Thursday, July 4, 2019

Secrets To Die For: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Rating: ****
Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Heche

It is well and known among the horror community that Scream (1996) revived the teen slasher movie back at the late 90s and this success meant cash-ins and copy cats, with I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) among the early -and dare I say, more competent- contenders.

Scripted by Scream (1996)'s Kevin Williamson and based on a relatively tamer 1973 novel of the same name by Lois Duncan (Who reportedly loath this movie), Summer centers on four friends living in a small fishing town with big plans after graduating high school. Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and her boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr) will be attending separate colleges in different cities but are aiming to keep their relationship despite the distance, all the while their friend Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) wants to become an actress in New York and her boyfriend Barry (Ryan Philippe) sets on becoming a professional jock.

It’s the Fourth of July and Helen just won a local beauty pageant, much to her friends and boyfriend's joy. In celebration, the four heads to the beach for a bonfire and spooky stories before hitting the road again, albeit boozed. This leads to them swerving around a winding coastal road and hitting a random pedestrian, a possible manslaughter that Julie is resolved to report to the police but collectively turned down by her friends, fearing the crime will ruin their future. Instead, they all decided to dump the body to an isolated fishing dock, only to shockingly find out he's not quite dead and they may have drowned him in the bottom of the sea...

A year later and it seems the memories of this one fateful night still haunts the group, their once bright expectations for their future dulled down by the guilt; Julie is depressed and returning home from college, Helen is now working under her snarky older sister as a department store clerk, Ray resorts to become a fisherman after breaking up with Julie and Barry is keeping up a straight face while playing his way as a college jock, still denying the fact he and his friends may have murdered someone. When the movie's titular note shows up in Julie's possession one day, its made clear that someone knows their little secret and has no problem toying them around with antics such leaving a body inside Julie's car trunk (only to disappear in a matter of seconds), cutting Helen's hair while she slept and nearly running Barry down with a car.

As the anniversary of the hit-and-run dwindles sooner by the day, the more dire the situation becomes for our guilty quartet when someone in a rain slicker and armed with a hook starts snuffing them and those who happens to be in the way down.

In its core, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) has a plot reminiscent of cult classics such as Prom Night (1980) and The House on Sorority Rows (1984), wherein the cast accidentally kills someone only to pay the price through death after attempting to brush it under the rug. What makes Summer different though is its sheer focus on building character and a workable mystery not unlike the aforementioned trend-setter Scream (1996), only less self-referencing and considerably frugal on humor, an approach that brings a shred of realism to the movie's semi-outlandish plot as it tackles censure and morality, making the characters decent enough for our sympathy and root for most of their survival as they show (or for one, eventually show) concern for the crime they committed.

This mystery centered perspective does meant Summer lacks most of the usual exploits slashers of old are known for such as naked teenagers (although Hewitt's wardrobe does boast some cleavage and Philippe gets to show some pecs) and gratuitous gore, reducing kills to offcamera slaughtering, quick cut edits and splashes of blood, though the suspense is handled in a well paced direction, particularly in the hit and run accident where everything is either a struggle or an unwanted surprise, and too the chase scene between Helen and the killer at a near isolated town during the Fourth of July night. The posh and glossy production also gave this movie a high grand look with some beautiful cinematography and location shots, granting us a genuine small town mystery feel.

The only drawbacks I can see here are the bits and pieces of cheese and horror cliches littered around the script going against the semi-serious tone of the movie. There isn't much of it, so the damage isn't all that serious, just a bit distracting and, at times, might as well be expected seeing this is a slasher film. For its worth, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) is a strong solid slasher with all of the familiar dead teenager tropes packed around a decent mystery, thus an essential addition to any true slasher fan's collection.

1 male gets a hook through his jaw
1 male mentioned dead, body fished out from a dock
1 male hacked to death with a hook
1 male hacked on the chest with a hook
1 female had her neck slashed with a hook
1 female hacked to death with a hook
Total: 6

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