I Know What You Did Last Summer: That Other 90s Teen Slasher That Isn’t Scream

Most of us probably still remember those scholastic book orders from elementary school. If you were a budding horror fan in the 1970s and 1980s, the closest you could get to Stephen King was Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. Goosebumps novels wouldn’t hit bookshelves until the 1990s. And Duncan’s teen suspense novel was tame enough for preteens, which made it pretty suitable source material for the slasher-lite revival. Following Scream’s breakout success, slasher movies – albeit relatively tame versions of the 80s titles – returned to movie theatres. Among the best of the slasher-lite revival, mixed reviews couldn’t stop I Know What You Did Last Summer from making big bucks at the box office. Two increasingly inferior sequels followed. Now nearly 25 years removed, can this 90s slasher hold up to a re-watch?

Synopsis

On the Fourth of July, with high school behind them, four friends take a summer night’s drive that ends tragically. Along a bend of coastal highway, they strike and kill a pedestrian. Knowing the police will ask if they were drinking, the friends decide to dump the body in the ocean and take a vow of silence. One year later, a still guilt-ridden Julie James come back home from college. She’s distanced herself from boyfriend, Ray, and her friends, Helen and Barry. But soon an anonymous letter baring a cryptic message – I Know What You Did Last Summer – arrives for Julie. When Ray, Helen, and Barry receive similar letters, the four friends must set aside their differences to figure out who saw what they did last summer. And what they want.

I Know What You Did Last Summer Offers Safe Teen Scares

Like most of the slasher-lite revival, I Know What You Did Last Summer differs remarkably from its ‘Golden Age’ predecessors. High production values (for a teen slasher) and a big cast of hot young up-and-comers, I Know What You Did Last Summer couldn’t be further away from movies like He Knows You’re Alone or Happy Birthday to Me. But this slickly produced slasher-lite movie is also missing something else. Regardless of the body count, director Jim Gillespie keeps things on the lighter side of gore and elaborate deaths. Gorehounds expecting the Grand Guignol shocks of Friday the 13th will be disappointed. Consistent with its source material, I Know What You Did Last Summer keeps it pretty close to the PG-13 mark.

Gorehounds expecting the Grand Guignol shocks of Friday the 13th will be disappointed.

Still I Know What You Did Last Summer delivers some fun roller-coaster scares. With a few random kills interspersed throughout the movie, Gillespie does tease out some suspense for his four central characters’ fates. Threatening letters are followed with some creepy stalking. Both Ryan Phillipe and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s death scenes are well executed. In particular, Gillespie stages a fairly memorable ‘stalk and kill’ scene for Gellar that’s nearly as good as anything in Scream. And the climax proves to be pretty rousing stuff, if not a little over-produced.

A Kevin Williamson Screenplay and Cast of Cool, Young Up-and-Comers Make This A Definitive 90s Slasher-Lite

Eighties slasher movies featured a cast of unknowns. Once in a while, a young Kevin Bacon popped up. Most of the actors were cannon fodder But the slasher-lite movies of the later 90s were a launching pad for now familiar faces. And I Know What You Did Last Summer was no exception. As the movie’s ‘Final Girl‘, Jennifer Love Hewitt was still basking in the success of Party of Five. She makes for a great ‘Scream Queen’ here, and in the disappointing sequel, making it easy to root for her. When Sarah Michelle Gellar signed up for what was her second supporting role in a slasher-lite movie (Scream 2), Buffy the Vampire Slayer was only just getting started. Not surprisingly, she’s excellent here and clearly destined for bigger things.

…it’s Williamson’s fingerprints that give I Know What You Did Last Summer its distinctly 90s feel.

In addition to Ryan Phillipe and Freddie Prinze Jr, the supporting case is stacked with Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki, and Bridgette Wilson. And if the dialogue in I Know What Did You Familiar feels as familiar and cozy as your favourite old armchair that because Kevin Williamson penned the screenplay. The same hip 90s teen-centric vibe Williamson injected into Scream and then Dawson’s Creek is here, too. Most of the best dialogue goes to Phillipe’s arrogant Barry. Williamson doles out a few zingers to Wilson and Galecki, saving the more serious – and sometimes eye-rolling dialogue – for Hewitt. Without a doubt, however, it’s Williamson’s fingerprints that give I Know What You Last Summer its distinctly 90s feel.

I Know What You Did Last Summer May Be The Second Best 90s Slasher

Though it never approaches the more iconic Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer makes for a fun, light horror watch. When one considers that Duncan’s book was safe pre-teen suspense, Gillespie’s adaptation makes more sense as something akin to gateway horror. Outside of Craven’s classic, this is also probably the best of the slasher-lite revival. From its impressive cast to slickly produced scares, I Know What You Did Last Summer is never dull. And it also happens to have a pretty damn good soundtrack. Take the soundtrack and Kevin Williamson’s screenplay and this may be one of the better representatives of later 90s horror.

THE FINAL VERDICT: WORTH RE-VISITING

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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