Tag Archives: 90s horror month

By Hook, By Crook & By the Book


 3 Stars  1998/18/96m

“Some secrets will haunt you forever.”

Director: Danny Cannon / Writer: Trey Callaway / Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Brandy, Mekhi Phifer, Matthew Settle, Muse Watson, Jennifer Esposito, Bill Cobbs, Jeffrey Combs, John Hawkes, Jack Black.

Body Count: 9

Dire-logue: “This is the worst vacation of my life: I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m fucking horny and personally I haven’t seen one Goddamn psycho killer.”

If I Still Know What You Did Last Summer were not so ridiculously bad, it’d be two-star city for the most ridiculously named sequel going. Even after it grossed about half the original’s box office, someone involved with the production (possibly Producer Neil H. Moritz) admitted that the wrong script was chosen.

I Still Know is a collage of Slasher 101 cliches, godawful dialogue and performances most of the cast members would likely wish to forget, most of them phoning in hammy recitals as everything unfolds in the most predictable of manners. Nevertheless, upmarket production values and some saving graces still make it better than most of the contemporary Scream pretenders that surfaced around the same time (The Clown at Midnight comes to mind).

Another year has passed and Julie James (Hewitt) is back in college, struggling with nightmares that eeeevil fisherman Ben Willis is coming back for her after she escaped the slashings of his oversized, rather phallic hook on July 4th, last summer. Phallic, you ask? Look at the artwork; pointy hook slashing towards Hewitt’s much-contemplated cleavage. Anyway, her boyfriend Ray (Prinze) is acting a bit arsey and her roommate Karla is pushing her towards the affections of dorky friend Will.

When Karla wins a radio contest that rewards her with four tickets to the Bahamas, Ray continues his arsey behaviour, neither confirming nor declining the free trip but telling Julie to go if he doesn’t make it. This is an especially fortuitous outcome for The Fisherman, who has gained psychic powers in his gap year and can tell exactly what highway Ray (plus an unlucky buddy) will drive along so that he can set up a faux road accident. He also knows exactly where the truck will stop. Ray escapes the hook but is too late to stop Julie going off to the Bahamas.

At the Tower Bay resort, holiday season is over and storm season is in, meaning only the “lucky” competition winners are there along with a skeleton staff, who will naturally be laid to waste to hike the bodycount as far as it can go. However, before people start dropping like flies, Julie becomes aware that all is not what it seems. The others blame it on her paranoia, but then, how do you hack into karaoke machine lyrics and change them to a sinister message…?

Sing it girl! Whether or not this was intended to be a hallucination of Julie’s is not clear but miraculously none of the other four people present notice the sudden change from I Will Survive’s chorus to “I still know what you did last summer…” A short time later, Julie finds a body in the closet, which is magically gone when she raises the alarm. Everyone ignores her again and even she gets talked into writing it off and going for a tanning session!

Eventually, the others are convinced when bodies begin falling out of washing machines and stuff and the chase is on. I Still Know kicks into gear at this juncture with a very nicely done chase as The Fisherman accosts three women through the attic of the hotel, cornering them at various times until they escape at the last second. Yes, it’s a complete retread of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s frantic rush from the first film, complete with the “hurry up and open the door!” moment.

Much material is repeated from numero uno; the body that Julie finds which then disappears without a trace of it ever being there. One must ask how Ben Willis is able to clean up so quickly? Then there’s the scene where she gets desperate and, as she yelled “What are you waiting for, huh?” last summer, this year it’s “Come and get me, I’m right here!”

What detracts from the horror is how laughable things become. The cliches come so thick and fast that it’s like Scream never happened. Gone is all of the intelligence of the first film, replaced by naivety and annoying behaviour: Karla finds herself on top of a glass roof and tries to stand up. The glass on one panel begins to crack so what does she do? She simply brings her other foot on to the same pane of glass, doubling the weight on the already splintering surface.

Add to this, there’s a sort of weird narration in the dialogue. Karla (again) goes to a door and sees it’s chained. She’s alone so why say aloud “damn, it’s locked”? Then Will appears, scaring the girls, steps into the light and utters a line of dialogue. Then Julie says; “it’s just Will.” FFS. Shouldn’t this be consigned to the commentary track?

So The Fisherman, now with a hook in place of the hand he lost at the end of the first film, is not only psychic but can teleport to precise locations around the hotel locus using his prior knowledge. When someone finds themselves alone, they tend to pause and listen for something (what they expect to hear is a question that’ll die with them) and the killer simply opens the nearest door over their shoulder and creeps up for the kill.

A half-decent twist is revealed at the end (though someone told me what it was before I saw it) and Ray and Julie are reunited to take on Willis, who advises a gun-toting Ray: “Think about is boy, you’re no killer – that’s my job.” Jesus wept.

Needless to say, I was left with questions:

  • Are we to believe the killer shelled out for four plane tickets plus accommodation just to get Julie to the island?
  • Why would the hotel accept guests during storm season and why does the ‘season’ last only about 18 hours?
  • When Julie is stuck in the tanning bed, why don’t they just turn it off – or at least down – before smashing it open with a barbell?
  • Where do the 50-odd other tourists all vanish off to minutes after the group arrives?

A film baren of any insight or intelligence but fun all the same with some nice visuals and that great chase scene. Prinze is given little to do and what he does get isn’t done very well; Brandy is surprisingly tolerable as the loyal BFF but talks as if she’s trying to hawk her latest album by reciting the lyrics and saying “girl” a lot. But the cast list is good with Jack Black in a bizarre uncredited role, pretty much playing himself. Hopes for a (related) third film effectively died along with the hotel staff and so unless the surviving characters sign on for a “15 years later”-style opus, their fates are uncertain. Instead we got I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer.

Blurbs-of-interest: Jeffrey Combs was in Frightmare and Castle Freak; John Hawkes was in Night of the Scarecrow and Identity.

If you, like me, think the title sucks, other reported working titles for this film included:

  • I Know What You Did Last Summer 2 – ok.
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer… The Story Continues – uuh…
  • I Know What You Did Two Summers Ago - yikes!

Same schtick, different campus


 4 Stars  2000/15/94m

A.k.a. Urban Legend 2

“Legends never die.”

Director: John Ottman / Writers: Paul Harris Boardman & Scott Derrickson / Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Loretta Devine, Hart Bochner, Joseph Lawrence, Anson Mount, Eva Mendes, Anthony Anderson, Jessica Cauffiel, Michael Bacall, Marco Hofschneider, Jacinda Barrett, Derek Aasland.

Body Count: 7

Why they pluralised the title for the inevitable sequel to the 1998 film is a mystery in this largely in-name-and-theme-only retread, which, despite almost universally poor reviews and a lot of dramatic licensing, is damn entertaining.

It’s back to college again but this time it’s Alpine University – “the greatest film school there ever was” – where a masked killer starts to eliminate a string of friends who are competing for the prestigious Hitchcock Award, the winner of which is basically guaranteed a shot at directing in Hollywood. A good motive for multiple murder – or is it?

Conscientious student Amy is stuck for an idea for her thesis film until one night when she runs into campus security officer Reese Wilson, the only character to return from the original, who tells Amy that she knows a good story about some campus killings that were covered up by the college. Amy muses that the story is just a myth and – click! – gets her idea, which is pretty much to make Urban Legends: The Movie. Hey, didn’t that already come out back in ’98?

Conveniently, Amy and friends choose all new legends for their script. There’s the one about the licked hand, the tunnel of terror, screams at midnight that coincide with a vicious murder and the return of the kidney heist – albeit successfully this time round. Unfortunately, proceedings are marred by the alleged suicide of supremo course talent Travis, whose convenient identical twin shows up soon after bleating that his sibling would never off himself.

While Amy contends with this tall tale, the killer capitalises on her story, not so much bending these campfire tales into M.O.’s again, the murders simply occur around them – they serve as a backdrop for the whole thing. So instead people are ‘merely’ slashed up with razors, beaten down with heavy lenses, hanged and electrocuted.

Scooby Doo type investigating and a boatload of things that happen just at the right time and in the right place eventually lead Amy and Trevor (if that’s who he really is) to the real connection between the victims and the fencing-masked killer is revealed. It’s not someone you could’ve really guessed from square one and the freakin’ ridiculous exposition – including an elaborate plan that would just never work! – is laughable but composer-turned-helmer Ottman balances it all with some decent humour.

Loretta Devine again supplies most of the best laughs as the Pam Grier-obsessed Reese but she’s well supported by a cast of familiar faces. Oddly, about the only one I’ve never seen in anything else is lead girl Jennifer Morrison, but apparently she’s in House and has done quite a bit of TV stuff.

Joey Lawrence, grown up from his role as the dim-witted brother of Blossom, plays the slimy son of an industry big-wig and one of the many suspects and Eva Mendes, slowly climbing the career ladder since Children of the Corn V towards her high-end Hollywood appearances later in the decade, is a lesbian with attitude. There’s also a great uncredited cameo at the end from someone we’ve all been wondering about.

UL2 works in spite of its own rubbishness; it is a stupid film, downright idiotic at times and Ottman’s DVD commentary keeps referring to it as “more of a thriller” when it couldn’t possibly be more template slasher flick. But it’s amiable and appealing in a quirky way, quite dry on the grue front but does just what you expect it to with handsome production qualities and nice cinematography – it’d be pretty damn stupid for a movie set at film school to be shot on a camcorder.

It may not’ve lit up the box office – profit on the $15million budget was fairly minimal – and the third film in the ‘series’ may have gone in a completely new direction but I hope someday Urban Legend 4 will creep into production, taking us back to campus for another round.

Blurbs-of-interest: Hart Bochner was Doc in Terror Train; Joey Lawrence was in Do You Wanna Know a Secret (at least he dies in that one!); Anson Mount was in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane; Jessica Cauffiel was Lily in Valentine.

Legacies of the 90s: Mental Motives

While 90s slasher films attempted to intellectualize the dead teenager opus, there’s only so much you can with such generic material. One area where things shifted dramatically was the Why is this happening? element of the plot. Essentially, nothing had really changed from the pictures of yore: I Know What You Did Last Summer featured the same basic set up as Prom Night.

In the horror realm, there are limited reasons why killers go ape and slay a string of teenagers but after Scream‘s extended, smartified attempt at making the killer’s motive seem more than it was, the ensuing studio slasher films did their best to follow suit.

Without giving away the farm (yeah, sorry about the screenshots), here are some of the best 90s horror motives, simplified. Can you guess which films they belong to?

  • You ran me over and tossed me in the sea. Even though I wasn’t dead, this upset me somewhat.
  • Your parent is a person of loose morals who had sex with my parent, causing them to leave. Never mind my parent being of loose morals also, this is all about YOUR parent. Thus, I’m killing people.
  • I’m passing off this product as my own and so must kill everyone associated with it.
  • I am a force of nature and therefore cannot have a motive so to speak, I just am. Zen, huh?
  • You killed my offspring in self-defence. Nevertheless, this is my motive for wanting to kill you and several bystanders.
  • You ate the last biscuit at a business meeting four years ago and I wanted it!
  • I’m made of celluloid therefore cannot be responsible for my homicidal actions.
  • I am jealous of you and your life even though I’ve never actually met you.
  • You were in the car that caused an accident which killed someone I love. You weren’t driving but it’s still your fault and I’ve gone massively out of my way to set up all these elaborate murders to freak you out and frame someone else.

  • You said you wouldn’t dance with me in junior high then some boys kicked the shit out of me. Never mind that though, being told ‘no’ to a dance is far worse and therefore I’m killing you and not the boys.
  • I loved your mum but she didn’t love me, so I killed her and blamed someone else. Now you’re here, I will start killing again and blame someone else. Again.
  • I loved your mum but she didn’t love me, so I killed her and blamed… Hey, I’m totally ripping off the motive from another naff rip-off!
  • I am still pissed that you ran me over and got away with it, foiling my attempt to kill you in the process. Therefore I will try and kill you again.
  • I am a possessed doll who kills people – deal with it.
  • I like killing people.

…OK, I made the biscuit one up but you get the point.

Second time’s a charm


4.5 Stars  1997/18/115m

“Someone has taken their love of sequels too far.”

Director: Wes Craven / Writer: Kevin Williamson / Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Liev Schreiber, Jerry O’Connell, Jamie Kennedy, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Timothy Olyphant, Laurie Metcalf, Elise Neal, Jada Pinkett, Omar Epps, Lewis Arquette, Duane Martin, Portia De Rossi, Rebecca Gayheart, Tori Spelling, Heather Graham, Roger Jackson, Christopher Doyle, Philip Pavel.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “Is that the best you can do? ‘Cos Billy and Stu were much more original.”

With slight improvement on the original, Scream 2 is my favourite in the series …so far. Who knows what the fourth movie will have in store? Well, we all will this time next month.

A year or maybe two after the events of the first movie, a trashy slasher flick, Stab, based on Gale Weathers’ book, The Woodsboro Murders, sees its opening weekend thwarted by the gruesome double murder of a couple in the cinema. The scene brings back memories of the prologue from He Knows You’re Alone but is ultimately ruined by the frankly hilarious death-face of Jada Pinkett who manages to make her character one of the most annoying in little more than a few minutes on screen.

Turns out that the dead kids went to the same college as Sidney Prescott and also film geek extraordinaire Randy, who find moving on with their lives difficult with all the attention garnered by the book, the movie and now the murders, which sucks in Gale Weathers, Deputy Dewey and also Cotton Weary, he who served time for the murder of Sid’s mom before it was revealed he was innocent. And now he wants compensating.

It becomes apparent that the killer – or killers - is keen on picking up where Billy and Stu left off, taking out college kids, eventually cutting closer to Sidney. But who? And why? And who?

Scream 2 was released at the very peak of the genre resurgence, quick on the heels of its predecessor to keep the various other high-budget slasher flicks trailing behind, rapidly building a name for itself by upping the ante rather than merely replicating the formula.

The schtick they pedal this time is all to do with sequels, follow-ups and such, from Randy’s explanation of how horror sequels work (during which he drops a subtle hint at who the killer actually is before we even know), to Sidney’s drama production of Cassandra of Troy - Troy of course being famously built of the remains of the destroyed city just as a sequel is built on the foundations of the previous film.

Craven and Williamson flourish here, both in content and presentation, giving Scream 2 the same sort of zenith as Final Destination 2 and Friday the 13th Part 2. Not to say those films are necessarily the best of their respective series’ but they both represent their franchises finding their beat, although very few film series’ manage to retain the quality of their better output. In the case of Scream 2, everything is on point, almost perfectly pieced together in a big slasher flick jigsaw of numerous suspects, red herrings, heroes and villains; the body count is liberal without going ballistic and it’s sufficiently grisly and occasionally scary.

Great scenes that play about with bits from the first film include select moments from Stab - which Craven himself said was supposed to represent how a hack director would’ve approached Scream - the best part doubtlessly being when, after Sidney quipped to Tatum and Dewey that a film of her life would end up with Tori Spelling cast as her, who else should turn up in the role but Tori Spelling? Excellent.

Clocking in at five minutes short of the two hour mark (almost unheard of in these parts), there’s lots of time for various sequences to be slowly drawn out, like Gale’s cat and mouse chase through a studio, that massively tense escape from the totalled cop car and, of course, the unmasking ceremony, when Sidney faces up to what the killer, or ers, have in store for her as a motive this time.

The finale is good n’ strong. The revelation concerning the murderers was a wonderful homage to a very influential slasher film of olde and while I smugly guessed one part of the outcome, another part had me going “oh yeah! Duh!” Sidney puts up a good fight, using the props of the Cassandra stage we saw earlier to fight back and is eventually caught up in a bizarre stand-off between unlikely characters.

Of course, lots that happens can be boiled down to huge creative license: how people end up in particular places at just the right time is something that we get used to in any horror film but here it’s not so much that characters make stupid mistakes like splitting up to search for someone or going to find out what that scraping noise outside is, they’re jockeyed into position by the killer and are played, some of them throughout the entire film, by the sociopath.

As before, cameos come thick n’ fast from Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, in an almost throwaway part as ‘the sorority victim’ – it was difficult not expecting her to whip out a pointy stick and kick ass; Joshua Jackson is in the film class scene and not-then-famous Portia De Rossi and Rebecca Gayheart (the latter turning up in the following year’s Urban Legend) are a couple of dizzy sorority chicks – or are they?

Ultimately marred by the fact that you can’t really see it without knowing the first film, there’s little else to criticize: defenders of the old school had already prepared flimsy arguments against big-budget horror ‘bastardizing’ the legacy of a gazillion skid row projects from fifteen years ago but the fact is that if there was no Scream and Scream 2, slasher films would’ve simply faded away altogether, save for the odd shot-on-camcorder shelf filler and for that they should be lauded rather than lamented.

Girl power!

Blurbs-of-interest: Sarah Michelle Gellar was Helen in I Know What You Did Last Summer; Lewis Arquette was also in The Horror Show; Christopher Doyle was in the Toolbox Murders remake; Rebecca Gayheart was also in Santa’s Slay and had a cameo in Urban Legends: Final Cut; Heather Graham was in From Hell; Elise Neal was in Holla; Joshua Jackson was in Urban Legend.

Don’t waste those cookies!


 3 Stars  1999/18/93m

“There’s nowhere to hide.”

Director: Gavin Wilding / Writer: Stewart Allison / Cast: Allison Lange, Brandon Fehr, Brad Rowe, John Savage, Lorne Stewart, Crystal Bublé, Jerry Wasserman.

Body Count: 5

This low-key, incoherent Canadian flick plays more like an after school teen thriller with a little more flesh and profanity spooned on.

Beginning with the unexpected murder of a girl scout selling cookies door to door, who calls at the Tarling house, home to hardworking but concerningly fond-of-his-dauhter dad Jim, friendless video game addict Bobby, and sexy teen Christina, who is struggling with fitting in at a new school and her boyfriend’s sexual demands.

Having relocated to be closer to their institutionalized mom, the Tarling kids – particularly Christina – find their large new house slightly eerie, a place where objects disappear and reappear at will, strange noises are heard coming from the attic and sandwiches make themselves. Is Christina going mad? Her bratty brother thinks so, and best friend Karen (Michael Bublé’s sister, Crystal) just wants to party.

When the boyfriend’s ex is found dead in the shallow body of water in front of the house, Christina doesn’t know who the finger of suspicion should be pointed at: her dad is acting weirder than ever, or could her beau’s temper gotten the better of him? And there’s also the introvert handyman, Howie, who seems to crop up from nowhere at any given time. The super-sweary sheriff (Wasserman) loiters around, shouting “shut the fuck up!” at every possible opportunity. In truth, it can only be one of two characters as part of the killer’s face can be seen during the opening murder.

These gloomy moments aside, Christina’s House is a rather barren horror film that could’ve used a bit more stab-and-drip. The situation is partially corrected by a good final third, once the killer and his ridiculous motive are revealed. Strictly a single-watch deal, but it’s still better than Wilding’s later foray into slasherdom, The Wisher.

Blurb-of-interest: Jerry Wasserman can be seen in shoddy SyFy flick Scarecrow and also The Editor.

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