WARNING: SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL.
Part 1 of my series on the IKWYDLS Trilogy.
If you ask any casual horror movie fan what movie comes to mind that incorporates gore, a girl-next-door protagonist and a casting ensemble of the hottest young people of the 90’s chances are they would answer: Scream.
Rarely does anyone remember of another franchise that fits that description: the I Know What You Did Last Summer (IKWYDLS) trilogy. Despite having a resounding box office success and etching its place as one of the most memorable slasher films of its decade, this movie franchise based off Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel will always be in the shadows of its more successful, more iconic counterpart in the genre.
It’s lack of originality may be IKWYDLS’ weakness, because aside from that and the painfully cliche characters it actually makes for a pretty decent slasher film that dabbles in teen romance and satisfies both genres decently.
All three films in the franchise will be covered in this blog, but let’s start with the first installment of the trilogy.
The Primer (partial spoilers)
The story is based on a group of popular, preppy teens who are staples of any 90’s teen movie. The protagonist is Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) who is a star pupil in her senior class and is dating a boy-next-door type Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinz, Jr.) and best friends with a hot, blonde cheerleader Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) who herself is dating a douche-bag jock Barry (Ryan Philippe).
The foursome go out to party one night, which happens to be during the Fourth of July weekend. As expected, some decadence occurs which results in Barry being too drunk to drive.
He lets Ray man the wheels of his car, while his drunk self acts like a total hooligan during the drive – spilling his beer all over Ray who gets distracted and unintentionally runs over a hitchhiker in the middle of the road.
All four teens panic, trying to convince themselves that they had hit a deer rather than a person. Their worst fears were confirmed when they found the unconscious body of a man on the side of the road.
Convinced they had killed him off and afraid of facing legal repercussions all four teens decide to hide the body and pretend like it never happened – despite objections from goody-two-shoes Julie who believes they should front to the cops.
A year later, all four teens live separate lives in different parts of the country. They think they had gotten away with murder, only until they each receive ominous letters reminding them of that incident last summer.
The gang’s problems begin when Julie receives a mystery letter telling her that they “know what [she] did last summer.” The threat prompted our protagonist to find the others, seeking the help of Barry who threatened the nerdy character in the story, Max (Johnny Galecki) thinking he was the culprit.
It turns out Max was innocent after all, despite the events early on in the film suggesting he could have been the serial killer. He was desperately trying to impress Julie early on and was painfully rebuffed and humiliated, the character’s fate turned to the worse when he got impaled with a hook in the jaw.
This would be a recurring theme throughout the movie, several individuals would act shady and would lead us to believe they are involved in the killings or are the perpetrators themselves would then end up getting mauled themselves.
Yet the most reasonable bet throughout the movie was that the killer may be the man they had hit that night — since as the four teens tried to depose of his seemingly lifeless body he springs back to life and tries to fight off Barry.
The man was identified by Julie’s research to be a young man named Danny Egan, who had a sister they would visit in the movie. The sister (Anna Heche) informs them that her brother had committed suicide and even shows them an apparent suicide note which read, “I’ll Always Remember Last Summer.”
Julie realizes that the handwriting is similar to that of the letters she and her friends were receiving, which led her to believe it was not a note from Danny but from the same killer stalking them.
While the other three were being picked off one by one – with the exception of Ray who lives to make it to the sequel – Julie was in the confines of a library doing research on the life of Danny Egan.
She finds out that Egan survived a car crash with his girlfriend, but she did not. Julie then makes the connection that Susie’s (the girlfriend) father, Ben Willis (Muse Watson) killed Danny that night and was the man the group had seemingly ran over and thought to have killed.
Never mind questioning how Julie made the connection, or why she immediately guessed it was the father from all the vindictive relatives who could have sought revenge on Danny Egan for killing Susie, so quickly. But it turns out, she was right and the serial killer was pissed-off being ran over and left to die in the water.
Based off that quick summary, any horror movie fan can immediately draw out similarities between IKWYDLS and Scream.
Both have the cliched, girl-next-door type, sweetheart protagonist who despite seemingly being feeble and tame have no problems going beast mode when the climax hits and there’s a middle-aged man with a hook-knife coming for their asses.
Julie James does have a lot of similarities with Scream’s Sidney Prescott. Both had the demeanor but also the boyfriend problems. In both Scream and IKWYDLS, the protagonist’s love interest was a suspect in all the killings: it was only the case with this series though, as Billy Loomis was actually the killer in the more-famous Scream franchise.
A big culprit in the similarities between the two movies was the fact that they shared a writer, Kevin Williamson. It also was appealing at the time to create a spin-off based on the figures that Scream was earning on its own.
Overall, IKWYDLS was a good film despite the abysmal ratings it gets from mainstream movie critics.
The performance we got from Hewitt, not to mention her wardrobe throughout this film, catapulted her as a 90’s heartthrob. Yet, undoubtedly the biggest winner from all this was Hewitt’s sidekick in the film Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Gellar would win a role in the sequel of Scream shot that same year. She would also headline her own hit TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that transformed her into a 90’s sex icon. It also won her a husband, in Freddie Prinze, Jr!
This first installment of the trilogy also happens to be its most popular, which comes as no surprise since sequels are usually the bane of horror franchises. Despite what ever beef critics may have with this film, it still stands as one of the most memorable slasher films of the 90’s and is a staple for horror movie aficionados even until this day.
It should also be asked why being compared to the Scream franchise is a bad thing. That series was a hit, to be mentioned in the same breath and to even be compared to it should be taken as a compliment.
The Verdict: Solid B-
While this movie may offer nothing special or significant, it still is one of the most important horror movies of its decade.
As mentioned previously, this movie is still seen as one of the most iconic horror movies of the modern era. It should be a staple for anyone who calls themselves horror fans and is a must-watch for any person wanting to call themselves horror connoisseurs.
It may never be one of the classics, but it definitely makes a good watch for a lazy Sunday night with the missus.