I Know What You Did Last Summer hit theaters 20 years ago on Tuesday — the date was October 17, 1997, and the slasher movie trend was finding its place at the box office with breakouts like Scream giving high school audiences a glimpse of their ’90s teen idols in scarier surroundings.
IKWYDLS (it just rolls right off the tongue) brought all the tropes of the genre to the forefront: a near-indestructible killer; a couple of cute girls — one obviously sexy and the other more homely with a strong moral compass; an attractive douche who died early and quickly because he probably deserves it; and the strong silent type who writes poetry and doesn’t quite fit into the popular clique.
In this bubblegum horror flick, all these staples of the genre are portrayed by a group of young up-and-comers who were pretty much the Brat Pack of the late ’90s, all with names that can be shortened to just three letters: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr. — oh, and Ryan Phillippe.
Upon rewatching the movie on its twentieth anniversary, once you get past the lasting affection for chokers, overalls, and super spiky hair (looking at you, Freddie) and get over the shock of just how HUGE laptop computers used to be, the film’s most archaic concept emerges: the possibility of keeping anything you did last summer a secret for an entire year. Nowadays, we’d probably live-tweet and Insta-story any accidental murder we found ourselves embroiled in on the Fourth of July. But that’s part of the nostalgic fun of it all. Yes, the movie conforms to every last trope of the category, but that just adds to the hide-behind-your-couch-cushion thrill of it all. It’s teen slasher-movie gold, and watching it in 2017, in a moment when we look back at the ’90s with a fondness that’s compounded by the horror of our current reality, it’s a pretty enjoyable romp — as far as gory movies about psycho stalker-killers go.
Here’s a sampling of the thoughts I had while revisiting this ’90s classic (streamed online, not on VHS at a sleepover):
1. I do not remember this opening scene with the teen sitting on the cliffs contemplating suicide, but I’m quite certain it’s pivotal to the entire plot.
2. SMG is queen of the late ’90s.
3. Oh look, it’s Leonard from The Big Bang Theory!
4. “Chum bait” is a horrible and very fishing-town specific insult.
5. I’ve never known a Barry I’ve liked.
6. Everyone always thinks they’ve hit a deer until they find a rain boot. Deer have no need for rain boots.
7. Julie’s mom is totally right to ask if she’s on drugs. It’s all in the hair. Fix yo’ bangs, girl.
8. This is a bold joke considering what they did last summer.
9. Watching someone run in overalls is weirdly hilarious.
10. Hmmm, the macho male body type sure has bulked up over the decades.
11. Please keep your eyes on the road, Jules! WE KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.
12. Nice product placement, Diet Coke!
13. Probably won’t be eating seafood anytime soon.
14. …sure are a lot of guys wearing full-on fisherman gear on the Fourth of July in North Carolina (average temp 90º?).
15. This “teenager” auditioning to take SMG’s crown is 35.
16. Main members of the cast die real fast in slasher movies — if they’re boys (and the most amoral character in the movie).
17. All that practice looking horrified as Buffy really paid off.
18. Killers never run.
19. Elsa deserved better.
20. Can’t let the hot girl die until she’s good ‘n’ sweaty with disheveled clothing.
21. Well, he’s not even scary without the hat and slicker. Hello, friendly local fisherman dude. Can you teach me how to bait a hook?
22. Hot girl in peril? Check. Hot girl in water? Check. Hot girl in revealing clothing? Give us one minute…
23. Alright, Peter Pan Prinze Jr.
24. DIDN’T WE LEARN LAST SUMMER THAT WATER DOESN’T KILL THE FISHERMAN?
26. Oh, jeez.
27. You’re never lucky enough be alone in a locker room until a killer’s after you.
28. But this is a dream, right? Because in hindsight we know there are two sequels.