Every Horror Movie Purist Should “See” ‘I Saw What You Did’

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Universal Pictures

Hollywood’s horror genre has come a long way from what it once was and not for the better either.  It seems like every other horror flick churned out by Hollywood today is either an overly dark and violent movie centered on demons and the like or it is an equally violent (and gory) slasher flick.  That wasn’t so much the case in Hollywood’s golden age.  It was wholly possible for studios in that age to make horror flicks—regardless of their specific subgenre—without being so dark, bloody, and violent.  Alfred Hitchcock’s classic slasher flick Psycho is proof of this as is the 1963 nightmare-inducing ghost story The Haunting and Allied Artists’ 1959 fright fest House on Haunted Hill.  All three of these movies are examples of what once made horror such a great genre.  They are also examples, when set against their newer counterparts, of just how far the genre has fallen from its pedestal.  The comparison is stark to say the very least.  Earlier this year Scream Factory, Shout! Factory’s horror division released another example of what once made Hollywood’s horror realm so great when it released the classic slasher flick I Saw What You Did on Blu-ray.  This 1965 flick from William Castle Productions (which was also behind House on Haunted Hill) and Universal Pictures is a must have for any horror fan looking to escape the glut of cookie cutter slasher flicks and ghost stories currently being churned out by Hollywood’s Big Six studios.  That is due in no small part to the movie’s story.  That will be discussed shortly.  The work of the movie’s cast is just as important to note in its presentation as its story.  Last but hardly least of note in the movie’s presentation is its general lack of blood, gore, and violence.  This element rounds out the movie’s most important elements and is no less important than the movie’s story or the work of the movie’s cast.  Keeping that in mind, each element does its own part to make this movie an entertaining work of horror.  Altogether they make this movie another must see for any horror purist.

Universal Pictures’ 1965 slasher flick I Saw What You Did is a must see for any horror movie purist.  That is because like so many horror flicks of its age it is the antithesis of everything that Hollywood’s horror genre has become.  That is clear in examining the story at the center of the movie.  The story centers on the antics of teenagers Libby Mannering (Andi Garrett—The Wild Wild West, Black Sheep Squadron) and Kit Austin (Sarah Lane—The Virginian, The Trial of Billy Jack, Billy Jack Goes To Washington) and the eventual terror that comes as a result of what they think are harmless phone pranks.  The pair’s prank calls end up having a rather far-reaching effect, causing (indirectly) the murder of Judith  Marek (Joyce Meadows—The Brain From Planet Arous, Two Faces West, The Girl in Lovers Lane) by her husband Steve (John Ireland—Spartacus, All The King’s Men, Red River).  Libby calls Steve’s number, pretending to be another woman, which leads Judith to confront Steve while he’s showering.  What’s interesting is that when Judith goes to confront Steve, she notices that their bathroom is a shambles.  It is clear that Steve’s intent was to murder Judith regardless and make it look like someone else did it.  But her confrontation leads Steve to murder her in the shower and then get rid of the body.  When Libby calls back later, she tells Steve, “I saw what you did and I know who you are,” he thinks that she is serious, which leads to even more tension.  What’s really interesting in all of that tension is that in adapting author Ursula Curtiss’ novel Out of the Dark to cinematic form, writer William P. McGivern unknowingly included a story element that is wholly relevant today.  The element in question involves the young, naïve Libby actually going to meet Steve because she thinks he actually wants to meet her, not knowing that he is a murderer.  This is an issue that the world faces even more today than ever before due to the advent of online messaging services, chat rooms, etc.  Who would have thought a story crafted more than fifty years ago would have such a relevant element within its script?  This revelation makes the movie’s story all the more believable, and in turn engaging.  Of course the movie becomes somewhat cheesy in its final act.  That aside, the rest of the story will still keep audiences on the edge of their seats.  That being the case, the story in whole shows just how important it is to the movie’s overall presentation.  It is just one of the elements that make the movie such an entertaining work of horror.  The work of the movie’s cast is just as important to note as its story in examining what makes the movie a must see for horror purists.

William P. McGivern’s cinematic adaptation of Ursula Curtiss’ novel Out of the Dark is an important part of the presentation of I Saw What You Did.  That is because it is by and large, a thriller that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats.  It manages to do so even without the use of any overt violence and bloodshed.  That is not to say that there is no violence or bloodshed.  It is there.  Don’t mistake that.  But it is kept to an extreme minimum since censors at the time didn’t allow but so much of said elements.  It shows that horror can be enjoyable even without blood, gore, or overt violence.  Of course the movie’s story is just one of the most important elements to examine in McGivern’s adaptation of Curtiss’ novel.  The work of the movie’s cast in interpreting McGivern’s script is just as important to examine here as his story.  Garrett and Lane are completely entertaining as lead stars Libby and Kit.  The pair makes audiences shake their heads in disbelief at Libby and Kit.  That is because the actresses fully embrace the girls’ lack of forethought in their actions.  While teens today might not make prank calls for their own fun that lack of foresight, teens today still act just as thoughtlessly even if in different ways.  And it gets them into their own share of trouble, too.  On the other end of the spectrum John Ireland is just as entertaining to watch as the villainous Steve Marak.  Steve’s actions might not seem all that believable on the surface.  But anyone that has ever watched an episode of 48 Hours or Dateline knows that what he did is in fact rather commonplace in real life crimes.  He does such an impressive job in presenting Steve’s paranoia about having been seen.  That is especially considering that only two people saw what he was doing over the course of the movie.  Each of the movie’s other cast members do their own part in adding to the movie’s enjoyment.  But it is really the trio noted here that most shines through.  Their work in interpreting their parts (and McGivern’s script) is just as important to the movie’s presentation as McGivern’s own work.  It still is not the last remaining element to note in examining what makes this classic slasher flick so surprisingly entertaining.  The general lack of overt violence and bloodshed, as slightly mentioned earlier, plays a part in the movie’s presentation that is just as important to note as the movie’s story and the work of the movie’s cast.

The story at the center of I Saw What You Did and the work of the movie’s cast are both important in examining what makes this classic slasher flick so entertaining.  Each element plays its own part in making it a movie that any horror purist should see as has already been noted.  They are not the only elements that make the movie so surprisingly enjoyable either.  The movie’s general lack of blood, gore, and overt violence is just as important to note in examining the movie’s presentation as its story and the work of its cast.  There is some blood and violence incorporated into the movie.  But most of it comes when Steve Marak murders his wife and his mistress.  Even when he does this, the bloodshed is virtually nothing when compared to most of the slasher flicks that are available to audiences today.  Rather it is more comparable to the bloodshed used in the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).  Given that is the result of standards set by censors and the MPAA at that time.  But it is a good thing.  That is because it forced McGivern (as with every other writer at the time) to actually rely on story more so than on the violence factor (I.E. quality versus quantity).  It is a standard to which this critic personally wishes horror movies would return.  McGivern did an admirable job in focusing on the movie’s quality.  He showed that a story can stand on its own literary merits even in a horror setting without having to rely on blood, gore, and violence.  It really serves as a model for today’s horror screen writers.  It shows that a horror movie can be fun without being overly violent, bloody, gory or even nightmare-inducing.  Keeping this in mind, it rounds out the movie’s most important elements.  Together with McGivern’s work and that of the movie’s cast all three elements join together to make the movie in whole a surprisingly fun ride for any horror movie purist.

Scream Factory’s recent re-issue of I Saw What You Did is a surprisingly fun ride for any true horror movie purist.  That is because it shows that it is possible for horror flicks to be fun without being overly violent and sexualized.  That is evident most prominently in the movie’s story, written by William P. McGivern.  The story relies more on its literary elements than its actual visual content to keep audiences entertained and engaged.  The movie’s cast is just as notable in its work in front of the camera.  Garrett, Lane, and Ireland are completely believable in their respective roles and in turn envelope audiences in the story.  The story’s general lack of blood, gore, violence, and sexual content is Just as important to note here as the story itself and the work of the movie’s cast.  It brings everything full circle and shows together with the previously noted elements that it is possible for a horror flick to be entertaining without being questionable in its content.  All things considered the recent re-issue of this classic horror flick proves to be a surprisingly enjoyable ride for any true horror movie purist.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via Shout! Factory’s online store at https://www.shoutfactory.com/film/film-horror/i-saw-what-you-did.  More information on this and other titles from Scream Factory is available online now at:

 

 

 

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