Back in 1998 (the same year that I launched HYSTERIA! onto an unsuspecting world) the ‘Boycott trendy horror’ campaign was in full swing. Frustrated by what many saw as the airbrushed horror-lite that followed in the wake of the enormous success of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s SCREAM (1996), webmasters of horror web sites across cyberspace (remember that?) waged a war against the vacuously pretty TV stars that were willing to ‘slum’ it for as long as the then new slasher fad lasted. If Williamson’s relatively straight-laced follow up to SCREAM, his genuinely enthusiastic paean to the classic slasher flicks of his (and my) youth, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997), attracted the wrath of the ‘Boycott trendy horror’ brigade, then it was nothing compared to what was waiting for its inevitable (given its boffo box office) sequel.
The thing is – and I’m sure, even if you think I’m certifiable, you’ll agree it’s a strong man who admits this: and I can’t help it … I adore I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER! … There, I’ve thrown the closet doors wide open - and perhaps caution to the wind - and finally come out with it. Now, before you reach for the chemical cosh and the strait-jacket let me put forward the reasons for the defence for this helluva guilty pleasure…
Firstly, the plot (and, yes, it does have one): it’s one year on from the last July 4th (the Summer when the hook-wielding killer Ben Willis seemingly returned from the dead to pay back four small town teens for smearing him across a deserted patch of coastal highway). Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is recovering from the events of the previous two years; still at college she’s trying to put events behind her, but she can’t forget the bogeyman that she and her then boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Junior) had consigned (once again) to the watery depths at the end of the first chapter. In an effectively silly opening (which hints at the line of daftness and good old fashioned Boo! scariness that’ll come by the bucket load), Julie gives confession to, what turns out, is Mr Pissed-off Sowester himself – which, of course, also turns out to be but a dream.
If being plagued by nightmares wasn’t bad enough, Julie is also sharing what look like palatial student digs with Brandy (or Carla as she’s meant to be known in this flick). If life wasn’t already complicated enough (what with a homicidal maniac haunting her waking dreams – and Brandy coming bursting out of her closet in one of the movies’ many false scares), Julie also has love life troubles: she can’t decide between her old flame Ray (who’s back working the boats in their home town) and fellow college student, Will (Matthew Settle), who follows her around like a love sick puppy dog. Now, with the anniversary fast approaching, Julie doesn't think she can face returning home; something exacerbated by catching glimpses of Ben Willis throwing shapes at a college rave. Seemingly, her luck changes when she wins a trip for four to the Bahamas on the ‘Mark in the morning’ show.
Pretty soon, she, Carla, Carla’s boyfriend Ty (Mekhi Phifer) and Will are all heading off for what they think is the holiday of their life-time (and for some, it’s the last holiday of their life-time). … Arriving at the tropical paradise that is Tower Bay, they are greeted by the film’s stoner janitor (an early semi-comedic turn by Jack Black). They check in at the colonial hotel and come face-to-face with a poker face manager (a typically arch performance by Jeffrey Coombs), who informs them that they’re booking in at the tail end of the season and they better baton down the hatches as storm season is almost upon them. But, not getting a suntan is the least of their worries – as an old adversary is back to settle some scores, and he’s got a bloody great hook with him …
One thing that always got me with anti-trendy horror brigade was the fact that they never failed to point out the sheer ridiculousness of some scenes in these nouveaux slashers: the parka coat by the pool sequence in URBAN LEGEND (1998) being a prime example. However, these exact same SCOOBY DOO’esque moments of madness are celebrated (at least in my house) as moments of cinematic cheese supreme. Just in the same way that the last 15 minutes of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) stretches credulity to absolute breaking point (and then way beyond), is something to cherish, then so are the agreeably dopey charms of a film like I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Still not convinced? Well, I’m always reminded of the fact that the classic slasher films of the late 70s and early 80s (bar perhaps HALLOWEEN (1978)) were universally loathed by many genre fans and critics alike. But, I can hear you ask, those films were jam-packed with crowd pleasing elements of cheese, gore and t&a. Well, I STILL KNOW may be light on the t&a (although Ms Love Hewitt’s ample bosoms deserved a screen credit of their own), it delivers on the gore (machete to head, shears to chest and hooking a plenty) and the cheese. Oh, my – it certainly delivers on the cheese. In fact, my very favourite artery-busting moment in the nouveaux slashers happens in this film; a moment of such sublime cheddariness that even thinking about it now brings a smile to my face. That moment, of course, is the divine karaoke scene. Whose ever idea it was to have Julie James singing Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’, only to see the legend “I Still Know …” blink across the screen deserves some kind of cheddar medal. I won’t even mention tanning bed as would-be murder instrument.
And, if we’re taking about cheese levels here, then the fact that the film’s villain had presumably paid thousands of dollars to export his intended victims to a tropical local rather than just bumping them off on campus will have either sunk the film for some, or elevated it to a new pinnacle of daftness for those fool hardy enough to wallow in a delirium of dairy. I mean, can you ever imagine Jason or Freddy stumping up the readies to pay for their victim’s holiday (JASON TAKES CANCUN anyone?).
However, I STILL KNOW wouldn’t be so much fun if it were just for its cheesiness. Perhaps surprisingly, it works as an all-out slasher flick, too. For one thing, it looks fantastic and the director really knows how to crank up the suspense. Ben Willis is, to my mind, a grade-A slasher movie villain (at least when the hood’s up and the hook’s in hand – something that the first film fluffed big time during its not so grand finale). Here, just like most returning movie monsters, there’s something far more mythical and indestructible about him: he really has become the bogeyman. Naturally, a colonial hotel in the middle of a nighttime thunderstorm is a great locale for any horror movie, and I STILL KNOW serves up a good dose of sustained scares and chases through darkened corridors in its closing third. Also, the film benefits from another good central turn from Jennifer Love Hewitt, as Julie James. She's sympathetic and has a great pair of lungs on her (I said lungs!), and you don't get the impression she treats the film with the same contempt as some of her co-stars (Freddie Prinze Jnr admitted the only reason he came back was because of a contractual obligation - of course now he's going on to the dizzying heights of, er, SCARY MOVIE 4).
And, if all those plusses that weren’t enough the film comes to a close with enough fruit loop twists to either having you grinning like a loon or throwing your empties at the screen. Plus, the director has the supreme good taste to top off the requisite twist with Lamb’s sublime song Goreki.
I STILL KNOW is not HALOWEEN, but it is what it is: a fun, little popcorn slasher flick. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and I for one would welcome – if it ever gets made – I’LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER with open arms.
female:2 / male:7
1) Male hooked through mouth
2) Male slashed across face with hook
3) Female slashed with hook
4) Male gets hook through the hand; shears through chest
5) Male found with machete embedded in his head
6) Male hooked through mouth
7) Male slashed across face with hook
8) Female slashed with hook
9) Male gets hook through the hand; shears through chest