Two teenagers make prank calls to strangers, and become the target of terror when they whisper “I saw what you did” to a psychopath who has just murdered his wife. This killer thriller features a cavalcade of producer William Castle-style shocks plus a gloriously over-the-top performance by Joan Crawford as the killer’s desperately amorous neighbor.
I Saw What You Did 7.25
eyelights: its mix of playfulness and suspense. its young cast.
eyesores: its ending. its dated style.
“Don’t use the phone for fun and games anymore!”
Have you ever done prank phone calls? As a kid, I did a few. It was one of those things that you did when you were bored – and especially when your parents weren’t around. I mean, the phone just sat there, hooked to the wall. It was a portal to the outside world just awaiting.
So we called people. For laughs.
No doubt that this annoyed or even troubled a few people. I know that I would have been. But what if one of those people reacted so poorly to receiving the call that they decided to track down the culprit. What if that culprit was alone at home, unaware that danger was coming?
Such is the basic premise of William Castle’s ‘I Saw What you Did’. Released in 1965, during his gimmicky horror phase (which include ‘House on Haunted Hill‘, ‘The Tingler’ and ‘13 Ghosts‘) it was one of Castle’s last few directorial outings after three decades in the business.
Based on Ursula Curtiss’ novel ‘Out of the Dark’, it follows two concurrent stories that eventually converge:
In the first, Libby invites Kit to come over for the evening while her parents are away for the night. Together, and with Libby younger sister, Tess, they spend part of the evening prank-calling strangers that they randomly pick in the phone book.
In the second, Steve has brutally murdered his spouse before she could leave him for good. But, after returning from burying her in the countryside, he receives a prank call from the girls, jokingly saying “I saw what you did and I know who you are”.
Naturally, he won’t allow “Suzette” (as Libby calls herself) to tell anyone else and, due to a number of contrivances, manages to track her down. The girls have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into. They’re in for one scary night, alone at home.
Frankly, after having seen ’13 Ghosts’, and based on the box art, I didn’t expect much from ‘I Saw What You Did’; I truly expected fluff, maybe even something for the kiddies. And it is, in that it has a playful, mischievous quality to it that is discrepant with suspense/horror films.
But the picture is scarier than you’d think. Sure, many of the scares are artificial (closing doors, …etc.), but there are two moments that make an impression: there’s the opening murder, which is pretty shocking, and then there’s Steve’s creepy stalking of Libby’s house at the end.
Those moments were actually pretty effective, though the filmmaking techniques are quite dated now (and were possibly trite even then): I’ve never seen Castle get so intense before – he usually played all his scary bits up for fun. But these two scenes were taking no prisoners!
The rest of the film is actually a lot of fun, though: I found the girls (portrayed by newcomers Andi Garrett, Sara Lane and Sharyl Locke) quite delightful; you really got into the spirit of things as they spent the better part of the first act on the phone, making prank calls.
There was this playful, buoyant score accompanying their scenes, lending them a light, pleasant quality that contrasted nicely against the grimmer, more dramatic sequences featuring Steve. If not for that score, the tone would have been off, maybe even a little too sinister.
There were two subplots: One of them was Libby’s parents trying to check in to see if all’s well and panicking as they couldn’t get through for hours. And the other revolved around Steve’s neighbour, Amy (played by Joan Crawford), who was intent on getting Steve to marry her.
This last part ultimately tied into the picture when Libby goes to spy on Steve and is caught by Amy, who tosses her back into her car with the other girls – but not before getting some ID from her. This would help Steve later when he decides to stalk “Suzette” and silence her.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
The film is pretty simplistic overall, but it works. Where it doesn’t is in its last few gasps, as Steve hunts down Libby: one moment he’s grabbing Tess as she’s running for the car, and the other he’s right in the backseat trying to choke Libby. Then he’s shot by the police.
WTF? What just happened?
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
In any event, ‘I Saw What You Did’ was fun. The performances were decent for the era and genre, and it really was the best of both worlds: light and dark at once. It’s no great cinema, but its target audience, teenagers, would likely have had a hoot, laughing and shuddering at once.
I know I would have – had I been a teenager in 1965.
Date of viewing: August 29, 2016