(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week, we go digging for secrets with a hook.)

Ah, the ’90s. The decade that brought us Beanie Babies and Limp Bizkit also saw a rebirth of sorts for big-screen slashers. After withering away throughout the 80s the genre got a major boost with the arrival of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) which delivered memorable kills with style, wit, and a hot cast of hot young hotties for all tastes. The film was quickly followed with a wave of less stylish, less witty horror films packed with young stars including The Faculty (1998), Disturbing Behavior (1998), Urban Legend (1998), and new entries in venerable franchises like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

One of the more directly influenced new arrivals, though, was 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. It was a big hit and a year later was followed by the perfectly titled I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, which while still a hit, was a decidedly smaller one. The franchise sat silent for eight years, but in 2006 someone remembered they still owned the rights and bam! A few days later they had a DTV sequel ready to go. Let’s check it out together, shall we?

The Beginning – I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

It’s the 4th of July, and in one tiny North Carolina town that means it’s time to drive recklessly with friends. Julie and her three besties are out speeding on a darkly winding road and accidentally strike and kill a pedestrian. The recent high school graduates panic, dispose of the body, and make a pact never to speak of the event again. One year later, though, the four find themselves back in town and stalked by someone who apparently knows what they did last summer. I say “apparently” but the mysterious note that Julie receives seems pretty insistent. Soon the friends find themselves targeted by a killer in a serious fisherman’s outfit, and as the bodies hit the floor Julie races to discover the identity of the man who’s marked them all for extinction. Spoiler… it’s a dude named Ben.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)

It’s been a year since Julie and her friends were stalked by a pissed off dad dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman, and things are looking up. She’s finished another year of college in Boston, and now she and some friends have won a trip to the Bahamas. Good times ahead! Or are they?! They’ve barely begun enjoying their vacation when a message appears from someone who apparently still knows what they did last summer. The killer is actually referring to what they did two summers ago, but there’s no time for debate as soon the friends are once again dropping like dumb flies. Julie is once again forced into a fight for her life as she struggles to discover the identify the killer. Spoiler… it’s still that dude named Ben, but this time he’s recruited his son Will to help with the elaborate murder shenanigans.

The DTV Plot – I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006)

It’s the 4th of July, and in one small Colorado town that means it’s time to scare friends with the legend of a hook-wielding fisherman who appears every Independence Day to slaughter teens who misbehaved the previous summer. Seems pretty specific and geographically challenged, but sure, we’ll go with it. “He’s more like Jack the Ripper,” says one of Amber’s friends, “except the guy never got caught.” Genius. When the killer fisherman appears during a summer carnival, it’s revealed to be a prank between Amber and her friends, but it takes a tragic turn when one of them gets impaled on a tractor’s exhaust pipe. Classic fisherman kill. The friends promise never to speak of their prank, but one year later Amber receives a series of text messages all saying the same thing – “I know what you did last summer.” Soon these twenty-something teens start dying at the end of a hook, and it’s anyone’s guess who the killer could be. Is it the sheriff who also happens to be the father of the one who died from the prank? Is it the suspiciously acting deputy? Spoiler… it’s still Ben! But he’s a goddamn zombie now! I’m not joking.

Talent Shift

1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer has a literary origin in Lois Duncan’s bestselling YA thriller of the same name, and Kevin Williamson was brought on to adapt it after the success of his meta slasher Scream. Director Jim Gillespie made his feature debut with the film and has done little since. 1998’s sequel, meanwhile was directed by Danny Cannon (Judge Dredd, 1995) and written by first-timer Trey Callaway, meaning both of these first films were made by a mix of veterans and newcomers.

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer features nothing but unknowns starting with director Sylvain White, but as much of a newbie as he was then White has since gone on to make profitable films like Stomp the Yard (2007) and Slender Man (2018). DTV veteran Michael D. Weiss took on script duties, so no one should be surprised by what the writer of Octopus 2: River of Fear (2001) ended up delivering.

Still, it’s the talent in front of the camera that drops the most precipitously. While the first two films featured young stars like Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki, Brandy, and Mekhi Phifer, this DTV sequel features… other people. Some like Torrey DeVitto went on to successful TV careers, but otherwise it’s a pool of folks you don’t know and won’t remember.

How the Sequel Respects the Originals

The first two films are something of a rarity in that while the first plays like a standalone, non-supernatural slasher the sequel serves as a direct continuation of the same pissed off and very human killer. There are exceptions of course, but most slasher franchises feature either a “monster” of a killer (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th) or completely different murderers from one film to the next (Scream, Urban Legends). To that end, it’s interesting that this DTV sequel would choose to acknowledge the first two films (via news clippings referencing the murders) and then – despite featuring entirely new characters thousands of miles from the East coast in land-locked Colorado – keep the same killer. There’s something to be said about people taking “real-life” incidents and turning them into urban legends, but unfortunately the film has zero interest in exploring that angle.

How the Sequel Shits on the Originals

Again, keeping Ben as the killer is inspired lunacy, but the film does nothing with the revelation aside from act shocked. How did this undead fisherman from North Carolina make it all the way to Colorado? Is it the power of people talking about him that actually willed him back to life? Was an urban legend forced into reality through pure fear and repetition? Does he legitimately only terrorize people who acted terribly the previous summer? Like, if someone accidentally kills a friend in November, does Ben just not give a shit next Thanksgiving? Whatever… he’s the 4th of July killer now!

Neither of the originals are modern classics by any means, but they deliver competently crafted sequences of stalking, suspense, and slashing. Here, though, we’re given scenes and set-pieces that move only between stupid and bland. The opening prank sees the “killer” chase teens through an otherwise bustling carnival of people wholly ignoring the screams, blood, and suspicious fisherman – again, there are rivers in Colorado, but this dude is dressed in full-on Gorton’s gear as if he’s auditioning for The Most Dangerous Catch – and later scenes occur mostly in dimly lit locales. It never looks appealing or memorable (although I have a soft spot for the kid who skateboards away from the killer up onto a roof where he continues to skateboard!), and even if it did the view would still be lessened by obnoxious editing choices that skip rapidly and loudly between scenes as if to wake up sleeping audiences. The music stingers are especially egregious in their attempt at scaring viewers too.

If all else fails, and please understand that it does, the film could have still delivered in one other way. One of the hallmarks of the earlier films – and of most 90s films if you think about it – was the presence of a killer soundtrack. The Offspring, Soul Asylum, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Imogen Heap, and Hooverphonic are just some of the artists with memorable songs in those first two films. The DTV sequel? Multiple tracks by Goth Jones and Mazey Gordens & the Brick Hit House Band. No disrespect to either group, but there’s a reason the soundtrack was never actually released.

Conclusion

On the one hook I have to respect the chutzpah of making a DTV sequel to a successful pair of slashers and deciding to not only keep the same killer but to make him undead. It’s an idea so stupid it might have actually worked if anything else here was of any value. Sadly, it’s a lazy, bland slasher with questionable performances meaning by the time the revelation – it’s still Ben! – comes it’s nearly impossible to care. There’s a way to do this right and deliver some fun slasher horseplay, but this isn’t it.

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