I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Directed by Jim Gillespie
Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Bridgette Wilson, Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki, Muse Watson.
1997 100 minutes
Rated: (for violence, gore, and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 12, 1998.
"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 receives 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 "jump-in-your-seat" scare.
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.
© 1998 by Dustin Putman