September 27, 2018
Last week, Cinema Fearité took a look at Lisa, a cautionary tale of a girl who gets wrapped up in pretending to be someone else on the telephone. This week, we’re going to check out another lost gem about prank calls from the pre-Caller ID days, the 1988 television movie I Saw What You Did.
I Saw What You Did is about a teenage girl named Kim Fielding (Shawnee Smith from The Blob) who invites her friend, Lisa (Wishmaster’s Tammy Lauren), over for dinner one night to keep her company while she babysits her little sister, Julia (Candace Cameron from ”Full House”). Bored, the girls start crank calling random numbers out of the phone book, mysteriously telling each one “I saw what you did and I know who you are.” It’s all innocent fun, until they happen to call a guy named Adrian Lancer (Robert Carradine from Revenge of the Nerds and Orca) who, coincidentally, has just killed his girlfriend. The girls think that their conversations with Adrian are just harmless flirting, but Adrian believes that there has been a witness to his crime, and he will stop at nothing to take care of his problem.
Fred Walton (When a Stranger Calls, When a Stranger Calls Back) directed I Saw What You Did from a screenplay that was adapted by Cynthia Cidre (A Killing in a Small Town) from the young adult mystery novel of the same name by Ursula Curtiss (who also wrote the book that inspired What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?). It is a rather loose remake of a William Castle-directed/Joan Crawford-starring B-movie from 1965 that keeps the same general structure as the original, but fluffs it up a bit with time-killing padding while simultaneously neutering it for television. Like Lisa, I Saw What You Did is a fine example of a teen horror flick - not too scary, but packed with suspenseful and tense scenes of mayhem and murder, and even one semi-spooky zombie bit.
Like any good self-respecting faux-slasher, I Saw What You Did has both a great villain and a pair of great heroes. Robert Carradine leaves his nerd glasses behind and becomes a deceptively charming psychopathic maniac. Shawnee Smith and Tammy Lauren play the roles of the Final Girl(s) very well, going from vulnerable teenagers to capable young women over the course of the movie. Because it’s a made-for-TV movie, the body count in I Saw What You Did is low, but that doesn’t mean that the struggle isn’t real, and the battle between the heroes and their formidable adversary is a good one.
The support cast in I Saw What You Did is packed with familiar horror faces in tiny roles. The most significant is David Carradine, half-brother of Robert and star of Sonny Boy, Q, and Trick or Treats, who shows up as, predictably, Adrian’s brother. Dead Again’s Jo Anderson pops in momentarily as Adrian’s soon-to-be-murdered girlfriend. Patrick O’Bryan from 976-EVIL also appears as Lisa’s lame-o boyfriend. Finally, professional movie thug Robert Winley from Terminator 2 and Near Dark drops by as the standard red-herring creep. No legends (aside from David Carradine), but plenty of recognizable figures are peppered throughout I Saw What You Did.
Although I Saw What You Did was not exactly celebrated critically, it did manage to win a single Primetime Emmy Award, one for Outstanding Cinematography in a Miniseries or Special. The movie was shot by director of photography Woody Omens, who would go on to do a string of Eddie Murphy movies that included Coming to America, Harlem Nights, and Boomerang. I Saw What You Did is photographed very much like a T.V. movie, demonstrating that Omens knew exactly what media and formats with which he was dealing. Everything from the sets to the shots is compact and small-scale. Of course, Omens also understood the fact that he was making a horror movie, so there are plenty of dark corners and shadowy silhouettes, and Omens also figured out how to use those shadows to help the usually benign Robert Carradine look as threatening as possible. Omens made I Saw What You Did look much better than a cut-rate late-eighties television slasher had any business looking.
The character of Adrian Lancer is a musician, so the musical score for I Saw What You Did is vital to the plot of the movie. The soundtrack, written by composer Dana Kaproff (who not only scored both of the When a Stranger Calls movies for Fred Walton, but also did the music for cool horror flicks like Death Valley and Empire of the Ants), includes a bunch of creepy, atmospheric horror movie type of stuff, with creative electric guitar sounds plucking away over heavy moog synthesizer beds. There is little difference between what is heard in the film as Adrian’s compositions and what makes up the cinematic score to the movie, and that gives the music a cohesive, organic vibe. Kaproff’s new age, avant-garde styled soundtrack is a breath of fresh air when compared to other, more typical movie and T.V. scores.
Like many television specials of the day, I Saw What You Did was shown and forgotten, only to be sporadically revived in cable channel reruns. Basically, it’s one of those disposable eighties TV movies that will trigger memories of its initial airing for those who stumble across it on YouTube. Which is how I found it and remembered it. And enjoyed it, even thirty years later.