Book: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1973) by Lois Duncan.
Film: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) Written by Kevin Williamson, Directed by Jim Gillespie.
The story in both is pretty much the same: 4 intoxicated teenagers driving along a dark road at night hit a male (in the film it’s a middle aged man, in the book it’s a young boy), killing him. Instead of calling the police and risk being sent to prison they discard of the body and move on with their lives, never talking of the incident again. A year later each of the 4 get a threatening message from an unknown assailant causing the 4 to grown paranoid and terrified. The message reads: I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER!
I saw the film before I read the book, I actually didn’t know of the novel’s existence until last year. As a big fan of Scream I had faith in Williamson to deliver an interesting story. You don’t have to tell me that IKWYDLS isn’t the best horror film.. at all. But there’s something about 90’s slasher that I thoroughly enjoy. The book, however, I didn’t enjoy so much.
Duncan tells her story in a whopping 200 pages making the story seem rushed. There’s a lot of build up to almost nothing and the whole thing is a little anti-climactic. In the novel the mastermind behind the threat is revealed as the brother of the young victim in a rushed and predictable ending in which the protagonist, Julie James (who’s perspective we’re in during this chapter) is knocked unconscious and wakes up to the crisis resolved. The story feels half-heartedly written and the ending like Duncan got bored with her novel. She even admits herself that she’d forgotten about writing the book until the producers asked for her permission to do the film.
The film tailors to a more adult audience, turning a YA ‘thriller’ novel into a typical Slasher/Horror flick. Duncan herself hated what Williamson had turned her story into, however, it seems like he did it a favour. The film twisted the story and gave us red herrings, more action and of course, murder giving some edge to a dry novel. The horror elements aren’t disappointing; the kills are good and the scares are (sometimes) scary, however overall still a little corny. The script is sassy and cool as opposed to rather prim and proper dialogue in the book (but I’ll put that down to the generation gap).
Arguably the best thing about both book and film is Helen Rivers; tormented by her sister, unloved by her boyfriend and not taken seriously by anyone else she is underestimated. Her looks are the only things that have helped her through life. While in the film Helen is dealing with a failed acting career, in the book she is successful. I prefer the successful Helen who knew she could utilise her looks to get what she wanted. She’s a breath of fresh air against the goody two shoes Julie James, the macho Ray Bronson and spoilt rich brat Barry Cox.
The book is a quick read and fairly entertaining but ultimately anticlimactic and predictable. The film, while corny and sometimes predictable, it’s an enjoyable watch and fulfils my horror-related needs. So this time, it has to be the film!
Thanks for reading,
All the best.