Wes Craven’s Scream led to an unexpected slasher revival … with a twist. First, these late 90s and early aught’s slashers lacked the explicit gore of their ‘Golden Era’ predecessors. And, by and large, they also lacked the self-aware humour of Scream. Oddly enough, it was Kevin Williamson himself who penned the first of the major slasher-lite releases- I Know What You Did Last Summer. Williamson adapted Lois Duncan’s teen mystery thriller into what’s a pretty run-of-the-mill slasher movie. But a good cast, decent production values, and solid soundtrack separated it from the pack. Healthy box office receipts earned one theatrical sequel, followed by a straight-to-video capper. Forget the sequels – is this 1990’s slasher worth re-visiting? Or should we just forget what they did that summer?
During Fourth of July celebrations, four high school friends take a joyride along a coastal highway that ends tragically. When they accidentally hit and kill a man walking along the road, the friends agree to dump the body in the ocean and keep it a secret. One year later, anonymous letters turn up warning the foursome that, “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. Soon a hooded figure wielding a hook begins stalking them. Now the four friends must figure out who knows what happened on that dark highway before it’s too late.
I Know What You Did Last Summer Executes Serviceable Slasher Antics
Clearly, Williamson and director Jim Gillespie (D-Tox) weren’t as ambitious as Wes Craven. What the writing and directing duo offer in I Know What You Did Last Summer (IKWYDLS) is pretty straightforward slasher fare. From the Tragic Accident, red herrings, and ominous warnings, IKWYDLS could just as easily be an update of Prom Night. But if it’s familiar, I Know What You Did Last Summer fully commits itself to the formula. And Gillespie competently executes the requisite jump scares and ‘cat-and-mouse’ chases. None of these jump scares are particularly memorable. There’s nothing that will stand up to a second viewing and still shock. Don’t expect any visceral blood and gore. Outside of the movie’s first kill, I Know What You Did Last Summer is pretty safe for young teen audiences.
But if it’s familiar, I Know What You Did Last Summer fully commits itself to the formula.
If it’s not particularly suspenseful, Gillespie still does some admirable work with a few of the ‘stalk-and-slash’ scenes. One extended chase scene, involving Sarah Michelle Gellar’s “Helen”, is one of the movie’s highlights. Additionally, I Know What You Did Last Summer’s climax makes good use of its decent production values. This is a well-edited movie that looks good, which makes it the antithesis of 80’s slashers. Whether horror fans consider that to be a good thing or not is a matter of personal perspective. Though its runtime pushes a little long, I Know What You Did Last Summer surprisingly doesn’t drag. The movie’s “mystery” is pretty light stuff, but it’s more than enough to fill the gaps between chases and deaths. And the movie’s soundtrack was among the better ones in 1990s horror movies.
I Know What You Did Last Summer Benefits from an Up-and-Coming Cast
While several big-name celebrities got their start in slasher films, the ‘Golden Era’ of the slasher largely cast young unknowns to comprise their body count. Comparatively, Scream and the slasher-lite revival preferred to helm their movies with recognizable young television stars. Popular mid-90’s family drama, Party of Five, gave horror Neve Campbell and I Know What You Did Last Summer’s leading lady, Jennifer Love Hewitt. As the group’s moral centre, Julie James, Hewitt is a passable ‘Final Girl’. On the one hand, she’s likeable and projects the vulnerability needed to enhance the suspense of the movie’s ‘cat-and-mouse’ thrills. But Hewitt lacks the strength of other ‘Final Girls’, most notably her Party of Five co-star, Neve Campbell.
…Scream and the slasher-lite revival preferred to helm their movies with recognizable young television stars.
Not surprisingly, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s ‘Helen’ is the more interesting character. Of course, Gellar is arguably the stronger actress of the two leads. At the time I Know What You Did Last Summer hit theatres, however, Buffy the Vampire Slayer had only debuted months earlier. And Gellar still had a small role in the yet-to-be-released Scream 2. For young up-and-coming actors Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr, and Anne Heche, I Know What You Did Last Summer served as a career launching pad. All three performers are perfectly fine in the movie and a big step above the acting you’d find in an 80’s slasher. Even Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki, fresh off the end of Roseanne at the time, has fun with a small role.
I Know What You Did Last Summer …
Neither as good as Scream nor as bad as an Urban Legend or Valentine, I Know What You Did Last Summer is slasher-lite comfort food for 90’s horror fans. Or kids who ordered Lois Duncan’s book from Scholastic. Expect few surprises in what’s a formulaic sub-genre movie. This is Kevin Williamson on auto-pilot. But a good cast, competent filmmaking, a killer soundtrack, and a few good chase scenes combine with nostalgia to make I Know What You Did Last Summer a decent guilty pleasure. An since you’re probably not doing anything this summer, now might be a good time to re-visit it. Just don’t both with either of the sequels.