It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Fears come back from the dead and walk in the day. Goths thrive at midnight showings of “Rocky Horror” and vandals throw eggs at houses. And the Film Beat? We’re popping popcorn and crawling under blankets to watch some of our favorite scary (or just vaguely spooky) films. ’Tis the season for tricks and treats — whether we’re jumping in our skins or howling at the moon. Join us as we walk through films that remind us of the dark night of Halloween.
For as long as I can remember, horror movies have just been my thing. It’s strange considering my next favorite group of films consists of everything Disney, but it provides a good balance. There’s just something so enjoyable about cheesy, classic horror movies. And although I watch them all year round, playing them in October feels extra special. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is the classic slasher film. It’s a Spooky Season must-see.
A year before “I Know What You Did Last Summer” was released in 1997, “Scream” came out in theaters and altered the landscape of classic horror. The serial killer came to the forefront, and he wasn’t some supernatural being. He was someone you knew: your friend, your boyfriend, your cousin, and there’s something more dangerous about that. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is everything “Scream” so cleverly outlined for classic horror. The still-alive dead villain that pops up, the scene where the killer is right behind one of the characters, the perfect setup for a sequel. It follows the rules of “Scream” to a tee.
As a result, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is predictable and cheesy. But it’s also iconic. It’s textbook horror, and if you’re anything like me, that’s what makes it fun. The film starts off with four high school seniors partying on the beach of their North Carolina town. Barry (Ryan Phillippe, “Cruel Intentions”) gets a little too drunk, so his friend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr., “She’s All That”) drives his car with him, Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt, “Can’t Hardly Wait”) and Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) in the back. With Barry leaning out of the sunroof of the car, Ray gets distracted and accidentally hits a pedestrian. In a panic, the four teens decide to dump the body in the water. Over a year later, Julie receives a letter saying “I know what you did last summer.”
The plot is extremely simple. It’s your basic blackmail story that so many shows and films have used since to create the whodunnit premise needed for a suspenseful, thrilling slasher film. There’s plenty of room for switching suspects and new information and chase scenes where you’re sure someone is going to die, and then they don’t. The suspense waiting for the “mask-off” scene is a driving force that makes it difficult to lose interest.
Despite my personal love for this movie, I must acknowledge the fact that its ratings are sub-par and its reviews are mostly negative. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is criticized for obeying horror movie clichés. There are plenty of not-quite-dead pop-ups and frustrating chase scenes up the stairs into dead ends.
For me, however, the dislike seems a little unjustified. Some of the most popular films ever follow their genre’s rules perfectly, like rom-coms “10 Things I Hate About You” and “How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days.” There’s the “we’re not supposed to fall in love” plot and the perfectly timed kiss and the moment you think the couple will never be together again and then, of course, they’re back. What makes these predictable features of certain genres (specifically horror) acceptable is the skill level with which they are executed. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” exhibits masterful jump scares and enthralling chase scenes, both necessary horror film ingredients. Personally, I enjoy getting what I signed up for, and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” delivers.
If a film that follows the rules isn’t your thing, there are other features of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” that make up for it. For one, there’s no denying that the cast has chemistry. There’s a reason both Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar went on to star in “Cruel Intentions” only a few years later. In general, the cast makes for a nostalgic ’90s film that can at least be appreciated for its character dynamics if nothing else. Plus, the horror formula that is so often critiqued doesn’t seem so flat when executed by a talented group of actors and actresses.
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is not unique or original by any means. But that wouldn’t stop me from recommending it to anyone who’s looking for a fun horror movie to watch in October. The fall season is already cliché in its own right, with haunted corn mazes and pumpkin picking and apple cider drinking being must-dos. Why not watch a classic horror movie with your hot pumpkin spice latte? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying what’s expected.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.