Kevin Williamson was tapped as the voice of “teenagers” in the mid-to-late-90s. Inspired by a magazine article about a serial killer, he penned the screenplay to what would end up as the movie Scream and sold it in 1995. Prior to that, Williamson had another screenplay on the burner. With the success of Scream, producers rushed the other screenplay to the forefront and I Know What You Did Last Summer was born. Williamson went on to write the sequel to Scream and also penned the Robert Rodriguez-directed The Faculty. Not content to ditch the teen genre, he eventually went to work on the television show Dawson’s Creek.
Williamson’s passion for teens being stalked by crazed killers is evident with I Know What You Did Last Summer. The film stars Jennifer Love Hewitt as Julie James, one of four friends who accidentally run down a pedestrian on their way home from a July 4th party. After Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) wins a local beauty pageant in the North Carolina fishing town, her boyfriend Barry (Ryan Phillipe), Julie, and pal Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) mow down a fisherman with their car. Hell, the guys in slickers are a dime a dozen anyway.
The problem begins when the crew decides to toss the body in the water, choosing not to report the crime for fear of some sort of parental reprisal. A year passes and Julie gets an anonymous note: “I know what you did last summer.” The teens have a suspect in mind, but that very suspect is ruled out when he is killed via hook. The terror begins as the man in the slicker begins to stalk the teens, one by one, with a hook and a serious death wish.
I Know What You Did Last Summer is standard teen slasher fare. There is nothing particularly special about this movie that sets it apart from the others. It lacks the self-awareness of the Scream flicks. The characters aren’t overly compelling, but Gellar and Love Hewitt provide plenty to look at throughout the film’s runtime.
The suspense is pretty much nil, with scenes constructed with all of the tension of a children’s movie. The gore is minimal, although the Fisherman does accomplish some decent things with that hook of his. But Full Hook Potential isn’t reached in the least, with an awful lot of slashing taking the place of what could have been some truly unique stuff. Fans of horror in general will likely be bored by this bland entry, although it does make for a nice walk down memory lane for those of us who were teens in the late 90s.
Williamson’s screenplay isn’t particularly compelling or catchy in any way. There are no snappy exchanges of dialogue and most of the situations are so eagerly contrived that the whole affair feels like an instantaneous cash grab on the back of a better movie. Of course, that’s because it is. Director Jim Gillespie was apparently hired to shoot the thing after producers saw a ten-minute short of his. Gillespie’s job is minimal, naturally, so perhaps ten minutes was enough time to see what this guy had to offer. Even so, a better director perhaps could have made more out of the attractive stars and the film’s gory potential.
Overall, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a feeble entry in a relatively poor genre. The teen slasher film genre contains far more misses than hits, so expectations for this one shouldn’t be particularly high. Still, almost everything in this one falls flat. It is utterly tedious, weak, and simply uninteresting, but some may find something persuasive thanks in large part to Jennifer Love Hewitt. I’m not ashamed to admit that I did.