"I Know What You Did Last Summer," the first high-profile slasher
thriller to be released after 1996's "Scream," and written by the same
screenwriter, Kevin Williamson, is a stylish, effective horror film that
became 1997's biggest hit of the Fall season. While "Scream" was a more
knowing film about the genre, "I Know What You Did Last Summer" is more
reminiscent of a straight-forward slasher flick, but it is far more
intelligent than such bottom-of-the-barrel guilty pleasures as all nine
of the "Friday the 13th" films (well, okay, "Jason Goes to Hell" was
pure hell to sit through).
The film starts off with four talented, aspiring teenage friends who
have just graduated from high school in their small boating town of
Southport, N.C. It is the 4th of July, and they will soon be heading
their separate ways. Kind-hearted Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), and
outsider Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) will be headed off to college, while
Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who has just been honored Croaker Queen
in the town, and her ignorant jock boyfriend, Barry (Ryan Phillippe),
are going to New York to become an actress and football player. When the
four of them travel to a nearby mountain-side beach for the evening,
they are dismayed after hitting a man in the road on their way home.
Distraught and confused, they decide they can't go to the police because
they will be charged with manslaughter, so they devise a plan to throw
the apparently dead victim off a peer into the ocean, in hopes no one
will find him. Julie is apprehensive about it, but is forced into it by
Barry. Switch to exactly a year later, Julie, still unable to come to
terms with what she did, reluctantly returns home from college to find
that all three of her old friends are still in the town because their
career plans did not work out. Almost immediately, Julie recieves an
ominous letter that simply reads, "I know what you did last summer," and
that is the start of their problems as they find themselves being
terrorized by a mysterious figure dressed in fisherman gear and yielding
a giant hook.
"I Know What You Did Last Summer," is a successful horror film for a
number of reasons. The cinematography by Denis Crossan could very well
be described as Hitchcockian, as it put shadows, fog, steam, and other
clever devices to add atmosphere to the proceedings. The characters,
particularly Julie and Helen, are realistically written, and the film
amazingly deals with their broken relationship in a few scenes, which is
largely uncharacteristic in films of this sort. And last, the film
creates a few dazzling and scary set-pieces that are some of the most
memorable I've seen in a horror movie, particularly the suspenseful,
superbly shot sequence involving Helen at her family's store with the
killer inside with her.
Perhaps the best character is that of Missy Egan (Anne Heche), a lonely
backwoods woman whose brother was the one Julie thinks they hit. Heche's
performance is a standout, as she is able to create a full character in
only about ten minutes of screen time.
"I Know What You Did Last Summer," could have been a great horror movie
if not for a few problems. Prinze Jr. gives a performance to be desired
here, and much of his dialogue sounds wooden coming out of his mouth.
Also, the climax of the film almost completely loses its frightening
grip after it unveils the mystery killer, who is a decidedly bad actor
and should not have been given any lines. Luckily, the penultimate scene
saves the disappointing finale, which includes an expertly crafted
In the main roles, Hewitt and Gellar are highly talented, and Hewitt,
especially, is one of the best screamers I've ever heard. She honestly
could give Jamie Lee Curtis a little competition for the best "scream
queen." And Gellar is touching as a young woman who, in the course of
one year, finds her dream of being an actress ultimately shattered.
Although not up to the level of either "Scream" movies, or the more
recent, "Urban Legend," "I Know What You Did last Summer" is a
respectable, smartly-scripted slasher film that firmly proved good
horror movies were once again being made.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman