Released this week in November 1998, the Danny Cannon-directed I Still Know What You Did Last Summer arrived just after October but before the holidays truly began, a release date that sums up the movie at its core: a sugary and nutrition-free piece of leftover Halloween candy. When my mom took me to see it on opening night, I loved it. But 20 years and some taste developments later, its cracks show even more glaringly than those of its predecessor. While neither are “good” movies, necessarily, I Still Know is wildly flimsier than its ’97 parent.
So how does it hold up (or does it even), 20 years later?
While I Still Know fulfills the three rules Randy Meeks lays out in the movie’s closest contemporary, Scream 2 — bigger body count, more elaborate deaths and a near-superhuman killer — it also utilizes (and stumbles on) some other sequel rules. In some of the same ways The Strangers: Prey At Night did earlier this year, I Still Know follows up its slightly bleaker and more serious forefather by going in a slightly campier direction. This isn’t to say the movie knows it’s being campy, but it is, in spades, either to its benefit or detriment, depending what you like. Within the first 35 minutes, Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) has a Nightmare On Elm Street-style in-class freakout, is introduced to Jack Black’s cringe-worthy Jamaican character, and hallucinates seeing the Fisherman in a bumping nightclub. And I could write an entire book on the fact that the Fisherman programs the words “I STILL KNOW” into the lyrics on a karaoke machine. Chef’s kiss. Honestly, I’m not interested in a sequel that isn’t slightly camp. The best ones are.
Like Scream 2, I Still Know offers a much more diverse cast and also focuses on how traumatic events have affected the first film’s main survivor. In many ways, it does it better. In place of a charming and beautiful Sarah Michelle Gellar and a tempestuous and beautiful Ryan Phillippe, the movie introduces the gorgeous and magnetic late 90s duo of Brandy and Mekhi Phifer. Much as Helen and Barry suck up the screen in I Know, Julie is once again upstaged by the witticisms and coolness of Carla and (thankfully, less abusery) volatility of Tyrell.
Slasher sequels rarely get characters right — and I’m including my beloved Scream 2 in this basket — but I Still Know gives us fresh new characters and also delves further into the after-affects of the first film on the Final Girl. For all of the “survivor navigates trauma” posturing that occurred during the press tour for the newest Halloween movie, the movie didn’t actually touch upon it in any real way. Scream 2 Sidney, meanwhile, seems to have all but dealt with (or at least to have successfully shut away) any residual trauma and is enjoying college life with new friends and a new boyfriend. Julie, on the other hand, is plagued by nightmares, has become a shut-in and is dangling over failing out of school by a thread. By movie’s end, we see Julie back to a happy life back with Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) but ultimately unable to ever fully put away the horrors of what has happened to her.
The movie’s setting also lends itself to the big tonal shift between the first and second movies. While the first film took place in a coastal town in the dead of dry summer, the sequel relocates the cast to a tropical island in the middle of hurricane season. This lush, paradisiacal backdrop quickly turns into a canopy of doom for the characters and helps I Still Know set itself apart both stylistically and tonally from the first movie. In some of the same ways that Alien and Aliens are two different flavors (please excuse the comparisons of those two movies to either of these), I Know and I Still Know operate on complimentary but different planes. I Know feels claustrophobic and intimate, as if the characters are being watched from cut-out eyeholes in paintings on the walls. It feels like a horror movie. I Still Know, on the other hand, feels wide and expansive, as if the characters are being watched from the clouds above by some wrathful god. While higher in deaths, it’s shorter on scares and again, to invoke Alien/Aliens, feels like a transition from horror to thriller/action. Even Aliens’ tagline works here: “This Time It’s War.”
In her quest for survival, Julie rises from the innocuous (and boring) smart girl of the first movie to Jennifer Love Hewitt’s best version of a Julie James-Ellen Ripley. I Still Know Julie isn’t scared, she’s mad. As the terror builds to finale, Julie brandishes an axe, hisses through a “tough face”, and ultimately finishes the Fisherman by pelting him with bullets, grunting “JUST. FUCKING. DIE.” No Sigourney or even a Laurie in Halloween: H20, but definitely the most interesting and powerful that character ever was.
The movie is ultimately not successful, due to too many loose plot holes, coincidences, bad side-characters and completely brainless occurrences. It’s a movie that asks us to believe that Ben Willis/the Fisherman recruited his bland son to assume the name of Will Benson — get it? BEN’S SON — and enroll in Julie’s college, befriend her and her friends and pretend to like her, all so that father and son could fake a radio station giveaway to get Julie onto a remote island and kill her. This is so elaborate and unnecessary that it either ruins the movie for you or — as in my case — is part of the appeal.
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is frothy and over-the-top and mostly fun. It manages to be only just good enough to be remembered, if only for nostalgia’s sake. It’s not quite good, but it is a good-bad sequel. And sometimes, that’s just enough.