Libby Mannering (Andi Garrett) and Kit Austen (Sara Lane, The Virginian) are happy, normal, well-adjusted teenagers. When Libby’s parents (Leif Ericskon, Night Monster and Patricia Breslin) go out to their friends’ house for the evening, Libby invites Kit over, and, with a bit of withholding of details from Kit’s father (John Archer, White Heat), Kit gets permission. When Libby’s younger sister Tess’s (Sharyl Locke) baby sitter can’t show up the Mannerings leave Tess in Libby and Kit’s care. Libby immediately shows her maturity and grasp of her responsibilities by starting up a two-hour long prank call session with Kit and Tess. Meanwhile, across town, Steve Marak (John Ireland, Gunslinger) kills his wife after an argument-and right after the girls prank call him but only get his wife. While Steve attempts to clean up the crime scene, he must deal with his meddling, overbearing lover and next door neighbor Amy Nelson (Joan Crawford, The Unknown), passers-by when he is burying the body, and finally a phone call from the prank-call-crazed teens, during which Libby tells him “I saw what you did and I know who you are” and she becomes infatuated with Steve’s voice. When the foolish girls drive by the house to get a look at Steve, things take a turn for the worse. Will the girls realize their mistake before Steve finds and silences them for what he thinks they know?
I Saw What You Did is, in many ways, a typical William Castle(Thirteen Ghosts) film. He takes a sensational hook that kids will dig (prank calling the wrong person leads to being menaced by a psycho), treats it like a goofy carnival ride complete with ballyhoo (in this case seat belts to prevent you from being “shocked out of your seat” and a screen test at theaters showing the film), and hires some famous but older and cheaper actors to pad out the cast. He delivers a well shot but glossy and not particularly scary popcorn film, and audaciously attempts to wring a new twist out of the Psycho shower scene by reversing it, with the killer pulling his victim into the shower to murder her. The execution is tellingly ham handed-Castle is no Alfred Hitchcock and this is no Psycho. Joan Crawford and John Ireland seem older and more tired than their parts require, and the amount of attention Marak receives from women is, quite frankly, ludicrous, as he’s neither particularly good looking nor does he seem that well off. Andi Garret over acts hilariously as Libby, delivering the script’s ludicrous, “old people writing young people” dialogue in the campiest manner possible (deliberate? accidental? who knows). The script is so incredibly dated that it makes for delicious camp, whether it intends to be or not, and especially amusing are the deep concerns about wild teenage girls and their prank calls.
While I Saw What You Did is now safe, goofy fun, it is interesting in that it seems to either be an influence on Halloween or a strange case of parallel innovation, but in either case it makes for interesting comparison. The credit sequence is done through “eyes”, like the famous opening kill of Halloween, seen through the eyes of a Halloween mask. There’s the great amount of time spent on “girl talk” and ordinary teen concerns during a night of baby-sitting interrupted by a chance encounter with a psychopath. The girls talk about how the killer might be interested in one of the girls. There’s a house out-building with a trick lock that can leave the occupant locked inside. During the final confrontation, there’s a scene where the lead figures out that an open window is a point of entry for the killer, the lead pushes her young charge to run out of the house and get help, and the lead is saved from death by strangulation by some well-aimed pistol shots (and she is even being strangled from the back seat of the car she’s trying to drive, shades of Annie’s death).
Now, all of these elements presence may well be coincidence, but it is interesting how Carpenter weaves them into an enduring, frightening and suspenseful classic while Castle uses them to build a harmless fun house ride. One major difference is that Carpenter gives us an unknowable bogeyman who he builds up for an hour before the real event happens, where as Steve Marak is just a guy who murdered his wife. He’s an uninteresting middle-aged hot-head, which makes the girls’ strange attraction to him all the more creepy/amusing to a modern audience. I Saw What You Did is worth a look for fans of camp, students of film history and fans of Castle.