While less humorous than screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer still packs a punch in the postmodern self-referential department. From namedropping the feminist film concepts of castrating phallic symbols to a film-within-a-film storytelling scenario, it matches Williamson’s distinct pop-horror layered with film theory. There’s mirrored blondes and brunettes that demonstrate a filmmaker’s eye for balance, and a killer that’s out of reach until its final, intense moments. Summer is a solid slasher flick with an emphasis on urban legends becoming real life.
Starring 90s sweetheart Jennifer Love Hewitt in her breakout horror role, Summer also introduced a generation of gushing tweens to Ryan Phillipe. It also features Sarah Michelle Gellar (who would later star with Phillipe in Cruel Intentions), fresh off her first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the man she would go on to marry in real life, Freddie Prinze Jr. The young, attractive cast provide some eye-popping visuals that folks in 1997 would likely deem raunchy, and while the film received an R-rating from the MPAA, it would be hardly deserving of the rating in today’s film market. There are a few splatters of blood, but nothing too gruesome and certainly no nudity.
Summer focuses on a four 18-year olds on the brink of adulthood, soon to leave their small North Carolina sea town for college or the Big Apple. Julie, played by Hewitt, and her boyfriend Ray, played by Prinze Jr., will go their separate ways–Julie going to college and Ray going to spend his days writing in NYC cafes. Similarly, Helen, played by Gellar, will move to NYC to pursue acting and her boyfriend Barry, played by Phillipe, will be attending college. The four lead characters spend a drunken evening telling urban legends of a hook-handed man seeking revenge, fighting over exactly what takes place in the story. It provides a nice bit of foreshadowing for the ‘whodunit’ the film becomes, with the central killer even wielding a hook. Later in the evening, they accidentally run over a man while driving, not only leaving him for dead, but deciding to empty his body into the ocean to avoid any consequences.
A year later, Julie returns from a difficult, depression-fueled year at college only to receive an ominous letter from which the film’s title gets its name. Ray apparently never left and works on the fishing docks, and Helen works at the local department store. Barry too went to college, but all four have refrained from speaking, until now. They decide to pursue the only other person who saw them on that fateful evening, only for that person to be brutally murdered, and many more after that.
The rest of the film provides a number of twists, turns, and ah-ha moments, with the theme of failed dreams seeping throughout. It’s a bit of a heavy motif in such a candy-coated horror, but at least it provides some depth. Falling short of Scream in the humor department, I Know What You Did Last Summer makes up for it with similar continuous red-herrings and additional tension-building.
For the month of February, Nitehawk Cinema will be showing 1990s teen horror flicks at midnight on the weekends, as part of their Death Candy series. Be sure to catch I Know What You Did Last Summer this weekend, February 10th & 11th.