety of horror fare. Though there were plenty of hits, hidden gems, and misunderstood classics, the ‘90s usually don’t get the kind of love that other decades get when it comes to horror. It’s time to change that.

If you click that link in the introduction, you’ll notice that I Know What You Did Last Summer hasn’t made an appearance in this column. Let me clarify: I Know What You Did Last Summer is not a bad movie, but it’s a flick that has etched out a particular niche in the ‘90s horror canon. It’s probably the most well-known of the post-Scream slashers. And though it deserves recognition, it’s time for me to make one of my patented controversial statements.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is a more enjoyable experience.

The 1998 sequel was universally panned by critics but earned an impressive $84 million at the box office. However, I’ve seen little to no defenses of this follow-up. To be fair, there are common criticisms that I don’t discount, but I think there’s a bigger story when it comes to why this sequel is so disliked.

As an immediate successor, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer changes its overall tone in a big way. It feels more like a fifth or sixth entry in a long-running horror series rather than a direct continuation of its predecessor. The original film had a few moments of gore but was more focused on suspense rather than slasher staples. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer decides to fling itself into the deep-end of expected slasher tropes and go all out with gore and gruesome kills.

And they’re… pretty great? I mean, just look at this delightful murder tableau!

And yes, that is genre stalwart Jeffrey Combs with a machete in his head. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer uses its increase in its budget – the original film cost $17 million and this was bumped up to $24 million – to hire an expansive cast that includes John Hawkes, Bill Cobbs, and yes, the infamously dreadlocked Jack Black. However, all of this is in line with the kind of cartoon pleasures many derive from the Friday the 13th series. If this movie had been Friday the 13th: Jason’s Bahamian Vacation, I don’t think it would get as much hate.

Because as a trashy little slasher flick, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is a ridiculous riot. All the logic leaps and baffling decisions actually turn the film into an enjoyable slice of cheese. Ben Willis’s son is using Will Benson as an alias? Stupid but gloriously so! The killer somehow managed to hack into a karaoke machine display? Absurd but nonetheless smile-inducing! These kinds of laughable oddities are given much more leeway in longer running horror series, but I Still Know What You Did Last Summer perhaps isn’t granted that courtesy because it’s only the second movie in a franchise.

And as a second movie, there are even more things that deserve recognition. Director Danny Cannon is a capable and stylish director – I say this as someone who has gone to bat for his direction on Judge Dredd – and he maintains the surprisingly strong direction that Jim Gillespie brought to the first film. As a production, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer has good polish and form.

Plus, there are cast members that don’t get any love in this and that’s a crime. Jennifer Love Hewitt is always strong and even clicks into the bigger, brasher energy of this follow-up. Brandy is legitimately a great addition to the ensemble and I’m a little peeved we never got to see her in more horror outings. There is a stretch of the third act where she exhibits excellent Final Girl Energy and I would love to see her tackle a lead horror role. It’s a shame that Freddie Prinze Jr. gets sidelined for most of the movie because he’s even better in this than he is in the original.

If you stay through the credits of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, the last sound you’ll hear is an evil laugh. That’s the kind of goofiness you’re getting with this movie. This is a flick with a climactic fight in the rain that has more in common with Batman v Superman than a teen slasher. It’s undeniable that I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is dumb, but there are lots of dumb horror movies that have been embraced by the horror community…and rightfully so. This summer, it’s time to accept the lunkheaded awesomeness of this maligned sequel.

…Also, this moment is one of the best things I’ve ever seen:


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