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Volume 91, Issue 29
Tuesday, October 21, 1997
Teen dreams and horrific screams
By Brett Walther
Picture it you live in a small seaside village in North Carolina. You've just graduated from high school and you are driving your three best friends home after a night of partying on the beach. Your first year of college is ahead of you and the summer has just begun. Suddenly, from out of the inky blackness of the night, something smashes into the grill of your new Beamer. You hit the brakes and the car squeals to a halt. What did you just hit? A raccoon? No. Something bigger...
So begins I Know What You Did Last Summer, the latest release in the new sub-genre of "hip-teen-horror-flicks" that Scream invented last winter. But does I Know What You Did Last Summer live up to the standards set by the highly-acclaimed Scream? It certainly does.
The plot involves four friends and their unsuccessful disposal of the body of the unfortunate soul they creamed. They vow not to tell police about their little accident after all, why let charges of manslaughter tarnish their bright futures? What makes the situation even more uncomfortable is the fact someone knows their dark secret. This mysterious witness dons a black slicker, picks up the nearest meat hook and begins stalking the four friends.
Unfortunately, not long after this promising premise is established, the film leans toward the all-too-typical horror film runaround. I Know What You Did Last Summer is the second offering from Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson, but this script lacks the creativity that shot Scream to the top of the box office last year. The dialogue is at times witty, but at other times plagued with horror-film clichés. Scream showed these clichés have a place in this decade's slasher films if they are presented in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. However, the film does not attempt to emulate this style and perhaps suffers because of it.
Although Jennifer Love-Hewitt of Party of Five gets top billing, the true star of the film is the talented Sarah Michelle Gellar. Gellar, who currently plays the lead in Warner Brother's outstanding TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has the knack of making cliché-ridden lines sound convincing. Gellar's role as Helen, the beauty queen who has aspirations of being a film actress, easily outshines Love-Hewitt's dreary character Julie. Ryan Phillippe is also effective as Barry, the guy who has everything the nice car, the gorgeous girlfriend and a very short temper. The only weak link in terms of casting is Freddie Prinze Jr. as Ray, the working-class outsider driving the accursed Beamer at the time of the accident. His delivery of dialogue tends to be rather stilted and his part lacks the depth the other three leads benefit from.
The chills expected from such a film build effectively to its conclusion. Gellar gets the best of the film's scary moments, establishing herself as the 1990s equivalent of scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. The scenes involving the murderer's attack on Helen in the Shiver family's department store is probably the most frightening film sequence seen in a very long time. However, the conclusion itself is extremely disappointing. The final confrontation with the unmasked killer is less "horror" than it is "action-adventure." As with most horror films, once the killer's disguise is shed, he or she doesn't seem quite as scary.
Despite the disappointing climax, this film should not be missed. It is thoroughly entertaining and an excellent vehicle to launch the rising stars of the three leads. I Know What You Did Last Summer is involving. It's scary. It's a scream, baby!
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