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The Bloody Truth: “I Know What You Did Last Summer”

last summer

Every week in The Bloody Truth, Calhoun Kersten digs deeper into the endless back catalog of the horror subgenre.

Nostalgia has a funny way of affecting things. It makes food taste better, drinks taste sweeter, and yes, occasionally, it makes a bad movie better. One movie that nostalgia has not been kind to is the 1997 Jennifer Love Hewitt “slasher” I Know What You Did Last Summer. Honestly, if you have no idea what the movie is, it’s been spoofed so many times that the spoofs aren’t even funny or topical anymore. One could make a case for whether they were funny at all, but that’s another story.

In the tale of innocence lost and PLDs (Poor Life Decisions, for those of you who don’t know), Julie James (Love Hewitt) and her trio of equally awfully-named friends are being stalked by an unknown fisherman who, you guessed it, knows what they did last summer, which is to say that they committed accidental murder. As he begins to appear and kill them one by one, which first happens around the one-hour mark, folks may want to use their fast-forward button until his identity is slowly revealed.

One of the issues of the movie is…now, don’t get me wrong, murdering people is bad. Still, considering Julie and her friends murdered someone and covered it up and now they’re being murdered, it’s a little confusing. For people who have seen the movie, the only thing more confusing than why anyone would care that these terrible people are being killed is the identity of the killer himself. That’s just an issue within the film, but believe me, there are plenty of issues with the film outside of its reality set in Southport, North Carolina.

Just an example: Most people are aware of the gender politics that go into making a horror movie. The blonde bimbo usually dies, deviant behavior is punished, and the “final girl” is usually the demure one. Especially in the meta-90s slasher craze, after Scream and all, one should be very careful when tackling these tried-and-true plots. That’s why it feels a bit obvious when the audience is first shown Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar, and I didn’t even make up that last name, the makers legit called her Helen Shivers) in a swimsuit, posing for an audience. It’s impossible not to think, “Well, there goes the neighborhood.” Seriously, it’s a character so flawed and one-dimensional that, sans her showdown with the killer, not even Buffy could make her look cool.

However, beyond the treatment of Helen, there’s Julie herself. Not only does she start off in the movie under the guise of being a feminist, an ideal she quickly drops in favor of the damsel-in-distress routine, but as she says those lines the cameraman gets a nice cleavage shot. Still, when it comes down to it, the filmmakers are painfully obvious in labeling her the Final Girl. Given that the audience really only has two to pick from, it’s not terribly surprising, but a bit of a letdown nonetheless. Once relegated to her “holier than thou” status, Julie spends the rest of the movie in floor-length skirts that even the Amish would call stifling and prudish. For someone (at least in the movie) who claims to know so much about gender roles, she sure falls into them awfully conveniently.

I Know What You Did Last Summer is full of contradictions and not-so-clever nods to the genre. It’s probably the “see, I can be clever!” attitude that detracts from anything that could be remotely horrifying about this movie. Honestly, this movie might have been a good introduction into the 90s slasher craze, but this movie and most of its contemporaries aren’t worth revisiting.