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I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997)

"We make a pact, right here and now. We take this thing to the grave…."
  



Director:
 
Jim Gillespie

Starring: 
Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr, Ryan Phillippe, Bridgette Wilson, Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki, Muse Watson

Screenplay: 
Kevin Williamson, based upon the novel by Lois Duncan
Synopsis: At the 4th of July Croaker Festival in Southport, North Carolina, Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is crowned Croaker Queen while her boyfriend, Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe), her best friend, Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt), and Julie’s boyfriend, Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr), cheer from the balcony. Afterwards, Julie runs into Max (Johnny Galecki), an old friend who still has a crush on her. He asks her to go out with him before she leaves for college. As Julie hesitates, Barry breaks in on the scene, abusing Max and nearly starting a fight. The two couples drive to the beach, where they scare each other with the local legend of a mysterious killer with a hook for a hand. When it is time to leave, Ray insists on driving, as Barry, the car’s owner, has been drinking heavily. As they navigate the curving road above the beach, Barry throws open the car’s sunroof and stands up, dropping his bottle and spilling its contents all over Ray. Distracted, Ray does not see the figure in the road before them. The car strikes something, which is thrown up and over them, colliding with Barry and landing in the road. The terrified teenagers try to convince themselves that they hit a dog or a deer, but as they search the road with flashlights, their worst fears are confirmed when they find the body of a man, his face so damaged they cannot recognise him. Julie immediately insists on calling the police and an ambulance, but when Helen turns to do so, Barry stops her. Certain that no-one will believe he wasn’t driving, Barry suggests a cover-up. Ray, lacking the family and wealth of the others, agrees to go along with idea. Julie refuses, and Barry yells at her, pointing out that her future is under threat as well. At that moment the four of them hear a car. Hurriedly concealing the body, they find that the driver of the car is Max. Julie speaks to him, telling him that they had a slight accident due to Barry’s drinking. Max is obviously suspicious, but eventually drives on. The four take the body to the end of a pier. As they go to push it into the water, Ray finds he cannot go through with it. Desperate, Helen steps in. As she bends over to grip the body, the man comes suddenly to life, grappling with her. Helen screams, and Barry and Ray strike the man, pushing him into the water. As he sinks, Helen realises he has taken her Croaker Queen crown. Barry jumps in after him, and succeeds in prying the crown lose from the man’s fingers. At that moment, the man’s eyes fly open. Panic-stricken, Barry climbs from the water. He insists on the four of them making a pact never to speak of the incident in the future. Helen and Ray do so willingly, but Barry must force the words from Julie. The four then go their separate ways…. A year later, Julie reluctantly returns home from college, where her worried mother confronts her over her erratic behaviour and poor grades. Julie finds a letter waiting for her. Inside is a piece of paper inscribed with the words I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

Comments: There is a moment in Plan 9 From Outer Space, one dear to the heart of any true film lover, when Eros the alien (played by Dudley Manlove) finally loses patience with the representatives of the human race with whom he has been dealing, and he tells them what he really thinks of them: "You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!"

For some reason, this scene kept coming to my mind, while I was watching I Know What You Did Last Summer.

As regular visitors to this site would know, I’m not all that fond of Scream. It failed to grab me as a horror movie, and I felt that most of its attempts to parody the slasher genre were unsuccessful. Still, the film looks like an unqualified masterpiece when compared to the pre-written but post-shot IKWYDLS, which is not only a mindless regurgitation of the very cliches that Kevin Williamson was supposed to be parodying in his magnum opus, but sincerely one of the dumbest films I’ve ever seen. Frustratingly (and in my case, for the second week in a row), the opening section of the story, despite being desperately formulaic, holds a certain potential – even some genuine emotional depth. When the kids have their accident, their terror, their panic, and the violence with which they turn on each other are all perfectly credible. Even the fact that they let their fear of the consequences overcome their scruples is understandable. Once the deed is done, the four of them – some more reluctantly than others – make their pact: that they will carry their secret to the grave, speak of it to no-one and, above all, not allow it to destroy their lives. But that, of course, is exactly what it does. When we see Julie a year later, we find her sick and exhausted, so crushed by the burden of guilt she carries that her first year at college – for the chance at which she agreed to the pact – has been a near total failure. Back in Southport, we see the rest of the damage. The secret they carry has driven the four apart, ruining their friendship and breaking up both relationships. In a scene that is honestly touching, Helen tries to re-establish contact with her now-estranged best friend, confessing wistfully, "I miss you…." But Julie does not, cannot respond. When the anonymous letter arrives, and the group must confront the fact that their desperate act is known to an outsider, the story of IKWYDLS trembles on the brink of being genuinely interesting. All too few films these days even consider, let alone show, that the actions of their central characters might have unpleasant consequences, for others if not for themselves. Had the screenplay stuck to this plot thread, it might have been both scary and interesting. But I guess that was simply way too hard. Instead, what we get is just another slasher film – and a thoroughly idiotic one at that. In fact, from the moment Julie opens her letter, the story plunges into a mire of such jaw-dropping stupidity that it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Three sequences in particular stand out:

  • Helen returns home, aware that she is in danger. She nevertheless leaves her front door unlocked, allowing the killer into her house. She stays in the kitchen just long enough for the killer to get up the stairs before her, and she neither sees him, despite his slicker swirling about, nor hears him, even though he’s wearing work boots. She retires to bed, and wakes in the morning to find that her long blonde hair has been cut off, and that her Croaker Queen crown ("Croaker" – geddit? geddit?) is on her head. Later that day, Helen takes her place in the Croaker Festival parade as out-going queen, and we see that her hair, though shorter, is flawlessly trimmed and styled. Presumably the killer has some heretofore unsuspected talents.

  • Driving to Helen’s through a residential street, Julie hears noises in the boot of her car. She pulls over, not just on the road, but on someone’s front lawn. She opens the boot and finds inside Max’s dead body, covered with live crabs. She screams her head off – which no-one hears – slams the lid and runs to Helen’s, where she finds Barry as well. The three return, Barry opens the boot, and – surprise, surprise! – the body’s gone. And so is every last crab. And every drop of water and every grain of sand. The interior is immaculate. The killer has managed to remove every single trace of evidence, in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day, without anyone seeing him. (There is no suggestion, BTW, that this incident was an hallucination.) Julie, knowing that the killer must be nearby, begins to scream, "What are you waiting for, huh? What are you waiting for??" Again, no-one hears anything, sees anything, or takes the slightest bit of notice.

  • During the second Croaker Queen ceremony, Barry is again on the balcony. Helen looks up at him from the stage, sees the killer behind him, and starts to scream. She runs forward, still screaming her head off and pointing up at the balcony, where Barry is being repeatedly stabbed with the killer’s hook. Helen continues to look up, point and scream for about five minutes, but not one person goes to investigate, or even looks in the direction that she’s pointing. The inevitable dopey deputy does finally arrive (why? no-one believes her), but when he and Helen go upstairs, they yet again find not the slightest trace of the killer’s activities, even though Barry was "hooked" about a dozen times. As Helen is removed from the premises, the camera pans across to show us a single splash of blood. Spooky, huh?

These incidents by no means comprise the whole of IKWYDLS’s stupidity, however – heavens, no. I wasn’t going to do this (for reasons I will explain later), but there really isn’t a better way of conveying how dumb this film is than by listing its dumbness point by point. So let’s consider the following:

  • that except for attendance at Croaker Festival events, the town of Southport is totally deserted, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week; at no other time do we see anyone but our main characters or the killer on the streets – not a jogger, not a kid on a bike, not a drunk, not even a stray dog.
  • that the only two people we see doing any actual work in this ghost town (or three if you’re willing to stretch a point) later end up dead. There’s a message there somewhere….
  • that we are told four times the local beach is called "Dawson’s Beach". Sigh….
  • that both Barry and the victim manage to survive, almost uninjured, an accident that should have either killed or crippled them both.
  • that despite their victim coming back to life not once but twice, the kids are greatly surprised when they later find out he isn’t dead.
  • that when Max is murdered, his disappearance is never even acknowledged, let alone the puddle of blood left behind investigated.
  • that when Barry is confronted by the killer driving his own car, he chooses, not to duck back inside the gym, but to run right down the middle of the road.
  • that although the killer hits Barry with the car and forces him through the wall of a wooden building, seriously injuring him and destroying the building, we see no subsequent sign of a police investigation.
  • that when the suspicious Barry later punches out Ray, he uses his broken arm.
  • that when Helen, during the parade, looks out for the rain-slicker clad killer, we see that half the male population of Southport chooses to dress in a hat, a slicker and work boots – on a public holiday – in the middle of the day – in the middle of summer.
  • that the killer manages to anticipate (i) that Helen will be driven away from the ceremony in a police car; (ii) that they will drive down a particular street; and (iii) that finding a road-block in place, they will turn down the very alley in which he happens to be lurking.
  • that the department stored owned by Helen’s family is called Shiver’s. Shouldn’t that be Shivers’?
  • that Helen’s sister, Elsa, deadbolts the front door of the store, and needs a set of keys to unlock it, but leaves the back door open.
  • that no-one answers the phones at the Southport police station.
  • that when her call to the police is interrupted by the sound of her sister screaming, Helen hangs up and goes looking for her – in the dark.
  • that the killer manages to switch the lights in the store off while hiding under a plastic sheet in the middle of the room.
  • that after screaming bloody murder and running fast when no-one’s around, Helen slows up and shuts up when she actually sees someone who might help.
  • that although Helen has been running away from the killer as fast as she can, and we’ve never seen him break out of a slow walk, he manages to reappear right in front of her, just before she reaches safety.
  • that Helen is butchered about five yards from a parade – and no-one sees or hears.
  • that a year after the event, a woman still keeps her brother’s suicide note close to hand, apparently so she can show it to passing strangers, as well as explain to them how she’s defrauding the insurance company.
  • that the same woman never noticed the note wasn’t in her brother’s handwriting.
  • that after most of the film concerns the planting of red herrings and Julie tracking down clues to the killer’s identity, the killer turns out to be someone we’ve never heard of.
  • that after having gotten away with murder himself, the killer chooses to throw away his advantage by stalking, then killing, the kids. (Mind you, given what we’ve seen – or rather, haven’t seen – of the Southport police force, I suppose he had every reason to feel secure.)
  • that the killer obviously owns and uses two different cameras, one self-developing, one not.
  • that when confronted by the killer on the deck of a boat, Julie runs inside rather than jumping overboard, even though they’re only a few yards from shore.
  • that the killer’s boat seems to have been designed by the Time Lords.
  • that instead of killing Ray, the killer merely knocks him out over and over – allowing Ray to come back over and over.
  • that in the middle of Ray and the killer fighting to the death, Julie helpfully screams Ray’s name, distracting him and allowing the killer to get the jump on him.
  • that the fact that the kids didn’t actually kill someone at the outset apparently makes the whole body-dumping incident okey-dokey – not to mention a final, straight-faced lie to the police. So much for Julie’s guilty conscience.
  • that the film has a double-barrelled ending – a "set up the sequel" sequence followed by a cheap false scare. What a surprise.

Believe it or not, even this list of IKWYDLS’s stupid moments isn’t exhaustive. It may have escaped the attention of the illustrious Mr Williamson, but this is supposed to be a horror movie. But how on earth could anyone be engaged by, let alone scared by, something that provokes nothing more from the viewer than a continual stream of mental – or verbal – exclamations of "Oh, come on!"? The situation is not helped by the fact that, since this is a slasher film, some way of upping the body count had to be found. After all, we really only have four characters, and at least one of them has to survive. What kind of slasher film has only two or three victims? To fix this, a few extra random killings are dragged in. Early red herring Max is the first to go, for no reason in the world that I can think of. The next ring-in, to no-one’s surprise, is the dopey deputy sheriff (a stereotype with the second highest fatality rate in moviedom – after that of the mad scientist, of course); and finally there’s Elsa, Helen’s older sister, who is foolish enough to be: (a) bitchy; and (b) a single, glasses-wearing career woman. (It occurs to me that I have yet to see Bridgette Wilson survive any film I’ve seen her in.) I have a real problem with the character of Elsa. She is depicted throughout of being rabidly jealous of her younger, prettier (?), more popular sister. Even so, I would hope that any woman’s reaction, when confronted by another woman - let alone her sister - screaming hysterically that she is being attacked, would be something more concrete than a sceptical smile and a weary shake of the head. It was patently obvious from the beginning that Elsa was going to buy it, and this distasteful little touch really wasn’t necessary.

And then there’s The Big Four. Some of our central characters buy it, of course, and once again Kevin Williamson’s penchant for colour-coding his victims is boringly apparent. I don’t think I gave away any great secret up above when I told you that Barry is the first of the group to go. Not only is he responsible for the accident, the one to suggest the cover-up, and the prime mover in the body disposal, he is also an unmitigated arsehole. He drinks constantly, he’s foul-mouthed, he’s bad tempered, he likes to beat up anyone who has the temerity to have less money than himself, and at one point he tells Julie and Helen that they "look like shit that’s been run over twice". (As you can see, he’s not only a charmer, he’s got a real gift for the appropriate phrase.) In fact, the biggest mystery of IKWYDLS is probably why this dick has any friends at all. (Okay, so he’s got money; but nobody’s got that much money!) But fortunately, our Barry is a blond, which guarantees him a hook in the stomach. Helen, alas, is equally Aryan. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s presence in this film is probably the one thing about it most difficult to deal with, because we all know she’s better than this. Her Helen signs her own death warrant right at the outset by not just having sex, but instigating it. (Julie has sex too, but she and Ray are in love, which at least grants her a stay of execution.) After that, her involvement in the body-dumping seems almost a minor indiscretion.

Which brings us to our two brunettes. The screenplay goes to some effort to suggest that Ray might be behind the anonymous letter and its aftermath, but in fact he is so obviously set up as a suspect that he even more obviously isn’t guilty, if you follow my logic. Freddie Prinze Jr doesn’t do much as Ray, beyond acting suspiciously, but he does make us wonder, when we see him on his own boat, immaculately groomed and dressed, why being "just a fisherman" is so very much to be feared. And finally there’s Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Julie. It’s hard to imagine that Hewitt’s presence in this film is anything but a follow-up to Neve Campbell’s starring role in Scream. Her Julie is not only the "good" girl, she’s also the college-bound, brainy one, which pretty much pegs her as Final Girl even without considering her brunette-ness. (Not meaning to be rude or anything, but casting Hewitt as the intellectual of the group does demonstrate a certain sense of humour on somebody’s part.) While on the whole Julie merely goes through the expected motions, at one point she definitely manages to raise an eyebrow or two. When the letter arrives, Julie becomes understandably obsessed with discovering what’s behind it, but after the attack on Barry she changes her tune. When Ray suggests finally going to the police, Julie counters with the suggestion that they catch their tormenter themselves. She goes on to state that "I’m not interested in what’s right any more, I’m only interested in what’s smart". Now, is it my imagination, or has our "good" girl just proposed committing first-degree murder? After all, if they did catch the killer, there would only be two courses of action open to them, and going to the police has already been ruled out…. Naturally, this scene leads nowhere. That I noticed it at all is probably just indicative of the fact that I’m female. Or to put it another way, it is apparent that some trouble was taken to keep male viewers from actually thinking while they were watching this film. And no, I don’t mean gratuitous nudity. There is no nudity at all in IKWYDLS. Obviously, there are no sex scenes, either; and the bloodshed is comparatively minimal. (I leave it to the individual to decide whether these factors constitute pluses or minuses.) In place of all this, we get the wardrobes of Ms Hewitt and Ms Gellar, who go through the entire film wearing push-up bras and tops that were two sizes too small even before they shrank in the wash. (Ms Gellar also wears mini-skirts and micro-shorts a lot, whereas Ms Hewitt, playing the "good" girl, favours long pants and skirts.) The film is directed in such a way that the viewer gets the full benefit of this: lots of bending forward, lots of running around, and lots of that odd kind of female screaming that involves bouncing up and down on the spot while pulling back your shoulders. There is a word for all this, people, and that word is "tacky". And this brings me to the final issue I want to address, the place of IKWYDLS in the slasher film pantheon. In one sense, there is a vast difference between the slasher films of the nineties and those from the time of their genesis, the early eighties. This difference, however, lies not in the subject matter, the plotlines, the body counts or the genre’s fairly dubious moral code. On that level, the two are indistinguishable. What separates the eras is simply technical proficiency. Today’s slashers have (comparatively speaking) a budget, some skill behind the camera, and actors hired for their looks and their ability to speak dialogue without having to read it off cue cards, rather than for their lack of objection to stripping off, simulating sex, and being killed immediately afterwards. For all this, though, the modern slashers are really no better than their predecessors are. They’re just as simplistic, just as mean-spirited and just as exploitative – and above all, just as stupid. Sadly, however, today’s surface gloss seems to have a lot of people fooled. Incredible as it may seem, IKWYDLS took over seventy million (U.S.) at the box office. Inevitably, there was an instant sequel. I hear it’s even worse than the original. (It’s playing cable here this month, so I guess I’ll soon find out, lucky me.) At any rate, it followed the usual pattern of costing more than the first one, making about half as much, and being panned even more thoroughly. But despite all this – yes, you guessed it! – there’s another one in the works. Hmm….how old is Lacey Chabert these days, anyway…?

Footnote: The reason I did not want my review of IKWYDLS to end up in point form was that about six months ago at Jabootu’s, Jason MacIsaac took his hook to both IKWYDLS and ISKWYDLS in just that way. However, after a day and a half of writing around in circles and being unable to convey the sheer idiocy of this movie in normal prose, I succumbed to temptation and simply listed all the objections that occurred to me while I was watching the film.

I specifically avoided re-reading Jason’s piece before writing my piece, but took another look at it as soon as I’d finished – only to discover that the two have, ah, certain similarities. Of course, stupid is as stupid does, and IKWYDLS does about as stupidly as anything possibly could, so there were bound to be overlaps. Still, if I were an outsider I’d be highly suspicious….

I could be pompous and say that "great minds think alike", but instead I’ll just call my piece a homage to Jason’s. You know – the way Friday The 13th was a homage to Halloween; or Orca was to Jaws; or (since we’re in Jabootu territory) A Stranger Among Us was to Witness….

One word of warning: while I heartily recommend Jason’s essay, he does allow himself a pleasure I didn’t, i.e., revealing the identity/ies of the killer/s in both films, and explaining why this, too, is so incredibly STUPID.

A final word:  "I've seen other reviews make many of the same complaints we did about the first movie. I think this is not a sign that we should be more original, but that the filmmakers should be a lot less careless."   Jason MacIsaac