Synopsis: Four young friends bound by a tragic accident are reunited when they find themselves being stalked by a hook-wielding maniac in their small seaside town.
Stars: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Ryan Phillippe, Anne Heche, Bridgette Wilson, Johnny Galecki, Muse Watson, Stuart Greer
Director: Jim Gillespie
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: You can thank 1996’s Scream for reinvigorating the largely dead teen slasher franchise that went toe up in the mid ’80s, at least for an extended period for the next decade. Though it may be starting another renaissance soon with remakes of films that were made during that fruitful period at the cinema, between 1997 and 2002 you’d be hard pressed to go several weeks without a carbon copy movie hitting your local theater. Many of these were rush jobs that deserved to fade into obscurity along with their forgettable, flash in the pan cast members. Yet early on you actually had some decent options to choose from and one of the best of the bunch that still holds up on repeat viewing today is 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Adapted by Scream-scribe Kevin Williamson long before he sold his blockbuster franchise starter, the script for his modernized take on Lois Duncan’s 1973 popular YA novel was snatched up by Columbia Pictures. Lucking out in the casting department by signing a roster of reasonably bankable stars and, more than anything, good actors, the film benefits from Williamson’s love of horror flicks of his youth and a desire to re-create a straight-up slasher film he could call his own. Whereas Scream had satire on the brain and worked that into something unforgettable in a way that only that particular film could, Williamson didn’t try to punch up his script for I Know What You Did Last Summer with the same self-referencing quips. The teens in the film are well-spoken and no dummies, but they aren’t self-aware enough to know the rules of the horror film like the young adults in Scream were.
Most of us know the plot from the book, the movie, or maybe even a campfire tale growing up. Four teens out for a night of fun are involved in a hit-and-run cover-up that then drives a wedge between their close bond. A year later, they start receiving notes from someone that saw what they did and has deadly plans to make them pay for their crime. Duncan’s novel was (and is still) a moody and spooky cautionary tale of owning up to one’s mistakes or paying the consequences later. It’s not quite as deadly as Williamson’s more brutal way of making the four (and several of their friends/family) atone for a sin but it proves a solid base for Williamson to jump off from. For his part, Williamson has made the mystery a little deeper and given the characters a bit more personality, ably giving the movie a solid three act structure.
Director Jim Gillespie also delivers as well, not just encouraging fun performances from the cast but staging the movie with nice scares and more than a few stalk and stab sequences that get the tension rising. The only way the movie starts to take a downward turn is that the more interesting characters are the ones we start to see, uh, less of so that by the end we’re meant to be rooting for possibly the blandest of them all. No matter, this one has a high re-watchability factor and always seems to get the job done if I’m in the mood for an above average slasher film that won’t require the full commitment of the Scream franchise but won’t have me trolling around Netflix for hours searching for something. I’ve seen it countless times and never seem to tire of it or find a desire to poke holes in it.
A sequel was no equal (not by a long shot) and a third film was beyond bad. Williamson would be behind a number of similarly themed fare over the next decade but none came close to his one-two punch of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. I generally liked many of these and even would buy a ticket for the lesser-than selections week after week. For 90 minutes, it was fun to see what new start of tomorrow (that never was) would get killed in a fun and interesting way. The fun really began, though, with I Know What You Did Last Summer and, it seems the Summer continues even today because this is a great title to revisit this month.