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I Know What You Did Last Summer

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is a major pillar in the late ‘90s streak of newfangled glossy studio teen slasher movies. It was released less than a year after SCREAM, two months before SCREAM 2, and three months before Dawson’s Creek started airing, so it was the first real test of whether or not SCREAM was a fluke for screenwriter Kevin Williamson. He’d already been hired and written this loose adaptation of the 1973 young adult suspense novel by Lois Duncan before SCREAM, but when that was a hit all the sudden it became a priority. Williamson was still involved, seeming to have a hand in choosing the director and cast, according to interviews.

Set on two consecutive 4th of July holidays in the small fishing town of Southport, North Carolina, it’s the story of fresh high school graduates Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt, CAN’T HARDLY WAIT), Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr., DELGO), Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe, 54) and Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar, SOUTHLAND TALES) accidentally running over someone late at night while driving home from drinking on the beach. Worried about their lives being ruined by manslaughter charges, they decide that rather than report it they should dump the body in the water and swear to never speak of it again. As kids do.

A year later while Julie is away at college she receives a mysterious note saying “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.” (Decent handwriting, too. Not laying it on too thick about being a psycho.) So she comes home to check in with her co-conspirators, whose lives seem to have been as crushed by the guilt as hers has. She expected beauty queen Helen to be off in New York pursuing her dream of acting, but she’s back in town working the register at her parents’ store with her hateful older sister Elsa (Bridgette Wilson, Sonya Blade from MORTAL KOMBAT). Ray is working on a fishing boat and Barry is… I don’t know, an angry rich kid. But the kind who wears tank tops all the time and gets in fights, not the prissy kind he plays in CRUEL INTENTIONS.

They suspect the note comes from Max (Johnny Galecki, THE OPPOSITE OF SEX), a kid Julie rejected who drove by and talked to them shortly after the accident, but we quickly see that that’s not the case when some dude in a fisherman’s raincoat murders Max with an icepick hook at the crab factory where he works. This hook guy will continue to stalk and taunt the friends around town as they try to figure out his identity. Julie uses newspaper articles to ascertain who they ran over that night and they go meet the guy’s older sister (Anne Heche, PSYCHO). Pretending to just be some people experiencing car trouble, they try to strike up a conversation about her dead brother and who he was close to who maybe would, I don’t know, avenge his death or anything like that. Very uncomfortable.

Of course some of them get killed, new information comes up, they figure out who the killer is and have a final showdown followed by the ol’ “but is it really over?” epilogue. A classic structure.

There are many touches that are now familiar as Williamson’s fingerprints. I doubt he knew he’d be making a show called Dawson’s Creek when he set a crucial scene at “Dawson’s Beach.” I think some of the dialogue is a little self conscious, but most of it works. I don’t really like that Elsa is always mean for no reason but isn’t in it long enough to reach the “actually we like her now” point on the Gail Weathers arc. Julie briefly interprets the hook in an urban legend as a phallic symbol that will then be castrated, which is obviously very in line with all the horror movie talk in the SCREAM movies, but I like that there’s not much of that. That she would’ve heard or thought of that before is a hint that maybe she reads more academic shit than her not-college-bound friends, but it’s not her whole personality.

I guess I still have trouble talking about this without bringing SCREAM into it. That was definitely the case at the time. Although I think it was pretty well liked, there was a strong contingent of people who liked SCREAM for its deconstruction and attacked this for just being a straight ahead slasher movie. But at the time, and still today, I appreciate it for exactly that. I also like that although this is a mystery it doesn’t bother much with red herrings and shit. They know it’s someone getting revenge for the guy they ran over, there’s just suspense about who, specifically.

It was the first feature for director Jim Gillespie, who has not turned out to be very prolific (his followup was Stallone’s EYE SEE YOU/D-TOX, then one called VENOM that I’ve seen but quickly forgot, and a 2016 action movie called TAKE DOWN). He’d directed some TV and a short, and his video for Queen’s “Made In Heaven” was pretty impressive. What I think he does great with I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is set up a potent, ominous atmosphere to this fishing town, gloomy skies and explosive waves seeming to close in on everybody, but they ignore it as their 4th of July fireworks explode above and the Croaker Queen festival rages below.

With its big hairdos and old timey MC (J. Don Ferguson, RADIOLAND MURDERS) I thought at first this beauty pageant scene was a decades-earlier prologue. But it’s just how the town is, I guess. Our group of kids in particular don’t take it seriously, sitting in the empty balcony, hooting half-jokingly for their winning friend, later after-partying on the beach as they’re on the verge of leaving childhood, and this town, behind. We barely see any of their home life – their parents might as well have Charlie Brown voices – but they’re definitely eager to have their, you know– independence.

Do they still do promo photo shoots like this? They should.

It starts off so strong with the impressive opening helicopter shot soaring across the water of what’s supposed to be the North Carolina coast, wave and wind sound effects breaking through the music (by Type O Negative), setting a foreboding mood before I picked up that it’s a creepy cover of “Summer Breeze.” Then it melts into the score by John Debney (GUNMEN, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, SIN CITY, ALEX CROSS) before the shot lands on an apparently suicidal dude (Jonathan Quint, BOOGIE NIGHTS) drinking a beer and fondling a locket while his legs dangle over a rocky cliff. This is key to the eventual answer of who knows what they did last summer, but it won’t be clear how exactly until near the end. For now, fireworks explode in the sky above and we follow them into town where the celebration is happening.

You know that feeling you get as budgets for many horror movies get smaller and digital short cuts become expected, and then you see something that we used to take for granted and think wow, that’s a real movie? That’s how I felt seeing the 4th of July celebration in town – so many extras, shot at night in this interesting location. Looks like a fun time. And then they have their private after party on the beach, there’s a wrecked ship in the water and the waves are menacingly high. Kinda reminds me of the opening of THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK, the way the rough waters portend a looming threat but everyone’s too involved in what they’re doing to notice.

A nice horror movie moment is their campfire discussion of the urban legend “The Hook,” which they’ve all heard different versions of that they think is the “real” version. In the tradition of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II their joking around trying to scare each other establishes a format for how the subsequent killings are supposed to work and then finds ways to either follow or violate that format. Also, since they refer to the story again while dumping the body we can infer that it inspires the killer to terrorize them with a hook.

Of course you get that A SIMPLE PLAN thing where they’ve decided to cover up this accidental death and then he turns out to still be alive and they still go through with it. This is a great moment of fun chaos because he grabs Helen’s Croaker Queen crown as they dump him in the water. The single most damning piece of evidence he could’ve taken with him. So Barry has to dive in and get it and the advantage of having a studio budget is that they get to do some good underwater photography here. Not needed, but appreciated.

The element of horror fun that feels missing here is some high notes in the form of nasty kills. In this type of story you really can use some release in the form of a gross out moment or a holy shit I can’t believe they did that. I can tell by there being more than one fuck that this is an R-rated movie, but the level of onscreen violence seems like it’s going for a PG-13. Often this happens due to censorship, but Gillespie said in interviews that he didn’t want it to be too violent and chose to shoot virtually no blood. Rookie mistake. Must not have run that idea past a single person who has ever or would ever pay money to see a movie of this type. Thankfully, producer Erik Feig (WRONG TURN, STEP UP, P2) made Gillespie add the blood spraying on glass because it looked stupid to have a throat be slit and not bleed, and they also added the death in the crab factory after test screenings noted that what the fuck are you doing here this is supposed to be a slasher movie stop fucking around and do what we came here to do motherfucker.

To be fair, there are some pretty well done sequences, like when Helen is attacked out in the open in public, but behind some piles of tires, her screams obscured by the sounds of fireworks and a passing marching band. Also I like when Julie finds the trunk of her car entirely filled with live crabs (and a dead body), though I can’t swallow the idea that the killer somehow cleans all of that up, unseen, in the brief amount of time before she gets her friends to come look at it.

Another nice rendition of the formula is that we have the killer’s evil lair, where Julie finds clippings and photos about her and her friends, plus the bodies of her friends. But since the killer is a fisherman the lair is the lower deck of his boat, and the bodies are kept on ice normally used for the fish he catches.

The fisherman (Muse Watson, ASSASSINS) does get a pretty funny supposed death at the end. He gets wrapped up in ropes from the rigging of the boat and the pullies jerk him up into the air, tear off his hook-holding-hand, and dump him into the water, where they assume he drowns. I feel like it deserves one more nasty exclamation point at the end, swinging him onto a boat motor or something, but it’s pretty great how Ray and Julie watch the whole cartoonish chain reaction in wide-eyed horror. No satisfaction of victory. I guess it was a relief to find out they didn’t kill the guy they ran over after all. But now maybe they did. Incidentally, I like that guilt over a car accident turns out to be part of the backstory before their car accident, though it’s maybe a little convenient how them having run over a guy who was had just murdered a teenager kinda lets them off the, uh… the hook.

The only thing that I consider a little dated in a bad way is the soundtrack. To me many of the songs are corny, especially whatever the end credits song is, but people younger than me may feel differently, and also that’s nothing new for teen slasher movies since at least the late ‘80s. Trying to appeal to the youths is generally gonna turn your movie into a time capsule. (They also throw in Lead Belly singing “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” so it’s not all ’90s. Or second half of the twentieth century.)

The casting has aged better. At the time, loading the casts of horror movies with pretty TV stars and heartthrobs rather than newcomers was becoming the standard, and many horror fans and/or people my age instinctively pushed back against it. We liked Gellar from Buffy but turned our noses up at the others, downplaying their talent if not completely rejecting them. Watching it now, though, I think they’re all pretty good in this, including the much maligned Prinze. I don’t remember if I thought this at the time, but Hewitt is particularly solid in the lead role. All of them start off so happy and care free, but I don’t think we ever see them smile again after the accident.

After the year long break in the story Julie is especially sad and distant. Hewitt gradually amps up the fear and frustration until the famous scene where she spins around yelling for her unseen stalker to come get her. However she doesn’t get a chance to be as physical as many Final Girls, as a result of Williamson’s choice to (as in SCREAM) make her more of a Central Girl. He leaves her boyfriend in the picture so she never gets that Sally/Laurie/Nancy stretch where it’s on her alone to survive and get this fucker.

To me I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER has some pieces of greatness that are put together in such a way as to only amount to a movie that’s pretty good. But just as so many of the movies rushed to cash in on FRIDAY THE 13TH and HALLOWEEN play well today, so does this first of the SCREAM-alikes. For that era it was one of the few more concerned with tried and true horror methods than copying what they thought was the hot new way of doing it, and I appreciate that. It may never fully live up to its very strong first act, but it gets close enough to be worthwhile.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 3rd, 2023 at 7:22 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “I Know What You Did Last Summer”

  1. Honestly, most post-SCREAM studio slashers felt a bit on the PG-13 side to me. Okay, they weren’t all bloodless and maybe I was just spoiled from the violent Savini provided and/or inspired excess of the classic 80s slashers, but their violence often felt pretty “safe” to me. I mean, I could show my squeamish mother this or the OG SCREAMs and only had to tell her to look away once or twice per movie. That’s not necessarily a criticism. If a slasher movie is fun enough to work although it didn’t even give anybody from the MPAA a heart attack, I’m okay with it.

    Regarding the soundtrack: I think the late 90s might have been the worst time for alternative rock. Haven’t listened to the album and by the tracklist there seem to be some solid choices, but there is a reason why the term “Mall Rock” became a popular buzz word at that time.

  2. Ancient Romans

    July 3rd, 2023 at 8:33 am

    When you age, do your standards lower…or do they just soften? Because I was really hard on this movie at the time. I was alienated and angry and really hard on almost everything pitched to my age group, but this review makes it sound so appealing. Simple, easy, competent. I can love those straightforward qualities in other stuff, so why do I hesitate to revisit this one and potentially let go of another lingering adolescent resentment (one of the last?) There’s part of me that says that that reticence is the perfect reason to do so, but I feel too tired and burnt out for self-improvement. We’ll see if, over the next two nights, I watch this or The Burbs or Dark Star or Return of the Living Dead or Andre Hyland’s The 4th* or just nothing.

    * The 4th is very loose and homemade and goes on a little too long even though it’s only 82 minutes, but it occupies a space like I Think You Should Leave Season 1 where it’s like, “Is this purposely trying to be a commentary on our times? Or is it just a coincidence?” Because, even though it’s nearly as funny as ITYSL, it does get at the constant, hostile, easily escalating simmering anger that Americans seem to be carrying with them everywhere the way ITYSL gets at Americans’ inability to admit when they’re wrong and try to bend reality to the will of their bullshit, easily disproved lies. America is for winners and everyone in ITYSL is trying to win day-to-day situations like they’re a demented debate and everyone in The 4th is trying to dominate every social situation with anger and yelling. It’s kind of scary, and I don’t know if the movie knows how accurate it is.

  3. I still have a lot of fondness for this era of horror. Right when I started getting into the genre as a pre-teen, horror fell way off the map for most of the nineties, so the post-SCREAM boom was the first time I got to regularly see horror in the theater. But also I think they’re just very watchable movies. The casts are strong, they have good production values, and they almost always have a sense of humor. This is not one of the better ones but it’s not bad, either. What it lacks in blood it makes up for in Jennifer Love Hewitt in a tanktop, which is something many gentlemen of a certain age will always be powerless against.

    Type O Negative does not deserve to be lumped in with those late 90s butt-rock bands, but their cover of “Summer Breeze” is such a perfect slasher movie song that I’ll allow it.

  4. Ancient, I would say you soften and get (hopefully) wiser when you get older. Or to put it this way: One might be way more angry and narrow minded as a young(er) person. I remember lots of “This movie sucks because of some bullshit reason” from my side. Shit, as a longtime commenter of this websight I even come across a whole bunch of shit I feel pretty ashamed of ever saying, while browsing through older reviews on here! (I still don’t like Tarantino though.)

    Don’t you dare to hate THE ‘BURBS though!

  5. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for this movie. Have never bothered with the sequel since I didn’t love it enough to want any more story than we got, but I found this one well-executed. What I particularly liked was the way the actors, particularly Hewitt, sold how the guilt so completely derailed their plans and optimism for life beyond the town. In the first scenes after the time jump, she really does look haunted.

    This, to me, is a great example of a solid little thriller with no real ambitions beyond being a solid little thriller. It knows its place and is content with it, is competently done, holds together overall, and doesn’t cheat egregiously. You could do much worse.

  6. They also throw in Lead Belly singing “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” so it’s not all ’90s. Or second half of the twentieth century.

    But, wasn’t this after the Nirvana cover was an alt-rock radio hit?? If so, I think that would qualify it as “old song popular in the ’90s” (see also: It’s Oh So Quiet)

  7. I don’t know that I ever considered this movie a slasher/horror. I think SCREAM is, but I think it’s also close enough to the border of suspense/thriller that many of it’s copy cat movies cross more over into that area. Not that it’s a bad thing. I like suspense/thriller movies a lot. This particular one I haven’t seen in many years. Maybe I’ll fire it up as part of my 4th celebration.

  8. Random memory: There is this popular, long running (since the 50s) German teen magazine named BRAVO, which has one section called, PHOTO LOVE STORIES. They are basically comics made out of photographs. Y’know, they hire a bunch of teens and shoot photos of them posing in a way that tells a serialized story, if you get what I mean. It’s most of the time unintentionally hilarious, especially if they try to tackle dark and serious topics like sexual abuse, drug addiction or satanism. Most of the time it’s more stuff like “Jennifer meets that hot boy, but he has already a girlfriend and nobody cares for nerdy girls because of their glasses. Will she be able to find true love?” Although I do remember at least one pretty engaging one about a black teenager who came to a new school, got bullied by racists, but found, of course, true love and friends who called him “Blacky” just like the racists did, but used it as term of endearment. Nothing too deep, but teenage-me actually was surprised about how much he liked that story.

    But I digress.

    The thing is, shortly after this movie came out, they had one Photo Love Story that was pretty much an unauthorized remake of it. It’s strange how they actually got away with that. According to some of the readers’ letters that they printed, it was a huge success, but obviously they didn’t print the “Hey, do you think we are stupid? Stop ripping off a movie that we all have seen!” letters.

    There actually is a website that has an archived version of it, but they want money for it and even if it’s less than 5 bucks, it’s unofficial and I refuse to pay money for bootlegged version of crap.

  9. Ancient Romans

    July 3rd, 2023 at 2:21 pm

    Don’t worry, CJ. I’ve loved The Burbs since it first hit VHS. It’s never been out of rotation in this house. Now it’s got the distinction of being a “hottest night of the year” movie.

    The last few years, we’ve tracked the temperature in the summers and try to watch certain movies that play better in the heat because of some combination of the heat playing a key part in the setting of the film but also in the feel of the film. So The Burbs, Carrie, The Virgin Suicides, Roadhouse, Taxi Driver, Miracle Mile, Crank, Ginger Baker in Africa. It’s like adding a 4-D element to the viewing.

    Of course, the last few years, my movie viewing has gone down overall, regardless of the time of year. I’m older, tired all the time, there are people in my life whose care is more important to me than my own interests. My resolve is always watch more movies, but…life.

  10. Sammy the Bull

    July 3rd, 2023 at 2:28 pm

    My goodness, all I remember about this trash, or any of its sequels (there were three in total, I think?) is that they existed…

    Then again, all the “nu horror” of the era was atrocious, with “Scream” being the epitome of the junk that filled the period. I think there were only (fittingly) six genuinely good horrors in the entire final 90s – “Brainscan”, “Idle Hands”, “13 Gantry Row”, “Wishmaster” and the final “Phantasm” (there is no fifth). Some of those “Final Destinations” weren’t too terrible, “Mimic”, “Anaconda” and “Stir of Echoes” were watchable, and “Fallen” was acceptable, but of course that was only because it was a 100% plagiarism of “Valley of Lights”. (At least when Wes Craven lifted the concept from “Valley”, he added his own ideas and plot into it to build the thoroughly fun “Shocker” that still stands strong).

    Has this one been remade yet, or received a modern sequel? I know it’s as blandly forgettable as possible, but that hasn’t stopped any remake so far…

  11. Sammy, I wanted to come at you with a dispute over what I feel like are some extreme takes, but then you name-drop “Valley of Lights” and then I want to hug you. I’ve bought and given away multiple copies. You ever read his “Hunter-Killer”?
    Eh, here y’go:

    5 Most Terrifying Short Stories

    I didn’t want to put typical stories on this list. I wanted some little known, out of the way stories, that wouldn’t be difficult to get access to. These are stories that scared the bej…

  12. When this came out I called it I Know WHO You Did Last Summer because I was clever.

    Sammy, they did an Amazon Prime series with some interesting twists on the concept. It only lasted one season and I don’t think I even finished it to find out who knew what they did. I probably should before they delete it.

    Apparently neither were faithful adaptations of the book it’s based on.

  13. Sammy The Bull, Don’t bother with the first sequel unless you can enjoy a movie based on Jennifer Love Hewitts’s body. There is a cool scene involving a tanning bed but that’s about it. Other then that it’s pretty bad. An early appearance from Jack Black is in there apart from Mr. Show but it’s not all that entertaining.

  14. dreadguacamole

    July 4th, 2023 at 2:46 am

    BRAINSCAN? Oh, come on : )
    Sadly I kind of hated the post-SCREAM wave of teen-friendly stuff that engulfed horror too – especially when it got mashed up with early CGI monstrosities; the movies I love from the period (TREMORS 2! FRIGHTENERS!) are way more comedy than horror, which was also a trend back then.

    It’s a seriously fallow bunch of years that stretches a ways into the 2000s, with only a few exceptions like CUBE… 6TH SENSE or BLAIR WITCH seemed like they might end the drought, but it carried on for a couple more years. One of the reasons J-horror seemed like such a breath of fresh air.

  15. The only thing I solidly recall about the Last Summer series is that I Still Know predicted the ‘family of serial killers’ plot device that showed up in a recent slasher movie. I mean, it’s one thing when it’s Leatherface having a whole cannibal clan, but when it’s a bunch of people that pay taxes, it always strikes me as silly. Think about it: if a family member of yours were a serial killer and they were murdered or just injured by their potential victims acting in self-defense, would you really be up to going on a killing spree to avenge them? What’re the odds that there’d be two or more potential sociopaths in the same family?

    But I guess these psychotic slashers just have *that much* of a loving relationship with their kin.

  16. Bridgette Wilson as Gellar’s “dowdy” jealous sister is hilarious. I would sooner believe the other way around, which would still be never.

    No general opinion on the soundtrack, but it did produce a UK #2 hit; the cover of Hush by Kula Shaker. They weren’t really Mall Rock though, they were more of the genre of Indie Bands Loved Than Hated By the British Press, that genre is “Every British Indie Band Ever”.

    I was thinking I might ride in as a Mall Rock apologist, but based on the two articles I read they listed 1 song I actually like (the one with the video in an actual mall and a Beck dis in the lyrics), and one or two “don’t mind if I hear it”, and a lot of “hmm, no thank you”s, so maybe not? I kind of like some of the songs on the TEACHING MISS TINGLE soundtrack though. Is Next-Day-Delivery Rock a thing?

  17. While enjoying them, have never once considered these SCREAM or I KNOW… flicks as “Horror”, which for me personally refer to movies which need to provide one of these 2 or both:

    1) Provide at the very least 2 scenes that scare me shitless in the course of their run time
    2) Leave me with a queasy feeling at the pit of my stomach that this world is going up shit creek without a paddle

    ROSEMARY’S BABY, WOLF CREEK, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (original), THE OMEN (original) are Horror. These movies are…well, perfectly watchable mid-level Slashers with a masked dude going all stabby-stabby on a bunch of young, nubile good looking bodies.

    “unless you can enjoy a movie based on Jennifer Love Hewitts’s body”

    I believe all movies can and should be enjoyed for Jennifer Love Hewitt’s body. It’s why I endured 2 GARFIELDs, which IMDB informs me is actually about a chubby orange tabby with a disproportionate love of lasagna.

  18. I don’t know Kay, by your criteria probably 87% of horror movies don’t qualify. Take out anything before what….the 60s? Take out anything that stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing or Vincent Price. I’d say Evil Dead 2 is a horror movie even though none of those things apply. Friday the 13th movies or Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Day of the Dead don’t meet any of those criteria, at least I can’t imagine anyone being legit scared watching them.

    Also y’all are too harsh on late 90s horror, forgetting the desert that came before Scream for a number of years. Late 90s gave us (to varying degrees of sucess) Blair Witch, Sixth Sense, Audition, Sleepy Hollow, From Dusk Til Dawn, Mimic, Ringu, Scream 2 (I love it), House on Haunted Hill, Stir of Echoes, The Devil’s Advocate, The Faculty, Kiss the Girls, Idle Hands, Deep Rising, etc. Shit, that’s pretty good eatin’.

    Take note I’m not adding fuckin Brainscan to this list which already has some iffy ads but nothing that shitty.

    And the early 2000s had a lot of damn bangers too. Fuckin 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, The Ring, What Lies Beneath, Joy Ride, Jeepers Creepers, Dawn of the Dead, Ginger Snaps, A Tale of Two Sisters, Saw, Session 9 it’s like what do you want?

  19. Yeah, I think if horror needs to scare the shit out of me, that there would probably just 5 horror movies in the world.

    I do have a bit of an odd definition for horror myself though. I relaxed a bit on it, but I always hesitate to call slashers, that are about “normal”, mortal killers, horror. To me it’s a certain fantasy/supernatural aspect that puts it into the horror genre. If you say “but the murders must be violent and/or disturbing”, then by that definition something like CRIMINAL MINDS is horror too. When RED STATE came out and Kevin Smith called it his horror movie, I really disagreed with him, especially since the 2nd half is more of an action thriller. And then of course these days you also have the whole arthouse horror thing, where movies like IT COMES AT NIGHT happen, that are labelled horror although it’s basically just about one kid having nightmares while a bunch of other characters get mad at each other until they finally have a shootout five minute before the credits roll.

    But like I said, I’m really not that strict on the definition, especially since there are blurred lines like the FRIDAY THE 13th series, where not even all of them have zombie Jason.

  20. It’s easy to forget how commercially moribund the horror genre was pre-SCREAM; the biggest horror “hit” of 1993 was fucking JASON GOES TO HELL which was only #85 for the year! If SCREAM hadn’t come along maybe the genre would have gone into the “not completely dead but very hard to fund and increasingly niche” dustbin alongside Musicals and Westerns. Probably not (there’s a pretty big budget disparity in play for one thing), but who knows.

  21. dreadguacamole

    July 5th, 2023 at 3:16 am

    The whole line between thriller and horror is so subjective it’s not even funny. FWIW I think Scream and its brood are horror by intent, which… is probably all that matters; They’re meant to scare, whether they’re effective at that shouldn’t be taken into account, right?
    In the end it’s another meaningless exercise in pigeon-holing… at least some of it intended to distance respectable films from disreputable genre crap.

    Muh, I stand by what I said – horror pickings were pretty slim in the 90s and there was definitely the sense that the genre was failing throughout, but even then there were a bunch of remarkable classics before SCREAM – CANDYMAN, MOUTH OF MADNESS, ARMY OF DARKNESS, and there was some interesting activity in the low(er) budget side of things too. After 95 even Charles Band went from putting out like ten movies a year to ‘just’ three or four. Most of the cool stuff was international.
    (Good shout on DEEP RISING and HOLLOW, which I’d say still lean a lot on their action/comedy elements. Now I’m going through a couple of online year-by-year release lists, I still think there’s a noticeable drop in 96-01. And the whole decade stands as the weakest for the genre since I became a horror junkie as a teen.)

    A glut of good ones came out on 99 – things were a little slow afterwards, but a lot better (and after RING, the genre bounced back in a big way); I remembered that as being a bit slower. Of course, when horror started getting better, action went to shit. That’s how it goes… otherwise, what would we complain about on the internet?

    And to be clear, this is not a judgement on SCREAM or the SUMMER series or anything like that. It’s mostly about the lessons that the industry chose to take from their reception, coupled wit a few trends that were already ongoing.

  22. Pac, I don’t think horror will ever go anywhere. Westerns and musicals did sort of die out but they seem so specific, where horror is more like action movies, which will always be around but will evolve…Westerns used to basically be action movies of the time, then replaced by more spy stuff, and urban stuff, then more fantasy shit, and now we’re into comic books and super duper dudes like John Wick (so different from super dudes like Arnold).

    dread yeah there were a ot of horror in the early 90s, but it wasn’t easily available because like you said, was international. And yeah you had Candyman and Mouth of Madness but then you also had Carpenter going into his fallow period and if you wanted to see a horror movie on Halloween you had shit like The Puppet Masters and Dr. Giggles or (BARF) Halloween 6. There will always be some classics in about sany year…but let’s say 1992, you got Candyman and Dracula, both GREAT. And…then you get Innocent Blood, The Lawnmower Man, Sleepwalkers. That is some shit. And by that point Raimi gave up on horror and was having Ash see cartoon birds but we did get the excellent Death Becomes Her. But that’s about it for the year that was noteworthy (in American theaters). And a bunch of direct to video crap. And shit we didn’t get to see until a bit later like Braindead or 20 years later like the amazing Ghostwatch.

    And then look at 1993. JESUS CHRIST that was a desert because when the most “classic” horror of the year if Leprachaun we got a problem.

    But on stuff like Hollow, even though it’s action-y it’s clearly a horror movie (it’s just Tim Burton doesn’t care about making it straight up). But it’s a Gothic Hammer/Corman movie, just with some brawls. It’s horror. I remember one of my friends complaining it wasn’t scary but I was like it’s more of a funhouse movie, not a “scary” movie. I will say I only added Deep Rising because a lot of people like that one, not me. Too silly.

    OH and I forgot Demon Knight and Tales from the Hood for later 90’s horror. Shit! That’s good eating!!

  23. To delve into what CJ said, I am always interested in the difference between horror and suspence. In a sense saying the supernatural makes it a horror isn’t bad, but Stir of Echoes and What Lies Beneath have ghosts i them, and those are more thrilers than horror, while Cannibal Holocaust or Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive have no supernatural elements but are definitely horror.

    I think in general, the horror-ish thriller (as opposed to a thriller like, say, Rear Window) tends to have a few components: a strong lead (which a lot of times is female) and there is an investigative element to it. A mystery that the hero, in figuring out, is actively putting themselves in danger. Where in a horror movie, the danger seeks out the main character.

    Like, there is mystery in Scream…who is the killer? But the killer is already there, targeting our heroes and they’re not really doing any real detectibve work in order to figure it out. Where in something like Silence of the Lambs or What Lies Beneath, there is a mystery and a large portion of the movie is the lead investigating the mystery, trying out theories in order to get to the bottom of it…and in so doing, is more and more putting themself into the dangerous climax. If they weren’t looking, they would go on to live their lives without getting pursued in a dark basement or being paralyzed in a tub that’s filling up. But in Scream that killer’s coming for them one way or another, the climax of that movie was going to happen no matter what.

    And it really depends on the style, Scream has the jump scares and chasing and is more geared for scares, and those movies use that stuff a lot more sparingly. I think thrillers can be more character-oriented. A movie that straddles the line is something like Scorsese’s Cape Fear, which is a thriller but get’s thiiis close to horror, especially by the end where Max gets the Freddy Krueger treatment.

  24. I rewatched this on the 4th and thought it was interesting how after the year passed and the shenanigans began they all wanted to come clean and go to the cops but Ryan Phillipe’s character absolutely refused and held them to their pact. I was thinking I would have no problem whatsoever breaking that stupid pact and wondered why they would stick to it. I then thought about the fact the Phillipe was the one with the rich family so did they feel they couldn’t go against him because his rich family would demolish them, i.e make sure they got all the blame while he’s off scot-free? Or ruin them in some other way? That makes it make sense to me why they would tell him to fuck off and go to the cops but I wish the movie had made that more obvious if that’s the case.

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