I Know What You Did Last Summer
Reviewed by Scott Murdock
Rating: 7.5 Beans
n film school we are taught that there a basic principles that must go into making a bad slasher movie. Unfortunately many of these principles are forgotten or go ignored by some screenwriters and directors, resulting in films such as "Silence of the Lambs" and "Psycho" that are hardly worthy of mention here. This is not the case with "I Know What You Did Last Summer". Kevin Williamson (Scream) has brilliantly adpated the Lois Duncan novel for the big screen, and director Jim Gillespie, a former makeup artist, meticulously ensures no cliche is forgotten in his big-screen directoral debut.
The film centers around four high school seniors who, after a night of partying, accidently run over a stranger on a lonely road. In an impeccable demonstration of their combined intellectual powers, they come to the conclusion that they would get into less trouble if they ditch the body than if they admit to the accident.
Fast forward to one year later.
With high school over, the foursome have each gone their own separate ways. Now home for the summer, they begin to receive threatening messages from an unseen stranger who claims to know about the accident. It isn't long before the pen-pal relationship turns into a relationship of terror, as the mysterious stranger... who looks like Mr. Gorton from the fish stick box, begins slashing up teenagers with a meat hook.
Here is how the film stacks up against the basic principles of slasher films:
1) Any person that the main characters consider likely to be the slasher must be killed off early. Indeed, the slasher's first victim had done nothing at all wrong. In fact, based on information that we learn by the end of the movie, it is virtually impossible that this victim could have even been associated with the accident in the slasher's mind. But, he is an enemy of our heroes, and slashers always possess enough omniscience to seek out such people out and slaughter them.
2) All characters who indulge in alcohol and premarital sex will die. Therefore, within the first 20 minutes of the film, we know exactly who among the main characters will not get to see the closing credits.
3) It is impossible for the killer to be friendly-looking. As Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "All My Children") is riding in the parade and looking through the crowd for the slasher, she is safely able to instantly rule out every friendly-looking person dressed in a fisherman's overcoat even though the only description she has of the killer is that the killer wears a fisherman's overcoat.
4) Slashers have superhuman power over space and time. As Helen is being chased by the killer, the killer's slow walking pace has no trouble keeping up with Helen's running. And, in the space of no more than two minutes, the killer is able to remove a corpse and a hundred live crabs from the trunk of a car, vacuum the trunk, wipe away all the crab juice, and neatly organize the tire jack, jumper cables, and can of Fix-a-Flat. And, in the most staggering display of this ability, the slasher provides Barry (Ryan Phillippe, "Crimson Tide") with a Polaroid photo of Barry's car at the crime scene, even though with the knowledge we have by the end of the movie, we realize that it is impossible under the laws of physics as we know them that the killer could have taken this picture. These powers provide the killer with an evil, omnipotent quality that will make you yawn in terror.
5) Slashers can generate a light-bending field that enables them to be seen only by the victim. Thus, when Helen heads to the family store for safety, her sister Elsa (Bridgette Wilson, "Mortal Kombat"), is able to see Helen and the entire city street stretching out in the background, but not Popeye the Slasher Man standing three feet behind Helen.
6) Victims in a confined space will always seek the escape route of most resistance. Thus, when Helen realizes the killer is in the building with her (while standing within arm's reach of the front door), she chooses to instead exit through a third-story window.
7) The heroine will always find the bodies of all of her friends in the last few minutes of the film. Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt, "Sister Act 2", TV's "Party of Five") should have thought of this before digging around in the pile of ice in the killer's hideout.
8) The person who is the creepiest, has the most solid motive, and provides at least one cheap scare is never the killer. No details here because it will spoil about 20 minutes of this slow-paced adventure, but "Last Summer" definitely honors this principle.
9) Despite any previous differences, a male and a female will be the sole survivors and will unite in romance while the police clean up the mess around them. And in this case, it has the added bonus of being a romance that none of us really care about.
10) And, of course the primal rule, the killer is never really dead and will make one last appearance. Fortunately, my audience was well-educated in this rule and so the final scare did not evoke any unneccesary screams.
"I Know What You Did Last Summer" had some extra touches as well, such as an off-screen cleanup job at the accident scene that removes all traces of blood from a car, the road, rocks, trees, and clothing (Formula 409 will clean up anything); a small-town library with an online searchable database that exceeds in features those of even the most sophisticated big-city libraries; and the fact that three of the four main characters moved back into this small town and lived there the majority of the intervening year without ever once bumping into each other.
By combining the essential principles of slasher-film cliche with a medicre cast playing generally-unlikable characters, Jim Gillespie has created a slasher film that is so frightening we will have all blocked it out of our minds by the time by Next Summer. I give this film 7.5 out of 10 Beans.
Other reviews for this movie:
Ken M. Wilson