Anyone who knows me can attest that I’ve said “this is one of my favorite movies ever” or “this is in my top 10 of all time” about many many different films. When I say many I mean at least a hundred give or take. But the truth is, there’s been one film that has consistently remained my absolute all time favorite since I was eight; and that’s the 1997 slasher I Know What You Did Last Summer. Believe me when I say I talk about this movie at least a few times a month year round, and almost every day over the course of spooky month. Considering some of the other movies that fill out my top 10 list are Moonlight (2016), Call Me By Your Name (2017), and Comet (2014), this may seem like a sort of off brand pick. But it actually may be the most on brand choice for a favorite movie of all time when it comes to me. For anyone who has ever doubted my true love for this film, or questions why on earth this is someone’s absolute most treasured pick, please take some time out of your day to read this article.
When I was eight and asked what I wanted for Easter, my parents were probably a little confused that instead of a new bike, basketball or any other present an eight year old kid would usually desire; all I wanted was a copy of the I Know What You Did Last Summer DVD. It was legitimately the only thing I asked for; so waking up that morning, I was thrilled to see that they came through with my Easter present. Looking back on this day, it’s exciting to note that this was the very first film to be a part of my collection of DVDs that is now somewhere around 250 give or take. It’s the one that started it all, and easily the most used and watched copy out of all of them.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with this film, it follows four best friends who on the fourth of July are celebrating their achievements and where their lives are heading post high school. While driving back from the beach, in the middle of the night, on a winding and twisting road they hit a man. Instead of ruining their lives and alerting the authorities, they dump his body in the lake and vow to never speak of it again. One year later, after breaking apart and keeping their distance, they begin to receive threats from someone who knows what they’ve done and are hunted by a fisherman with a hook who will stop at nothing to take revenge on the four teens who ruined his life.
Now, I understand that this isn’t the most original or intricate idea, even for a 90s slasher, but its storytelling and cast elevate it to a whole other level. Jennifer Love Hewitt (Ghost Whisperer) and Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) lead the film as Julie and Helen; two best friends who are torn apart by their twisted secret. In an era that also gave us Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers from Scream, these two are complete badasses who deserve more credit for carrying this film on their backs from beginning to end. From the start, they lift each other up constantly, are already empowered and kickass before a killer comes after them, and all around just have such a pure and honest friendship that anchors the story while taking it to a more emotional level. There’s a scene where Gellar’s character Helen tears up and reflects on their friendship before it all went to hell, explaining that she wants to try and get back to where they were. When she’s sort of turned down it hurts for not only her, but everyone watching. Most slashers then and especially now struggle to connect to an audience on a personal level, not even really trying to either. That’s what elevates this film; I would have still been completely happy if all four had survived but of course, blood needs to be shed.
Since this is a slasher, there needs to be kills. A kill that is still talked to this day, that shouldn’t have happened and genuinely hurts everytime I watch it, is Helen’s. In a genre with so many awesome and fleshed out women at its core (Laurie Strode, Sydney Prescott, Nancy Thompson, etc), Helen Shivers is my absolute favourite. Described best by one of my favourite scream queens and Buffy Summers herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, “Helen is the most popular girl in high school, a pageant queen who’s had to rely on her looks because that’s all she’s ever known; only to be stuck in a situation where her looks aren’t enough to save her and there’s more that she needs to give to get through it. It’s about the transition she goes through and learning that she can handle herself and that there’s more to her, which is something she always hoped there was.” Not only is she already such a layered, all around well written character, but Gellar’s performance is top notch and you can tell that she gives it her all. She’s truly the best part of this movie and a fan favourite across the board, also giving us single handedly one of if not the best chase scene in slasher history. Starting off stuck in the back of a police car, kicking out the window and then sprinting from a serial killer in heels! It’s such a thrilling sequence that leads to her running through her family owned shop, escaping and jumping out of a three story building only for her to be murdered seconds away from safety. It was the ultimate slap in the face from the filmmakers. The fact that I have seen this movie so many times to the point where I can quote it and this scene still gets under my skin and boils my blood; is so annoying. Not only did we deserve better, but so did Helen Shivers. The actress herself even showed irritation towards the scene in an old interview from the 90s where she wanted to take off her heels and fight back harder, but of course was told to run in high heels and flail her arms until he kills her.
Although it was a box office success, this film wasn’t received as well as it is now due to Scream (1996) coming out the year before. Instead it was heavily compared and labeled a rip off coming from Kevin Williamson who also wrote Scream as well as this. Over the years as people continued to revisit Last Summer, it was shown that this was absolutely not the case. This story which was loosely based off of Lois Duncan’s novel of the same name stands fairly well on its own with an awesome cast, great iconic killer, tight writing and well shot film. Also the fact that Gellar and Hewitt were rightfully paid more than Ryan Phillipe (Cruel Intentions) and Freddie Prinze Jr. (Scooby Doo, She’s All That) in a time where lead actresses were usually paid less than their male counterparts makes this even better. It was clear that the two actresses were the real stars, up front and centre making this film better than it should have ever been.
Even though this series doesn’t have the strongest of sequels, I personally love the second and ignore the third, this is a great film on its own that is strong enough to hold the trilogy together. I’ll always love this film and it’s one of my inspirations when it comes to writing horror. One day I want to make a slasher with characters that people love just as much as I love this group, with a chase scene so epic and thrilling that it lands on top ten lists of all sorts. I’ve shown this movie to so many of my friends on multiple occasions and the truth is, I’ll continue to do so for years to come. And that is why, I Know What You Did Last Summer is my absolute favorite film of all time.