The Horror Honeys: If You're Going to Bury the Truth, Make Sure It Stays Buried...

If You're Going to Bury the Truth, Make Sure It Stays Buried...

A Slasher Honey Retrospective by Chassity

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Sometimes, in the midst of all the new trends, and ups and downs in the horror genre, it’s easy to become disillusioned, upset, and frustrated with the ways things are going. When that happens, it helps to take a step back, take a break from the genre, then return to it so you can look at films within the genre with fresh eyes. It’s not surprising that I know quite a few people in my real life that have opted to take a break from slasher films for a while.

But there is also another option. One that I discovered this week. That option? Go back to one of the first slasher films you ever saw, one which you haven’t seen in a while. And I mean a long time. It will help you cut through all the bullshit and remember what it was that made you turn to the horror genre in the first place. It will also help you realize that there is still some good horror behind all the crap that gets made nowadays. 

I came to learn this lesson while recently re-watching I Know What You Did Last Summer for the first time in many, many years.

This week, I became aware of a IKWYDLS remake rumored to be in the works, and one of my favorite soap operas is doing a storyline that is a wholly dramatic retelling of this particular movie. Between that and Ryan Phillippe’s recent comeback with his new television show, Secrets and Lies, it was as if IKWYDLS was calling out to me. 

It had been so long since I’d seen this movie that I had almost forgotten everything about it except the general story. So, what did I discover?

There is a reason why IKWYDLS is my second favorite of the 90s slashers. And that this movie was partially responsible for my entire love of slashers in the first place.

Why does this movie hold such a special place in my heart, you may ask?

For starters, the film had four (beautiful) 90s fixtures as the main characters. Ryan Phillipe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Freddie Prinze Jr. were all teen heartthrobs in one form or another, and putting them in a movie together was a treat for everyone.

While movies that came in the years after IKWYDLS took the slasher flick teen archetypes a bit too far (to the point of belittling the genre and any respect it could hope to have in terms of cinematic value), this film came at a time in which horror movie teens could be slightly stereotypical but still have some depth. Julie was the stereotypical good girl, but never boring. Barry, the jock, was never completely impossible to like. And Helen, the blonde, was more than your average dumb, pretty cheerleader. She was kind, if a little ditzy, and cared about her friends. 

I actually became attached to these characters. I was sad when their friendship came to a tragic end. It truly made me believe that jocks could be friends with “intellectual” hipster nerd boys and that cheerleaders really could hang out with goody-two-shoes smart girls.

Another element that I’d forgotten, but loved, about IKWYDLS, is how it’s more mysterious and suspenseful than gory. In fact, the blood and guts are quite minimal throughout the entire movie. There’s a lot of intense buildup, and that may be what sets it aside from other similar films in my mind. Nothing really happens until the end, and it wasn’t until this most recent viewing that I realized that, and really began to understand how clever that is. There’s a slight “whodunit” element, and you never really know what’s going to happen next, or what it all means, until the very end. Maybe it’s because of the decade this movie is from, or maybe not, but one of the best things about I Know What You Did Last Summer is that the plot really isn’t as formulaic as you’d expect, and not as easy to predict. 

Who can forget those intense Anne Heche scenes? That is how you do horror writing and directing correctly. And Johnny Galecki as the not-so-obvious red herring was just short of brilliant.

Which brings me to my favorite element of all about this movie. If you knew me, you’d know that I am crazy obsessed with 80s slashers driven by a revenge plot. I love them so much I could watch them all day long. So naturally, it makes sense that I adore I Know What You Did Last Summer. Because when you really get right down to it, that is what this movie is at its core. It’s a 90s throwback to the 80s revenge-slasher. 

Terror Train. My Bloody Valentine. Prom Night. Hell Night. This movie had elements of all the aforementioned but was a unique combination of the best that all these films had to offer.

In some ways, while Scream stands firm in its place as the film that revived horror, I Know What You Did Last Summer took that one step further by tying in/bringing back, and inevitably solidifying, the major plot elements (history/backstory based on revenge, the anniversary that brings a killer out of hiding, figuring out who the killer is whodunit style) that made slashers what they were in the first place, and have been carrying the slasher movie ever since.

For all the complaining that goes around when it comes to remakes and reboots, this is one movie that I would love to see remade, because of the small possibility that it could lead to a resurgence of the slasher revenge film. Given the clever play of this film on the slasher stereotypes, and its simplicity in a way that never fails to be interesting, it’s no wonder that other genres (sitcoms, non-horror movies, and now even soap operas) would craft an homage to I Know What You Did Last Summer or even go as far as to copy the films events in some form or another.