Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Film Appreciation - Someone Is Dying for a Second Chance

Cody Hamman takes a quickie getaway to I Still Know What You Did Last Summer for Film Appreciation.

As a fan of the slasher franchises of the 1980s, I had some fun with the slasher resurgence in the late '90s, especially when movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer were followed by sequels that came out just one year after their predecessor, like the '80s franchises tended to do. I was especially hyped for the 1998 release of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, because I had loved the first I Know the previous year and had even gone to the theatre to see it three times - the first time I had ever done that for a movie.

I loved I Know so much that I had written my own sequel script and sent it in to the film's producers at Mandalay Entertainment. That script was quickly returned to me, unread, because Mandalay didn't accept unsolicited materials. The sequel that was made did have an unexpected writer, though. It just wasn't a 14-year-old Cody Hamman. Since I Know (and Scream) writer Kevin Williamson was too busy to write the sequel, the job went to Trey Callaway, whose only previous credits were a couple episodes of the Timon & Pumbaa cartoon. Stephen Gaghan apparently also did some uncredited work on the script at some point, a few years before he won an Oscar for Traffic. The director for I Still Know was also an unexpected choice. For whatever reason, the director of the first movie - Jim Gillespie, who made his feature directorial debut with I Know What You Did Last Summer - did not come back, and instead Danny Cannon, director of the notorious Sylvester Stallone disappointment Judge Dredd, ended up in the director's chair. Gillespie went on to make a Stallone disappointment of his own, Eye See You.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer doesn't seem to be all that popular itself, but I couldn't have been more satisfied with it. I was there to see it on opening weekend and thoroughly enjoyed my viewing experience - even though the film broke in the projector twice during the screening. This movie was exactly what I wanted it to be; which is to say, I found it to be even more reminiscent of the slasher movies of the '80s than the first film was. It's a straightforward slashfest that sees the hook-wielding killer Ben Willis (Muse Watson) going after the survivors of the previous film, Jennifer Love Hewitt as Julie James and Freddie Prinze Jr. as her boyfriend Ray Bronson. This time around Ben isn't just carrying a hook, it's now attached to him - he had to get a hook prosthetic because he lost his right hand in the climactic moments of I Know. I Still Know builds him up as a new slasher icon even more than the first movie did, establishing a back story in which he was a murderer even before he started going on the missions of revenge seen in these movies. The back story reveals that Ben Willis was the abusive husband of a cheating wife who he brutally murdered in the honeymoon suite of the hotel he used to work at on Tower Bay Island in the Bahamas. If Ben was killing people before Julie James and her pals ran into him, he could continue killing people even after moving on from them in further sequels. It's a bummer to me that there aren't a whole lot more Ben Willis movies in existence.

I Still Know also has more variety in the kill department, as a slasher should. Ben only killed people with his hook in I Know. There's still a lot of hook action in this one, but Ben keeps things interesting by using other items, like a machete, a harpoon, and garden shears.

The set-up is admittedly kind of dopey. One year after the events of I Know What You Did Last Summer, the 4th of July weekend has come back around and Julie, who is plagued by nightmares about Ben Willis, really doesn't want to go back to her hometown of Southport, Ben Willis's former stalking grounds, no matter how badly Ray wants her there. Instead, Julie stays on her college campus with her roommate Karla (Brandy), Karla's boyfriend Ty (Mekhi Phifer), and her friend Will (Matthew Settle), who Karla is encouraging her to pursue as a replacement for Ray. They get a chance to take a break from campus life when they receive a random call from a radio station offering them a quickie getaway to Tower Bay Island - all they have to do is answer one question correctly. What is the capital of Brazil?

I have spent a lot of time in Brazil in recent years. I know what the capital of the country is. But when I saw this movie in 1998 the answer that came to mind is the one city in Brazil everyone knows of, Rio de Janeiro. That's the answer Julie and Karla give. They win the getaway, even though they answered incorrectly. When they're told that the capital of Brazil is actually Brasilia later in the film, it's treated as a major reveal. I imagine this plot element would have been maddening for people who knew very well that Rio wasn't the capital and saw that the movie says it is for a stretch. Blog contributor Priscilla, who is from Brazil, has told me she was baffled when the movie seemed to agree that Rio is the capital.

Julie and Karla win four tickets to Tower Bay, but Ray turns down the chance to go along with Julie so the group that goes ends up being Julie, Karla, Ty, and Will. Ray immediately regrets his decision, especially since he's hoping to propose to Julie, and he tries to catch up with her before she leaves... But things don't go smoothly for him. He is the first to find out that Ben Willis is back and still intends to kill him and Julie.

I was not a fan of Freddie Prinze Jr.'s performance in I Know What You Did Last Summer, but his side plot in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is one of my favorite things about the movie. While Ben Willis is stalking and killing people on Tower Bay, Ray is desperately trying to make his way there to help Julie. This endeavor includes having to escape from a hospital with a busted arm, trading an engagement ring for a gun at a pawn shop where the clerk suspects he's going to try to kill himself because his proposal was rejected, and catching a boat to Tower Bay in the middle of a raging storm.

The action on Tower Bay is very standard slasher stuff. Instead of going directly to Julie and trying to kill her right away, Ben takes his time building up to their confrontation, knocking off other people in the meantime. Storm season is beginning so there aren't many people around, but those who are still there get wiped out.

Not only is I Still Know a fun slasher like they used to make back in the day, it's also filled with great character actors. The pawn shop clerk Ray interacts with is played by Mark Boone Jr.; the old hotel on Tower Bay is run by a creepy, condescending Jeffrey Combs; the edgy bartender is played by Jennifer Esposito; Bill Cobbs is a hotel employee who practices voodoo in his spare time; John Hawkes shows up as a buddy of Ray's who likes to sing along to Whitesnake; Red West of Road House captains the ferry to Tower Bay; a just-getting-started Jack Black is a pot-smoking hotel worker with dreadlocks. I had been blown away by episodes of the Tenacious D TV show on HBO soon before I Still Know came out, so I was very glad to see Black show up in this and make reference to "cream jeans".

I Still Know is a highly entertaining slasher that shows this franchise had more potential than it ever reached. It could have been a successor to Friday the 13th and Halloween. Sadly, the series petered out after this one. A third movie was supposed to follow soon after I Still Know's release, but it ended up being delayed several years and took a wrong-headed approach to the material. Ben Willis could have easily survived what happens to him in this movie and could have gone after anyone in a sequel. The third movie made the unnecessary choice to go supernatural and just didn't work.

I'll always wish we had gotten a better version of I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, but I'll always have appreciation for I Know What You Did Last Summer and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.

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