Horror Film Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer (dir by Jim Gillipsie)


So, I recently read that it’s been 20 years since I Know What You Did Last Summer was first released into theaters.  This, of course, is the endlessly parodied film that not only launched the careers of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze, Jr. but which also served as inspiration for a countless number of YA horror stories.

Myself, I was too young to see the movie when it was first released but I do remember, a few years later, sneaking downstairs and watching it on HBO at two in the morning.  I’ve watched it several times since then.  For some reason, it’s one of those films that I always end up watching whenever I see it’s on TV.  I’m not sure why because I don’t think it’s a particularly good film.  As a horror fan, I think it’s a shame that this rather formulaic film has proven to be so influential while so many genuinely challenging horror films have been overlooked by critics and ignored by audiences.

The last time that I watched I Know What You Did Last Summer, I spent almost the entire movie yelling at Sarah Michelle Gellar.  “WHY DO YOU KEEP RUNNING UP THOSE STAIRS!?  HOW ARE YOU GOING TO ESCAPE FROM THE SECOND FLOOR!?”  Usually, I defend the stupidity of characters in certain horror films by pointing out that they’re usually in an extreme situation and it’s not easy to think rationally when you’ve got someone with an axe chasing you.  But the characters in I Know What You Did Last Summer really do test my patience.

Another thought that I had while watching I Know What You Did Last Summer was, “When did Johnny Galecki learn to act because it was definitely long after he appeared in this movie.”  Seriously, Galecki has developed into being a fairly good actor but he’s absolutely awful in I Know What You Did Last Summer.  He plays an early victim and, as much as I hate to see anyone die, it at least saved me from having to listen to another awkward line reading.

So, why do I keep watching this stupid movie?

Some of it’s because I do genuinely like the four main stars.  Like me, Jennifer Love Hewitt is a Texas girl and I imagine we both share the same struggle.  Sarah Michelle Gellar will always be Buffy to me.  Ryan Philippe’s nice to look at.  Even the reliably stiff Freddie Prinze, Jr. is rather likable in I Know What You Did Last Summer.  It’s fun to watch these four work together to try to find out who is stalking them and how it relates to the man that they accidentally killed last summer.  Of course, they’d probably be able to figure things out a lot quicker if they weren’t all so stupid but it can’t always be the members of the honor society who end up driving drunk and accidentally killing someone.

I also like the look of the film.  The film takes place in one of those North Carolina fishing villages and director Jim Gillipsie does a good job of making everything look dark, somber, and menacing.  That big hook that the killer carries with him always freaks me out.  I literally have to shut my eyes when he kills Bridgette Wilson.

And, of course, there’s this:

The “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?” scene is without a doubt one of the greatest instances of overacting in the history of horror cinema.  I have literally gone hoarse imitating Jennifer Love Hewitt’s delivery of that line.  However, when it comes to why this scene is a must see, it’s not just the fact that Jennifer Love Hewitt screams the line out of nowhere.  There’s also the fact that she’s literally shouting it at no one, unless she’s attempting to address God or something.  (And judging from the overhead shot at the end of the scene, it would appear that God was listening.)  Plus, there’s that cast on Ryan Philippe and the hat on Sarah Michelle Gellar…

I Know What You Did Last Summer is a deeply stupid movie but it’s still one that I always seem to end up watching, if just so I can yell at everyone for not being smart enough to outwit a killer who doesn’t seem to be particularly bright himself.  It’s one of those films that I’ll leave on the TV if I come across it but, at the same time, it’s not a film that I ever feel the need to really pay much attention to.  It’s the cinematic equivalent of junk food, fun to eat but don’t try to shout “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?” if your mouth’s full.

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