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Home | Film Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Film Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)


Four teens share an ominous pact one fateful July 4th evening. After accidentally colliding with a mysterious stranger crossing a barren, secluded portion of highway, they dispose of the body rather than face their responsibilities and report the tragic incident. Now on the anniversary of wicked indiscretion a mysterious force has returned with redemption in mind and terrifying taunts of I Know What You Did Last Summer.


Directed By: Jim Gillespie
Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.

On the surface IKWYDLS simply appears to be yet another slasher flick lost in the shuffle of countless other renditions and variations of the same plot. A lot of people don’t realize director Jim Gillespie’s contribution to the genre may very well single handily be responsible for breathing new life into a genre that was beyond blasé and on the verge of extinction once and for all. Friday the 13th and Jason Vorhees had been beaten to death with bizarre sequels involving taking Manhattan, possessing bodies before the ultimate showdown of a Godzilla type feature of Jason versus Freddy. A Nightmare on Elm Street had just about wrung out its last digestible plot of a movie within a movie. Michael Myers was rubbing elbows with the likes of Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks. Needless to state people were investing less and less in an already guilty pleasure of the campy serial killer feature. Horror movies had become grossly redundant and fewer and fewer people were bothering with them.

Enter Kevin Williamson, screen writer extraordinaire that you may have become familiar with from the runaway television hit Dawson’s Creek. Williamson wrote Scream for Columbia pictures as well as I Know What You Did Last Summer focusing on a newer generation, younger demographic staking his claim to new king of slasher horror. A plethora of additional, inferior knock offs were released in a frenzy such as Urban Legends, Joy Ride, etc, etc.

An all-star cast of Love Hewitt, Prinze Jr. Phillippe, Gellar, captivated the 18-35 male demographic and 14-20 female demographic, swooning over the would be Hollywood heartthrobs.

Aerial views of the supposed Carolina coastal shore with Type O Negative’s rendition of Summer Breeze is eerily haunting in the opening credits while an awe inducing spectacle of beauty in its own right.

Gillespie’s unique conception of plot design around an all-consuming sense of guilt manifesting into a classic revenge/redemption tale ups the ante significantly from your regular everyday teen slasher flick.

The blood and gore is minimal so much that an additional scene was shot after production with Johnny Galecki as Max to illustrate a more sinister impression of serial killer Ben Willis and creating a more tangible threat to the four teens. For the most part the killer is absent, lurking in the shadows and allowing the audience to utilize their own imaginations of what lied just beyond.

The original musical score with string, bass and brass sections accentuates a sense of heightened tension. Gellar and Love Hewitt are fabulous screamers aggressively showcasing their ability to be crowned the next generation of bona fide Scream Queens.

There are some minor bouts of over acting. Julie James (Hewitt) antics can be lifted from virtually any episode of Party of Five to Heartbreakers to Ghost Whisperer and rarely falter from one character to the next. Prinze Jr.’s ‘aw shucks’ dufus mentality gyrates on the nerves yet thankfully it’s a bitter pill that only has to be swallowed in brief, sporadic durations.

Some of the plot takes a somewhat confusing detour as Julie James is trying to get to the bottom of who they’d accidentally killed the summer prior. At times one had the impression it was necessary to keep a score card of who was accused and who was not. The overall length of the production seemed a little bit indulgent to me. I think the same impact if not more significant impression could’ve been made by hacking back at least ten to fifteen minutes worth of needless expedition.

Efforts to capitalize on the holiday horror theme of July 4th seemed futile, redundant and in vain. Previous franchises such as Friday the 13th, Halloween and even Black Christmas have already found their calling card here and a production such as I Know, holds enough merit to stand on its own. A couple of far inferior sequels were spawned as a result, one starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, the latter not. It’s disappointing to see the lead antagonist of Ben Willis misused. The fisherman and steel hook could very well have been the next cinematic horror icon.

Some interesting tidbits of trivia regarding the production of I Know What You Did Last Summer, Sarah Michelle Gellar originally auditioned for the lead role of Julie James while Hewitt auditioned for the role of Helen Shivers. It would’ve been interesting to see how this dynamic could’ve changed the overall tone of the film.

Real life couple Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar only share one line of dialogue to one another in the entire film. Perhaps the couple was onto something demonstrating that indeed sometimes less is more.

Although the film takes place on the shore of North Carolina, a great deal of shooting took place in California as there is indeed no rocky coast along the border of North Carolina.

Overall not a bad achievement in the annals of serial killer themed terror, worth a glimpse for fans of the same genre. I Know What You Did Last Summer achieved three industry awards including the 1998 ASCAP Film and Television highest box office award boasting a staggering gross of $125 000 000. Jennifer Love Hewitt also won best female new comer at the 1998 Blockbuster Entertainment awards as Sarah Michelle Gellar simultaneously achieved best supporting actress.

-Three out of Five Tombstones

I Know What You Did Last Summer is now available on bluray per Mill Creek Entertainment (triple pack)



  1. Not saying you’re wrong, but IKWYDLS was released before “Freddy Vs. Jason” and “Halloween Resurrection”.

    Just saying…

    • Dually noted Bob. It wasn’t my intent to list a chronological history of Slasher films as opposed to creating an atmosphere of similar genre based pictures, roughly around the same time frame. My main point was the fact that I Know What You Did Last Summer although not solely responsible, reawakened an active interest in audiences compared to other movies, roughly in the same era. Where Freddy was, where Jason was and where Michael was is irrelevant to the review, what was more important was the direction they were taking.


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