Come With Me On a Trip To The Far-Out Year of 1997.
As I walked in to work one day this week (no, my internet writing job isn’t lucrative enough to pay my bills yet), three of the women I work with were watching a skit from The Tonight Show. Apparently, Jimmy Fallon had gotten the majority of the Saved by the Bell class to reunite. Let me clarify something: I don’t think Jimmy Fallon is funny and I never liked Saved by the Bell. What this means is that I am certainly not the target audience for such a skit, and that 1990’s nostalgia is in full swing. It is the latter of these points which I am using as the launching pad for this week.
Nostalgia can make things that weren’t so good the first time (Saved by the Bell for instance) seem so much better after decades have passed; it can also bring to light the inadequacies of things that a person once liked; watch a movie you thought was awesome when you were twelve and it might not have the same effect when you’re thirty-two. As people change so do their tastes, inherently making a lot of the art and entertainment you once liked seem juvenile at best, and just downright bad at worst. It’s when you find exceptions to this rule (such as The Monster Squad) that you know you’ve found something special.
Scream is a movie that I loved from the first time I watched it on VHS, and I love it to this day. Nary has a year gone by since 1996 that I haven’t had at least one viewing of it. Being a horror film fan seemingly since birth (1980 for those keeping score), the early 1990’s were a virtual wasteland for mainstream horror. Major franchises were wrapping up and/or just limping along and the independent scene seemed to be in the doldrums as well. Scream reinvigorated the horror landscape by not taking itself too seriously, while somehow being rather scary at the same time. It also put its screenwriter Kevin Williamson on the map and revived Wes Craven’s directing career. I put Scream right up there with the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (also directed by Craven) and John Carpenter’s Halloween. Yeah, it’s that good.
So what does any of this have to do with I Know What You Did Last Summer? Well beyond having a screenplay by Kevin Williamson (based on the book by Lois Duncan) it is a movie that I doubt could or would exist without Scream. As with any movie that makes a mark, Scream led not just to three sequels of varying quality, it also led to a slew of imitators. IKWYDLS is probably the most obvious of the imitators, not only because of Williamson, but also because it was a huge hit to the tune of $125.2 million. I also remember it not being too bad. I mean, it was definitely a Friday the 13th to Scream’s Halloween, but at seventeen I thought it was okay. So how do I feel about it now?
In case, dear reader, you are not familiar with the story I will give you the Cliff’s Notes version; Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Ryan Phillippe are friends. They run over a guy with a car on July 4th right before they are moving away to college. They throw the guy, while still alive, into the ocean and vow to never talk about it again. The film then flashes forward to the next summer and picks up the story as the group starts getting strange letters from someone who knows their secret.
The premise of the movie is decent, but the execution of it is definitely questionable. Without a director like Wes Craven or John Carpenter, horror movies can lose a lot of their punch. IKWYDLS is directed by a guy named Jim Gillespie. Although the film is competent, Gillespie never really sets a foreboding mood nor a palpable atmosphere. It is a horror movie that exists, seemingly, in the color palate of a romantic comedy and has the dramatic beats of a middle of the road soap opera.
The mood is not helped much by the performances of some of the actors. Hewitt and Gellar are both fine in their roles of good girl and washed-up prom queen respectively, but it is Prinze Jr. and Phillippe that are badly miscast. Phillippe is supposed to be a rich-boy who has a crazy streak. The rich boy part is easy but the crazy streak is never believable. At five foot nine and 130 pounds, it’s not very likely that any other adult male would be terribly afraid of him; but that’s what we are meant to believe in scene after scene. Try to watch the scene where he threatens Johnny Galecki and not laugh your ass off at how absurd it is. Neither I nor the girlfriend could. Then you have Prinze Jr. who has been working on a fishing boat for an entire year yet somehow has no muscle tone at all. I realize that the producers were looking for young hunks but surely there were some more appropriate guys for these roles.
The “villain” of the movie doesn’t help matters any. I know that in concept art, the vision of a guy with a fishing slicker with a hook hand could be foreboding; in this film, not so much. Whenever the killer is shown it’s just kind of disconcerting and confusing. I would wager to say that there are no real scares in this movie. This might have as much to do with the uninteresting look and pacing of the film as anything else, but at least some of the blame should be placed on the uninspired costume.
It also doesn’t help that the main characters are just straight-up murderers. I mean, they accidentally ran over the guy initially, but then they consciously chose to cover this up due to some really half-wit reasons (the passenger was drunk?) and then drown the guy when it turned out he wasn’t dead yet. Not exactly the best characters to get behind in the grand scheme of things. Even Walter White started out as a good guy; the teenagers in this movie are sociopaths from the get-go.
All in all, I Know What You Did Last Summer ends up being the bad kind of nostalgia; it doesn’t hold up. Nostalgia tends to be the product of a part of our brain that likes a particular moment in time. You wrap up all of these positive thoughts and memories in the artifacts of the time and even things that are meant as disposable entertainment, such as half-cooked horror movies or terrible Saturday morning teen comedies, are remembered as being better than they were.
At the end of the day, Saved by the Bell is still the terrible show that I remember it being, and I Know What You Did Last Summer is a bad movie that I confused for being good because of age and the rose-colored hue of nostalgia. One’s seventeen year old self can be much different than the one that exists two decades later. There is at least one thing that I think we would agree on; I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is even worse than the original. It’s in your best interest to take my word on that one.
Until next time…