Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Classic Review... I Know What You Did Last Summer

Dear Jimmy Reviews...

In 1997 we saw the release of the first film of what would (very) eventually become the ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ trilogy. But was this just another sub-standard slasher? Or is it a cut above the competition

Well, while it was standard slasher fair and offered nothing new or groundbreaking to the genre it featured Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt being chased around in flimsy outfits. So points for that, 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'. 

Plus, let’s remember that thanks to ‘Scream’ the slasher genre was experiencing a resurgence in popularity after countless ‘Halloween’, ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ and ‘Friday The 13th’ sequels had all but driven it into the ground the previous decade. Gee... It sure is a good job we learned that lesson and didn't repeat the same mistakes! The DVD isn’t shy abouut the fact it owes it’s existence to ‘Scream’ either. With all the subtlety and marketing panache of a drunken sledgehammer, ‘From the writer of ‘Scream’’ and the quote ‘scarier than ‘Scream’’ is plastered all over the case in, what I would estimate to be, size 7,000 font.

The film introduces us to Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), along with their respective boyfriends of Ryan Phillippe’s aptly named character: Barry Cox, who has me finding myself counting down the minutes until his inevitable dismemberment, and Freddie Prinze Junior’s bland, two dimensional, portrayal of Ray. Ray can't be called a character, saying as he has no character whatsoever, no matter how charitable we're being with the word. 'Entity' might be a better word.

Given the age of the film, I imagine most of you know the plot already but, just in case the reader's digest version is as follows: After a night out partying to celebrate the 4th July the four run down a fisherman in the road.Assuming he’s dead, after much whining, bitching and in fighting, they decide that a vehicular manslaughter charge would so totally look like such a bummer on their college applications and so plan to dump the corpse off the pier. However just before they do so it turns out that the fisherman is still alive.

Now rather than go for beers with the bloke and laugh about the misunderstanding they proceed to still toss him off the pier to drown. Because cold blooded murder looks so much better on those applications, I guess? It looks like Barry has second thoughts and has grown a conscience when he dives in. Maybe he actually has some hidden depth to his character, and his jackass routine is just an act, as he’s the last one I’d expect to do so... But alas no. No he does not. Turns out the prick is just getting Helen's tiara back. Guess he’s still a cock by nature as well then. And I'll just remind you at this point: These cold blooded killers are the characters, who have now left a man to drown and taken incriminating evidence from his cold dead hands, are the ones we’re supposed to like! For some reason the film actually expects us to give a crap about as they’re picked off one by one. Welllll, except for Brian. I’m fairly certain that we’re meant to think he’s a twat.

A year passes and when  Julie starts getting notes saying ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ the head games begin. Which is what sets this movie apart from the following two blood spewing sequels. It’s all about the head games.

The franchise seems to go the way of Silent Hill (or is that analogy backwards? Does saying it that way around create a time paradox that will engulf the world?) The first instalment is more like the Pre-Origins Silent Hill, which concentrates more on the feeling of foreboding and impending danger, as opposed to the rest of the trilogy, which takes the Origins/Homecoming approach of seeing how many times they can have shit jump out at you and spray gore everywhere before you get bored (The answer is seven by the way). Take, for example, this scene:

We all know where the killer is hiding, so rather than having him jump out at us in the hopes of a cheap scare (plenty of THAT to come in the next two films), there’s the pause to build up the suspense and reflect on the fact that the killer's there, and wonder about Helen's fate. In fact, stillness is used pretty well throughout the film. Right from the get go it kicks off with a firework display shattering the silence of a calm beach, as Ray sits atop a cliff looking all broody and deep.

The thing with a Kevin Williamson (the aforementioned ‘Writer of Scream’) script is that, while it may not be innovative, it IS well done, and entertaining enough to watch. Like the ‘Transporter’ films (Except for 'Transporter 2'...Fuck 'Transporter 2!'), it knows what it is, and doesn’t pretend otherwise. Plus, unlike ‘Urban legends’, which also jumped on the Slasher bandwagon, this killer doesn’t rely on a gimmick. All he needs is a rain mac and a rusty fish hook.

So back in the plot, Barry gets a note, along with a picture of his car from after the accident, and rushes out to confront whoever left it. Only to find ‘whoever’ waiting in their car to run him down. After leaving him alive the killer sends a very clear message: ‘I can kill you whenever I want’. Although I would question his 'not killing Barry' policy, like ‘The Strangers’ attempt at cat-and-mouse horror, the realisation that the main cast are nothing but playthings to the mysterious antagonist, in some ways, makes it this scariest scene of the film. Plus at least we get to see Barry plead for his life like a little bitch:

Desperate to take the initiative and get to the bottom of this, Julie and Helen visit Missy Egan, figuring the fisherman from last summer was Missy's brother: David Egan, since David's body was fished out of the dock the previous summer ...And I’m glad they do! This means we get to find out where the acting talent in this film has been hiding. Anne Heche delivers the only performance that is anything other than average in her portrayal of Missy, which is both enjoyable and tragic to watch.

Shortly after we’re treated to more ‘Strangers’-esque suspense, as we see the killer sneak into Helen’s house. The scene repeatedly cuts to shots of Helen and her father, woefully unaware of the intruder, and potentially at his mercy at any time. Which is why Helen wakes to find that rather than kill her family and left her as the sole survivor, like the gore soaked sequels would, the killer just leaves a chilling warning of ‘soon’ on her mirror, and gives her a bad haircut. And I mean a really bad haircut. Like ‘Britney Spears meltdown’ bad. In fact it's so bad that  wearing this is apparently much less embarrassing:

Helen, every early-90's boy band that ever existed called
They said they wanted their look  back!

---now that MUST be bad. But, c’mon, Helen! The beret I get, because of the hair an' all... but that doesn’t mean you have to dress like one of Vanilla Ice’s backing singers! And while I’m hating on her, what IS the big attraction to Sarah Michelle Gellar anyway? Sure she’s pretty, but not overly so. Plus she sounds like she perpetually has a cold. God her voice is grating! With that outta my system, it’s shortly thereafter that the first real body shows up, and we discover that Julie has crabs:

So apparently, in the course of his ‘fucking with’ them the killer has developed super speed, as he’s able to move the body and trunk full of crabs, Hoover and dry the carpet so that there’s no evidence whatsoever of either and replace the stuff he moved from the trunk, to make room for said body and crabs, in a nice orderly fashion. I guess that’s gonna make him harder to catch.

It’s also about here that Brian comes out with one of my all time favourite quotes, too. Directed at Ray, he tells him that ‘I almost got Run over, Julie got a body in her trunk, Helen got a haircut and all you get is a letter?!’ Because, dude, I’m fairly certain that being put in the hospital for a week and being traumatised and mentally scarred for life does not equal a bad hair day, either!

The boot tidying is the final straw, and they all decide they’ve had enough! Helen (with her magically re-growing hair) and Barry stage a stakeout at her beauty pageant, where they discover the local rain mac and fishing hook store evidently has an amazing sale going on:

At the pageant itself, finally my dreams are answered. No! NOT a Julie/Helen love scene. Barry gets disembowelled slowly, painfully and screaming like a little girl. I like to imagine it like that, at least, but since Williams is sticking to the ‘less is more’ school of thought all we get is a montage of Helen’s reaction, the fish hook rising and falling, and Brian’s look of pain and anguish. Sweet, sweet pain and anguish. On the plus side, Barry, you did succeed in luring the killer out. Kudos!

My gallows humour, or rather disembowelling-rusty-fish-hook humour aside, Julie continues her search for answers, and actual talent, by returning to Missy, hoping to learn more about David's friend ‘Billy Blue’. Only to discover it wasn’t her brother at all that they ran over after all, but rather, as it’s later revealed, hang on, let me check my crib sheets here:
Okay, apparently Ben Willis. It turns out that Ben killed David for accidentally killing his daughter, Sarah Willis, and dumped Ben's body off the dock to make it look like a suicide. Then, as he was walking down the same road as David's accident took place on Ben was run down by Julie et al, who dumped his body off the same pier as he had dumped David's off of.

You get all that? Yeah, me either. And that's after, like, eighteen viewings and a trip to 'Wikipedia'! Nor do I know what difference it really makes. I mean are we supposed to be gutted that the whole ten minutes of screen time they spent investigating this has been wasted and they're back to square one? To be fair they were only on square one-point-zero-zero-one at most. I mean they ran down somebody, and either that somebody is actually still alive and killing them or a friend of that somebody is doing so for revenge. The basic premise still holds true. It's just so happens that there's an improbably coincidental and needlessly convoluted story behind it all now. Still it’s there, and I guess it pads the film out for another three minutes or so. Plus the six days it takes you to unravel it all.

From here on out the film makes up for lost time, with the body count, as evidently Killy McHookhand has run out of Ritalin and instead of intensely focusing on making the four main protagonists his personal playthings just hooks anybody who crosses his path. As well as Barry's slow, agonising, death (Just wanted to mention that again, really), he also kills the incompetent cop who was escorting Helen and totally deserved to die for missing the fucking great bloody hand print at the scene of Barry’s murder, Helen’s sister, Elsa, who deserves it for making me spend her whole entire screen time trying to remember where I’d seen her before (Billy Madison, in case you were wondering too), and, finally, Helen herself, who deserves it for having a really annoying voice and dressing like Vanilla Ice’s backing singer…Oh, and killing a man in cold blood. That too, I guess:

The parade’s being used as a backing to this scene is a nice touch of cinematography, so points for that I guess. Plus that is personally what I consider the best part of an all around great score. It’s just that since this is from the writer of ‘Scream’ you’d think the characters would know better know better:

Apparently running up stairs is a bad idea, but taking a painfully slow dumb waiter is A-Okay? Plus the killer made it there shortly after her and he was just doing the trademark dramatic stride that the killers in these things always do. Imagine how much faster than the dumbwaiter it would’ve been if you, oh I don’t know…Just ran up the God damn stairs in sheer mortal terror, propelled by an adrenaline high that only comes from the imminent danger of being hooked to death. Well, Y'know that or maybe, just maybe, you should run OUT OF THE FUCKING HOUSE! Either/Or really.

Once again, though, I’m gonna give Williamson the benefit of the doubt since I'm fairly certain he knows I’m sat here yelling abuse at Helen right now. It's a guilty pleasure, but deep down you know half the fun in these movies is yelling at the stupid people who are moments away from proving that Darwin was wrong all along.

So, now we’re down to the final two potential victims. Julie and Ray. Well Julie, Ray and anybody who looks at the Killy McHookhand funny, I guess. Or maybe one potential victim and a suspect, as Julie assumes when she finds Ray aboard a boat called, you guessed it, ‘Billy Blue’. Luckily, as Julie freaks out and is chased by Ray she’s saved by a friendly local fisherman, who knocks Ray to the floor with the flat end of his fishing hook. Which isn’t the least bit suspicious to Julie, at all
…In your face Darwin: THIS is the dominant species on the planet we're talking about here.

Tapping into her highly tuned survival instincts julie decides the best plan of action is running away from the mainland and onto said fisherman's boat boat to try and escape.  It's there that she discovers that the guy with the fish hook was in fact Ben Willis: the real fish hook killer. Gasp! Evidently he’s pissed about being left for dead. Twice. So he decided to, as near as I can figure it; hold his breath until they’d left, then stalk them for a year before fucking with their heads and finally picking them off one by one. With that kind of cool under pressure thinking and forward planning he could have replaced Bruce Wayne after the whole ‘Batman: RIP’ fiasco. Screw you Grayson! So after a little bit of a chase between Willis and Julie, Ray steals a conveniently positioned boat to join the final scene, and arrives just in time to save Julie in the most slapstick manner ever:

In fact, I assume he did something, because of the dramatic dive and all, but no matter how many times I watch it, I’m still convinced that the only reason Julie’s alive is because the killer is a huge clutz. I mean not only this but he did get run over and drowned all in the same night last summer. Incidentally, we're told that the reason they assumed he was David Egan was because the crash apparently left him too bloody and disfigured to identify (which I guess means they ran over his face somehow?), but he looks fine to me. Guess he must also have a healing factor. Jeez, I haven't seen this many super powers in a mere mortal since Transporter 2!

The only loose ends left to get outta the way now are the trademark ‘I’m so totally sure he’s definitely dead’ line and teaser that there’s gonna be a sequel. Which of course we get. I've gotta say, though, we may have seen everything in this movie a million times over by now, but despite the plot's faults it's worth stretching to a million and one. That's mainly thanks to Williamson’s strength as a screenwriter. I came into this loaded up on Jack Daniels and ready to tear it a new one, but there's just an indefinable something about it that just makes it kind of endearing. It’s ultimately entertaining enough to pass the time if you don’t think about it too hard, or try and apply logic in any way shape or form.

Maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome after sitting here and watching it so many times for this review. Or maybe it’s the twenty-twenty hind sight of how much better than the upcoming sequels it is. Because, as the narrator in the 1960’s Batman series always used to say, ‘the worst is still to come…!’ So be here next week, Same Bat-Day. Same Bat-Web-Address, when I gouge out the inner workings of ‘I STILL Know what you Did Last Summer’ with my rusty fish hook of cynicism.

Better than:
Urban Legends
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
The Strangers

Worse than:
A Nightmare On Elm Street

The 1960's Batman

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