This month’s book club pick is Lois Duncan‘s 1973 psychological thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer. In 1997 a film adaptation was released directed by Jim Gillespie.
A word of the warning – the film is very different to the book. While the book is a thriller / suspense novel the film fits more into the horror slasher genre that was very popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Duncan who was not involved in the film’s production has not hidden her dislike for the film. Readers of the book will understand that while the reveal of the antagonist works on page this would not work onscreen.
The basic premise of the novel is four high school teenagers, Julie, Helen, Barry and Ray are involved in a hit and run accident where a young boy is killed. The teens make a pact to never speak about it again until they begin to receive threatening messages suggesting someone knows what they did. The film uses the same four characters and this basic idea but after that everything else is original.
To me the film and book should be appreciated as separate texts. Scriptwriter Kevin Williamson (creator of TV series Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries) took Duncan’s idea and transformed it into something new. I Know What You Did Last Summer is not as good as Scream, his earlier entry into the slasher genre (released 1996 and directed by horror legend Wes Craven), which was a box office and critical success. The success of Scream is what undoubtedly allowed I Know What You Did Last Summer to be made and because of this critics and audiences tend to compare the two films. Scream, while playing homage and poking fun at the slasher film genre, is the film that revamped and reintroduced the genre for a 90s audience.
The film followed Scream‘s success of casting well known actors from popular television shows; Party of Five‘s Jennifer Love Hewitt played Julie and Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Sarah Michelle Gellar played Helen. Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prince Jr. also star as Barry and Ray.
In the film the teens are stalked and tormented by a killer who wears a bucket cap and long raincoat and carries a shiny fisherman’s hook, which fits in perfectly with the horror film killer. Think Freddie Kruger and his knives for fingers in The Nightmare of Elm Street series and the white masked Michael Myers in the Halloween series.
Also like many American horror films it follows the tradition of being set around holiday – in this case the Fourth of July.
The film was followed by a sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998). A third film I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer was released straight-to-DVD in 2006 and did not feature any cast from the previous films. Sony has plans to reboot the franchise with Oculus‘ Mike Flanagan writing the script.