I’m a child of the 90s. That also means I grew up during the 90s slasher film era. After the slasher craze of the 80s, there weren’t that many ideas that felt fresh in the sub-genre. Every holiday had a horror film named after it. Numerous madmen had escaped mental institutions. And horror itself wasn’t that popular at the box office. The slasher film was becoming a thing of the past. Yesterday’s trash. And then Scream came along, reigniting our love for the simplistic sub-genre…
…But the emergence of Scream also meant that studios had to get creative. You couldn’t just put a guy in a hockey mask and let him wreak havoc anymore. The script had to have a twist. It had to be “smart”. Stylish. Sexy. This led to a bevy of entertaining slasher films with fresh ideas, most notably, Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Written by Kevin Williamson (Scream) and directed by Jim Gillespie (Eye See You), I Know What You Did Last Summer tells the story of four teens who drink, drive, and end up mowing down a man in the middle of the road. In other words, it’s another Friday. Realizing that they’re covered in booze and will go to jail (even though only one has been drinking, and it wasn’t the driver), the teens declare the guy dead because obviously they’re all doctors, and dump him in the ocean. One year later, the group finds themselves stalked by a homicidal maniac leaving them love letters that read, “I know what you did last summer”.
I Know What You Did Last Summer became a bona fide hit. Budgeted around 17mil, it made its money back opening weekend, and ended up raking in 125mil worldwide. Not too shabby. The film went on to produce two sequels, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006). So, it’s no wonder that, way back in 2014, it was announced that Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House series) and Jeff Howard (Gerald’s Game) were working on a script for a remake. Unfortunately, not much has been heard since then, other than Flanagan telling Bloody Disgusting in 2017 that the script was finished and in Sony’s hands. So, while the film burns in development hell, I thought I’d take the time to look at why we should all be hoping the I Know What You Did Last Summer remake gets to see the light of the day.
During the “slasher renaissance” of the 90s, studios had moved on from the dumb bunch of randoms prominent in 80s slice ‘em ups, and replaced them with dumb but ultra-sexy, ultra-popular stars to give slashers a more “polished” look and make them appealing to the current crop of ADD adolescents. I’m not knocking it. It worked. I Know What You Did Last Summer starred Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. All four were hot names at the time, and I’d be lying if I said the tactic of importing my teen crush Gellar into the film didn’t make me immediately start planning how I would sneak into the theater. And for The Big Bang Theory fans, the film even features an appearance from adorable nerd Johnny Galecki.
The entire cast delivers believable performances, but there’s just one problem: The characters stink. I’m a big fan of Kevin Williamson, and Sidney Prescott from Scream will always be one of my favorite heroines, but there just isn’t a lot to like about these angsty teens. Barry (Phillippe) follows the unwarranted trend of the “slasher film asshole” that began in the 90s, when these films stopped trying to make the cast seem like your average group of friends and turned them into groan-inducing stereotypes. Going along with that, Helen (Gellar) is your basic concept of a pageant queen, blond, dumb, and bitchy (and for the record, I’ve worked with some pageant girls, and they are wonderful people). And then you have Ray (Prinze) and Julie (Hewitt), who are about as basic as it gets, with little to no personality outside of being scared and judgmental. Add into that the fact that these people have all become even bigger skid marks on the reel since covering up the murder they thought they committed, and this cast isn’t exactly a lovable bunch.
A remake of I Know What You Did Last Summer could change that. There is so much potential for a group of people who all share a dark secret together, but the audience needs to love them first before we can buy into them as people and care about what happens to them down the line. The original film does little to connect us to anyone, and it’s especially difficult for the viewer to relate once we find our cast “one year later”, and Barry is still an ass, Helen is still a basic “queen”, and Julie and Ray are still as boring as ever. I can’t be expected to feel bad for a bunch of rich white kids raised on privilege. The remake has not only a chance for some diversity amongst the cast, but an opportunity to present people that feel true to life for your average teenager/kid at heart.
We can finally improve that "twist"
Maybe you won’t believe me, but I never, not once, expected anyone other than the hit and run victim, Benjamin Willis (Muse Watson), to be the killer. To Williamson’s credit though, that’s probably more on Gillespie than it is the script. And it’s all because of one single shot after the teens drop Ben’s body off the pier. While saving Helen’s pageant queen crown from the cold “dead” grasp of Ben, Barry is grabbed by Ben after he suddenly awakens underwater. Barry escapes, and we’re left with a lingering shot of Ben watching Barry swim away. Seriously, how are we not supposed to know that Ben is the killer after that? Do they think all of our eyeballs just rolled into the back of our heads during that scene? Williamson makes an effort to craft a clever murder mystery, with mention of Ben’s body having washed up (it wasn’t him), the “I know what you did last summer” notes, and an array of potential suspects, all with decent to great motives. But alas, none of this ends up meaning anything, because it’s obvious the entire time who the actual killer is. And if it were meant to be obvious, fine, but it isn’t the film’s intention for us to know. The 90s, after all, were all about the “twist”, and less about the tits and gore of the 80s, so it’s imperative that the twist is, you know, really a twist.
With a remake, the filmmakers would have another chance to right a wrong. Imagine how much better I Know What You Did Last Summer could have been had there been a real mystery behind who the killer in the black raincoat was? Williamson practically invented the knockout slasher twist with the surprise reveal that there are not one, but two killers in Scream. What if that was the case here? Maybe Julie decides she hates her friends for making her cover up the murder a year ago, and comes back to town to wreak vengeance after all the torment it has caused her. Whatever the case would end up being, I Know What You Did Last Summer would have more of a punch to it. The killer in the film doesn’t stand on his own the way that Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger do. He has no lore. No personality. I’ve always been a fan of the film, but I Know What You Did Last Summer needs that extra punch to spice up the killer and keep the audience engaged with him.
And last but not at all least, one other and probably the most exciting reason to be hopeful for the eventual I Know What You Did Last Summer remake is director/writer Mike Flanagan. The man behind Oculus, Hush, and of course, The Haunting of Hill House, has proven himself to not only be a talented director, but a guy who doesn’t settle for the “easy” story. Look through his filmography, and you’ll see that the filmmaker has not once presented fans with something that isn’t either a unique concept or an emotionally complicated story. Even his most unoriginal film, Ouija: Origin of Evil has a heavy core, as it’s about a family that must deal with the possession of a young girl, and Flanagan uses that as a jumping point to take us into increasingly dark territory.
Flanagan has already stated that the I Know What You Did Last Summer remake would be very different from the original film, as well as the novel it’s based on by Lois Duncan. I’m not surprised. Flanagan isn’t the sort of filmmaker who wants to tell the same old story you’ve seen before. Look at his most recent work, The Haunting of Hill House, a TV series based off of two movies and a novel that have come before it, and yet it still managed to be not only incredibly unique from those works, but arguably, much more powerful and overall better. Tell me you didn’t get tears in your eyes during at least one moment of that show. With a remake, I firmly believe that Flanagan would give us a much darker I Know What You Did Last Summer. Something with real bite. Something which truly demonstrates the trauma which these characters have gone through, and the way it has affected their lives and relationships. Something that could have the potential to shock us all.
Of course, Flanagan is not committed to directing the project, and we still don’t know if we’ll ever actually get that I Know What You Did Last Summer remake, but with Flanagan penning the script and the slasher film seeing a new rise with movies like Halloween and Hellfest, this is the perfect time to find out exactly what happened last summer…again.
By Matt Konopka