This article looks at what is probably the most famous of the slasher movies Scream inspired, and which also turns 20 this year!
The success of Scream, like that of Halloween before it, led to imitators. Scream basically resurrected the slasher film after it had been dormant for over half a decade. That resurrection, as it turned out, also included the stupidity that (consciously or not) was a hallmark of the sub-genre.
Perhaps the most successful of the slashers that Scream inspired (which really isn’t saying much, as the wave of slashers in Scream‘s wake didn’t last as long as those inspired by Halloween) was I Know What You Did Last Summer. Like Scream, this film was penned by Kevin Williamson, who actually wrote this picture prior to Scream, but basically kept it in a drawer until Craven’s film became a huge success. Also like Scream, the main protagonist is played by an actress who first became famous for her role on the TV series Party of Five, making further comparisons to Scream inevitable.
But, again like Scream, this film’s success would lead to sequels, each becoming dumber than the last. So let’s look at all three films comprising this series.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
This movie’s Party of Five alum (Jennifer Love Hewitt) plays Julie James, a recent high school grad who’s celebrating one 4th of July evening with her boyfriend Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.), her best friend Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was at the time making her mark playing the title role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Helen’s boyfriend Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe). As they drive home from their night of fun on the beach at the North Carolina fishing town they call home, Barry’s drunken state leads to Ray accidentally hitting a man with their car.
Despite Julie’s protests that they should come clean and alert the police, her three friends end up agreeing to just dump the body at a nearby dock. Alas, the body turns out to be not so dead and attempts to fight them off before being dumped in the water. This leads to our quartet (including Julie, reluctantly) agreeing to never mention the incident.
A year later, a depressed Julie, who has since separated from Ray, returns home from college, where her grades are not the best. She receives an anonymous letter containing the title message. Connecting with her three friends, all of whom are conveniently still in town, Julie attempts to find out who the person who knows their dark secret is. At the same time, said person begins to torment our quartet even further with methods that include murder.
Like Valentine, this movie was credited as being based on the book of the same name. But this film does a slightly better job at capturing its source than Valentine did. I say slightly, because this didn’t stop the book’s author, Lois Duncan, from condemning the movie.
The best part of the film is the beginning when our four heroes have their accident. Their fear and the manner in which they turn on each other is interesting, and helps the movie stand out from previous slasher films. After this point, however, it’s easy to understand the reason for author Duncan’s objections to the movie. This is because after Julie gets the letter and reunites with her friends, this film becomes just one dumb slasher cliché after another. For example, Barry never once has a moment where he’s likeable. He even tells Julie and Helen, his former girlfriend, that they look like “shit run over twice” (is it any wonder that Reese Witherspoon would later dump his ass?). Hence, it’s not surprising that Barry becomes one of the victims. Other victims the film telegraphs a mile away include not only Helen, but her bitchy sister Elsa (Bridgette Wilson), as well as sad sack/asshole Max (Johnny Galecki, before he would go on to the equal hell of living under the same roof as Sheldon Cooper).
There’s also an overstated attempt to cast suspicions that Ray may be the perpetrator. And when Julie is finally face to face with her adversary (Muse Watson), we learn that he was their hit-and-run victim, who himself had committed murder that very night. That last tidbit apparently makes our heroes’ (I’m using that word generously here) hit-and-run incident apparently alright.
The fact that this film’s most famous scene (Julie venting her frustration by shouting out to ask what the killer is waiting for, with the camera strategically placed on Hewitt’s chest) is noteworthy, but not in a way that exactly makes the movie lasting art. The fact that her venting is not noticed by anybody despite taking place in a suburban street is proof that this film is just another dumb slasher movie (at least Friday the 13th had the excuse of taking place in an isolated campground miles from anywhere).
I guess I should also mention the ending where the killer, Ben Willis, turns out to be still around. But the fact that the movie asks us to side with people whose moral upstanding is dubious makes that tidbit a mere flea bite leading to the inevitable sequel.
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Some throwaway dialogue early in this film suggests that the first film’s final scene was just a dream. But Julie and Ray are still presumably being targeted by Ben, with Julie having brief episodes such as awaking from a dream with a screaming fit in the middle of one of her classes.
As Helen and Barry are both dead now, they’re respectively replaced here by Karla (Brandy Norwood) and her boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer, who should’ve known better). There’s even an additional character, Will Benson (Matthew Settle), who’s smitten with Julie.
With Ray’s fishing career apparently taking up all his time, Julie agrees to go with Karla, Tyrell, and Will to the Bahamas, which Karla won a trip to via a radio contest. Ray later decides to surprise Julie by going to meet her there, but his trip is cut short when Ben appears and puts Ray in a hospital. He later escapes and somehow hijacks a boat to take him to Julie.
At the same time, this quartet’s trip to their hotel soon becomes another cliché upon cliché, with Tyrell being every bit the asshole that Ray was, and with many appearances by suspicious characters (among them Jeffrey Combs, who also should have known better) whose sole purpose is to die.
In another plot twist that’s no surprise, Will turns out to be Ben’s son, which he reveals in a revelation scene that’s basically a rip-off of the one in Scream. We also learn that Ben actually set up the radio contest that gave Karla this trip, which is almost (almost, mind you) as convoluted a scheme as the Emperor’s plan to take over the galaxy in the Star Wars prequels.
Heck, this film even gives us a copy of Julie shouting out to Ben with, once again, the camera placed to show off Hewitt’s cleavage. The only real difference this movie has with its predecessor is that Helen is still alive at the end. Scream 2, while it had its share of dumb moments, was genius compared to this mountain of stupidity. So we shouldn’t be surprised that there wouldn’t be a third film in this series, at least not involving anybody connected with the previous two movies.
I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006)
This time, the focus is on five friends: Amber Williams (Brooke Nevin), her boyfriend Colby Patterson (David Paetkau), and their friends Zoe (Torrey Devitto), Roger (Seth Packard) and PJ (Clay Taylor). This quintet pull a prank at a carnival with Roger donning the Fisherman suit and hook Ben used. Soon, though, PJ winds up dead and Colby convinces the others to keep things a secret (oh, boy).
A year later, Amber starts getting texts with the “I Know…” message. She and Zoe inform Colby, but he tells them to basically fuck off, even disbelieving Amber’s later claims that she was attacked. Needless to say, the killer turns out to be Willis (now played by Don Shanks). Like the previous two films, you can pretty much tell who’s going to get it and what the last scene will be.
The first I Know… has a good opening act before going quickly downhill. I Still Know… simply inundates the viewer with its relentless stupidity from beginning to end. I’ll Always Know… is just plain dull. The lack of any generous views of Hewitt probably doesn’t help either.
There’s been some talk in recent years about a reboot of this series. But considering that reboots of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street haven’t exactly eclipsed their respective originals, I’m not exactly holding my breath here.