Judge Clark Douglas didn't do much of anything last summer. Oh, but last fall...he doesn't even want to think about last fall.
Our review of I Know What You Did Last Summer, published April 24th, 1999, is also available.
He's got a hook in them.
"This is probably some psycho with a hook for a hand…we're doing the whole world a favor."
Facts of the Case
It's the fourth of July, and it's a good time to party. High school senior Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Grudge) has just been named the local beauty queen. Helen's boyfriend Barry (Ryan Phillippe, Crash), her best friend Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Heartbreakers) and her best friend's boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr., Brooklyn Rules) determine to help Helen celebrate. They break out the booze, Barry's hot new BMW, and shoot down the road in a frenzy of excitement.
Suddenly, the excitement stops. They've just hit something. Was it an animal? The four graduates examine the scene, and discover that they have hit a human being. He seems to be dead, or at least almost dead. The girls want to call the police, but the guys are nervous. They're afraid of potential manslaughter charges, and coax the girls into simply dumping the body and covering up the evidence. The girls begrudgingly agree, and the plan is executed smoothly…or so it seems. Exactly one year later, Julie receives a note: "I know what you did last summer." The four friends soon find themselves under increasingly intense physical and psychological attacks, and begin to wonder whether they can discover the identity of the stalker before he takes them all out.
In 1996, writer Kevin Williamson was considered hot property. His first screenplay was written for the movie Scream, a little horror satire that grossed over one hundred million dollars at the the box office. Scream would inspire many poor imitators, but it felt like a breath of fresh air at the time. It was a smart, witty flick that also managed to be genuinely creepy, and audiences were eager for more. Williamson followed up within a year with a screenplay called I Know What You Did Last Summer, which looked vaguely similar to Scream on the surface. Though the film was a success at the box office, most critics and audience members agreed that it was a large drop in quality from Williamson's debut effort.
I Know What You Did Last Summer is a film that succumbs to the very cliches and contrivances that the Scream films cleverly skewered. Both films are about fresh-faced young folks being stalked by some serial killer. However, this one lacks brains, talent, and a sense of imagination. The film is presented to us as a mystery, with lots of clues and painfully obvious red herrings tossed out along the way. I typically enjoy films along these lines, which give us an opportunity to try and put the pieces together as we're watching. Sadly, I Know What You Did Last Summer is simply spinning it's tires. The ultimate revelation about the identity of the killer has nothing to do with anything presented previously in the movie, which makes me feel a little cheated. Why would a film present us with a dozen potential suspects only to reveal that the killer is Some Random Person. To make matters even worse, another plot twist reveals that the killer is not just Some Random Person, but in fact an entirely different Random Person. Boo! Hiss!
The performances in the movie are all pretty weak. Jennifer Love Hewitt probably has the most screen time in the film, and was supposedly selected at the time for her looks. I don't know about you, but Hewitt looks just plain unhealthy in this film. This thin, pale, tired-looking girl seems as though she was just released from a prison camp. Meanwhile, Sarah Michelle Gellar spends the majority of her screen time screaming. Both she and Hewitt have a set of pipes, but offer little else here. Still, it must be said that they're better than the guys. Freddie Prinze Jr. plays a fellow who is sweet, but dense, and delivers his lines in an awkwardly unconvincing manner. Ryan Phillippe plays a dude who is also dense, but not at all sweet. He's an obnoxious idiot who treats people like dirt and shoves everybody around. He might as well be wearing a neon sign on his head saying, "I'm going to be dead before this movie is over." Anne Heche (Six Days, Seven Nights) also turns up as a befuddled woman living in the woods. It's about as bad as it sounds.
The hi-def transfer here is quite strong. In fact, this 1997 film looks noticeably better than quite a few hi-def discs featuring films made in the past year or two. Blacks are very deep, and many of the film's visually dark sequences are given surprisingly clarity. The sound is solid enough, though I do think that a few of the soundtrack selections are pumped up a bit high. Extras are a mixed bag. A commentary with director Jim Gillespie and editor Steve Mirkovich is quite solid. Gillespie's insight into the horror genre makes me wonder why this film didn't turn out a little better. "Now I Know What You Did Last Summer" is a nice new making-of featurette, which runs just under a half-hour. A Gillespie short film called "Joyride" is included, along with a Hula Shaker music video and a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As unintelligent and tired as I Know What You Did Last Summer is, it should be said that the movie has actually aged fairly well. There are plenty of horror/thrillers presented at this level of intelligence these days. Unfortunately, most of them dispense with the slick polish that makes this film rather entertaining. The current consensus seems to be, "If you can't scare 'em, at least make it incredibly unpleasant. It's more or less the same thing." Here, the film's glossy and polished construction permit the viewer to enjoy the film as cheesy entertainment if they can't buy it as a horror flick. There's some nice cinematography by Denis Crossan, and a score by John Debney that actually sounds like real music (though much of it is borrowed from Jerry Goldsmith's Basic Instinct). Still, these assets help the movie about as much as a handful of fig leaves helps a naked person. It's something, but there's still plenty of reason to be embarrassed.
I've certainly seen worse slasher movies than I Know What You Did Last Summer. At the very least, this one is pretty easy to sit through. Nonetheless, the facts are these: the cast of characters is uninspired, the script is amateurish, and the villain looks like he belongs on a box of fish sticks.
Arrrrh! Guilty, matey! Hardee-har-har! I still be knowin' what ye did last summer, and I hope fer the sake o' yer soul that ye don't be doing it again.
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