I Know What You Did Last Summer has a reputation as throwaway nonsense from a time when Hollywood was churning out trite formulaic horror flicks with plastic stars and no artistic merit whatsoever, but actually it's not so bad. Its good bits are worth watching and its lesser aspects aren't nearly as bad as I feared.
Look at the cast, for instance. At first glance it appears to have the cast from Hell. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar and even Freddie Prinze Jr, for crying out loud! However to my slight surprise they all did fine. Gellar dispels the spectre of Buffy (which seemed mostly beyond her in Scooby-Doo) and even the Prinze holds his end up. It helps that he doesn't have to act. In a stroke of casting genius he's playing "Nice But Dim", with the intense stuff going to Ryan Phillippe. Called upon only to look bewildered from time to time, Prinze manages to be sympathetic and even sweet.
Of course, yes, this is a horror movie about blandly attractive teenagers. Amazingly Jennifer Love Hewitt as the heroine manages to be the least memorable character in a movie that also has Freddie Prinze Jr. Yup. I'm afraid so. It doesn't help that she spends much of the film looking like a drowned rat. Oh, and being the nice one in the cast means she's still brooding about, yes, what they did last summer. Thus she also tends to look depressed.
But all things considered, the cast does its job. And Anne Heche runs away with the movie during her few scenes. She's great.
But what of the story? Broadly speaking, it can be divided into three sections: the first quarter of an hour (i.e. the "last summer" of the title), the bulk of the movie and then the final couple of minutes. "Last summer" is great. I loved the situation the friends found themselves in, I loved Red Herring Guy... this was all good, strong, dramatic stuff. I can't help thinking that its key scene might have been mindblowing with better actors, but it's still good. I liked all this.
Then comes the movie proper, and things slow down a little. It becomes a standard slasher movie, albeit with a few twists. There's actual investigation to be done, which is so unusual in the teen slasher genre that initially it feels like a waste of time. What's the point of investigating the Fisherman? We all know that no matter what our heroes do, the film will end with the killer unmasking himself to gloat any plot exposition we haven't been told yet. But interesting scenes flow from this aforementioned investigation, so I forgave it. By the end, your detective story instincts will be on the alert (and you'll have spotted at least one revelation fifteen minutes in advance).
I Know What You Did Last Summer's least successful aspect is the horror. It's just not scary. Perhaps almost tense on occasion, but even the Scream movies were more shocking. The murders are perfunctory. I suppose had they employed a nasty, sadistic director who genuinely shocked his audience, the film wouldn't have become "America's No.1 Box Office Hit!". The killer outdoes his Scream counterparts by still being menacing even after being unmasked, but his trademark fish hook looks silly. I suppose it's vaguely gruesome, but how effective would it really be as a weapon? And no matter how you slice 'n' dice it, the Fisherman is still just another slasher. He kills a cop, which is surely on page one of the Slashers' Do-It-Yourself Guide. Does he ever run when he can Walk Menacingly (TM)? Do you have to ask?
This isn't a fair criticism, but it's hard to take the Polaroid moment seriously if you've seen what Scary Movie
did to it. It wasn't just a pisstake of Scream, you know, but instead a Kevin Williamson's Greatest Hits. In fairness though, Kevin doesn't deserve full credit for this one, being based on a novel by Lois Duncan. Apparently that book's pretty bad, though less so than this film's risibly titled sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.
Mostly it's surprisingly good. It's homogenised and teen-targeted, but despite this squeezes in some nice touches. It's occasionally excellent, never scary but also never actually bad... until we reach those last two minutes. Slavering infected donkey nuts, WHY? The earlier ending was great! We'd have remembered that! Spooky, ambiguous and haunting, we'd have left the movie theatre with questions in our minds. But no. Two minutes are tacked on for the morons and a nice little film blows off its foot and becomes merely okay.
However despite this, there's much I like about I Know What You Did Last Summer. I like the small fishing town setting. I like the shamelessness of opening with a swimsuit contest. Hey, I'm there! And it's worth renting this just for Anne Heche. As homogenised not-scary teen-targeted "America's No.1 Box Office Hit!" fare goes, you could do a lot worse.