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I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (V)

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER was a fun, spirited combination of 80s slasher film clichés and 90s youth culture – like SCREAM, without the tongue-in-cheek, self-referential satire, if you will. I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER was a quickie sequel built on an intriguing premise but torpedoed by dreadful characters and sloppy execution – sort of like FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, only somewhat better, if you please. The latest entry in the series, the direct-to-video I’LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, is a mixed bag hybrid of sequel and remake, combining elements of the original installment with a favorite device of horror screenwriters, the urban legend – like… well, like URBAN LEGENDS. Only not quite as good.

I’LL ALWAYS KNOW takes place in a dead-end Colorado ski town, ten years after the events of the original film. During the annual Fourth of July carnival, a group of bored young people decide to stir up some excitement by playing a practical joke built around the urban legend of the Fisherman, a phantom killer with a raincoat and a big, metal hook who supposedly shows up on Independence Day to punish people with dirty little secrets. When one of their friends is accidentally killed during the prank, the group agrees to cover up their role in his death. One year later, the four friends have grown apart but must reunite when an unseen figure begins tormenting them with warnings that he or she knows what they did the year before. It doesn’t take long for these sinister messages to give way to bloody revenge.

As that synopsis illustrates, the third film in the Fisherman franchise is a virtual carbon copy of the first. One of the kids is a pompous, blonde jock with a terrible attitude. Another is a shy, quiet guy who works an honest blue collar job on the outskirts of town and just wants to forget what happened. One of the girls has aspirations of fame and fortune in the big city, while the other plans to go off to college once she graduates. At one point, the estranged girls have a conversation about “what happened” to their friendship in the wake of the horrible cover-up. Toward the end of the film, the kids keep an eye on one of their friends as she performs on stage to ensure that she is safe. Throughout the narrative, red herrings pop up left and right among the townspeople, the youngsters even suspecting each other at various points. There is simply no way to summarize the plot of the original I KNOW or I’LL ALWAYS KNOW without making them sound like the same film, because, for all intents and purposes, they are. Aside from the inclusion of the history of the killer Fisherman and his reinvention as a mythic figure, the primary difference between the two movies lies in the execution of the simple plotline. I KNOW was suspenseful and, in its own way, fresh. I’LL ALWAYS KNOW is neither.

Like SCREAM before it, I KNOW was fast-paced and fairly unrelenting, the self-absorbed nature of the characters and inconsistencies of the plot adequately compensated for by one tense, harrowing chase scene after another. Set in a fishing village, that film had the advantage that its antagonist could blend into a crowd and move about freely, heightening the sense that death was waiting for Julie James and her friends around every corner. In the latest outing, the filmmakers have placed their nautical villain in a town miles from any body of water, making stealth and camouflage rather difficult. Worse, they’ve replaced the simple, effective camerawork and editing of the earlier film with lots of rapid, music video-style cuts and random distortion effects designed to make the Fisherman look more spectral and supernatural. Combine these ill-advised decisions with the unavoidable fact that this new group of victims just isn’t as charismatic or sympathetic as those in the original movie and you end up with a film bereft of any real suspense. Director Sylvain White makes good use of the Colorado scenery, but lets the film bog down severely when the characters start to talk (which is to say, often), and shows no real aptitude for building tension or terror when the bloodletting begins (which is to say, too late in the movie).

Reading everything written here thus far, one might tend to scan down the page and wonder why I’ve chosen to give such an egregiously derivative, highly illogical, basically fright-free DTV sequel six stars. The answer is that, despite its rehashed characters in reheated situations, despite its so-so performances and mediocre direction, I’LL ALWAYS KNOW has a few good points that make it a worthwhile diversion for slasher fans.

First, the use of the urban legend angle adds a nice element to a screen psycho who was previously just a two-dimensional product of the SCREAM era. By seemingly turning the Fisherman into a Freddy Krueger/Candyman–style entity, the producers are able to shift the emphasis of the franchise away from Jennifer Love Hewitt (and her ample… ahem, talents) and place it squarely on the killer himself. I won’t reveal just who the Fisherman really is this time around, but it’s safe to say that should this DVD make enough money to warrant a sequel, the property is poised to move forward without the expensive Love or Freddie Prinz, Jr. The urban legend twist also sets up the movie’s most surprising moment when, long before anyone is accidentally killed or any vows of silence are taken, the hook-wielding maniac shows up to terrorize the town’s patriotic partygoers. It doesn’t hurt matters for slasher nuts that the killer is played by Don Shanks, “Michael Myers” from HALLOWEEN 5!

There are a few clever bits sprinkled throughout, such as the killer’s use of text messages rather than paper notes, and a great scene where he writes “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID!” with water on the hot pavement of a pool deck. The letters disappear as they dry, one of the film’s more memorable images. Another nice scene involves one of the kids trying to turn the tables on someone he suspects is behind all of the violence and threatening messages. The potential suspect finds a note under the wiper blade on his truck which reads, “We know what you’re doing this summer!” As noted, the film’s location is an unusual setting for a tale of a vengeful angler, but writer Michael D. Weiss at least had the foresight to have one of the characters point out just how unlikely it was that a bloodthirsty Gorton’s fisherman would show up in a mountain ski community in mid-summer. And though it’s hardly original, horror fans just might get a giggle out of the sequence in which the female lead, under attack in a gondola lift car, drops her camera, inadvertently snapping a blurry picture of the killer’s hook. Call me a sucker for movie cheese, but I give points to any film that steals a pivotal plot device from JAWS 2!

Also quite satisfying is the fact that the movie does not ignore the previous entries, as early word on the plot led many fans to believe it would. Our heroes here even have news clippings about both the initial Fisherman killings and his gory rampage in the Bahamas a year later, firmly establishing that the legend is rooted in fact. Though no one mentions Julie James or Ben Willis by name, there is no doubt that those characters exist in the same fictional reality as the ones in this story.

Finally, as a fan of the earlier films, I began to suspect about a third of the way into the movie that the filmmakers just might do something bold with the inevitable climactic twist, and I was overjoyed to find out in the final minutes that I was right. Having seen dozens of SCREAM knock-offs, I was prepared for just about any “surprise revelation” that they could possibly throw at me, but I have to admit that there was only one eventuality that would have been satisfying (and worthy of the third installment of a popcorn slice-and-dice series) enough to make the movie worth recommending. Thankfully, this movie is that rare case in which the fanboy gets what he wants in the last reel and an otherwise average film is better for it.

I’LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is not a great film, or even a particularly good one. It’s standard adolescent fright fare with forgettable characters, decent but sparing gore effects, MTV production values, and a plot ripped almost scene-for-scene from another entry in the same series. For all but the most rabid slasher fans or devotees of the earlier LAST SUMMER films, this entry is bound to be a disappointment. But for those who genuinely love long-running horror franchises and have been hungering for the return of the man with the hook for years, I’LL ALWAYS KNOW is just enjoyable enough to whet your appetite and make you hope for a fourth chapter. If there is another installment, I’ll be there the day it hits the store shelves, hoping that it’s just a bit better and a bit more original than the film it follows.

Official Score