I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
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After an accident on a winding road, four teens make the fatal mistake of dumping their victim's body into the sea. But exactly one year later, the dead man returns from his watery grave and he's looking for more than an apology. --IMDb
Review by Chad
Added: April 29, 2010
I've got a bit of a love / hate relationship with the teen horror craze of the nineties: on the one hand, I hated them because they closed the door on the horror that I had grew up with, the over-the-top horror of the eighties where the blood was spilled by the gallon, the beasts were impressive and memorable, and the boobs were on full display. The nineties brought about movies where the blood was spilled by the cupful, the "beasts" were always pretty boys or grizzled old men with novel-length backstories, and the boobs... well, the cleavage was on full display at times.

On the other hand, these movies do have some strengths that today's horror is lacking, and that is the stories. Sure, they're formulaic: a group of thirty-year-old teens get stalked by a masked / hooded person who picks them off one by one, and the killer is eventually revealed to be the guy you'd least expect for reasons that were previously unknown until they deliver the Scooby Doo-style explanation at the end. Still, they are fun to watch and pick apart in an attempt to figure out who the killer is, and I Know What You Did Last Summer proves my point to a tee: it's completely by the book, it's too tame to really provide any of the "good stuff", and it's one of those movies that I love to hate... and hate to love.

It's the 4th of July in 1996, and four teens - Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Barry (Ryan Phillippe), and Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) - are celebrating their high school graduation by boozing it up on the beach. While driving home from their little party, they accidentally hit a man and send his body flying. Panicking, they decide to call the police, but as their heads clear up, they realize that the man is dead... and if he is dead, then why should they throw away their lives by confessing to manslaughter? After all, it's not like that would bring him back to life. So, like any good citizens of a small town, they load his body into the trunk of their car and dump him into the ocean, hoping that either the body is never found or that all of the evidence has been washed away by the time it is found. They make a pact to never speak of this night again, and they all go their separate ways.

Moving ahead a year, Julie returns to her hometown while on college break, and before she even has time to get settled in, she receives an ominous letter that simply states "I know what you did last summer." She reunites the gang, who are all quite miserable due to having to live with the previous year's event, and they all agree that they can't exactly go to the police. So, they decide that they should try to find the person who sent the letter and reason with them, as if that has any hope of success. Before you can say "Scream", the mystery man (or woman) has went beyond sending letters and is treading deep into "using a hook to slaughter his victims" territory.

As mentioned, I'll freely acknowledge that the film is as formulaic as they come. Scream set the blueprint for this particular wave of teen horror, and the boys responsible for Last Summer unabashedly stuck with the formula. So did dozens, maybe even hundreds of other movies released during that period of time, but unlike many other movies, Last Summer was actually pretty good. Great? I wouldn't go that far, but with a solid if not a bit convoluted storyline and some decent kills, the flick is certainly enjoyable.

One thing I can criticize about the storyline was the twist ending, which was made much more complicated than it should have been. I remember seeing this in the theater, and honestly, I had no idea who the killer was even after the big reveal. We saw who he was, yet I was still left puzzled. Granted, I was in a theater full of screaming idiots (is there any other kind?) so I missed some of the dialogue, but even watching the film again on DVD, one really has to pay attention to put the pieces together. We're dealing with three or four red herrings who we never actually see and only hear talked about by name, so when we finally see the killer revealed and realize that we haven't seen his or her face before, it's sort of difficult to figure out who it's supposed to be. Oh, and that "one last scare" ending? Lame.

I did enjoy the overall film though, and the fact that we've got decent acting on display certainly helped that. Now, when I say "decent", I mean "decent by horror standards" - these guys and gals weren't robbed of any awards, but for a teen slasher film, they were perfectly acceptable. The only real exception here is Freddie Prinze Jr., a man who I just can't stand to watch. There's just something about his facial expressions and his style of line delivery that makes me think of a mentally-handicapped fellow, and to say that that's distracting would be an understatement.

I Know What You Did Last Summer is not a perfect or even a great movie, but in a sea of Scream imitators, it certainly ranks pretty high up there. It definitely has its flaws and it's not even the absolute best of the aforementioned imitators, but I still get a kick out of it every time I pop it in. 7/10.
bluemeanie #1: bluemeanie - added 05/14/2010, 12:07 PM
You know, I have a soft spot in my heart for this one. I was a teenager when these films came out and they really were entertaining to me. I always preferred this one over the others. Attractive cast, clever premise and generally well executed. Nice nostalgia for me. 7/10.
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