Lois Duncan’s 1973 Young Adult novel, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” is a whodunit.
Duncan has stressed this in interviews, as well as how her novel has been turned into a slasher movie, which is not to her liking. Now, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” following a successful teen slasher film franchise, is now a teen slasher TV series.
It begins with a high school graduation party, oozing with debauchery and absent adult supervision, as a massive home becomes Studio 54. Teens are drinking, snorting cocaine, urinating in a pool, vomiting and boning like it’s the last night on Earth.
Many of the characters speak in what actress Lake Bell once described as the “sexy baby” voice. To put it mildly, these are awful, off-putting characters. Like any bottom-tier slasher movie, I couldn’t wait for the killer to show up and start downsizing the ensemble cast.
Once we finally get to the core of the story, how the celebratory mood fades after a hit and run these young idiots try to cover up, we’re still waiting for it to fully captivate. (Amazon sent this critic the first four episodes to review)
It’s set on Oahu, but without an ounce of local flavor or authenticity. These are Oahu teens, yet no one listens to reggae or Hawaiian music, no one speaks pidgin english, and the cast is, at best, mildly diverse. Oh, a cast member eats Roselani ice cream. Otherwise, there’s no feel for local culture, in a very whitewashed version of Oahu.
In the lead, Madison Iseman (famous for playing the teen who Dwayne Johnson embodies in game form in those awful “Jumanji” sequels) is unappealing. Sonya Balmores, the engaging star of “Kuleana” and the villain of “Soul Surfer,” is also in this.
The other characters who emerge as interesting aren’t alive long enough to develop.
“I Know What You Did Last Summer: The Series” is ugly, unscary and crass, as well as poorly written and performed. Nearly every scene is overly drawn out, from the endless party scene that opens it up to just about every subsequent, exposition-heavy conversation that follows.
Here’s an impressively stupid piece of dialog: after seeing the title written in blood, one of the teens asks, “Maybe it means something else we did last summer?” A close runner up is when someone notes with a straight face, “Dead people don’t breathe.”
The inciting incident was a gripper in the original film but, no surprise, is over extended and sloppily handled here. Episode 2 ends with a visual straight out of “Hereditary,” a sign of optimism, as the creators must be hoping the audience who streams this will be too young to be into A24 films.
If it makes a second season, lets hope they drag in some franchise members into this to give it a shred of credibility, let alone a reason to keep watching.
The pilot unspools scene after scene that demonstrates how a movie made when Bill Clinton was President did all of this so much better.
The 1997 “I Know What You Did Last Summer” begins with “Summer Breeze” by Type O Negative (I guess Stabbing Westward was busy) and a beautiful traveling shot of the North Carolina coast (with shots of California blended in there).
We meet our four central teens, led by the sweet Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt), her friend and Miss Croaker pageant winner Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Helen’s insufferable boyfriend Barry (an insufferable Ryan Phillippe) and the kindhearted Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.).
They get into a car, have their “Whoooo!” and “Slow down, you’re going too fast” moments, before accidentally knocking a bystander out of his boots.
Their solution for the vehicular manslaughter: toss him in the drink, as the alcohol on Barry and the nature of the crime will ruin all their futures. A year later, they are haunted by their decision to cover up their crime and guess what message starts popping up for each of them?
The film boasts a screenplay by “Scream” author Kevin Williamson (a big deal before Joss Whedon became the most popular film and TV writer for young people in the late 20th century). It’s gorgeously filmed (the cinematographer is Dennis Crossan, who also shot “Nostradamus”), Hewitt is very good in it and, like the source material, it’s more of a genuine mystery than a true slasher tale.
The establishing scenes and set up are great, with The Fisherman a fairly intimidating (if not really terrifying) villain on the loose.
In the acting department, Hewitt and Gellar ground the film, while Phillippe wildly overdoes it. Anne Heche plays an odd role, back when she was an MVP in everything, and Bridgette Wilson impresses playing a genuinely loathsome character.
Just in case you forget this is a ’90s movie, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Toad the Wed Sprocket are on the soundtrack. The poster famously boasted “From the Creator of Scream,” which reportedly confused those thinking this had Wes Craven’s involvement.
Despite the one sheet causing a mild bit of controversy, this was a major hit.
Even without the dead-on riffing the Wayans brothers gave this in their “Scary Movie” (2000), there are still plenty of unintentionally funny moments (like Hewitt’s “What are you waiting for” yell and twirl).
The plot winds up being overly complicated, with a mistaken identity in place of a satisfying reveal of the killer. And what’s with these names? Julie James, Helen and Elsa Shivers? Even without Gellar and Prinze Jr., this already feels like an R-rated installment of “Scooby-Doo.”
Considering this arrived a year after “Scream” and two months before “Scream 2,” this felt like a big step backward for the genre. If “Scream” demonstrated the familiar (and, by the fans, truly beloved) tropes of these movies, it also showed the extreme limitations of teen slasher flicks.
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After “Scream,” this emerged a self-parody that lacks a needed self-awareness, which “Urban Legend” (1998), for example, fully exuded.
Speaking of the cheeky “Urban Legend,” the director of that film, Jamie Blanks, famously made a fake trailer for this movie in an attempt to land a directing job – he didn’t get it, but scored “Urban Legend” and “Valentine” instead.
Meanwhile, Jim Gillespie, who did direct “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” followed it up with the Sylvester Stallone slasher thriller, “D-Tox” (2000), a low point for both.
A major problem with the first “Summer” is that, once things are in motion, there are no standout set pieces. Gellar wakes up with a bad haircut but it’s hardly worth losing sleep over. Aside from a few good mild jolts (like a bit involving mannequins in a shop), the biggest scare is the very last one.
The final battle on a ship plays like a showdown in a bad pirate movie. More effective is how this portrays teen guilt over youthful excess, as when Prinze Jr.’s Ray states, “the guilt was killing me.”
The rushed into production “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” (1998) arrived a year later. The returning Hewitt is matched with Mekhi Phifer, singer Brandy and Prinze Jr., who hilariously works overtime just to stay in the movie (his character spends most of the running time just trying to be in the same location as Hewitt).
Helmed by “Judge Dredd” (1995) survivor and “CSI” regular Danny Cannon, who attempts to over-direct to make up for a Williamson-free screenplay, it’s a glossy sequel, now set in an empty resort in the Bahamas.
This second go-around is far more accidentally funny than its predecessor. Early on, Julie thinks there’s a killer in her house but instead finds Brandy just standing in her closet. Hewitt has a reprisal of her unfortunate “I’m right here” shout (not sure why the filmmakers thought that would work, let alone a second time).
Hewitt’s “How Do I Deal” single is showcased, which I’ll avoid commenting on.
The irredeemable moment occurs when the bad guy, who we’re supposed to think was the good guy all along, not only reveals his true identity but does it by literally spelling out a clue in his last name (and addressing an entrance from The Fisherman with, “Hi, Dad!”).
John Hawkes, Bill Cobb and Jeffrey Combs are all in this. However, the infamy belongs to Jack Black, in an understandably uncredited role as a dreadlocked local who acts “black” and pops up for “comic relief.” Odd, how Black’s “Tropic Thunder” co-star Robert Downey Jr. gave a controversial turn in that film, which mocked actor hubris and knowingly addressed the offensive quality of blackface, though Black’s turn here has been lost to time.
Cannon’s film is every bit as awful as “Urban Legends: Final Cut” (2000). No, I haven’t seen the straight to video “I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer,” which involves none of the original collaborators. I have, on the other hand, seen the new Amazon series and offer a warning: You Won’t Care or Remember What Happened Last Summer.
This franchise needs new blood.