Horrorific content by jessicagomez on May 31st, 2021 | Culture | Slasher, Killer, Teen, Revenge

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A monthly column dissecting teen horror movies.

An old script of writer Kevin Williamson’s, based on the 1973 novel I Know What You Did Last Summer, was removed from the back burner and greenlit immediately when Williamson’s screenplay Scream instantly became a teen horror phenomenon. Newbie director Jim Gillespie, recommended by Williamson, followed up Wes Craven’s blockbuster meta horror film with a straightforward slasher. Utilizing a hyper-good-looking, All-American cast of likable fresh faces would, because of the ultra success IKWYDLS, create four of the hottest actors of the 90s. 

Type O Negative’s Summer Breeze brings us in to show a fisherman who seems tipsy and distracted as he sits cliffside. We’re then taken to a beauty pageant for the affluent seaside town, where Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) takes home the crown. It’s a typical 90s party scene - everyone is having a blast and getting drunk, and then a foursome of friends take to the tall cliffs to check out the beach. There, they tell urban legends around the fire, arguing over the way the stories really went and whether they had truthful origins. They talk about their hopes and fears about the future, and of course, have sex on the beach. After their typical teenage carefree night, they argue over who should drive, eventually settling on the least drunk person - but the drunk couple in the back distract the driver, and before they know what’s happened, they run over what looks to be the fisherman from the opening scene. Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is the only person who argues for calling the police when the man appears to have died on impact. She’s eventually guilted by the other three, most aggressively from Barry (Ryan Phillippe) to dump the man into the ocean, and they make a pact never to discuss it with anyone. A year later, the group of friends have broken up, and Julie is still riddled with guilt and anxiety - and when she returns to her hometown from college for the summer, it isn’t long before she receives a letter that simply states, you guessed it: I know what you did last summer. After she finds the note, a man bearing the same fisherman overalls as the deceased and a fishing hook for a weapon stalks and harasses the friends, and eventually, murder ensues. 

Lois Duncan, the novelist who wrote the book on which the film was based, wasn’t a fan of the slasher angle - her book leaned more suspense and featured a different setting and a different villain altogether. You either love or hate this movie - its similarities to Scream are obvious (minus much of its predecessor’s gore) between the soundtrack, the score and the whodunnit slasher rife with red herrings - but there’s more to the story than meets the eye; your main focus is the hook-wielding fisherman ala Blood Hook, but the subplot covers grief, trauma, life-altering guilt, and the broken American Dream. Hewitt and Gellar are effortlessly badass yet vulnerable, and they’re still two of the best horror screamers to ever do it. The urban legends mentioned throughout arguably influenced Urban Legend that released the following year, and there’s even a Silence of the Lambs reference. It’s enough to whet most horror lovers’ appetites.

Sony Entertainment marketed IKWYDLS as coming from “the creator of Scream”, with Miramax Films Corp. immediately filing a lawsuit, citing that while the writer was the same, the ploy was misleading as Wes Craven was not involved. Williamson himself agreed, as did the judge. No matter: with a budget of $17M, the film knocked it out of the park opening weekend - grossing $15.8M, and eventually grossing over $125M worldwide. It remains one of the highest grossing teen slasher films of all time.

Coming off the teen horror fever Scream created, teamed with great casting and an October release date, catapulted all four main characters into teen movie mega stardom. At the time of filming, Jennifer Love Hewitt was really the only actor with name recognition, from her television role in Party of Five. Sarah Michelle Gellar had a hell of a 1997 - the same year the film released, her long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer series debuted, and she held a supporting role in Scream 2. Ryan Phillippe reprised his asshole status and Gellar’s romantic counterpart in runaway hit Cruel Intentions; Freddie Prinze Jr. kept his All-American role in She’s All That, and Hewitt went on to star in Can’t Hardly Wait. By the end of the 90s, all four of the main actors had etched themselves into some of the most notable and enduring films of the decade.

With the success of IKWYDLS, follow-up I Still Know What You Did Last Summer was a go immediately, but it failed to capture the magic of the original, even with Hewitt and Prinze Jr. reprising their roles alongside a Black couple portrayed by Brandy Norwood and Mekhi Phifer. Gillespie's direction was replaced with Danny Cannon, and though the island-adventure premise was different and the cast was more diverse, it ultimately fell flat. At an estimated budget of a whopping $65M, the film grossed only $40M. Seven years later, another sequel with an unknown cast was attempted with I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, but it was a straight-to-video flop.

For years, IKWYDLS was not available for free as part of any streaming service (just one in a million reasons to support your local video store), but in anticipation of an upcoming television series from horror maven James Wan, it’s now available on HBOMax to inspire a new generation of teen horror hounds. What are you waiting for?

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