The slasher genre has had a long and varied history. Despite some people who argue that the slasher film is horror in its purest form, it has a reputation for being overly gratuitous and underdeveloped popcorn fodder. This perception was bucked when the hit film Scream came out in 1996, it helped revitalised the genre as Kevin Williamson injected by calling out the tropes that had become so indicative of the genre. In 1997, Williamson was willing to try his hand at a new franchise and put four teenagers in the path of an unstoppable onslaught in I Know What You Did Last Summer.
After celebrating their friend, Helen, triumph in a local beauty pageant, Ray, Barry & Julie spend their evening partying on the beach, before the group breaks for college. However, while driving back inebriated, the group accidentally hits someone. Fearing reprisal, they cover up the incident by ditching the body in the ocean, a year has passed, and the group reunites, but as mysterious letters arrive it becomes clear that someone else was party to their deception, but the question is who?
There’s a lot of terror in I.K.W.Y.D.L.S. but it manages to balance this feeling so well with gripping teen drama. It’s noticeable how much this tragedy affects the dynamic of the group and their individual personalities. Shifting relationships shattered dreams, trying to rebuild a normal life in the face of drama. As a result of which our four heroes do display ‘conventional horror’ types yet feel more developed as a result of this advancement. Even in the external characters, I was surprised seeing future Big Bang Theory star, Johnny Galecki, as the torch carrying Max Neurick who becomes a far more menacing threat than his typical demeanour would suggest.
For a film with a primary audience of teenagers, I Know has a rocking soundtrack. Alternative bands like Type-O Negative and the cover of Hush by Kula Shaker really help underscore the mood of the film and feel right at home. The deconstruction of horror tropes on the beach helps both ingratiate the audience about what to expect from the movie while providing food for thought for fans. This is a continuation of the core conceit of the Scream franchise, but a lot of the film’s observations aren’t explicitly stated. The killer himself is decked in a black fisherman’s coat and cap, and at places looks like the Scissorman in the Clock Tower and the Raincoat Killer in Deadly Premonition. Despite evoking these characters, our killer feels fresh, what with his taunting and his extraordinary powers, feeling like this deranged being can manipulate the fabric of time and space, making escape almost impossible.
I Know What You Did Last Summer is a respectable slasher, a quintessential artefact on the path to redemption for the genre, a film that respects its audiences’ desires and doesn’t let little things like plot-logic get in the way of a good massacre. While also respecting the audience’s intelligence by playing with certain tropes while keeping the same enjoyable beats. I.K.W.Y.D.L.S. not only knows the terrible secret of four teens but how to make an effective horror mystery too.
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