Before the advent of cell phones, communication was so limited; you either had to telephone someone (on a landline no less), or god forbid, talk to them in person (brrr). Phones were also trotted out as a very effective trope for horror; the calls started coming from inside the house, pay phone booths were firing up, and prank calls led to all kinds of mayhem. That last ditty is where we’re headed today with I Saw What You Did (1988), an effective TV teen horror that is a remake of a same-named William Castle joint from ’65, this time co-headlined by a very young Shawnee Smith and Tammy Lauren.
Originally shown on May 20th as a CBS Friday Movie, I Saw was up against Mr. Belvedere on ABC and Miami Vice on NBC, but it held a unique appeal for teenage girls (or anyone else for that matter) looking for some thrills on a Friday night.
Let’s open up our faux TV Guide (with probably The Golden Girls on the cover) and see what mischief these two teens get themselves into, shall we?
I SAW WHAT YOU DID (Friday, 9pm, CBS)
Two teenage girls randomly crank call a mentally disturbed man who has just killed his girlfriend. Robert Carradine, Shawnee Smith star.
Our film opens in a movie sound studio, as the brass listen to the soundtrack provided by composer Adrian Lancer (Carradine – Revenge of the Nerds), which they deem unusable (as he just pipes in that old chestnut, Mr. Sandman) and promptly fire him. This news comes at a very bad time as he’s getting ready to propose to his girlfriend. Meanwhile at a high school in the suburbs, bad girl Lisa (Lauren – Wishmaster) accepts an invitation from the shy Kim (Smith – The Blob) to come over and help babysit her little sister (Candace Cameron – Full House) while their dad’s away.
Of course, Lisa has an ulterior motive; when a visit to Kim’s house by her boyfriend falls through, she decides to make the best of the time with the sisters and make prank calls to unsuspecting victims. All is fine until Kim calls Adrian, and utters the ominous but ultimately harmless phrase, “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” I should say usually harmless phrase, were it not for the fact that Adrian has just finished burying his girlfriend who spurned his proposal. And that would have been that, but Kim and Lisa decide to hop in the car and track down Adrian, as Kim thinks he sounds cute. Kim gets creepy vibes from her face to face with Adrian (claiming her car broke down and she needs to use the phone) and the girls high tail it home, wishing to put their little prank behind them. Except Adrian completely snaps after a visit from his brother (David Carradine – Kill Bill), and wouldn’t you know it, Kim left her purse behind! Perhaps the young ladies should have just watched some movies on VHS instead…
1965’s I Saw What You Did is a frothy little number, fully in line with the screen mores of the time; Writer Cynthia Cidre (The Mambo Kings) wisely updates this adaptation of Ursula Curtiss’ story to reflect a teenager’s curiosity about flirting, sex, and drugs while still staying well within network guidelines. Kim is excited by this stranger, or at least what she believes he represents; Hollywood and glamour and creativity far removed from her suburban inanity. Lisa is looking for a little excitement herself; clearly the boredom of their surroundings (Kim’s family just moved in and they don’t have cable yet) fuels the calls and is something that any teen of the era can relate to.
Something that isn’t specifically tied to the era however is the need for a good villain, and Robert Carradine plays against his image as the “wholesome” brother of the famous family to great effect. Adrian is described as a good guy who’s battling some life long demons that begin to rear their fiery heads as the film progresses. It may seem like stunt casting to have David play his brother, but through numerous scenes together it helps to flesh out the character of Adrian in ways other shows would gloss over.
Which is an interesting thing about I Saw What You Did; director Fred Walton (April Fool’s Day) spends as much time with Adrian and his brother as he does with the teens, forcing the viewer to not necessarily sympathize with Adrian, but rather sets the stage for a final showdown based solely on misunderstandings, and okay a touch of insanity. Walton has always held a keen touch for suspense, and the tense finale at Kim’s house is a solid showcase for his chops.
Smith and Lauren are very good as the newly minted friends, still trying to figure each other out amidst their Friday night trauma, and yes you will have to turn the other cheek at some of their bone headed decisions; but some teens are impetuous, and if it wasn’t for bone headed decisions, we’d enjoy a lot less horror movies, I reckon.
Be sure to check here all month long for more special features celebrating the Class of 1988!Next: Class of 88: Director Dwight H. Little Reflects on Resurrecting an Icon for HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS