I Saw What You Did review
I Saw What You Did is William Castle’s version of Psycho, or at least a pale imitation of it. It’s also more teen-friendly than his previous notable works like House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler and 13 Ghosts; centering around two teenagers stuck at home babysitting who get into trouble because of their incessant prank phone calls, I Saw What You Did is mostly a lighthearted affair with jaunty music, goofy protagonists, and a killer who could be the children’s father if not for his bloodlust to kill anyone who might know of his murderous actions earlier in the evening. But it can also be somewhat fun depending on the viewer’s acceptance of stretched plots and childhood antics.
The film stars Andi Garrett as Libby Mannering, the bored teenager in question who’s tasked with taking care of her younger sister Tess (Sharyl Locke) when their parents head to a boring house party. Of course, Libby invites her friend Kit (Sara Lane) over, because what fun would staying home alone be if there’s no friend to party with? In this case, though, partying for Libby and Kit involves prank calling a bunch of people and pretending to be the husband’s mistress to potentially throw a kink into innocent couples’ marriages. When destroying relationships gets boring, the two move to accusing people of something unspeakable – “I saw what you did, and I know who you are!”
The premise is shockingly facile, a thematic expedition that Castle often eschewed in favor of complexity that tied neatly into marketing. The three girls’ giddy naivete ties directly into the film’s soundtrack, which often belies the darker scenarios at the forefront of the story. That seems intentional on Castle’s part; he’s exploring the innocence of childhood – and that transformation from girl to womanhood – on the one hand, while documenting the abusiveness of adulthood – the boring parties, the incompatible relationships, the blackmail – on the other. Libby is so enthralled with phone heartthrob Steve Marak (John Ireland) that she gets dressed up for him when he asks her to meet him at his house.
Little does she know that Marak actually murdered a woman before she called, and now he’s out to eliminate anyone who could finger him as the killer. Castle switches gears quickly when he’s away from the kids, especially with the brutal murder of Marak’s significant other; that’s a moment where I Saw What You Did breaks through the good-natured vibe the film often emits, showing the grit beneath the surface. There’s a moment ripped straight from Psycho, which is why I alluded to that film earlier in this review. Marak, bursting through a shower door, repeatedly stabs the woman in the shower, the blood swirling around the shower drain. That juxtaposition between innocence and violence is similar to Marak’s presentation – to an observer, he seems healthy, handsome, and sweet, but the surface is hiding some demented thoughts underneath.
While Castle often does a good job thematically, he often struggles with a screenplay from William P. McGivern that lacks realistic motivation. Since I Saw What You Did relies on that fated phone call, there’s not much more plot-building than that; the film feels like its forcing the story, especially when it takes the girls a few phone calls to even get through to Marak. The decision to go visit him – and then to let him into the house in the middle of the night – stretches believability, even in a time period featuring less security and more trust.
One wishes that Castle didn’t focus so heavily on the single plot thread running through the film, because the ending begins to unravel because of inaction. It takes I Saw What You Did a while to get going, but the film doesn’t get very far before puttering out of gas; the film is so stuck on its telephone calls that it doesn’t build much suspense besides the stalking sequence in the conclusion. Even then, though, Castle’s characters don’t fear Marak – rather, they’re more concerned with the broken car window they’ll have to explain to their parents, and while the comedy and naivete is apparent in their worry, it also means that Marak never quite reaches menacing status.
Still, I Saw What You Did has its fun moments, and it’s a lightweight, punchy thriller throughout much of its runtime despite a few hiccups in the plot. Not everyone will find this black-and-white affair interesting, though, and perhaps Joan Crawford’s lengthy cameo won’t even persuade those detractors from enjoying the experience. But Castle aficionados will want to answer this phone call, if only to see what his later body of work became.
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.