The Best Movie Critic + review

Notes on Camp: I Know What You Did Last Summer

The slasher-movie renaissance of my teendom was fueled by Wes Craven, who really instigated the whole bloody mess to begin with in the late 70s and early 80s with The Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. He made a movie in 1996 you kids may have heard about called Scream that was an enormous hit, resuscitated Drew Barrymore’s career, was made up of a cast of primarily TV stars (cheap!), and spawned a sudden resurgence in Dead Teenager movies that eventually led down the path to J-Horror remakes, that led to Torture Porn, that led to… Piranha 3D, I guess. The meta-retro vibe of Scream was refreshing, and therefore immediately co-opted by the suits, and the following year we were blessed with I Know What You Did Last Summer, heretofore called IKWYDLS, because JESUS CHRIST THAT TITLE IS DUMB.

IKWYDLS stars a glum neckmonster named Jennifer Love Hewitt in the role of Julie Greasyhair, who, along with her boyfriend Blackhair McWhatisface (Ray), and good buds Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Helen) and The Curly Haired Bronzed God of My 16 –Year-Old Dreams (Barry), run over some poor fucker and try to dispose of his still-alive body and cover up all the evidence. Oops! he’s still totally alive and the next summer (obvious title alert!) he starts sending them ominous notes and/or murdering them to prove a point about vehicular manslaughter. There’s sort of a running theme about how the characters are all mega-depressed about the murder they did, so they all look like shit and can’t really seem to make anything of themselves. It affects all of them in different ways – like Helen never got to be an actress and instead works at a department store, Barry works out all the time (yessss!), Ray's a fisherman / poor person, and Julie’s hair is all greasy and boring. Really IKWYDLS is about what guilt does to the human mind when it goes unconfessed, but with a fish hook wielding serial killer! Psychology, you guys! Helen is so upset about it that she feels like she can’t fulfill her duties as Snapper Queen, which is a beauty competition title she holds in the small town that they live in. SNAPPER QUEEN. It just rolls right off the tongue – say it out loud – SNAPPER QUEEN.
In one sequence, the maniac sneaks Helen’s house (the night before the Snapper Queen Parade!) and cuts all her hair off. It would be a big fucking deal except for he gives her a TOTALLY CUTE new haircut that refreshes her pageant-y look and makes her look less like the washed-up old Snapper Queen that she is. Lucky bitch.

The one almost scary part happens when Helen is murdered in a pile of tires in an alley while the Snapper Queen parade marches by, oblivious. It invokes the Kitty Genovese murder (whether or not it intends to) in the blissful ignorance of the passing marching band, and is genuinely disturbing. A feeling that passes very quickly.

It’s hard for me to watch IKWYDLS now without feeling nostalgic for my high school years. It seems so goofy and bloodless in comparison to what I assume the “kids” are watching these days, where it’s all about the “kills”. There’s very little blood, no “guts” to speak of at all (unless you count a crab in a dead body’s mouth, which I don’t), and the villain terrorizes the cast primarily by leaving vaguely threatening notes or lurking. That it’s even R-rated seems kind of antiquated after the shit I saw in Hostel Part 2, Saw 12, or Final Destination: Infinity 3D (which I isn't a real movie yet, but probably will be by the time this goes live). I guess that’s the way of the world though – one generation’s taboo is the next’s default.

Am I getting maudlin? The Great Sontag herself says: “Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as "a camp," they're enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.” So yes, I am. But in a way that’s the point. I feel something very close to affection for IKWYDLS that I don’t feel for much greater films, and yet I recognize that it’s a mess. Something about the moment I saw it the summer of my seventeenth year, the sincerity that Jennifer Love Hewitt puts into her screaming, and Ryan Phillippe’s tan, toned arms inspire not derision, but outright love. Lust too. Definitely lust.-Ryan Post Script: Don't bother with the sequel, I STILL Know What You Did Last Summer. It has exactly one good part in which Jennifer Love Hewitt gets stuck in a tanning booth. Other than that it's not even fun bad, just bad bad. Post Post Script: I totally neglected to mention Anne Heche's stunning cameo as a Woman Who Knows More Then She Lets On. I'm sorry.

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