I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois DuncanBefore it was a 90s slasher movie, I Know What You Did Last Summer was actually a novel by Lois Duncan and believe it or not, a very good one. Published in 1973 and revised by the author in 2010, I had superficial issues with her decision to rebrand everything from fashion to geopolitics to telephones for the Young Adult reader of today--a decision that felt financial as opposed to creative--but where it matters, the book generates a terrific amount of suspense and delivers a satisfying payoff without throwing graphic violence, sex or much foul language at the reader. In this sense, its more like an Alfred Hitchcock thriller with teens than slasher fare.
Set in the vicinity of Silver Spring, Maryland with its mountain roads, the story begins with high school graduate Julie James getting summer off to a promising start when an acceptance letter to Smith College, the alma mater of her widowed mother, arrives in the mail. Mrs. James has sensed a change in her redheaded cheerleader daughter over the last year, studying harder but having less fun, breaking up with a boy named Ray Bronson, who left town about a year ago and headed to California. Julie almost ignores a second letter shes received, one with no return address on the envelope. The message in big block printing ominously reads I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.
We next meet Barry Cox, freshman at the local college and a football hero in his high school days whose winning ways still get the attention of the girls. For this reason and others, Barry has cooled to his girlfriend of the past year, Helen Rivers, a high school dropout whose ambition and golden looks have secured her a lucrative job with Channel Five as a station rep and on-air personality. Helens success seems to be the only reason Barry hasnt broken up with her and when she telephones with something important to talk with him about, he has no choice but go to her apartment complex. Barry finds Julie there as well, who shares the threatening letter with the couple.
Making reference to a pact they made last summer, Barry blames the letter on Ray, who Helen reveals is back in town. Neither of the women believe Julies ex would do something like this. The football hero offers that Julie might be getting teased about something else she did last summer. Helen is not comforted by this. Julie returns home to prepare for a date when she encounters Ray waiting for her. While hes missed Julie, she explains that she needs to move on, haunted by a tragic accident in which the car that Barry was driving with Helen in the front passenger seat and Julie & Ray in back struck a twelve-year old boy on a bicycle named Daniel Gregg.
Driving too fast while under the influence of a few beers and a little pot, Barry feared prosecution and fled the accident scene that night. Julies vocal plea that they go back to help the boy was opposed by Helen, who then as well as now is in love with Barry and wants to protect him. Casting the deciding vote to stay silent was Ray, who at that time lacked the nerve to stand up to Barry and instead made an anonymous call to 911. Their victim died on the way to the hospital. Julie shares her letter with her ex, dreading that someone else knows their secret. Ray believes they should confess to the police, not breaking the pact, but dissolving it by convincing Barry and Helen to agree with them.
While Julie makes a fresh start with an Iraq war veteran shes dating named Bud, Helen continues to feel distance from Barry. Growing up in a low income household and sharing a bedroom with her dumpy and vindictive older sister Elsa, Helens self-made success and minor celebrity has only made her feel more ostracized by her family and peers. She makes a friend with a handsome new neighbor named Collie but comes close to falling apart when Barry is lured away from his frat house by a telephone call and shot. His ability to walk again in doubt, Barry claims that the phone call came from Helen, who denies this. By now, both Helen and Ray have received ominous messages as well.
Taking the initiative, Julie and Ray go up up to Mountain Highway to visit the Greggs. They meet Daniel Greggs sister Megan, who reveals that her mother blamed herself for Daniels death and fell ill. Shes convalescing in Las Lunas with her father. Julie is certain that none of the Greggs could be responsible for the threats, while Ray notices a fresh coat of paint on the house and mens shirts drying on the clothesline. The mystery thickens when Ray sneaks into the hospital to confront Barry about his fatal phone call. He conceals the truth, which is that a caller threatened to blackmail him with photos of the accident and lured Barry into a meeting, where he was shot.
Meanwhile, Mrs. James has a very bad feeling about all of this.
Not that the feelings were foolproof and could be taken as gospel. Last summer, for instance, there had been a time when she could have sworn that she felt something terrible approaching. It was during a period in which Julie was seeing a great deal of Ray, and for a while Mrs. James had wondered if that was it, if the young peoples feelings for each other were growing too strong and would create a problem. Fond as she was of Ray, she was aware of his immaturity, and she wanted another year of high school for Julie and then hopefully college. The idea of an unwed pregnancy or a very young marriage was not easy for her to accept.
In the 2010 revision of I Know What You Did Last Summer, Lois Duncan made a number of superficial changes to her 1973 text. A few are hard to spot, like a blue pantsuit changing to blue pants and a blouse. Vietnam and an antiwar demonstration are changed to Iraq and an indiscriminate campus demonstration. A noticeable change is the juggling act Duncan has to do with mobile phones, which could have solved her mystery in half an hour if characters were easily able to contact each other or authorities in an emergency. In the inferior revised edition, all manner of dead batteries, dropped signals or landlines still strangely in use are offered to keep the plot going.
There are reasons why a novel written in the 1970s or 80s should not be revised for the Information Age, even a novel that on the surface seems to be little more than a Young Adult thriller. The world has changed so much in forty years that relabeling is not sufficient to pass Duncans story off as one that could take place today. The catalyst of I Know What You Did Last Summer is a boy on a bicycle being struck by a hit and run driver at ten oclock at night, plausible and effective in 1973, but today, when all bicycles have reflectors and all children are cocooned in safety gear, not to mention guarded by anxious parents who rarely let their children out of sight, this scenario feels like a stretch.
This sort of reboot feels more like a financial gambit than one made to improve quality of the book and I Know What You Did Last Summer is compelling enough not to need it. Duncan does a wonderfully subtle job of generating tension with characters whove committed an irrevocable crime and are wrapped so tight with guilt that the slightest tug might force them to snap. This is a thriller where I was able to feel empathy not only with the protagonists, but their tormentor, who unlike the boogeyman in the derivative 1997 slasher film and its sequels, inflicts psychic violence as opposed to mostly physical. The reveal in his identity, also altered for the movies, is novel as well.
Duncan, who allows her teenagers some illegal substances but lets the reader imagine how much sex theyve experimented with, should be respected for writing a terrifying book without racking up dead bodies. More sinister and imaginative is how Duncan keeps the teenagers alive. In addition to the guilt thats been building over a year, each character is dragged into their own level of hell. A sports hero (view spoiler)[may not walk again (hide spoiler)], a beauty queen has to (view spoiler)[climb through broken glass (hide spoiler)], a college student (view spoiler)[feels her future being choked out of her (hide spoiler)] and the boy who loves has to watch. Its a restrained, evocative thriller and one I more often that not found myself able to relate to.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (4/10) Movie CLIP - I Know (1997) HD
I Know What You Did Last Summer
The screenplay was written by Kevin Williamson , writer of Scream, and very loosely based on a popular novel of the same title by Lois Duncan. The latter film did not star any of the cast from the previous two. The film received mixed reviews from critics. Barry Cox 's drunken car embrace at Miller's point before the collision with Ben Willis. Returning in Barry's new car, they hit and apparently kill a man. Julie tells him everything is fine so he leaves. They dump the corpse in the ocean and agree to never discuss again what had happened.
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