When it was announced on Sept. 15 that Sony had tapped the director and co-writer of this year’s “Oculus,” Mike Flanagan, to revamp their long-dormant “I Know What You Did Last Summer” series, it became immediately apparent to this cinephile that the time was ripe for an aggressive deep dive into the original triptych.
What do we remember these movies for, if we remember them at all? Jennifer Love Hewitt’s boobs wearing a variety of clingy tank tops and button-downs; a succession of awkwardly clunky titles; and a psycho in a slicker. What follows, then is a critical reappraisal of all three “I Know What You Did Last Summer” movies, which I will helpfully code-ify for your consumption.
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997)
Stuff to keep
-The pitch: four kids (Julie, Helen, Barry and Ray) in the sleepy North Carolina fishing town of Southport run over a man on the road, take him for dead, and toss his body off a boat dock. BUT HE AIN’T DEAD. I dig it, but how— you might wonder—did they manage to squeeze two sequels out of this tinny premise?
The answer: it's in the tank tops.
-The kills. Director Jim Gillespie choreographs his scenes with a lot of movement and cool mise-en-scene texturing; we get a good sense of the atmosphere of Southport. Gillespie also has a real facility with the pacing of the chase scenes and kills, unlike subsequent “IKWYDLS” directors.
Stuff to scrap: The soundtrack’s horrible ’90s re-recordings of classic ‘60s and ‘70s songs for absolutely no discernible reason. The thing starts with a fuzzed-out Type O Negative cover of Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” over an epic helicopter shot of an ocean beach at dusk. Julie’s lone scene in her college dorm is scored by an embarrassing ’90s cover of the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog” that nobody, in any institution of higher learning, would ever honor with even a perfunctory listen. The credits are tagged with an egregious ‘90s cover of “Hush” by Deep Purple. I mean, come on… just use the original song.
Best kill: Helen takes the cake here. After an extended chase through her sister Elsa (Bridgette Wilson)’s creepy clothing store with the fisherman, including this stupid-but-somehow-still-kind-of-startling moment, she finds herself in an alley right by the parade, and of course overhead we see and hear fireworks shooting off in tandem with an abrasive marching band. Our fisherman, Ben Willis (Muse Watson in the first two films, Don Shanks in the third), lunges out of the darkness at Helen, her screams of struggle get muffled by the celebration. SCOPE IT AND TELL ME IT'S NOT A MASTERFULLY CRAFTED MOMENT.
Best gratuitous tank-top moment: Honestly, I’d say it’s the “What are you waiting for, huh?” sequence; it’s a double whammy. Around the middle of the film, Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) drives over to Helen’s house, only to find the trunk of car packed with friend Max (Johnny Galecki)’s corpse, which is covered in crabs. In a blind panic, Julie flees to Helen’s house, and the two of them, wearing tank tops cut low to the point of distraction, run to the car with Barry (Ryan Phillippe), only to find that… THE TRUNK HAS BEEN EMPTIED. But at this point, all you're thinking about are those tank tops and Max's death is quickly forgotten.
“I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” (1998)
Stuff to keep: I’m a sucker for killing off major characters after they’ve given an inspirational speech. I guess Mekhi Pfeiffer’s death predates that of Samuel L. Jackson in “Deep Blue Sea” (which was more surprising and much funnier), and certainly it’s been done a few times since. But if handled right, the audience really won’t know it’s coming.
Stuff to scrap: Everything else, including the plot, which fundamentally hinges on two college-educated girls not knowing what the capital of Brazil is. Julie and best friend (Brandy) win a free Caribbean vacation on a radio call-in show, where they and two gentlemen friends get preyed upon by the not-really-dead Ben Willis.
Best kill: Brandy’s boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer) makes an impassioned speech, urging the hysterical Karla, Jennifer Esposito (playing a hotel bartender), and Julie to all relax, and cracking wise (one could say, really, that he cracks TOO wise) about having not seen any “psycho killers,” despite the entire hotel staff getting murdered all around him. Then Ben Willis, in full fisherman slicker gear, drops from the ceiling and gives him the Kevin Bacon-in-“Friday The 13th” hook-through-neck treatment. It's a fun moment.
Best gratuitous tank top moment:
“I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer” (2006)
Stuff to keep:
-The kills, I guess? I mean, they’re somewhat unimaginative, but my three favorites are: characters getting hooked through the mouth like a fish (this happens two or three times), characters getting impaled on stake-like objects (this happens twice), and the Best Kill (see below). There are a couple more ways these folks eat it, including the old getting-gutted-in-the-stomach bit from the first two movies, but they're trite at this point.
Stuff to scrap:
-There were WAY too many false positive scenes where we were sure someone was doomed to die or at least get severely injured (a la the Ryan Phillippe car-chase scene in the original movie), but instead they're left alive without a scratch. I feel like new director Sylvain White shot these scenes after the fact to make the movie ran 92 minutes instead of 55.
-The confounding plot: when faking a killer fisherman attack at a Fourth of July carnival in… Broken Ridge, Colorado (not really sure why’d they think of a killer fisherman in a town surrounded on all sides by mountains, but whatever), the pranksters’ friend suffers a tragic accidental death. They cover up the prank, and a year later this incites the ghost of Ben Willis to pick them off one by one in an act of karmic vengeance. He cannot be killed by conventional means (only via his magical fisherman hooks), and ends up being an undead demon that looks like this:
Best kill: The fisherman’s two-pronged death by way of a hook to the cranium AND a combine harvester at the hands of our replacement Jennifer Love Hewitt, Amber (Brooke Nevin), as seen HERE, is quite awesome.
Best gratuitous tank top moment: Amber ALSO wears tight white tanks most of the time. The best moment is when hers is covered in her tight grey tank topped-friend’s blood after cradling the friend’s gored skull against her stomach. Gross, yet… provocative.
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” serves as an ideal candidate for the remake treatment — unlike recent unnecessary remakes of “Psycho” or “Halloween,” for instance, here is a cool nugget of a horror movie idea with legitimate room for improvement. There are stories yet to be told with this conceit, stories about guilt and moral relativism, so I am absolutely onboard with a remake of this material. You know, provided there’s a generous helping of tank tops.
Alex Kirschenbaum is a rabid film and hoops maniac who occasionally surfaces from screening rooms and basketball arenas long enough to commit his fevered ramblings to paper. When he does, he writes for Fusion. Follow Alex on Twitter: @kirschhoops