Last week, I recommended getting some ‘fun fear’ to get through the tough times of the ongoing pandemic. So to encourage laughing in the face of death and to help me stay sane without being gloomy, Your Intrepid Host will be doing a series on 90s teen slasher movies.
It’s not about history or appreciation of feelm. Just an excuse to make fun of things. You don’t have to have even seen the selected movies, just read about what I had to endure for 92 minutes.
1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer is what I consider to be ‘prime’ teen slasher horror. Our cast is quintessentially 90s: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Ryan Phillippe. Each of them try their darnedest to bring their utterly unsympathetic characters to life. The villain is cloaked in an improbable, ridiculous, but vaguely menacing costume. An established urban legend is weakly applied to the film’s motif. The script is filled with ‘whodunit’ false leads. The slicker-clad slasher slashes everyone BUT his actual targets until the very end.
The movie also connects to other classic 90s teen slashers. The script was written by Kevin Williamson, who also wrote the script for 1996’s Scream (a superior film). Williamson wrote Last Summer before Scream and it’s no coincidence that the earlier script only sold after the massive success of the latter. Williamson also wrote for Dawson’s Creek, so that’s the level of ‘pretty white teens with problems’ we’re working with here. Last Summer was almost directed by Jamie Banks—but he was put on 1998’s Urban Legend instead (the worst of this interconnected trio).
I Know What You Did Last Summer also has a connection to a real-life murder—but that article will be coming soon. For now, we’re only focusing on mocking the low-hanging fruit that is this movie.
Our movie kicks off in the quaint, seaside town of Southport, North Carolina. Southport’s main business is fishing—and they will not let you forget it for a second, goddamn it.
This town’s “aesthetic” is my favorite thing about this movie. It’s the 4th of July, but for Southport it might as well be the Fish of July. There is a parade of fish sculptures molded out of papier-mâché. People are wearing fish hats. We cut to the local beauty pageant where even the stage and prize crown are nautical themed.
Even better: Southport is apparently in Croaker County, North Carolina. Therefore the winner of the beauty pageant wins the title “Croaker Queen.” Love. It.
The pageant is where we meet our intrepid beautiful people/”heroes.” Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Helen, on stage competing for the prized title of Croaker Queen. BFF Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Julie’s ‘everyman’ boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.), and Helen’s asshat boyfriend Barry (Ryan Phillippe) cheer Helen on from the balcony.
The cast is one of my favorite things about this movie. It’s the most 90s cast you could possibly have—and each of them actually knows how to (kinda) act. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe get to play the ‘hate them so you love it when they die’ parts via Helen and Barry to the fullest. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze get the ‘I guess I’m supposed to root for you?’ parts as the [highly questionably] more intelligent and moral pair, doing a lot of lip pouting.
On stage, Helen gets asked what she would do for her community “in the spirit of Mother Theresa…” Wow. Hard hitting questions here in Fishport—I mean, Southport.
Helen answers that she’ll serve her community by a) leaving for NYC the second she can & b) becoming an actress. The line might as well be her looking to camera saying “I’m the blonde you hate.”
But amazingly: the fishy citizens of Southport go NUTS for this response. Truly, their Queen can only have the depth of the smallest halibut. And Helen does indeed win the crown.
Later there is much rejoicing with red solo cups and all the clam bake you can shake a flounder at. Our four friends celebrate in their last post-high school summer.
Newly crowned Helen runs into her older sister, Elsa. Elsa gets the hint that Helen will be getting it on with Barry later. She sneers a line that made me stop everything:
“Is little Miss Croaker getting sautéed tonight?”
1) WTF does that even mean?
2) Does Southport culture require that even sexual innuendo be related to ‘something you do to a fish’?
3) Why say that to your SISTER?
Anyway, that happens and the movie moves on like it wasn’t one of the most bizarre lines in moviedom.
Max, a townie, sidles up to Julie to offer a ‘shooter’ on the house. I had to look up what that was and—of course—it’s blended up seafood and maybe some alcohol. Delicious, I’m sure. Slimy-Delicious.
Julie wisely declines the shooter, as well as Max’s ask for a date. But in turning Max down, Julie does not bring up “I have a boyfriend.” Hmm, has someone forgotten Ray?
Barry barges in and roughs Max up for harassing Julie. While a dick move, why is Barry doing it and not Julie’s boyfriend, Ray?
And because we can’t stop talking about fish for 2 minutes in this stupid town, Barry calls Max “Chum bait.”
After that, our four teens head out to the beach where they swap versions of the Hook Man urban legend. In this convo, it’s revealed that Ray is in fact an idiot who thinks the Hook Man legend is real. Even—and I stress this—even Helen and Barry aren’t this dumb.
Julie puts her smart-smart hat on and explains how urban legends act as metaphor etc, etc.
Ray responds, “Well honey, you know how intimidated I am of your IQ, but actually..”
…again: why are these two together?
After this rousing convo of blood, guts, and sexism our couples pair off for beach sex. Which is always a terrible idea, but we’re just getting started with the terrible ideas.
Afterwards, our teens pile into Barry’s car—likely each with sand in cracks they didn’t even know they had. They drive off, not speeding and with a sober driver (Ray). …I thought I was promised a morality tale or something? The only moral seems to be ‘don’t hang out with Barry’, who is drunk and an asshole distracting Ray just as the car thumps into a dark figure.
The car skids to a stop and our teens pile out. They notice that Barry is smeared with blood—someone else’s blood. And our intrepid heroes jump into action! They….check the car for damage.
Yep. Let’s slice and dice these kids.
Eventually, they find the body of the person they hit. No one rushes over to see if the person is okay. Instead, they reluctantly mosey over to the body and start debating how to proceed.
Everyone does a pretty good job trying to carry this scene. But most of the momentum here is squarely on Ryan Phillippe’s shoulders, who spends the next few scenes screaming at everyone like an abusive dad at a little league game.
The crew ultimately agrees to a cover up because… (checks notes) Barry is most likely to get in trouble if they go to the police. …really? We’re going to put this sin on our souls to save Barry? All righty then.
Max momentarily disrupts the crew’s scheming, but they manage to shoo him off without getting caught. Then, rather than just rolling the body off a steep cliff, the teens put the body into the car and take it to the docks. Yeah, just smear that evidence all over the outside and inside.
As they haul the body over to a deserted dock, Barry tries to encourage the team by saying “Let’s just agree he’s a lunatic with a hook for a hand and we’re doing everybody a favor.” At this point, the script might as well have flashed a ‘4’ and a shadow on screen.
Just as Croaker Queen Helen is about to shove the body into the water, she’s attacked—the guy is ALIVE!
So our teens stop what they’re doing, calm down, apologize to the man, avoid a black mark on their consciences, get him medical attention, and accept the consequences of their actions.
Ha ha, nah, they roll his ass into the murky depths.
But our intrepid killers’ victim manages to grab the pageant crown from Helen [Yep. She was wearing it throughout this whole thing. If you say so, script].
The shot where the man sinks into the water, gripping the crown like a victory trophy, is just hilarious. Barry dives into the water to get the crown back (it is evidence, after all). Barry and the man fight over a nautical-themed pageant crown before the man finally floats down to Davey Jones’ Locker.
So now: our teens have smoothly transitioned from an accidental death to straight up homicide.
Rather than letting the gravity of that wash over them, they just keep bickering. Barry continues to scream like he’s got roid rage (though Ryan Phillippe’s skinny 90s torso disputes that). He even starts choking Julie when he doesn’t think she’ll keep quiet. Helen and Ray (again her SUPPOSED BOYFRIEND) just let this happen cause, hey, why even pretend to have human empathy anymore.
And I want to really dig in to what this scene means for who these characters are, for the audience. There is a level of immoral deed that we all recognize as wrong, but that an audience can empathize with.
In the book this is based on (YEP, this was a book first!), the teens call an ambulance for the person they accidentally hit before taking off. Accidentally causing someone’s death and covering it up is bad, but an average person could conceive of doing that.
But intentionally murdering someone—rolling an injured person into the water to drown them—is a simply an evil act. It tears away sympathy from what are supposed to be protagonists that made a ‘mistake’. But, (excuse me while I put on my Keith Morrison voice): “This was no mistake, no accident…it was cold blooded mur-der, split 4 ways.”
Cut To: One Year Later aka Next Summer aka This Summer aka The Summer After Last Summer.
Julie returns to Fishport for summer break. She’s about to flunk out, the guilt dragging her grades down. She expresses her guilty feels through the sweaters she wears in every scene, even though it’s summer in North Carolina.
At home, Julie is welcomed by her Mom with—I shit you not—a fish dinner and a talk about which fish is in season right now.
After fish talk, Julie gets a weird letter in the mail with no return address or postmark. ProTip: NEVER open mail like that. But Julie does, and finds a note inside: “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.”
Looking for one of her fellow conspirators—I mean, former friends—Julie goes to Helen’s family’s department store. Julie discovers—horror of horrors—that Helen did not make it as an actress and is now relegated to sob working at the family store. Note: the department store looks really gross. Everything looks like it’s covered in a fine layer of seaweed dust and ground fish scales.
Julie talks with Helen about the note and, ya know, the murder right in the store in front of everyone.
The girls decide to take the note to Barry to get his thoughts. Oh yeah, let’s bring it up with Mr. Stability. Maybe he’ll go into a choke rage again. That’ll solve everything.
Barry avoids screaming while the three of them talk on his family patio. Again, the teens discuss last summer’s murder with the patio door open and Barry’s mom within earshot.
How did these kids manage to get away with murder for a whole year?
Julie reveals that their victim’s name was David Egan—his body was found 3 weeks after the incident.
Because Max briefly interrupted their felonies-in-progress, the three decide he’s Suspect #1. They go to the docks to find Max hauling fish from some fish enterprise. God, everything in this town must stink so bad.
Barry decides he will be the one to ‘handle’ this delicate situation. Excellent choice. …if you want to make things worse, that is.
Barry corners Max and threatens him with a large fish hook. Barry practically screams, “I know you know that I totally killed someone last summer!” Max says he doesn’t know anything. Barry leaves believing he’s intimidated Max into silence.
Back on the docks, Ray bumps into the trio. He’s a fisherman now, and yet his hair remains perfectly fluffy and spiky. Hmm. Maybe he uses fish oil.
While the four murderers we’re supposed to be rooting for catch up, we cut back to Max. Max is up to fish things, putting crabs in some kind of boiler, causing the room to fill with steam.
A dark figure in a fisherman’s slicker looms from out of the shadows. It is: THE FISHERMAN.
Yep. That’s our villain’s actual moniker. Chilling. He attacks Max, who gets a hook right through the face.
Woo first kill!
We cut to Barry going to his gym—which is right by the docks. Because nothing makes me feel more refreshed during an elliptical workout like breathing in a day’s worth of fish hauls. Seriously, did the town restrict zoning for all businesses to within 200 yards of the harbor?
Anyway: after another productive day of screaming, threatening, and getting away with murder, Barry unwinds with a workout.
Afterwards, he returns to the locker room to find a photo waiting for him. It’s a picture of Barry’s Murder Car (seriously, you KEPT the car? HOW did you guys get away with this crime?!) with “I KNOW” written on it. Worse, this maniac has done the unthinkable: he’s stolen Barry’s letterman jacket!
Barry runs after the culprit, only to find that The Fisherman has also stolen his Murder Car.
Making good use of the tools at hand, the Fisherman tries to run Barry down. Barry cleverly evades by running in a straight line down the road.
Eventually, Barry does get hit by his own Murder Car. He screams for help, hoping to be heard by people who are nothing like him and willing to help a stranger in need.
The Fisherman looms over Barry, hook in hand.
Now at first, your disappointment is that Barry was hacked to bits off screen.
But the next scene deepens that disappointment: Barry lives.
WHY? Why does BARRY get to live when Max’s only crime was trafficking in shooters?!
Anyway, we’re in a hospital that looks like it’s a renovated fish office or something and probably stinks of salmon.
Julie, Ray, and Helen meet Barry at the hospital. Barry says he did not see the Fisherman’s face. But Barry brings up that Ray could be the Fisherman since he has an identical slicker—being a dirty fish guy and such. Ray points out that half the town are also fishers with slickers.
Ray omits that—hopefully–far fewer of them helped murder a stranger last year.
The gang figures that the Fisherman must be either Max (who hasn’t been discovered dead yet) or a family member/friend of their victim, David Egan.
With some internet research, Julie finds that David Egan was the driver in a fatal car accident 2 years ago. For those keeping track, this is the summer before last summer. And we’re currently in the summer after last summer. So this accident happened in the last summer before last summer. Summer.
Anyway: David’s fiancée, Susie, died in the car accident. Julie remembers seeing a ‘Susie’ tattoo on the man they rolled into the water. Thus, she is all the more certain that the person they killed was David.
Using the obit information, Julie and Helen go to the Egan family home. Here, they find Anne Heche, the only person sporting a Southern accent in our entire NC-based movie. Heche plays Missy, David’s sister.
Julie and Helen then pull a thing that makes no sense where they pretend they have different names and they’re car broke down and whatever—it’s stupid. Seriously, did you drive all the way out to this house with no plan? HOW DID YOU GUYS GET AWAY WITH MURDER?
Missy shares that after David died, their mother had to be put in a mental hospital. Julie finds a slicker in the house. These two things hint that the Fisherman could be Missy or the mother (ala the Hookman escaped mental patient angle / the original Friday the 13th). These are total red herrings, but I thought were good red herrings.
Oh god, now I’m getting in on the fish talk.
Missy also reveals that after David’s death, a man named Billy Blue came by to pay his respects. And Billy Blue is a made up name if I’ve ever heard one. The mysterious Billy Blue joins the suspect list.
Julie and Helen drive back to town. And Helen decides to fully establish herself as Utterly Hateable. Helen suggests that David, guilty and grieving from his fiancee’s death, could have been attempting suicide and stepped in front of the gang’s car last year.
Consider the darkness of this idea: “It’s okay that we murdered the guy if he was depressed!”
Does Helen die soon? Please?
But it isn’t over yet. Then Helen, digging her own deserved grave, is all “What happened to us? We used to be best friends.”
…is she serious? Seriously: is she serious? Like actually?
Again: does Helen die soon?
Helen returns home, and is followed by the Fisherman, hook in hand. Helen goes to her room and starts to undress. Sadly, we don’t get to see her Buffys.
Then, it is revealed that Helen still has the pageant crown. You know, the crown that was wrestled from the dying grip of a man she helped murder?
PLEASE can Helen die soon?
Helen doesn’t die at this moment, but instead has a catty convo with her sister, Elsa. Elsa says that Helen needs to be at work tomorrow at 10.
Helen replies that she cannot: she has to be in the parade tomorrow as the outgoing Croaker Queen. With as much gravity as Sarah Michelle Gellar is capable of delivering, she says: “It’s tradition, there’s nothing I can do.” As if instead of blowing off work, she needs to help stone someone to death.
I’m about to jump through the screen and gut Helen myself.
The next morning, Helen is—frustratingly—still alive and well. The Fisherman shows his diabolical menace by pulling a college prank—he cut off some of Helen’s hair while she was sleeping. And wrote ‘Soon’ on her mirror. Not even in blood. What an amateur.
This is another red herring (damn you, fish!), meant to implicate Elsa.
Helen freaks out and calls Julie. Julie gets in her car to rush over and hears a scratching from her trunk. She pulls over to check it out.
Inside the trunk is Max’s corpse, covered in crabs. Yeah, remember his murder from 25 minutes ago? Here’s the payoff!
So let’s pause here. Max has been dead for about 48 hours. The trunk is stuffed with the cast of The Little Mermaid.
HOW did Julie not smell this? Do years of life in Fishport deaden your sense of smell?
Julie is horrified but still hasn’t learned that when you find a body, you should call the cops and not your stupid vapid friends. She runs to Helen’s place where she finds Helen as well as Barry. Again: why invite Barry anywhere ever?
The trio return to the car. There’s no sign of Max or his new pals. How one makes off with a dead body and an entire SeaWorld touchtank within 3 minutes is anyone’s guess. Is the Fisherman also the Crab Whisperer?
Julie does the kinda ‘known’ scene from the trailer, spreading her hands and demanding of the sky “What are you waiting for huh? What are you waiting for!”
And yes, Julie does this screaming in broad daylight on a suburban street. How did these kids every get away with anything?
The trio stomps off to Ray’s place because they’re so dumb, they think Ray’s clever enough to pull this all off. Barry’s opening salvo to Ray: “You’re gonna die!” I suspect that Barry opens 1/3 of all conversations with those words.
Ray convinces the group that he isn’t the Fisherman—although he does this with no actual argument or proof.
Out of ideas, the gang splits up.
Julie goes back to the Egan residence to ask Missy more questions about Billy Blue. Ray disappears again—maybe he talks to fish heads for friends or something.
Helen, apparently bound by some kind of sacred oath, must be in the parade tomorrow—and can be used as bait. Barry will go to the parade to keep Helen safe. Yes, because if anyone is the face of safety, it’s Barry.
At the Egan home, Julie finds Missy chopping up catfish. Will we NEVER escape the pescatarian aesthetic?! Missy reveals that she found a note that she thought was David’s suicide note: ‘I WILL NEVER FORGET LAST SUMMER.’
Julie realizes that the note is actually a threat from the Fisherman to David. She puts together that last summer, the Fisherman murdered David—and the gang later hit/attempted to drown the Fisherman.
Meanwhile, the 4th of July Parade—the Fish Parade—kicks off. Helen sits on a float and then gets on stage for the Croaker Queen pageant. Barry watches from the balcony.
Soon, Helen sees Barry get attacked by the Fisherman. She screams, “BARRY!”
…and no one does anything. Because fuck Barry.
On the balcony, Barry finally gets hooked, but with minimal blood or gore. Normally I’m okay with that, but: come on, it’s Barry.
Helen continues to freak out and, finally, a sheriff shows up. The sheriff goes up to the balcony and finds no sign of Barry or Fisherman. He also misses the buckets of dripping blood nearby. Stellar police work. No wonder these kids were never caught.
The Sheriff takes Helen home in his police car. On the way, he laughs at her as she describes being stalked and terrorized. Stellar. Police work.
As they’re driving, the road is partially blocked by a shadowy figure working on a truck. Smalltown Sheriff’s response to this is to stop everything to help bring the jalopy back to life.
The sheriff is bloodily hooked in no time. Helen is now trapped in the car as the Fisherman approaches. Somehow, impossibly, Helen breaks the cop car window just by slapping it a bunch. She takes off, the Fisherman in hot pursuit.
Helen runs for the family store, finding Elsa there. Helen tells Elsa to lock all the doors while she runs to call the police. But Elsa is not fast enough with her keys, getting hooked soon after.
Helen hears Elsa scream and hangs up on 911—’cause sure.
The Fisherman chases Helen through the store and past many creepy mannequins.
Eventually, Helen jumps out a window and lands in a pile of trash. Helen makes a run for it, and sees that the Night Fish Parade is nearby.
Yep, there’s a Day Fish Parade and a Night Fish Parade. We don’t half-ass anything on Fish of July—not in Fishport!
Helen dashes down an alley to reach the safety of the Night Fish Parade. Then, literally feet from safety, she STOPS. Just to look around.
The Fisherman pops out behind her and they fight. Helen actually lasts longer than Barry ever did. I guess the Fisherman wasn’t prepared to fight a Slayer.
Anyway, the Night Fish Parade continues two feet away from the grappling, blood, and screaming in the alley.
This stupid town.
Meanwhile, Julie discovers that David Egan’s fiancee’s father, Ben Willis, was a fisherman. Mystery seemingly solved!
The summer before last summer, David Egan’s fiancée died in a car accident. Last summer, David Egan’s dead fiancee’s dad, Ben Willis, murdered his dead daughter’s fiancée, David Egan. After killing his daughter’s fiancée, David Egan, Ben Willis was run over and tossed to Davey Jones’ locker by our four ‘heroes’. This summer, after last summer, Ben Willis has come back for revenge.
Of course! It was so simple!
Julie runs out to the docks to fill Ray in on her sleuthing. But as Ray comes out to meet her, Julie realizes that Ray’s boat is named Billy Blue.
Throwing all her research on an unlikely but plausible solution out the window, Julie decides that Ray felt bad about the bad thing they all did last summer, and decided to exact revenge on the group from within. …which all things considered, makes way more sense, but is not, in fact, the plot.
Julie flees from Ray, Ray chases after her, etc.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, some badass skipper clotheslines Ray, who drops like a sack of mackerel.
The skipper soothes Julie, saying “Easy, child.” Which is a phrase that screams ‘I’M THE BAD GUY’, but Julie lets him usher her onto his waiting boat. As the skipper undocks the boat, Julie finds news clippings, photos, and other stalker-phernalia. It all reveals that—duh—the skipper is Ben Willis who is the Fisherman. From last summer. And also this summer.
Julie is chased by Willis through the boat while Ray gets on a little motorboat to come to the rescue. Ray eventually catches up and boards—before getting tossed right back in the water. This is because Ray forgot to bring any weapons for this faceoff with a deranged maniac.
God Ray is useless.
Still fleeing Willis, Julie manages to climb inside the fish…storage…hatch…place. I don’t know boats. It’s a big chamber in the bottom of the boat filled with ice. Usually, I presume this serves as a fish morgue.
But tonight, it is a people morgue! Julie finds the bodies of Helen and Barry.
Meanwhile, Ray manages to Errol-Flynn his way back onto the boat. Willis corners Julie, but Ray swings a pulley at our villain. Willis implausibly gets swung around rigging, much to his peril. He loses his hand before plunging into the ocean.
We cut to our end scene, back on land in Fishport with police everywhere. I assume the commissioner—cofishioner, rather—will soon be on his way.
Ray and Julie discuss with amazement that they in fact did nothing wrong this entire time.
That they wasted an entire year wracked by guilt that they never needed.
Um. But no.
See while the gang never in fact killed anyone, they thought they had. They made the collective, conscious decision to try pretty hard to murder someone. And yes, if they had been successful murderers, they would’ve killed a killer.
But they didn’t know that. As far as they knew, for the entire time, they had murdered an innocent human being.
Yet the script writes this denouement as if Ray and Julie remain as pure as fallen snow.
Gosh gee, maybe all the fish imagery is actually a theme meant to evoke thoughts of Jesus, the fisherman of men, and to emphasize the importance of forgiving sins. After all, the
Fisherman comes back from the dead. Is the Fisherman a symbol for Christ?
No. No these kids are doomed to Hell.
Ray tells Julie he loves her. They embrace. Whatever.
There’s a brief scene that cuts to a year later. So we now have a stacked timeline of four different summers in this sequence of events. There’s the present summer, after the previous summer, which was not last summer, which was impacted by the summer before that.
There’s a fakeout scare, and then a message that says ‘I STILL KNOW’ (oh jeebus, not the sequel…). There’s a jump scare with the not-dead villain, and we’re done.
This is the sort of movie I recommend only if being done in a group and while drinking (or while alone holed up in your horror-writing lair laughing at your own wit). It is not a good product. But it can be made entertaining if you dismiss what is being served to you, like a shooter at a Fish of July parade.