Meanderings on I Know What You Did Last Summer

I feel like I can't start this post without saying two things. First: the majority of this post was written pre-election. That feels important for some reason. It might not be, but I wanted to say it, so I did. Deal with it. Second: there are spoilers (kind of), for those of you who have somehow gone 14 years without seeing I Know What You Did Last Summer but want to, but just haven't gotten around to it yet. (If you haven't seen it yet, just do it. Please. I mean, I Know is pretty predictable, but..???)

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I used to be a list maniac. Like, by the time I left for college, I had an entire notebook that was filled with lists. Favorite songs. Favorite song lyrics. Favorite smells. Favorite life moments. Favorite albums. Favorite movies. Lists of all the albums I owned, plus their track listings. Lists of all the books I owned. 

I Know What You Did Last Summer was my first favorite movie, and it was my #1 favorite movie all throughout high school. Up until I Know…, I didn’t have favorites, really. There were movies that I really liked, but there wasn't one that was my favorite. Scream came out the year before, and I liked it a lot, but it didn’t do for me what I Know… did. 

First of all, I Know… was a book first. And I had read it. It wasn’t my favorite book. The cover and the premise were scarier than the actual story. 

For those who aren’t familiar, I Know… is about a group of teenagers who accidentally hit and kill someone with a car. Instead of calling the police or an ambulance, the teens dispose of the body and vow to never talk about it again. In the film, nearly a year after the incident, someone begins stalking and murdering all the teens who were involved. In the book, I remember the menace being mostly a metaphor for their guilty consciences, which was very disappointing to me. I wanted action, I wanted vengeance, I wanted blood. I didn’t want the moral to be, “Don’t hit someone with your car and then dispose of the still-alive body because your guilty conscience will never leave you alone.” I wanted the moral to be, “Don’t hit someone with your car and then dispose of the still-alive body because someone’s going to come back and kill your ass, and rightfully so.” 

***

Back then, I adored Ryan Phillippe. His character, Barry, was the dickish aggressive jock who started to become a nicer human being (kind of), and then he got murdered. (Oops, spoiler. Sorry.) 

I can’t really remember what else made me love the movie. It took place in a New England fishing town, which I think I liked. Ryan Phillippe/Barry was cute. Maybe I liked the idea that such unlikeable people (Barry, in particular) could possibly change — right before they were murdered, of course — but nevertheless, they could change. That's what made their deaths tragic. 

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Now, when I watch I Know… Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character, Helen, is my favorite. She’s a beauty queen (literally) who had big dreams of moving to New York City to become an actress. Those plans didn’t work out, and she finds herself back home, working at her sister’s shop and preparing to hand last year's beauty queen crown over to her successor. Helen is supposed to be vain and shallow, but Gellar plays her with nuance. Underneath the vanity and supposed vapidness, there’s a sadness to Helen, and when it comes time for her to die, she fucking fights to the last breath. Helen’s death is the one I mourn the most. 

***

The two main characters who survive — Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) — are the most annoying to me. Julie’s judgy self-righteousness, and Ray’s wide-eyed earnestness are so off-putting.

At the beginning of the movie, there’s a scene where the four sit around a bonfire on the beach and tell a scary story about a murderer with a hook for a hand. After the storytelling, the couples pair off: Helen and Barry, Julie and Ray. Helen and Barry fully embrace their sexual selves and make out next to the bonfire in full firelight. Julie and Ray sneak off to a shadowy cave, where they exchange cheesy words of love (Ray says, “Did you know that the success rate of high school relationships is higher than any others?” then Julie says, “Oh yeah? Cite your source.” And then Ray puts Julie’s hand on his heart. BARF.) and then bashfully have sex for the first time. 

I do appreciate that there is an attempt at a self-aware, feminist lens in Julie, though, especially in the pre-accident scenes. She calls out Barry’s sexism, and delivers a screed on tales used to “scare girls out of having pre-marital sex.” That all ends with the accident.

And even though both Helen and Julie have sex, only one of them lives — the modest, self-righteous one. 

***

Folks of color, where are they at? They’re nowhere. Julie has a Black roommate, who tells her that she needs to “get some sun on that pasty tail.” Because Julie looks like death at that point in the film, to be honest. 

And that is the end of any folks of color in the film. 

***

I imagine that the soundtrack was what some might refer to as "hip," if only for this: 

And I won't lie. I loved this song then, and I still love it now. It feels like a summer song, and it also feels slightly creepy? I don't know, maybe that's just the I Know What You Did Last Summer context talking to me.

***

At the end of the day, the moral of the story is: don’t murder someone, intentionally or unintentionally, and then try to cover it up. Your guilty conscience, literally and/or metaphorically, will come for you. 

Also, be prudish about sex. You can have sex if you want, but be cool about it, I guess. 

And even though you might be a voice of dissent in your group of murderer-friends, but you still go along with the whole thing and don’t tell anyone, you should still be self-righteous about the whole thing. 

And definitely find your courage by spinning in a circle and yelling, “What are you waiting for?” into the trees. 

A Montage as Ode to Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Jesus, how do I even begin to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I’ve started and re-started this post in my head, trying to figure out how to tackle this. I even briefly considered skipping it, but there’s no way I could dedicate 33 posts to my favorite spooky shit and not talk about Buffy. So I’m trying to make peace with the fact that what follows will be woefully incomplete and will never do justice to Buffy. That’s just facts. 

***

When Buffy came around, I loved everything about her. I loved her outfits, and I loved that she could take care of herself. I loved that she was a teenage girl, that she spoke the way she did, dressed the way she did, and she was kicking ass and literally saving the world every other day. 

My dad, though, had a very different idea of how girls should behave, and Buffy definitely didn’t fit the criteria. So I was forbidden from watching Buffy. (I was also barred from watching Alias for similar reasons.) After fighting with my dad about watching Buffy one night, I remember writing in my journal: “Dad says girls aren’t supposed to act like that. Like what? Being awesome and kicking ass??????”  

***

When I started rewatching Buffy a couple years ago, shit was hitting the fan in my life. To keep from sitting catatonically in my living room and/or crying hysterically, I turned to Buffy and Supernatural. I love Supernatural and I’ll write about it later, but I don’t love the Winchester brothers as much as I do Buffy. I love her even more now, in my third decade on the planet, than I did when I was 15. There are days when I identify with her in ways that don’t even seem possible or make sense. 

***

I thought about writing about all the times Buffy has made me cry, or all the times that I’ve identified with anyone on Buffy, or my favorite moments. It’s just too damn much. 

I’m re-rewatching Buffy with M who is seeing it for the first time. I’m a little jealous — I wish I could see it all over again for the first time. When it comes to my favorite television, movies and books though, I tend to completely forget everything so that when I revisit them, everything is a pleasant surprise. 

The first season and part of the second are fresh in my mind, so I’m going to center mainly on those. There might be spoilers for those of you who have not seen Buffy yet but intend to. Just a warning. 

***

One of the things I most admire about Buffy is the intense vulnerability we get to see from all the characters. In the nightmare episode, we see several of her nightmares — being buried alive, becoming a vampire, taking a test but not knowing anything on it. The most acute nightmare is being told by her dad that she is the cause of her parents’ divorce, that she is a difficult daughter, and that her dad is wasting his time when he spends the weekend with her. 

Out of all the nightmares, this is the one that shakes Buffy the most, and it’s the one that no one else witnesses, except us — the viewers. She deals with the emotional consequences of this nightmare on her own, though she must quickly move on from it in order to save Sunnydale from turning into a nightmare world. 

***

And isn’t that how life is? We get dealt a blow — by life, by our subconscious, by our insecurities, our depressions — and we only have a minute to process it and sit with it. We’re not all trying to save the world from literal destruction, but life does go on. Even when it feels like our worlds are ending, we have jobs to go to, bills to pay, mouths to feed. We can’t spend all our time crying and processing the shit that gets thrown at us, or the nightmare world will become our world. 

***

Buffy’s vulnerability is so fresh, and so is every other emotion. Each character wears their hearts on their sleeves. Buffy’s joy is so real because it’s so rare, and each heartbreak is always intense and visceral. Buffy (the tv show) doesn’t shy away from complex or earnest emotion or the ways in which we all deal so differently with devastation or trauma. 

The first episode of the second season, when Buffy comes back from summer vacation and is trying to deal (or not deal) with the trauma of knowing that her death was imminent, and then dying and then coming back to life, is so fucking real to me. She lashes out, making cruel comments to her friends and performing a sexy dance for Xander (her lovable, joke-making sidekick) in front of Angel (a 240-year-old vampire she's crushing on), to a Cibo Matto song, no less — like, fuck. Isn't that how so many of us deal with the big shit in our lives? Push all the feelings down somewhere deep inside until it has no choice but to ooze out in other ways that make us strange to the people who love us. 

***

We — the viewers — see so much of Buffy that her friends don’t see. We’re the only ones who know that she’s terrified that her parents don’t love her because she’s “difficult” — aka The Slayer. In that first episode of the second season, she has gone for months without talking to anyone about what it was like to know that her death was destiny and go out to meet it anyway. And the trauma of death, resurrection, and fear that keeps coming back to haunt her. 

FUCK. 

***

Also, no one can tell me that the arc of Buffy and Angel’s relationship isn’t one of the best ever of all time. I’m so serious. The early stage of their relationship is so much fun and worthy of all the swoons. 

M doesn’t care for Angel very much. Last night, he said, “This guy is supposed to be good-looking? It’s like he’s featureless. He has no distinguishing features.” 

I said, “Okay, Xander,”  and we laughed. I can’t speak to Angel’s attractiveness, but I do think they cast him exactly right. He broods without being obnoxious, he’s mysterious, he has the right mixture of gravitas and humor. He looks young, but also like he could definitely be 240 years old.  

***

And when Xander finally works up the courage to ask Buffy out. Oh my god. It’s so awkward and so genuine. It hurts to watch Xander hope for reciprocation and be met with so much less. And it’s reassuring to see Xander bounce back. To see him recover from taking a chance, to see him respect Buffy’s reaction and continue to be her friend with no malice and no resentment. 

Hello, Nice Guys (tm). Take notes. Xander is an actual nice guy. 

***

This is not the most coherent post I’ve ever written. It’s definitely super gushy, but I don’t care. I don’t know how else to write about Buffy. This is at least a start. 

Meditations on Fear Street & Horror Lit

From ages 0-5, I watched a lot of after-school cartoons, like Duck Tales and Tale Spin. I even watched Day of Our Lives with my mom. When I was around 4 or 5 years old, while I was watching the intro to Duck Tales, the tv went blank. It wouldn’t turn on or off anymore, I couldn’t change the channel. The tv was done. We didn’t get another one until I was in middle school. 

During that time period, we moved from the small town of Lovelock to the bigger small town of Winnemucca. But rather than find a house within city limits, my family opted to move to a house 30 minutes out of town. We moved to a street that wasn’t even maintained by the county, and it had only one other house on it.

We moved, literally, to the middle of nowhere. 

Without a tv and without even a real neighborhood, there wasn’t much for me to do other than read. I read the usual suspects for a girl my age — The Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys. And then I read the things that weren’t the usual suspects — Fear Street, Goosebumps, anything Christopher Pike, L.J. Smith, and/or any fictional book that featured a bloody knife or a dead body or anything that looked remotely frightening. What I’m waxing nostalgic about specifically is all things R.L. Stine.

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People have a nostalgia for Goosebumps. I read them, too, but by the time Goosebumps came out, I had already read every Fear Street book available at the public library. Goosebumps was dismally tame in comparison. 

Goosebumps was too kiddish for me. It was more science fiction lite than spooky, and it didn’t scare me or hold me in suspense the way that Fear Street did. The possibility that my gym teacher or parent could be an alien just didn’t scare me. A ventriloquist dummy that could talk, act, and kill people on its own? Yes, I had a stake in that. That shit was scary. 

***

For my horror reading pleasure, I had some criteria. I preferred the spooky, the supernatural, the unexplained. I could also go for an old-fashioned horror murder mystery — something with more edge/murder/blood than Agatha Christie, but with elements of a whodunit. I liked trying to figure out who the killer was. I needed a little bit of romance and some making out (even if the romantic interest was eventually murdered or turned out to be the murderer). I preferred women as my protagonists, even then. I enjoyed a twist ending as much as the next person. 

***

Now, I said that Goosebumps was more like sci-fi lite. I actually really like sci-fi. I’m not a nerd about it or anything, but I grew up watching the original Star Trek, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine. Obviously, TNG was my favorite because of Deanna Troi, Data, Geordi La Forge, Captain Picard, Commander Riker, etc. (I could probably write a whole thing about TNG, but that’s for another time.)There was a stretch of time when my favorite shows were mostly all on the SyFy channel. I love Firefly and begrudgingly adore Farscape. 

Maybe what I mean is that Goosebumps just didn’t have the edge I needed. I needed something dangerous, irreversible, and final. There needed to be something from which there was no coming back. I needed death or something close to it. 

***

I’m no expert, but to me, sci-fi seems to center itself around exploring questions like, “What does it mean to be human?” and how the answers to those questions can build different worlds, different societies, different ways of being. I love all the different ways sci-fi explores humanity, lack of it, otherness, alien-ness, and the darker side of sentient natures. 

Horror and the spooky explore what it means to be alive. Not human, but simply alive. It dives into the fight to stay alive and what happens when you don’t win. Sometimes horror explores how we deal with grief and loss, or how the way we treat people can come back to haunt us (literally).  

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Maybe trying to differentiate between the two is futile. They ask the same questions, but explore them in different ways. I do think, though, that sci-fi explores life, and horror explores death. 

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My love of horror doesn’t seem to translate to the literary world so much anymore. I don’t know at what point I veered away from reading “genre” fiction and went more toward “literary” fiction. Maybe it was becoming an English major. Maybe it was because there was nothing to transition to. After Fear Street, there didn’t seem to be a more “adult” horror alternative that captured the fun of Fear Street.

(Some of you might be yelling, “Stephen King!” at this point. Yes, I know. I actually really love Stephen King as a person and I like how he talks about writing, but I’ve only read The Stand. I KNOW.) 

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I’m halfway through the horror short story collection Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt. It’s so fucking creepy, otherworldly, and good. There’s an entire story that’s told in found-footage style, and it doesn’t sound like it should work, but IT DOES. 

Greener Pastures reminds me that horror as literature can be so effective and creepy. It activates the imagination in ways that film rarely can. For me, reading creepy shit transforms normal night noises into potential intruders, ghosts, poltergeists, demons. It’s the images in horror lit that have me avoiding mirrors in any dimly lit setting, and spending as little time in darkness as possible. 

***

I don’t have a good conclusion or place to end. I started out wanting to write about Fear Street vs Goosebumps, and ended up thinking more about the difference between sci-fi and horror, and then horror as literature. 

At the end of this, I’m going to revisit what Fear Street and Christopher Pike books I can. I just discovered that Fear Street is being reissued with new covers. I’m glad for the re-issues, but I wish they’d leave the covers — they’re so 80s/90s and some of my favorite covers of all time. 

After I reread Fear Street and Christopher Pike, I’ll write a follow-up post. (Oh my god, y’all, I’ve forgotten about Diane Hoh and her Nightmare Hall series! WHAT. So many things about myself and my aesthetic are starting to make sense.) 

If anyone has suggestions for more horror for me to read, leave them in the comments below.

P.S. Also, there was a teen horror Christmas book — I think the cover had a bloody wreath on it? or a wreath with a bloody knife? — that I really loved but can’t remember the title or the author or anything about it other than a make-out scene in a theater? If anyone can give me any leads, please. Do. It’s starting to bug me a lot.

Damon Salvatore & the Supernatural Bad Boy

When I tell people that I watch The Vampire Diaries, I usually qualify it with this: I loved the books when I was in high school. I loved The Vampire Diaries more than a decade before it was a tv show. I’m a little bit of a hipster about it. 

Even before that though, I loved L.J. Smith’s trilogy, The Forbidden Game. 

The story centered around Jenny (blond hair, blue eyes), her boyfriend Tom (he might be on the football team, I can’t remember), and Julian, a bad boy wizard type (his eye color is described as the blue of the sky just before the sun rises) who has a big crush on Jenny and a penchant for sadistic survival board games.  In the first book of the series, The Hunter, Jenny buys a carnivalesque board game at a creepy little shop. Once she begins playing the game with her friends, they’re all whisked away into a life-sized version of the game. 

Yaddi yaddi yada, Jenny finds out that Julian, has been watching her for her entire life from another dimension, and he’s fallen in love with her. Which is not creepy at all. 

And it turns out that by playing the game, Jenny has unwittingly agreed to play for her freedom from Julian. (He wants her to be his queen.) 

And she also has to try to save her friends from death traps. 

Super romantic, right? 

***

After The Forbidden Game, I headed straight for The Vampire Diaries. 

In the original story, Elena (another blond, blue-eyed teenager) falls in love with Stefan, a brooding and serious guy who turns out to be a vampire. Things get complicated when Stefan’s brother, Damon, comes to town and starts causing a ruckus. Namely, he begins threatening Elena and also seducing her somehow (???), and so — a love triangle is born. 

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I also loved The Secret Circle, which features a coven of teen witches. The main character is a girl named Cassie (if you guessed that she’s also blond-haired and blue-eyed, you’d be correct), and the coven is made up of both men and women. There’s also a love triangle in this series, but I honestly don’t remember it that well.  

***

I had a friend who also devoured these books and talked about them at length. Mainly, we talked about which boy in the love triangle we would choose. These talks always posed conundrums for me. 

For example, in The Forbidden Game, Tom (as I remember him) was a sweet, safe guy. He was perfectly wonderful, respected Jenny’s independence, and supported her ambition. But he just didn’t appeal to me as much as Julian. 

Yes, I preferred Julian, the wizard-stalker from another dimension with white hair and eyes the-color-of-the-sky-just-before-the-sun-rises. 

What was it about him? Well, he was gorgeous, clearly. He was also lonely. He had a lot of angst about having to live in this other dimension, with the object of his affection so oblivious to his existence and unable to reach her. He had never experienced affection or love or a healthy relationship, so the only way he knew to court Jenny was to imprison her in a game of death traps and make her play for her freedom. 

Endearing, right?  

*** 

In all seriousness, looking back on those books, and my inclination toward the “bad” or “darker” sides of the love triangles, speaks to L.J. Smith’s ability to write muddy characters. In The Forbidden Game, the clear “right” choice is Tom. Humanizing Julian and making him a sympathetic character (at times), makes the choice less clear. 

The same goes for The Vampire Diaries. I don’t think I ever really felt the same affection for Damon that I did for Julian. He had his human and complicated moments, but he never really hooked me. But making him a more rounded character made the choice less clear. 

What ultimately makes L.J. Smith’s “bad boy” characters untenable as the “right” choice is this: they don’t change. They reveal their softer sides, they make themselves vulnerable, they reveal emotions. But in the end, they continue to commit acts of violence and generally terrible behavior. The constant back and forth between softness and vulnerability to violence are classic tools of real life manipulation and abuse. 

***

When I found out that The Vampire Diaries was being turned into a TV show, I lost my shit. Past Rachel was beside herself with excitement. 

The first few episodes of the season followed the book pretty closely, and then the show’s writers began taking the storyline in a much different direction. And for the most part, I’ve loved it. 

Initially, what I loved was how each episode started off like a scary movie. And I loved that Elena is played by Nina Dobrev, a brown-haired, brown-eyed woman. That seems like a low bar, but… you know? We can’t all be blond, L.J. At first glance, I thought the casting choices for Stefan and Damon were too pretty, and I was terribly, horribly wrong. Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder are perfect for their roles in every way. 

What else have I loved about the tv series? The evolution of Caroline, played by Candice King. She has grown to be one of my favorite characters of all time. (YES.) In the books, Caroline was mostly just a mean girl who is easily manipulated. In the tv show, she turns into a badass girly-girl vampire, and I love her. 

The other thing I love about the show: Damon. In the books, Damon is terrible and horrifying. In the show, Damon has a centuries-long history of being completely irredeemable, but his character arcs toward redemption and learning what it means to be a ‘good’ person. His evolution really hinges on these questions: when you have spent centuries being one of the worst and most murderous vampires in the world, how do you begin to be a better person? How do you atone for your violence? How do you begin to forgive yourself? How do you begin to believe that you are worthy of love? How do you embrace the darker parts of yourself and still be a “good” person? What does it even mean to be a "good" person?

I love that journey. I love those questions, and I love how complicated the answers are. 

***

In real life, I have zero tolerance for abusive behaviors. I believe that abusers can be rehabilitated. I believe that people can change. But they rarely do, because they aren’t given the tools and support to create change within themselves. Because there is no reason for abusers to change their behavior. Because we live in a society where one of our presidential candidates can brag about sexually assaulting women, and nothing happens to him.  Because this same presidential candidate can try to use physical intimidation and bullying on his opponent (who happens to be a woman) during a debate on a national stage, and nothing happens to him. Because a man can be found guilty of assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, but only have to serve 3 months of his ridiculously short 6-month sentence, and the world cries about how his swimming career is over. 

And so on, and so on, and so on. 

***

So maybe that’s the thing. Maybe L.J. Smith’s bad boy characters are initially appealing because they’re mysterious, dark, supernatural, charming — like so many bad boys in actual life. But despite the magic, they’re just as human, just as unchangeable as an abuser. 

Ian Somerhalder’s interpretation of Damon explores what a reformed abuser might look like. He’s white and never been oppressed in his life. He’s exerted power and control and violence over so many people throughout his centuries of living. And he lives in a world where he is supported in self-actualizing toward being a better human. 

Imagine if everyone had that. Everyone

***

Of course, as with most things, it's never that simple. 

I believe that people can change, that people are ultimately good. But we haven’t created a world where every person is supported and nurtured into being the best people they can be. We haven’t even created a world where trans folx can use a public bathroom without fear for their safety. Or a world where trans folx of color don’t fear for their lives every single damn day. Or a world where a womxn — cis or trans or queer — can walk down the street at night — or any time of day, really — without fear of violence or death. 

And so on, and so on, and so on. 

Damn. 

We’ve got a lot of fucking work to do.