I Know What You Did Last Summer isn't bad. Its good bits are well worth watching and its lesser aspects aren't nearly as bad as I feared.
Look at the cast, for instance. At first glance it appears to have the cast from Hell... Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar and even Freddie Prinze Jr, for crying out loud! However to my slight surprise they all did fine. Sarah Michelle Gellar dispels the spectre of Buffy (which she didn't manage for me in much of Scooby-Doo) and even Freddie Prinze Jr holds his end up. Mind you, it helps that he doesn't have to act. Sensibly he got the nice-but-dim role, with Ryan Phillippe handling the intense stuff. Called upon only to look bewildered from time to time, Prinze manages to be sympathetic and even rather sweet.
Of course, yes, this is a horror movie (ostensibly) about blandly attractive teenagers. And yes, Jennifer Love Hewitt manages to be the least memorable character, despite being the heroine in a movie that also stars Freddie Prinze Jr. Uh-oh. Though admittedly she's got this drowned-rat look for most of the film which doesn't do her any favours. Oh, and as The Sympathetic One she angsts about what they did last summer, which unfortunately translates into looking depressed all the time.
But all things considered, the cast does its job. And Anne Heche runs away with the movie during her few scenes. She's great.
But what about the story? Broadly speaking, it can be divided into three sections: the first quarter of an hour (i.e. the "last summer" of the title), the bulk of the movie and then the final couple of minutes. "Last summer" is great. I loved the situation the friends found themselves in, I loved Red Herring Guy... this was all good, strong, dramatic stuff. I can't help thinking that its key scene might have been mindblowing with better actors, but it's still good. I liked all this.
Then comes the movie proper, and things slow down a little. It becomes a standard slasher movie, albeit with a few twists. There's actual investigation to be done, which is so unusual in the teen slasher genre that initially it feels like a waste of time. What's the point of investigating the Fisherman? We all know that no matter what our heroes do, the film will end with the killer unmasking himself to gloat any plot exposition we haven't been told yet. But interesting scenes flow from this aforementioned investigation, so I forgave it. By the end, your detective story instincts will be on the alert (and you'll have spotted at least one revelation fifteen minutes in advance).
I Know What You Did Last Summer's least successful aspect is the horror. It's just not scary. Perhaps almost tense on occasion, but even the Scream movies were more shocking. The murders are perfunctory. I suppose had they employed a nasty, sadistic director who genuinely shocked his audience, the film wouldn't have become "America's No.1 Box Office Hit!". The killer outdoes his Scream counterparts by still being menacing even after being unmasked, but his trademark fish hook looks silly. I suppose it's vaguely gruesome, but how effective would it really be as a weapon? And no matter how you slice 'n' dice it, the Fisherman is still just another slasher. He kills a cop, which is surely on page one of the Slashers' Do-It-Yourself Guide. Does he ever run when he can Walk Menacingly (TM)? Do you have to ask?
Oh, and this isn't a fair criticism, but it's hard to take the Polaroid moment seriously after seeing what Scary Movie did to it. (After seeing Scream, I assumed Scary Movie was merely a pisstake of that. I now realise it's a Kevin Williamson's Greatest Hits... though in fairness he doesn't deserve full credit for this one, which is based on a novel by Lois Duncan. Apparently that book's pretty bad, though less bad than the risibly titled sequel to this movie, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.)
Most of this film is surprisingly good. It's homogenised and teen-targeted, but despite this squeezes in some nice touches. It's occasionally excellent, never scary but also never actually bad... until we reach those last two minutes. Slavering infected donkey nuts, WHY? The earlier ending was great! We'd have remembered that! Spooky, ambiguous and haunting, we'd have left the movie theatre with questions in our minds. But no. Two minutes are tacked on for the morons and a nice little film blows off its foot and becomes merely okay.
However despite this, there's much I like about I Know What You Did Last Summer. I like the small fishing town setting. I like the shamelessness of opening with a swimsuit contest. Hey, I'm there! And it's worth renting this just for Anne Heche. As homogenised not-scary teen-targeted "America's No.1 Box Office Hit!" fare goes, you could do a lot worse.