Proto-Slashers: Looking at the flicks that paved the way for Halloween and the heyday of slasher movies.
I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965)
“This is a motion picture about UXORICIDE!”
So says the poster for William Castles’1965 thriller I Saw What You Did. With John and Christian posting recently here at Retro Slashers about the 1988 TV movie version and the upcoming second remake, the time seems right to take a look at the original version of this proto-slasher.
The film opens with two teenagers talking to each other on the phone. We see both sides of the conversation at the same time though the shape of what looks like two eyes, each girl shown through one of the oval openings. It’s incredibly reminiscent of the POV shots through Michael’s mask at the beginning of Halloween. Teenager Libby (Andi Garrett) invites her school friend Kit (Sara Lane) to spend the evening at her family home in the country keeping her company while she babysits her younger sister Tess (Sharyl Locke). Kit accepts, and to pass the time, the three girls pick random numbers from the phonebook and dial, saying “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” Unfortunately, one of the numbers they pick is that of psychotic killer Steve Marek (John Ireland). Marek believes that the girls actually do know what he’s done, and he tracks them to Libby’s home…
In the days before cell phones and call display changed the direction of phone-themed thrillers from the likes of Black Christmas and When a Stranger Calls to that of Cellular, Phone Booth and Stephen King’s Cell, the telephone was an uncomplicated, creepy and effective instrument of menace. Even Halloween features a couple of memorable phones sequences. What’s interesting about I Saw What You Did, however, is that the victims use the phone to lure the killer rather than the other way around. It’s kind of like Laurie Strode calling the Haddonfield Asylum and pulling a phone prank on Michael Myers. Bad. Idea. This is a very Hitchcockian concept, used in 1954’s Rear Window when Jimmy Stewart anonymously calls the murderous Raymond Burr after he’s delivered a note telling Burr he “knows” what Burr has done to his wife.
Based on the novel Out of the Dark by Ursula Curtiss, I Saw What You Did is an odd, entertaining, and sometimes suspenseful combination of 60’s teen comedy and sleazy horror flick. Cutting between the sitcom-like evening the girls spend together pre-killer, and Merek’s exploits involving murder, body dumping, adultery and blackmail, the film manages to create an air of tension as the audience waits for the two storylines to converge. Despite it’s teen-friendly facade, the film also (intentionally or by accident) mixes relatively innocent teen sexual interest with the threat of violence. Earlier in the film, Libby, Kit and Tess are anxious to see what Marek looks like. Libby thinks he sounds sexy and mature on the phone, and though she doesn’t have a driver’s license, she decides to take her parents’ second car on a joy ride to get a glimpse of the 40-something killer. She ends up caught in the fallout of Merek’s adulterous relationship with his neighbor played by Joan Crawford. Later, Libby also gets another chance to see, just a little too closely, exactly what Merek looks like. It’s a little like the off-kilter, oh-so-wrong, and vaguely sexual dynamic in both versions of Cape Fear.
Of course, being a William Castle film, the director/producer again attempts to out-Psycho Psycho as he’d tried to do with an unexpected murder in his 1961 proto-slasher Homicidal. Here in a neat twist on Psycho’s classic shower scene, he has the person taking the shower attack the person on the other side of the shower door/curtain. An astute show businessman, Castle also performed an act of stunt casting by adding Crawford in the completely unnecessary adultery subplot for what seems to be soley the star’s ability to draw box office receipts. And if that wasn’t enough to lure audiences, Castle again employed one of his infamous gimmicks. In this case, Castle devised seatbelts that strapped audience members into their chairs to prevent them from leaping out of their seats in fright while watching I Saw What You Did. Unfortunately, this gimmick was rarely, if ever, used.
Check out the original if you can get your hands on a copy of Anchor Bay’s OOP disc. And here’s hoping that the upcoming Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer (My Bloody Valentine 3-D) remake will fare better than other phone thriller re-dos like 2006’s Black Christmas and When a Stranger Calls, and that it is at least as fun as the Shawnee Smith/Keith and David Carradine TV version. And for those of you who wondered, uxorcide means wife-killing.