This is going to sound like I'm an old man, but the two big differences between teen-filled horror films in the mid-'90s and teen-filled horror films now is that the cast in the older films has grown into their own individual roles with varying degrees of depth and complexity. In the case of I Know What You Did Last Summer, Jennifer Love Hewitt has gone from one established television show (Party of Five) to another (Ghost Whisperer), Sarah Michelle Gellar was on the cusp of cult television stardom with the title role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ryan Phillippe has landed supporting roles in the critically acclaimed films Crash and Flags of Our Fathers, and Freddie Prinze Jr., found the person that would later be his wife (Gellar) on set. Nowadays, current horror cast members appear to have gotten their start either in other films and appear in brief roles, or the stars of those films become casualties in the increasing "never was" pool of acting talent.
Then you have the creative side of things. Kevin Williamson, who adapted Lois Duncan's novel for the screen, was about to unleash the phenomenon of Dawson's Creek on the world. The creative teams of most current horror films apparently do a couple of things; because everything is cyclical; remakes are the norm, with the latest being remakes/possible editions to the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises. Or they'll make sequels to "torture porn" films like Saw. The latter is not entirely their fault; Eli Roth did shift the landscape with the Hostel films, but come on, isn't Hollywood supposed to be a creative town? I say this as, ironically enough, I Know was adapted from a novel, but that doesn't mean it's not a halfway decent horror film.
Directed by Jim Gillespie (Venom), the film highlights some aspects of Poe's "Tell Tale Heart," except with more young adult cleavage and belly shirts thrown in. Upon their high school graduation, bookish Julie (Hewitt), boyfriend Ray (Prinze), beauty queen Helen (Gellar) and her boyfriend Barry (Phillippe) all get together for one last crazy night before each go their separate ways. The quartet gets into Barry's car and are driving around the winding road along the coast, when all of a sudden they hit a man standing in the middle of the road and seriously injure him. The kids decide to leave the man for dead, dumping his barely breathing body off of a pier. The kids go away (except for Ray, who stays in town to be a fisherman in the coastal North Carolina town), and Julie receives an ominous letter which says, guess what, "I Know What You Did Last Summer." When she comes back to town, not only does she find that her friends have taken vastly different turns than they intended, but that she and the others are the targets of ominous threats and intimidation. Things are escalated when one of the others in town is brutally murdered. The man, wearing a raincoat and hat to disguise himself, kills with a menacing hook, and tries to pick off each of the kids, one at a time, through the remainder of the film.
I think the movie's appeal plays in a couple of different ways; first off, at its base is a story that has been told time and time again through the years. Someone who's supposedly killed and comes back to haunt and kills with a hook? Come on, anyone who's ever been to summer camp has heard some variation of that story around the fire and wasn't able to sleep for two days afterward. And it doesn't hurt that the story is told in a convincing way by the actors, who use Williamson's script (and Gillespie's direction) to its full advantage, smartly mixing in moments of horror and humor, as Williamson was wont to do when writing the Scream films. There are some moments of cheesiness (Hewitt's loud challenge to the faceless intimidator being prime among those), but overall, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a nice stroll back in time to 1997, when horror movies weren't entirely bad.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 2.40:1 widescreen presentation is given an AVC MPEG-4 codec treatment, pretty much the norm for catalog Sony titles. I can't remember when it was that I watched this film last, but the high definition version of the feature looks decent. Blacks are pretty deep and constant throughout, and the image does have a fair amount of background depth, particularly during most of the exteriors at the beginning of the film, along with when Julie and Helen visit Missy Egan (Anne Heche, Volcano). Having said that, the overall image detail is a little bit lacking during some of the interior and tighter shots, and that lack of detail is a letdown from the overall quality of the disc.
On the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround side of things, the soundtrack is clear as a bell but doesn't provide much immersion, to say the least for any low end fidelity or subwoofer engagement. At least the dialogue sounds clear and stays in the center channel without any need for receiver compensation, but if you're looking to upgrade from the standard definition disc just for the technical merits, it's probably no more than a mild thumbs up.
For such a popular film, the extras seem decent, but should be much better. Gillespie and Editor Steve Mirkovich join forces for a commentary that's better than expected. Mirkovich might drive the commentary for Gillespie, but he sounds like he mumbles from time to time. Gillespie possesses quite a bit of recollection about the production, right down to a particular shot or scene but also discusses any particular production challenges he might have run into. He discusses how he was able to get the cast he did and overall, while the track doesn't have a lot of anecdotal experiences, covers the production very well, and it's worth listening to. Gillespie also includes a short film he made called "Joyride" (10:10) which was made and released a couple of years before he was attached to this film. With an optional commentary, the short itself isn't too shabby overall. "Now I Know What You Did Last Summer" (27:05) is a retrospective featurette whose biggest deterrence is that it lacks participation from the cast, save for Hewitt and Heche. The crew discuss the attraction of Duncan's novel and getting it made into a feature, and their intent for casting and filming. Gillespie talks about effectively capturing horror, and many scenes on set and from the film are included in this piece. It's OK, but considering how popular the film was, could have been better. A music video (2:56) follows, along with a trailer for the film, along with 21 and Starship Troopers 3. A new ad touting Blu-ray's interactivity on current Sony Blu-ray titles like Vantage Point and Walk Hard is next, and the disc is BD-Live enabled.
You'd think that with four kids, one of whom kills vampires and another who can see ghosts, that I Know What You Did Last Summer would be a shorter movie. All kidding aside, the film is decent enough, with slight upgrades in the technical capabilities and supplemental material that's better than expected, even if it's slightly below the mark. Whether you buy it or not depends on how much a fan you are of the film or the genre; a double-dip is pretty safe, but I'd just stick to renting it otherwise.