Friday, April 15, 2011

I Know What I Did This Summer...

...I re-watched I Know What You Did Last Summer and its admirably embarrassing sequels. Then I mocked them, took too many screencaps, and dumped the corpse into the blogosphere, never to be heard from again.

Kevin Williamson, hot off the success of Scream and Dawson's Creek, took to fully forming his trend of late 90's slashers featuring hyper-verbose hotties and self-referential slaughter. But over a decade later, this oft-maligned entry seems almost perilously pure. A simple murder mystery that contains all the bait-and-tackle of an 80's revenge flick in the vein of Prom Night, Terror Train and My Bloody Valentine -- albeit with a snark and sheen that is unmistakably of the WB-era. July 4th, one of the few untouched holidays of the horror genre, serves as setting for this anniversary based less in patriotism than physical trauma.

It's a glossy twist on a classic campfire story. Four friends preface their night of vehicular manslaughter with spooky stories of American folklore. They each retell variations of an essential urban legend: the creepy, cliched tale of lovers run afoul of a killer with a hook for a hand. "It's a fictional story created to warn young girls about the dangers of having premarital sex," says Final Girl Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt), moments before handing her V-card to hunky/hollow Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.) on the shores of Dawson's Beach (Dawson Leery's clearly a wealthy land baron in Williamson's mind). Taking a twist similar to Scream's Sidney Prescott, Julie actually survives her lack of celibacy, but hardly comes away unpunished.

Lois Duncan's young adult novel about teen morality is ironically and immorally adapted into this old school stalk-and-slash. Duncan reportedly hated the drastic alterations, but to be fair, slasher movies are always dosing morality with THE most punishing of punctuation. Just as our characters realize whilst dumping a stranger's corpse into the sea, bright futures aren't brought on by a body count. Drunk driving, premarital sex, and taking responsibility for last year's hit-and-run... I Know What You Did Last Summer is basically a lecture class with more ample cleavage and carnage.

Random Things I Know
(still know, and will always know)
I Know What You Did Last Summer:

1) Don't murder the innocent and run off to college.

2) You can have a hook for a hand and still maintain lovely penmanship.

3) Catch of the Day: Half-naked Ryan Phillippe!

4) I like to think Sarah Michelle Gellar wooed future husband Freddie Prinze Jr. with their single, dismissive dialogue exchange: "Yeah... I don't think so, Ray."

5) Freddie Prinze Jr. is a graduate from the Keanu Reeves school of acting. First Lesson: Internalize the monologue, "I'm cute but this... confuses me."

6) Proven by Julie's sassy (and completely extraneous) dorm mate, it's possible to demean someone in the most supportive way possible.

"Move your tired ugly ass girl!"

"Julie, you're going home for the summer.
And you're going to get a tan on that
pasty-pale tail of yours!"

"Julie, get your white as death,
chalky corpse in the car. Now!"

The sleepy North Carolina fishing town nets more red herrings than anything else. Johnny Galecki (post-David from Roseanne) and Anne Heche (pre-wandering highways and calling herself Celestia) both play suspicious on the sidelines.

Heche actually turns in a surprisingly sweet and standout performance, considering she's really playing just another stereotyped hick from the sticks. She brings honest warmth to her ramshackle, Leatherface-inspired abode.

8) While it's extremely unsettling to see a powerless Buffy Summers, Sarah Michelle Gellar still stakes out the film's most memorable bits. And she dealt with a shoddy wig long before Buffy Season Six...

Anyone crowned "Croaker Queen" in a horror film should probably expect to croak at any moment, and Helen Shivers (Gellar) does so with gusto. Her flee from police cruiser to family store is a tightly-wound suspense sequence -- a stellar setpiece for the film and 90's slashers in general.

Gellar's lungs are certainly up to the challenge, and clearly she can conquer victimhood with the same punch reserved for female empowerment on TV. The spree across the town square, stare down with suspicious mannequins, near escape and eventual slashing in a back alley... Helen's showdown provides maximum vulnerability and well-timed tension. What begins as a classy homage to the classic chase from Halloween, makes for a truly taut bit of filmmaking despite its cliches. Credit to director Jim Gillespie, composer John Debney, and the faint sexiness of Hooverphonic's 2Wicky playing over the store sound system (for being a hateful bitch, Helen's sister sure knows a good soundtrack).

9) That brings us to the somewhat underwhelming reveal...

Wait. Fingered the wrong guy. So much menacing rain gear...

That's better, but still somewhat underwhelming. Admirably Benjamin Willis, fan of the local attire and turning teens into fish sticks, does have an interesting method to his madness.

Rather than go directly for the kill, Ben taunts his victims with elaborate and ominous threats (self-addressed and personally delivered) while holding out for homicide until the actual holiday hits. A particularly odd choice on his part: Turning Julie's car into a crabshack coffin for Max (Johnny Galecki), then returning to the scene to vaccuum clean it just to make her look crazy. That's some absurd follow through.

But what's to follow that makes Benjamin's humble beginnings seem almost monstrously well-plotted...

Up Next:
An idyllic island getaway and a hideously cast Jack Black!

1 comment:

a_bluish_ether said...

Excellent review. This film gets unfairly maligned. Sure, it's not Great filmmaking, but Heche, the technical opulance (though yeah, it does look like a perfume commercial) and its earnestness pre Nightmare on Elm Street/Last House on the left shit remakes make it a nice time capsule entry. You're so right about the hyper verbose hotties (who saw that coming lol?) being such a dated and unmistakeably Williamson trait.