Sunday, August 28, 2011

You know what I did last summer?



I hate this movie much I had to write about it.

I'll be honest with you. It's within the realm of possibility that I read the Lois Duncan novel this 1997 film is "loosely" based on. I'm not proud of that. The good news is that I can not 100 percent verify that I did or did not read the book. At the time when I most likely would have read it, I had a lot of people handing me all manner of teen horror after they saw me reading Stephen King. (R.L. Stine's "Fear Street" books, some book about murders on a train that I bought from a Scholastic book order form when I was in sixth grade and plenty of avoided opportunities to read that hack Christopher Pike were among the books others wanted me to read.)



So in 1997, when "I Know What You Did Last Summer" came out, I was well-schooled in horror. For a kid growing up in Utah, you could say I knew more about it than anyone else I knew.

Which is why I hate that movie.

Can we skip over how IKWYDLS, as a film, is basically just a "Scream" rip-off? We can't? Well, fine.

Kevin Williamson wrote both screenplays. I understand how writers can get in a rut and end up repeating themselves. In Hollywood it's almost expected. One thing makes a ton of money, so you do that same thing over and over until it stops making money. Sometimes that means sequels ("I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" and the direct-to-video "I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer) and sometimes it means rip-offs (IKWYDLS < Scream).

One could even look at the central cast of IKWYDLS and imagine that they all auditioned for "Scream" and got rejected. Star Jennifer Love Hewitt (whom I had a huge crush on) was on "Party of Five" with "Scream" star Neve Campbell. Sarah Michell Gellar was just getting into her groove as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and appeared in "Scream 2" the same year as IKWYDLS. Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Ryan Phillippe easily could have been replaced by Skeet Ulrich and vice versa.

Let's get something straight right now: I know that the teens in "Friday the 13th" or "A Nightmare on Elm Street" are just as replaceable -- and in many cases, less memorable -- than the four actors at the core of IKWYDLS. This and "Scream" were attempts to get audiences back on the side of the "innocent" yet prone to boneheaded mistakes teens instead of just cheering for them to get sliced and diced. It wasn't really until "Saw" that mainstream audiences went back to being on the side of the killer. (In Hollywood, four years is a long time.)

I'm an odd duck. A protagonist has to be well-developed (and not in the way JLH was well-developed, if you know what I mean) for me to truly side with him or her. I think Sidney Prescott, the protagonist of the "Scream" series, was that type of character. No one in IKWYDLS reached that level for me. It doesn't happen very often. Most of the time, horror franchises are centered on the villain who eventually becomes a sort of anti-hero. because of that, we get excited when Nancy battled Freddy again in "Nightmare on Elm Street 3" and "New Nightmare." We bought the hype when Jamie Lee Curtis returned as Laurie Strode in "H20" to fight Michael Myers.

Heroes, the true innocent ones, who need to thrive on virtue, courage and other noble traits, always seem to let us down in the end. So we end up cheering for evil to win. Evil is reliable. We know its goals and desires. Good is imperfect. We accept pure evil but doubt pure good.

So we cheer for bad guys to carve up nubile teen girls and beat the tar out of frat jerks. And we watch crappy movie such as "I Know What You Did Last Summer" because deep down, we're still looking for a hero we can believe in.

And because the villain, the fish hook-wielding wacko I should have been able to root for instead of the moronic teens who probably deserved what they got was so weak, I was left with no one to cheer for.

So what did I do last summer? I didn't watch "I Know What You Did Last Summer."

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