Well, a fond farewell to you, horror movie fan credibility. It was nice to have you around. But before you take one look at my defense of this dead-fish Scream cash-in and decide that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I implore you to read on, and to hear me out on this.
I suppose I was 10 when I was bitten by the bug. You guys know what I’m talking about — it’s the age at which I saw my first truly scary movie. Everyone’s first time is different, but I was deflowered by none other than Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho — and, like a walking, breathing cliche, I refused to shower for days. My parents weren’t up for letting me watch R-rated movies, but they were game for exposing me to the classics, and Psycho fit the bill nicely without exposing me to the bloodletting and nudity that remain staples of the genre to this day.
It was a few years, though, before I actually saw my first primitive, warts-and-all horror film. Over the course of a Halloween evening spent at a friend’s house, we ordered pizza, and coaxed her dad into renting us several genre staples. He rented us one genre staple, Halloween, and also the then-current I Know What You Did Last Summer, which was good enough.
Perhaps there was something in the air that night. I’ve always been a fan of Halloween, and of being scared — as a child, I devoured Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories books, graphic, soil-your-shorts illustrations and all — and we did, after all, start our evening out with the greatest horror movie of all time (Halloween, for those that lack deductive reasoning). I remember it well: the soft orange glow of jack-o-lanterns flickered on the walls, and I was watching our mini-marathon with a witch. (I was dressed as Eddie Vedder. When we got old enough to date, it fizzled early — Nickelback would break big five years later, and she was a fan. Dealbreaker.) High on sausage pizza and toasted pumpkin seeds, I fell under Halloween‘s chilly allure, and, well, the next movie probably could have been anything. But it was I Know What You Did Last Summer, I was bang in the middle of a film preference renaissance, and I continue to defend it to this day.
Released in Scream‘s wake, Last Summer still contains all the pretty faces and low-cut tank-tops you’d expect, but it functions more as a throwback to classic slashers; like Halloween, the gore is minimal, and it’s never concerned with being meta or ironic. Its success — inasmuch as you can call it that — hinges squarely on how well it provides the scares, and there are moments of real tension here. Consider the scene where the villainous fisherman (yeah, I know, shut up) breaks into Sarah Michelle Gellar’s house — it’s a genuinely scary thing to behold, really, the idea that even with the lights and the television on, a foreboding silhouette could be prowling your corridors, and director Jim Gillespie achieves a terrific slow zoom up the front hallway to drive it home. Silhouettes, shadows, fog — these are a horror maestro’s tools, and they’re employed nicely in Last Summer, a film that benefits from little more than a creepy setting, a villain who often manifests as a moving, stalking shadow, and, of course, a surplus of cleavage.
To this day, there’s no telling what would have happened if we’d watched a different movie after Halloween. If it were something funnier like Scream, or even something downright terrible like a Leprechaun sequel, would I still hold that film in such high regard? Maybe. Maybe not. But the truth is, I Know What You Did Last Summer achieves something different than its contemporaries — namely atmosphere, mystery, and a considerable amount of tension. Not bad work for a bandwagon slasher.
Extra Credit: I’m not the biggest fan of the endless parade of Jason Voorhees slashers, but the first Friday the 13th gets a lot of stuff right, and it’s probably required viewing as a landmark of the slasher genre.
More 31 Days of Halloween:
Day 1: May
Day 2: The Night of the Hunter
Day 3: The Descent
Day 4: Night of the Demons
Day 5: Them
Days 6 & 7: Night of the Living Dead // Dawn of the Dead
Day 8: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Day 9: A Tale of Two Sisters
Day 10: When a Stranger Calls // Amusement
Day 11: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Day 12: The Orphanage