Thursday, 22 November 2012

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

It is perhaps time that I admitted something that may, in retrospect, already have been obvious to all of you. I think I might just have bad taste in movies. I didn't like Lawrence of Arabia. I didn't like Citizen Kane. But I liked I Know What You Did Last Summer (Jim Gillespie, 1997), which movie critics high and low universally reviled. Well... life goes on, I guess. And this review, too, goes on, as I spend several paragraphs and an irretrievable hour of my life trying to justify my fondness for this film.

The hilllllllls are alive.
I Know What You Did Last Summer kicks off in the smallest of small-town USA (seriously, this is legit Springsteen territory). Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry (Ryan Phillippe), Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) have just graduated high school, and to cap off their caps-off, Helen's been named Croaker Queen (think that's bad? Her surname is Shivers). Everything's peachy keen until a drunken Barry accidentally steers his car into a hapless jaywalker and the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed quartet have a hit-and-run on their hands. They drop the corpse off a dock and attempt to go about their post-high school lives, but inevitably the dead guy wasn't sufficiently dead and soon enough he's back to pick the pals off one-by-one.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
What I really love about I Know What You Did Last Summer is that it's a horror movie long before the Fisherman sinks his hook into our heroes. The small-town beauty queen who goes to NYC to make it big as an actress, then slinks back with her tail tucked between her legs... the nice boy from a good family who cuts his best friends dead when he decides he's been slumming it.... the smart kid with potential who ends up working his dad's fishing boat....That's horror. The grim figure stalking them through the backstreets, ready to gut them with a meat hook, is just the icing on the cake.

Parts of this movie are a little too meta and self-referential for my tastes (there's only one Scream and this ain't it, so quit telling each other slasher stories and name-checking Jodie Foster already). And of course, it's utterly predictable -- the bad kids die, the good kids live, and a sequel is shamelessly plugged. But there are also moments of inspired brilliance -- like Helen dumping the Fisherman's body in the basin while still wearing her Croaker Queen crown. Basically, I Know What You Did Last Summer is time well wasted. If there's nothing else on, you could do a lot worse. Citizen Kane, for example.

Jennifer hasn't quite found her sea legs, bless her.
FINAL GIRL: Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the film's de facto final girl....

I think she borrowed that apron from Pyramid Head.
Is a lot less interesting than Missy (Anne Heche), the Fisherman's sister, who also makes it through to the end of the film. Missy is a slightly more genteel spin on the character Janus Blythe played in the original The Hills Have Eyes -- she's so ignorant and backwoods, it's hard to tell whether she's evil or just a hick. But Heche's haunted eyes and Les Mis bones stick with you as one of the few moments of genuine pathos in a movie that is mostly goofy fun. I wish Heche had done more acting in the 90s and less mooning around declaring that she was an alien being named Celestia.

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