Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer was first published in October 1973. Duncan wrote several books that featured young girls in trouble, including Summer of Fear, which was made into a TV movie directed by Wes Craven.
She got the idea for the book when her daughter Kerry told her that she and her best friend had unknowingly been courted by the same boy. She wondered if the boy had deliberately done this, creating a different personality for both of them, and worked his way into their lives to drive a wedge between them. She later read a story about a hit-and-run and put together the story that became the novel (and the loose inspiration for this film).
Sadly, Duncan’s life became tragic after the unsolved murder of her youngest daughter Kaitlyn. Her last horror novel would be Gallows Hill — which filmed for TV as 1998’s I’ve Been Waiting for You — after which she’d concentrate on non-fiction works about her daughter’s case, psychic phenomena and books for kids, like Hotel for Dogs (which was also a movie). Before her death in 2016, ten of her best-loved books would be reissued and modernized with new covers and bits added about modern technology.
She would tell Absolute Write that very same year that she was upset with this take on her book: “I was appalled when my book, I Know What You Did Last Summer, was made into a slasher film. As the mother of a murdered child, I don’t find violent death something to squeal and giggle about.”
Screenwriter Kevin Williamson had already had success with Scream, which made him the go-to writer for teen horror. He took the source novel, added some inspiration from growing up the son of a fisherman and added the urban legend — stay tuned for these movies — of The Hook to create a new trope of kids who try to wish away the past. for what it’s worth, the poster originally said “from the creator of Scream” until Miramax sued Columbia Pictures.
Unlike the aforementioned Scream, this movie is very much an old-fashioned slasher, despite its initial lack of blood. A throat slashing and the crab factory death were added after the initial cut was viewed to add more danger, as was the character in danger all over again post-script, which would become a thematic inclusion for all entries in this series.
For those that argue these things and wonder, “Is it a giallo?” I opine that it is more on the side of slasher. Yes, there are gorgeous people in it, but there’s a marked lack of fashion, music and, to be honest, the strangeness that that genre is imbued with. That said, the hook-carrying bad guy very much does feel like he belongs there.
The story takes place in Southport, North Carolina. Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe) and Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.) are on their way to the beach late at night on one of their last summers together before college pulls them apart when an event unites them all. They hit a pedestrian and instead of allowing their lives to be ruined, they dump the body in the ocean.
By the way, the mountain road that they are driving along is the exact same highway from Hitchcock’s The Birds.
The issue is that their lives are all changed by that one evening with only Julie able to escape the town and go to college. When she returns, the notes that say, “I know what you did last summer,” and the gaslighting campaign begins.
Jennifer Love Hewitt became a big deal from this film, beyond her fame from Party fo Five, even singing the song “How Do I Deal” on the soundtrack. She’d appeared with Jamie Lee Curtis in House Arrest earlier that year and when Curtis was filming nearby, she came over to wish her luck on her first role as a scream queen and would be a consistent visitor to the set.
Director Jim Gillespie would move on to make Eye See You/D-Tox, a Stallone film of which we have much to say. Just check out this link.
While actually written before Scream, when studios wanted nothing to do with slashers, the success of that film allowed for this one, while making it seem like a rip-off. Such is Hollywood.