A Trilogical Review: The Last Summer Trilogy
Films in the Series:
- I Know What You Did Last Summer, 1997
- I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, 1998
- I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, 2006
On paper this trilogy of films was never going to work; three films about a slasher killing beautiful teenagers with some half-written reason aren’t exactly going to scream Oscar-worthy, but they could still be fun. Recently I watched Skyscraper and I was expecting the usual action-packed snooze fest the genre has become but I really enjoyed it. Sometimes these silly films can be predictable but fun. This series succeeded with I Know What you Did Last Summer (future stylised as I Know); a fun slasher film with some minor interesting storytelling elements. Four friends being stalked then murdered, one by one, by someone they thought they’d killed in a hit-and-run style scene. The characters had some dynamics to play off each other and we could even sympathise with Ben Willis who was out for revenge; and his stalking techniques to play the group off against each other was quite fun: hiding a body in the car before removing it, leaving notes to everyone, almost running people over before driving off; it gave him some character and allowed for the film to play out with an extra element of fear as we weren’t sure in any given scene if he’s out for their murder or more torturing. And, a point I’ll be coming back to pretty soon, in this film Ben Willis’ character is only really out for revenge against those who wronged him; those involved in either the near-murder or those who ignored it, with the others only dying if they’re caught in the way. Overall it was a fun ride and two more films of similar fashion, one even featuring two of the same characters, should be more of the same, right?
Somehow they managed to ruin everything good about I Know in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (stylised as I Still Know), the sequel released the following year with Julie and Ray returning to be tormented by Ben Willis once again. On paper it should work so easily: Ben didn’t get his revenge and now Julie and Ray have tried killing him twice so he lures them to an almost uninhabited resort island to pick them off one by one without any interference. Even if you half the budget it should work because the fundamentals are there from a financially successful first film. But this film was terrible. The characters are almost copy-and-paste poorer versions of the lesser characters from I Know and some of the character arcs make absolutely no sense. Ray wants to propose to Julie but rejects the offer of a free holiday to the Bahamas knowing Will will be going in his place, Will who is also pretty sweet on Julie, but then immediately changes his mind and threatens everybody along the way to get to the island. Ben Willis also loses any interest and sympathy as he now is killing anyone and everyone that he meets, from drug-selling islanders to hotel managers. He even locks Julie in a tanning bed (because we needed the pretty girls to be seen in a bikini), a scene which kills two girls in one of the Final Destination films, but that’s not Ben Willis’ modus operandi; he slashes them with his hook. If our villain is so far removed from his core and the story makes no sense (where has the money come from for him to send them there and why didn’t he send them there in the first film? If he can attack in the towns in I Know why can’t he in I Still Know?) then it’s no surprise the film failed.
But then came a straight-to-video third instalment, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (stylised as I’ll Always Know), released eight years later featuring no recurring characters aside from Ben Willis, who’s now a ghost, because . . . reasons. Somehow this manages to be worse than I Still Know and take the crown for the worst of the franchise (and also the final nail in the coffin), as it adds supernatural villains and bland characters in a copy-and-paste re-enactment of the first but in all the wrong ways. Plus, Amber, our new heroine, is seen a sex symbol for all the boys in the town, including a policeman who’s on duty at a murder investigation. Mixed with awful editing and a bland, boring pace it’s easily one of the worst films of all time. But where did the franchise go so wrong?
Once the first one worked, helped by a novel of the same name to be used for inspiration, simply make the second and third follow in a similar vein. Have Ben return and psychologically torture them for a while, even make it seem that Julie’s imagining it all (which I Still Know tries, by having nobody believe her, but we, the audience, know Ben is out there, so it contradicts each other) and have Ben simply want to murder her (what would have happened if Karla didn’t take Julie to the Bahamas, instead choosing, say, her family? Ben’s plan would have been foiled from the get-go) and Ray (and don’t have his weird storyline of wanting to propose but not going to the perfect proposal destination then pawning off the engagement ring) and have the others dying by being in the way rather than him simply being a horror character who needs to murder everyone. And for the third, go easy on the editing and simply re-tell the story but in a future; have a real-person dress up as the killer to stalk the teenagers for revenge of their prank the year before, rather than a supernatural ghost which can only be killed by the very hook he wields.
I Know wasn’t a terrific film, certainly not good enough to be the opening for a trilogy (granted the third probably wasn’t expected but it still came), but it was still pretty fun, and akin to the style of horror movies being presented at the time. But its two sequels fell so flat that the whole trilogy is looked on with a negative light. I Still Know is a terrible, terrible film and I’ll Always Know is easily one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.