26 Years Later, I Know What You Did Last Summer Is Still Campy Fun — But Confusing AF

Especially Freddie Prinze Jr.'s facial expressions...

Originally Published: 
'I Know What You Did Last Summer' remains a '90s horror movie cult favorite.
©Columbia Pictures

I was 14 years old when I Know What You Did Last Summer premiered in theatres back in October 1997. I still remember lining up with my friends at the local movie plex, eager to watch the hot young stars of the ‘90s — Jennifer Love Hewitt! Sarah Michelle Gellar! Ryan Phillippe! Freddie Prinze Jr! — light up the screen in the teen slasher flick.

The film, which was loosely based on the 1973 novel by Lois Duncan, was written for the screen by Kevin Williamson of Scream (and Dawson’s Creek) fame, so expectations were high. Let me first say that I am not a huge fan of scary movies, which is good because I Know What You Did Last Summer isn’t that scary. In fact, I barely understood the plot back when I was 14, and when I re-watched it recently, I still barely understood it — although that could be because I am always so distracted by Freddie Prinze Jr.’s very serious acting face.

For a refresher, the movie is about how four friends — Julie (Hewitt), Ray (Prinze Jr.), Barry (Phillippe), and Helen (Gellar) — deal with the horrific consequences of running over a fisherman and dumping his body in the water. A year after the incident, Julie receives a frightening letter telling her that their crime was actually seen (“I know what you did last summer”). They are then stalked by an angry fisherman, who, yes, has a deadly hook and isn’t afraid to use it.

OK, so the film’s a little cheesy. Why do I watch it every year? Other than my weird fantasy of wanting to live in a small, all-season town in New England that’s obviously cursed, I keep returning to the flick because of ‘90s nostalgia, duh! Where else can I stare at dreamboats that used to grace my former YM and Seventeen covers and lust after clothing that, no matter how hard Zara and Urban Outfitters try to replicate, is just not OG ‘90s fashion?

Anyway, do I think I Know What You Did Last Summer is one of the must-see movies of ‘90s teen movies? Absolutely. Do I think it’s a good movie? Not really. But so what? I still think it’s worth checking out again — even if you want to figure out just exactly who the heck is Billy Blue?! Here are my thoughts and questions (*spoilers ahead*).

Who is the guy on the cliff?

The movie opens with this chilling (and confusing) image of a fisherman on a cliff. I think it’s supposed to be Billy Blue. Or the guy they run over? Or they think they run over him, but it’s not him. So this guy actually doesn’t have anything to do with the accident. Right? Or is it the fisherman with the hook? Why are we opening the movie with this?

I’ve never quite understood this opening, and let me state for the record that I loathe the opening song. After some Googling, I found it’s called “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” by Lead Belly. Who? It’s all terrible.

Why is the soundtrack so terrible?

Now that I’m talking about the music, the soundtrack is garbage as far as ‘90s soundtracks go. Look, am I the right audience for a rock-heavy album featuring the likes of Korn, The Offspring, and Our Lady Peace? Absolutely not. And maybe they were going for heavy, intense feelings for the movie (obviously). But would it have killed them (no pun intended) to include at least one familiar ‘90s banger?

Why is everyone so dull?

I’m gonna say it: These kids are hella obnoxious, but probably more so than anything, they’re also boring AF.

Right off the bat, we know Barry is the resident rich kid and jock. He has anger issues (he doesn’t talk, he yells), a potential drinking problem, and is most certainly a dick. Snore! Helen, his girlfriend, is the town’s beauty queen and someone who’s complacent, vain, and, yes, a bit of a doormat. Yawn! Julie is the “girl next door,” which just means her cute smile is her entire personality. Zzzz! And Ray is the “nice guy” from the other side of the tracks who doesn’t have much of a personality except for his intense eyebrows. Ugh.

Not only are the four main characters rife with tropes and cliches, which might explain the ton of overacting, especially from Phillippe and Prinze Jr., but they’re kind of all so blah that I don’t truthfully care who lives or dies. There’s not a redeeming quality about any of them that makes you want to scream to the TV, “NO FISH HOOK! SAVE THAT ONE!”

All I can say is, thank god these people are so incredibly good-looking.

Where are the parents?!

Maybe it’s because I’m grown up now, but seriously, where are these kids’ parents? Julie’s mom only makes a small comment in passing when it comes to her daughter failing in college and, quite honestly, doesn’t seem too concerned about it or that Julie looks like death. And don’t even get me started on Helen’s dad! He can’t even be bothered to look up from the televised baseball game to greet his daughter. Then, of course, there’s Helen’s very bitchy sister who could care less what happens to her sister (but rightfully is killed by the fish hook). Suffice it to say, no wonder these kids made some very poor life decisions, like hiding a body!

Why is Anne Heche’s character so creepy?

Not only is Anne Heche’s character the most interesting one to grace the screen, but she’s also the best actor of the bunch. But what’s up with her character? Why does she have a Southern accent when no one else does? Why does she live in an abandoned farmhouse? Who’s David Egan?

OK, OK, I know it’s her brother and Julie and Helen think he’s the guy who they ran over, but this is where the plot gets a little twisty. We learn Anne’s character got sweet on Billy Blue. (Who’s Billy Blue?) ((Oh right — it’s Ray!)) (((Wait, Ray got sweet with her?))) All I remember from this scene is being very confused and creeped out every time I watch. I guess her character served as a red herring, but I still think it’s one of the weirdest scenes in the movie.

Who’s Susie?!

Geez, this plot is more complicated than it needs to be. Anyway, we find out that Susie died in a car crash on July 4, 1996, in a car driven by her fiancé, David Egan. Afterward, her father named his ship Sweet Susie, in her memory, and the kids ran over her father, who also happened to murder David Egan? Or did David Egan follow through on his purported plans to end his own life? Who was that guy on the cliff again!? Why is Ray a suspect? Oh right! Because he’s Billy Blue! WTF.

Anyway, the murderer’s name is Benjamin Willis, Susie’s father, which doesn’t sound at all murder-y, and I think it just makes everything even more confusing.

... Or maybe it’s just me?

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