I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Release Date: October 17th, 1997 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jim Gillespie Actors: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Bridgette Wilson, Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki, Muse Watson, Stuart Greer
t the Fourth of July Croaker Festival in Southport, pageant finalist Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) – who aspires to move to New York to be an actress – wins the crown, but is more anxious about wildly spending her last high school summer in her small town engaging in immaturity and decadent partying. Her bullying, egotistical jock boyfriend Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe) is perfectly suited for her, aspiring himself to be a professional football player. Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt), on the other hand, is a dorkier, less outgoing girl (although no less superstar-attractive), with the calmer, more down-to-earth boyfriend Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.). After the town’s celebration wanes, the foursome sneaks off to Dawson’s beach for an evening of drinking and implied sex.
On their way back down the lightless, winding, desolate road, Barry sticks his head out of the sunroof, which distracts Ray’s driving abilities, and they collide with a barnacle-covered sailor strolling through the middle of the lane. The group soon discovers the bloodied body and, in a panic, resorts to shoving the dead man into the nearby lake, hoping to avoid manslaughter charges or the judicial blameworthiness of having had so much alcohol. “Just pretend we were never here,” cries Helen. Just as they dispose of the corpse, the fisherman grabs Helen’s crown off of her head while sinking into the murky water, like something out of “Deliverance.” The following summer, with guilt eating away at her, Julie receives a hand-written letter that states: “I know what you did last summer!”
As if to portray the typical unfulfilled dreams of high school ambition and potential, Julie struggles to focus on further education; Helen is stuck in their hometown at a retail store’s jewelry department; Barry lives with his rich parents; and Ray works as a lowly fisherman. After learning about the taunting letter, Barry is the only one to act convincingly – which is to be angry, unconcerned with the bluffing antagonism, and confrontational. Julie is the only one who is truly remorseful, but her character is so timid and weak that it’s hard to imagine her as a realistically tough heroine. Her screaming-woman fearfulness is meant to contrast the bloodthirsty villain and constant terrorizing, but it only makes her sleuthing and immersion into dangerous situations considerably flimsier.
A melodic guitar song plays over the young lovers making out, denoting this movie as a suspect product of ‘90s teen slasher filmmaking. It also includes a periodically youthful, heavy metal soundtrack; plenty of exposed midriffs and hints of cleavage (with a surprising lack of nudity); and a noticeably small body count. The numerous false alarms, jump scares, frustratingly disbelieving supporting personas, and misdirections are admittedly amusing, with a final reveal that is moderately clever, but the resulting climax is sensationally silly (embellished by a nonsensical, highly anticipated “twist”).
In a peculiar changeup, the prime suspect, Max (Johnny Galecki), who drove past the main characters as they concealed their crime, is the first to get attacked by the crazed, hook-wielding, slicker-coated fisherman back from the dead, seeking revenge against (presumably) his killers. So much of the evidence seems to point to Max right from the start, so it’s impressively unexpected to remove him as a candidate for the butcher’s identity so soon. Regardless, the inconsistencies in the slayer’s abilities (such as his ghostlike maneuverings, ridiculously slow stalking like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, the transferring or concealing of bodies in mere seconds, and occasional clumsiness), along with characters wandering off alone, are hopelessly clichéd. But it didn’t stop the film from quickly grabbing a teen fanbase that led to two feature sequels.
– Mike Massie