At a recent media celebration of the work of Boris Karloff, a
name virtually synonymous with the genre of horror, a
speaker noted that Karloff would not like today's slasher
movies. Karloff was more interested in psychological depth,
leaving the gore and carnage to the viewers' imaginations.
He made sure that the evils perpetrated by his Frankenstein
monster were the result of the creature's loneliness and
rejection by society. This emphasis in no way detracted from
the horror of what he did: we feel for the young woman who
is slain despite the monster's cognizance of her beauty.
Now, "I Know What You Did Last Summer" treads pretty
lightly on psychological depth. Still, director Jim Gillespie,
using a screenplay by Kevin "Scream" Williamson, can't help
showing how the four adolescents who are at first "eternally
committed" to one another and to their future goals but
become in a year's time more realistic and mature human
beings. The accent, though, is on creating terror for the
audience, and judging by the screeches of the mostly high-
school crowd at a test screening, it succeeds admirably.
Following the usual route of the genre, "I Know What You
Did" highlights false alarms (that sudden tap on your shoulder
is just a concerned Mom, not The Beast); scenes of savage
butchery (executed with a large fish knife, as though the
usual, human-size prosthetic arm were not scary enough);
and a bigger-than-life looney tunes dude on the loose and
madly seeking revenge.
What elevates this movie above the usual for the category
is a quartet of charming performers in the role of ditzy youth
at a important crossroad in their lives. The four inseparable
buddies have just graduated from their Southport, North
Carolina high school, about to go their separate ways, and
celebrating their last night of true togetherness in a liquor-
soaked drive down a desolate road. When Ray (Freddie
Prinze Jr.), distracted by his drunken pal Barry (Ryan
Phillippe), accidentally plows into a man who is unexpectedly
walking across the road, they panic. Call the cops? That
could threaten their plans. After all Julie (Jennifer Love
Hewitt) is about to go to an Ivy League college; Helen (Sarah
Michelle Gellar), who has just been named beauty queen, is
to go to New York to study acting; Barry, a jock, has his heart
set on playing football in Boston where Julie will study law.
They dump the body in the ocean and make a pact to seal
their lips. The body, inauspiciously, does not remain dead for
long. Stalking the foursome and intent on vengeance, the
accident victim plots a gruesome strategy to toy with the
young people and to murder them.
As with other movies of this type, the body count is kept
low during the first half, though false alarms are plentiful.
When the murders take place, they are not clean
affairs...bodies are slashed unmercifully and dragged
unceremoniously to be dumped in car trunks and other
intimidating points. The need to evoke shrieks and howls
from the audience takes a front seat, pretty much leaving wit
and credibility behind. For example, why should the first victim
be a guy who is not only innocent of any role in the accident,
but who feels nothing but contempt and envy for the
perpetrators? As for repartee, we get sound bites likes that
uttered by Julie's freshman roommate at the end of the first
college years, "Get some sun on that tasty pale tail o yours,"
and from Barry to the girls, "You look like s*** run over twice."
Anne Hache does a standout job in a small role as the
sister of a man who allegedly committed suicide. Her tics and
hesitant manner handily display her vulnerability. Freddie
Prinze Jr. and Julie James are well cast as a troubled girl on
the verge of flunking out of college because of her guilt
feelings and a boy who realizes his culpability and tries to
come to terms with his conscience.
"I Know What You Did Last Summer" features a coda
which, rather than form a peaceful unravelling of the tension,
produces a frightening scene which virtually says, "Next Year:
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten