Follow TV Tropes


Film / I Know What You Did Last Summer

Go To
Some people really don't know how to let things go...

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) is a horror/slasher film very loosely based on the novel of the same name by Lois Duncan, starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Ryan Phillippe. The screenplay was written by Kevin Williamson, who also wrote Scream (1996), The Faculty, Cursed (2005), and Dawson's Creek.

The tale starts with a party and the consumption of too much alcohol, as these stories tend to do, during a beach party after Helen Shivers (Gellar) wins the Croaker County Beauty Pageant. On the way home, however, a drunken swerve of the friends' car leads to the death of a fisherman on the side of the road. The four decide to tell no one, and to forget the whole thing, throwing the body into the ocean. But somebody saw, and the next summer, they start to take vengeance, warning the four with an ominous message: I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Before long, people start dying, killed by a rain-slicker-clad figure wielding a hook...


The film was followed by two sequels: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) and the straight-to-video I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006). In July 2019, it was announced that a television series based on the films was being developed for Prime Video, with James Wan serving as a producer. The series premiered October 15, 2021.

For tropes applying to the original novel, see its own page.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Barry's mother features prominently in the book, and Helen's parents have a couple of scenes too. Helen's father just appears as an extra, and Barry's mother is barely seen.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Julie is a redhead in the book, and brunette in the film.
  • Adaptation Expansion: A minor example. In the book, the class divide with Ray coming from a poorer family didn't really inform the character too much beyond internal angst. In the film, this becomes part of his motivation for covering up the accident - pointing out he doesn't have a rich family to help.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
    • A minor example. Elsa in the book is an overweight bitter girl who's jealous of Helen's beauty and easy success - she has to work long hours and still lives at home, while Helen gets a cushy job as a weather girl and is able to afford a nice apartment. In the movie Elsa is just as beautiful, and Helen has a failed attempt at becoming an actress and gets reduced to working in the family department store (and Elsa is in fact her superior). So Elsa's jealousy and dislike of Helen isn't really explained.
    • Elsa still living at home isn't really given an explanation in the film either. Helen's family in the book were struggling financially, with lots of children to look after. Elsa still lives at home to both give her family more money, and look after her younger siblings. Their younger siblings aren't seen or mentioned in the film, and Elsa also has quite a nice job as the supervisor in their parents' department store - so it's unexplained why Elsa is still at home (although we only see her interact with Helen before she goes to bed, so it's possible she does live somewhere else and happened to be at the house that night).
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Helen and Elsa's last name Rivers becomes Shivers.
    • The victim goes from David Gregg to David Egan.
    • David's sister goes from Megan to Missy.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Elsa, Helen's sister, is described as very unattractive throughout the book. In the movie, she's just as pretty as Helen is. Elsa was written as plain-looking in the script; the director decided that if Helen is gorgeous, Elsa should be too.
    • Julie has a moment in the book where she notices her mother going grey-haired, and her hands looking very old. None of this is shown in the film, and her mother looks quite youthful.
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • In the book, Julie is knocked out while Ray fights the killer offscreen. In the film, she helps him fight the killer.
    • Helen likewise only lives in the book because the killer has gone to target Julie, with a Let's Get Dangerous! moment of climbing out her apartment window. Here she's able to fight the killer off multiple times but ironically doesn't walk away from their last encounter.
  • Adaptational Intelligence:
    • In the film Julie is said to have been an excellent student whose grades are slipping due to the trauma of the accident. It's the opposite in the book - where Julie was a slacker who had to really work hard to improve her grades after the accident. Julie makes considerably less stupid mistakes than in the book; for example, she sent anonymous flowers to the funeral there, which ended up getting her pegged as the culprit, and she was unknowingly dating the victim's brother.
    • Helen arguably in the book was more naive, bordering on ditzy sometimes (she's oblivious to Barry cheating on her). At the accident, she's at first trying to talk some sense into the boys (she's considering going to the police), doesn't hesitate to fire back at Barry with taunts and helps Julie figure out some of the clues (in the book it was Ray who did this).
  • Adaptational Jerkass:
    • Elsa by extension of Helen's Adaptational Karma. Elsa in the book resents how easy Helen has everything, and has to work hard to support their large family. With Helen being a fallen beauty queen and Elsa now her superior in the family business, she seems even nastier by comparison. And she's also as gorgeous as Helen, meaning she has no reason to be jealous of the latter's beauty.
    • The teens compared to how the accident goes from book to film. In the book, they immediately go to find a payphone to anonymously call the police. In the film, they decide to dump the apparently dead body in the sea to cover it up.
  • Adaptational Karma:
    • Helen in the book suffers no negative consequences from the accident - and in fact gets a nice job as the local weather girl, making her able to afford a posh apartment (an impressive feat for a nineteen-year-old). In the film however Helen's attempts at becoming an actress have failed, and she's reduced to working in her parents' department store. Also, she does fall victim to the fisherman here, although that goes a lot further than anyone wanted her to suffer.
    • Julie in a sense too. The book has her buckle down and improve her school work after the accident, resulting in a prestigious college acceptance letter to Smith, as well as a new boyfriend. In the film, she's far more emotionally affected by the accident; her grades have plummeted and she's on her own, even barely in contact with her mother.
  • Adaptational Location Change: The novel is implied to take place in New Mexico (there are mentions of Cibola National Forest and Sandia National Laboratories, which are located or headquartered in the state, respectively), but the film moves the action to North Carolina.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The victim of the accident in the book was an innocent little boy. Not only did the victim in the film not actually die, he had just committed a murder himself.
  • Adaptational Wealth: The book says that Helen's family is fairly poor, with a lot of kids, and Elsa is still at home because her family needs the money. In the film, they own a department store and seem to have a nice house. Helen is the opposite; she's able to afford an apartment of her own in the book, while she's still at home in the film. Ray also draws a comparison to the others having money and connections.
  • Age Lift:
    • Barry is a few years older than the gang in the book. Helen is a year above Julie too, who is still in high school. The film makes all the characters the same age.
    • The victim in the book was a little boy on a bike. In the film, it's an adult.
    • The victim's sister is a teenager in the book, but is in her twenties in the film.
  • Alliterative Name: Applied to boats: Ray's boat is the Billy Blue while Ben Willis' is the Sweet Susie.
  • Apathetic Citizens: The people at the beauty contest hold Helen back and don't seem the least bit concerned even though she's screaming her head off for someone to help Barry.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • The fine details are up for debate, but this is a slasher film that actually attempts to justify all the various teenagers getting killed; a hit-and-run probably doesn't deserve a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, but it's not the usual innocent batch of campers either. It's then revealed that the man they hit had just committed a murder himself, and didn't die when they dumped the body in the sea.
    • Most of the initial victims before the main characters start dying too. Max is a rude pervert who hits on Julie knowing she has a boyfriend, Officer Caporizo makes fun of a woman who claims to have watched her boyfriend being murdered, and Elsa is a straight-up Jerkass who bullies her younger sister. No one's particularly sad when they die.
  • Badass Longcoat: The fisherman's raincoat. It's probably no coincidence that he dies when he's no longer wearing it.
  • Bait the Dog: Elsa's first line of dialogue is offering Helen a ride home after the pageant, but she's quick to insult her sister for deciding to stay out late, and this sets the tone for most of their later interactions.
  • Beauty Contest: Helen wins one at the start of the film to become the 'Croaker Queen'. The next year, she rides in the parade and helps officiate the other contest.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: A justified example. The killer cuts off some of Helen's hair while she's asleep, but she reappears for the pageant with it all tidied up. Naturally the killer wouldn't want to give her a reason to miss the parade. And something more extreme would prompt the attention of her family, requiring her to go to the police.
  • Big Bad: The Fisherman, aka Ben Willis.
  • Big Brother Bully: Gender Flipped but Elsa spends most of her screen time mocking or belittling Helen.
  • Black Spot: Julie receives a note saying "I know what you did last summer". A similar note being found in David Egan's belongings tips her off that he wasn't the man they hit.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Officer Caporizo after the Fisherman stabs him.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The villain of the book I Know What You Did Last Summer never successfully killed anyone, while he kills several in this version.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Almost. The film was originally shot with almost no onscreen blood, but that changed when producer Erik Feig noted that with Elsa's death, it would be medically impossible for there not to be blood. So that scene was reshot with a visual effect of blood splattering on glass.
  • Brainy Brunette: Julie more obviously in the film than the book - where she was a redhead who had to work hard for her grades. She's also implied to be a bit of a feminist.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Barry and Helen are the ones who dump the body in the river, and they're the ones who die.
  • Chase Scene: Helen gets quite a famous one that runs through a park, her families department store, and finally ends in the narrow alleys behind the store.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Julie notices a tattoo saying 'Suzie' on the accident victim's arm, and realises it's referring to Suzie Willis, who was killed in another accident on that road the previous year. When talking to David Egan's sister Missy, she tells Julie that he didn't have a tattoo, and Julie realises the man they hit wasn't David Egan.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Max initially just seems to exist to provide suspense about whether or not they'll get caught after the hit and run.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Ray has been working on boats for about a year after the Time Skip. This comes in very handy when Julie is trapped on a boat with the killer and he has to rescue her.
  • Chickification: Julie spends most of the film being an active character who takes charge and tries to solve the mystery. As soon as she's trapped on a boat with the killer, all she can do is scream and run, and wait for Ray to rescue her.
  • Composite Character:Ben Willis is a combination of the novel's two characters of Collingsworth Wilson (the person hunting the four leads) and David Gregg (the person who was run over in the book).
  • Condensation Clue: Or possibly Condensation Sequel Hook: the writing on the fogged-up shower stall glass at the end of the film, Foreshadowing the second film's title.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Had Ray simply told the others that he went to Missy's and pretended to be 'Billy Blue', Julie wouldn't have had to drive to her house to chase another lead, and Helen and Barry could have had another protector for the pageant.
  • Dark Secret: The hit and run that starts the plot.
  • Death by Adaptation: Nobody dies in the book. Helen and Barry are killed off, as is Helen's sister Elsa.
  • Disposing of a Body: The characters did it last summer.
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with the Fisherman being still alive and attacking Julie while she was showering at her college, seemingly killing her. This was Retconed in the sequel as a nightmare she had.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Julie has curly hair in the intro, but it is unkempt after the accident. Notably in the finale segment, it's curly once again.
    Buzzfeed: "You know Julie suddenly cares about living again, because her hair is more bouncy and curly."
  • Eye Awaken: The man that protagonists ran over does right after Barry gets on front of his face underwater.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Sort of. Helen is working in her family's department store after the Time Skip, having claimed her move to New York "didn't really work out" (she was planning to become an actress).
  • Fallen Princess: Helen appears to be such. She's implied to be a popular girl at school, and wins the local beauty pageant at the start. There's also cheerleading memorabilia in her room. But her plans to make it as an actress in New York fail, she and Barry split up and she's reduced to working in a department store.
  • Fanservice:
    • Julie in a tight tank top she wears for the final third of the film and only a towel at the end.
    • Helen also walks around wearing hot pants in the second act.
    • Barry shirtless in a towel after showering.
    • Both male leads get scenes in tight wife-beaters.
    • Helen's dress for the parade is also extremely flattering.
  • Final Girl: Julie, who's a far more of an obvious Final Girl compared to her book self - she gets an Adaptation Dye-Job to become brunette, is said to be an excellent student, and takes the moral high ground.
  • Foreshadowing: An early scene between Helen and Julie has the former talking about how important having good hair is, and checking that hers is still looking good. Elsa later taunts her about how obsessed she is with her hair, not knowing the killer is in the closet, possibly even giving him the idea to attack her that way.
  • Freudian Excuse: The killer is a man who lost his daughter.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: The Fisherman. A seemingly normal local man, he became a serial killer after the loss of his daughter.
  • Genre Savvy: When the girls go to visit the family of the man they killed, Helen says "Jodie Foster tried this and a serial killer answered the door." She also says "Angela Lansbury always had a plan" - and she and Julie use Jodie and Angela as aliases with Missy immediately after.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Helen and Elsa, far more so than in the book. Elsa is more obviously the smart sister - in a prominent position at the family department store, more business savvy and she wears glasses. Helen is the pretty sister (or rather, the prettier sister) naturally - having previously been a teen beauty queen and was planning to become an actress.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Helen Shivers is a beauty queen, introduced winning a local pageant and her three friends (even Julie) gushing about her looks. She's also played by the beautiful Sarah Michelle Gellar, with gorgeous blonde hair and perfect make-up in every scene.
  • Hooks and Crooks: The killer carries a gaffing hook.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: All three films take place around the Fourth of July.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Max is killed when the Fisherman impales his throat with the gaff hook he took from him moments prior.
  • In Name Only: The original book and the film share only character names and a hit-and-run that sets the plot in motion. Everything else is night-and-day — the Duncan novel is a mystery/drama in which none of the main characters die, while the film is a slasher.
  • Irony: When dumping the body, Barry says to pretend he's a serial killer and they're doing everyone a favour. It turns out he's right.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Used repeatedly (and relentlessly). The most egregious example is the dead body and 400 crabs stowed in the trunk of one character, only to disappear equally suddenly. Not only does the body and crabs disappear within minutes, but the trunk's carpet is also pristine clean.
  • Jerkass: The deputy, who openly disbelieves Helen and not in a respectful way.
  • Jerk Jock: Barry, but more so in the book. He was a football player and goes to college on scholarship. In the movie he's only shown at the gym once.
  • Kid Detective: referenced but mostly averted when Helen and Julie go to the Egen's house and Helen nervously references Murder, She Wrote. They're also a little older than most versions of this trope.
  • Menacing Stroll: While going after Helen, the Fisherman chooses to calmly stride after her while she's running away in panic.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Julie wrongly accuses Ray of having been the murderer all along.
  • Modesty Towel:
  • Moral Myopia: Ben's anger at losing his own daughter motivating his crimes feels weak and hypocritical when he's prepared to kill the Shivers sisters after seeing their father while sneaking through the house and knowing he'd be causing another family the same pain, especially given how Elsa was completely innocent of hitting him.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: The Fisherman pretends to be a mannequin in Helen's workplace to have a surprise attack on her after she passes him.
  • Not Quite Dead: The Fisherman shows signs of movement right before they dump the body. It turns out he lived after all.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Max's body vanishes from the trunk of Julie's car. Although given that she ran the rest of the way to Helen's house, had to explain what happened to the other two and then walk back - it does give the killer some time to move it if he was following Julie from her house. And if Helen's house is further away than we assume from when Julie gets out of the car. The killer however inexplicably appears out of nowhere to kill Helen when she escapes from the department store.
  • One-Hour Work Week: Helen is instantly able to leave her job at the department store to chase leads with Julie, presumably because she's working for her family (although her boss is her abusive sister Elsa). She does say she has to get back to work after their reunion with Barry and Ray on the seafront, and has the 4th of July off because she's in the town parade.
  • The Oner: The opening credits happen over a very long helicopter shot over the sea, going around the cliffs and finishing on David Egan.
  • Peekaboo Corpse: While trying to hide from the Fisherman inside his boat, Julie discovers the bodies of Helen and Barry on ice.
  • Pick on Someone Your Own Size: Intergender example; the crazed fisherman is obsessed with killing Julie James and friends after they hit him with their car. He got better.
  • Pink Means Feminine: Helen is the more obvious Girly Girl of the two females, and her bedroom is painted pink. She also has pink curtains and pale pink bedding.
  • Police Are Useless: The inept cop who dismisses Helen as a hysteric and ends up getting hooked himself. Previously, the teens dismiss going to the police even though Ray was the sober driver, assuming they wouldn't believe he was driving.
  • Punk in the Trunk: Julie discovers the crab-covered body of Max in the trunk of her car. After she brings her co-conspirators to see it, it has disappeared.
  • Red Herring:
    • When Julie tells Helen about the note, there are a couple of shots of Elsa looking at them. Elsa is also said to have been in David Egan's class at school. In the book Elsa is also a suspect.
    • Max is initially assumed to be behind the note, as the only person the teens saw that night.
    • Missy is also introduced in a way that makes her seem like she could be a suspect too.
    • There's a mysterious figure known as "Billy Blue" who expressed his sympathies to Missy. This figure is revealed to be Ray, making him another suspect right before the climax.
  • The Reveal:
    • The killer is Ben Willis (the guy the group actually hit) and not David Egan (who they thought they hit, and who Ben actually killed) or someone trying to avenge him.
    • Ray is "Billy Blue", the mysterious person who called Missy to express his sympathies.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Fisherman after he's left for dead.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The accident and cover-up symbolize the loss of innocence from childhood to adulthood. The protagonists are teenagers graduating from high school, and the plot takes place after they've spent a year trying to live as adults. Helen notably has become a Fallen Princess, Julie was once a straight-A student whose grades are slipping, and Barry was once the Big Man on Campus that ends up in the hospital. The characters lamenting how they can't go back to how their lives were before the accident parallels how they can't become innocent again.
  • Running Over the Plot: What they did last summer was run over a pedestrian walking on a coastal road and put the body in the water. The twist is that he didn't actually die, and he's back for revenge.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Max, whose death was added in reshoots, after filmmakers realized they needed to show that the killer posed a threat.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Julie's college roommate Deb.
    "Get your white as death, chalky corpse in that car now."
  • Schrödinger's Canon: A lot of stuff about the character's families, such as Julie's mother having sensed something was wrong the night of the accident and Helen's Middle Child Syndrome, given that Elsa is the only of her siblings confirmed to exist in the movie.
  • Setting Update: The book was set in the 70s, and a plot point was one character being a Vietnam veteran. The film is updated to the 90s.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Ray and Julie make out at the beach and she takes off her jacket. Ray asks, "Are you sure?" She nods, and they both fall on the sand kissing as the camera pans away.
  • Shirtless Scene: Barry gets one after taking a shower at a gym and coming out in a Modesty Towel where he finds his own note from the Fisherman.
  • Slashers Prefer Blondes: Of the killer’s targets, the blond Barry and Helen are killed while the dark-haired Julie and Ray survive. Elsa is also killed, but only because she's in the way.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: While it was put into production thanks to Kevin Williamson scoring a big hit with Scream, it has little in common with it beyond being a stylishly-shot whodunit teen slasher. Scream was a very self-aware Deconstructive Parody of the genre in which both the heroes and the killer were fully aware of and ruthlessly exploited slasher clichés, while this film is a far more straightforward and affectionate Genre Throwback.
  • The Stinger: The film closes with Julie back at college a year later, about to take a shower when she sees the words "I STILL KNOW" written in the steam-covered door, seconds before The Fisherman smashes through the glass and rushes towards her.
  • Stranger Behind the Mask: The twist is that David Egan is in fact not the man the teens hit with the car. It's actually the man who murdered him - though this is foreshadowed earlier in the film.
  • Sunroof Shenanigans: The fatal car accident that starts the plot happened because Barry was standing up in the car's sunroof, acting foolish and distracting Ray from driving.
  • Time Skip: After the climax, the ending of the film happens "One year later..."
  • Token Black Friend: Julie has a sassy black roommate in college called Deb.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Julie's more studious and career-oriented than tomboyish but Helen has the Girly Girl half of the dynamic down.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Ray doesn't think it's a good idea to tell the others he went to Missy and pretended to be this Billy Blue when they're on the lookout for someone harassing them.
    • Barry knows someone wants to kill him. Said person even tried to run him over. So what does he do? Why, he ends up going up to a dark, secluded balcony all by himself.
    • Helen is no better. After a relentless pursuit, she runs through an alley and comes upon a parade full of people - only to stop and check if the killer has caught up to her yet. Naturally, she would've gotten away if she had just kept running. Of course, she could not have seen the Offscreen Teleportation coming and might have been too tired to keep moving...
    • Elsa proves unresponsive when Helen says she's being attacked, and doesn't hurry to lock the store and protect them.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Downplayed. While Barry is still aggressive and violent, he becomes extremely protective of Helen after the accident. He rides on the parade float with her, and can be seen reassuring her that she looks good.
  • Traumatic Haircut: The killer cuts off some of Helen's hair while she's asleep. The next scene has her wearing a cap to hide it, but it's been tidied up by the time she rides in the parade.
  • True Blue Femininity: The dress that Helen wears in the Croaker Queen pageant is a light blue. Very fitting for a feminine pageant queen.
  • Unexplained Accent: Anne Heche for some reason puts on a southern accent for her role as Missy. As we never hear her brother David speak, it's unclear why she has this voice. In the scene where Julie tries to explain to Barry and Helen about finding Max’s body in her car trunk, the car visibly has a North Carolina license plate, so it isn’t inconceivable that the film takes place in that state.
  • Villain Ball: The Fisherman sure does pass up a lot of opportunities to kill those teens. Somewhat justified, as his intent is not only to kill them, but to make them squirm and be afraid. Still, Willis' quest for revenge threatens to expose his murder of David Egan, which he would've been clear of completely thanks to the teens.
  • We Used to Be Friends: After visiting Missy's house, Julie and Helen have this exchange in the car.
    Helen: What ever happened to us? We used to be best friends.
    Julie: We used to be a lot of things, Helen.