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I Know What You Did Last Summer
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that I Know What You Did Last Summer is a 1997 horror movie about four teens who attempt to hide the evidence of a drunken hit-and-run they perpetrated only to find that the man they thought they killed seems to be alive and all too eager for revenge. There is frequent horror movie violence and gore -- characters are shown up-close getting stabbed to death in the throat, chest, and back with a giant hook. A young man who is later discovered to have committed suicide is shown sitting on the edge of a cliff while drinking from an unmarked bottle of alcohol. The four lead teen characters drink heavily while on the beach; one character drinks from a large bottle of whiskey and behaves in an extremely drunk fashion, resulting in a car crash and apparent hit-and-run that sets the story in motion. There is also some bullying, both verbal and physical. Profanity includes "f--k" and its variations.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Four graduating high school seniors, couples Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Barry (Ryan Phillippe), are looking forward to graduation and promising young-adult lives as beauty queens and football heroes. But, driving recklessly after a night of drinking and cuddling on the beach, they run over a stranger. Hothead Barry, perceiving their bright tomorrows in jeopardy, has them dump the body in the sea and swears them all to secrecy. Horrifically, the mangled victim, going under, appears to be still alive. A year later, college-student Julie gets a ransom-style note reading, "I know what you did last summer," which compels her to reunite with her since-estranged friends, who claim ignorance about who could have sent the note and why. Barry suspects it came from a much-disliked schoolmate who had encountered them that grim night, and he tries to intimidate the kid with bullying. But then this suspect turns up murdered himself -- just the opening of a series of stalkings and killings.
Is it any good?
This one's too bloody and brutal for kids. Early in this youth-oriented thriller, a group of teenagers tells each other scary "urban legend" stories about maniacs with hooks for hands. As much as parents might prefer that kids sit around at night with flashlights, wide-eyed and trembling, reciting tales from the Bible, the Arabian Nights, Twain, Dostoyevsky, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, young people always seem to go back to the thrill of morbid stuff with the hook-handed maniacs. And this holds true whether they're gathered around campfires in the woods or the cool fire of home video. I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER was a popular hit tapping into that spook-story appeal, with a good-looking cast who had been reigning on popular TV shows of the time. But there's not much under the surface (or even on the surface, for that matter) besides a familiar setup. It derives from a Lois Duncan YA novel of the same title that's been avidly read ever since its publication in 1974, but the bulk of the story deviates.
But what I Know What You Did Last Summer does have is a sort of morality -- insofar as the youths' covering up their misdeed has negative repercussions, and not just the obvious, gory ones. Under the cloud of what they did last summer, the once-close quartet drifts apart. Their suspicions, eventually directed against each other, make them easier targets for the real villain. It might be noted that the burden of guilt gets lightened a little by a surprise plot twist: The road accident had actually interrupted a murder-in-progress, and the victim was doomed anyway. Alfred Hitchcock this isn't, although scriptwriter Kevin Williamson came closer to that lofty ambition with the similarly bloody but dark-humored Scream and its sequels, effective whodunits styled as semi-humorous takeoffs of slasher movies such as this one.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the enduring appeal of horror movies. Why do people, especially teens, love being scared?
How is background music used to heighten moments of suspense? How is background music used to heighten scenes in other genres, such as Westerns, comedies, and war movies?
How is the element of surprise a crucial feature of horror movies? How does surprise attempt to create scares in this particular movie?
- In theaters: May 4, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: June 16, 1998
- Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar
- Director: Jim Gillespie
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: High School
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong horror violence and language
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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