DATE: Thursday, October 23, 1997            TAG: 9710230089




                                            LENGTH:   74 lines

``I KNOW . . . '' IS NOT ``SCREAM II''

THE SUCCESS STORY of Kevin Williamson, an East Carolina University graduate who owed money on his car a year ago, is something of old-time Hollywood legend - the kind of legend we didn't think happened anymore. Williamson has proven that there is a quicker way to become a millionaire than to win the lottery. Namely, write horror movies.

He counts the first time he saw ``Halloween'' as a turning point in his life. It was back at the one movie theater in his home town, New Bern, N.C. After unsuccessful efforts to become an actor in both New York and Los Angeles, his hometown folks were laughing at his audacity to think he could ``make it'' in the movies.

That's when he wrote a script and called it ``Scream.'' His biggest hope was to get $1,000 to make his car payments. The script initiated a bidding war among the studios. He ended up getting $500,000 for it, plus (and that's an important plus) a percentage of any profits.

The movie, a refreshing spoof of the horror genre that was as funny as it was scary, ended up becoming the most profitable movie of the past year, in relation to its low cost.

Now, while waiting around for ``Scream II,'' there's ``I Know What You Did Last Summer,'' the second script to be written by the Tar Heel wonder boy, who is now 31. It's more respectful than it is satirical on the horror formula, but it is still a step above the silliness and mindless gore of a ``Nightmare on Elm Street'' - not a big step, but a step.

While not nearly as witty as ``Scream,'' there are little hints that, perhaps, Williamson is putting us on.

There is a stalking murderer, clad in an ominous raincoat. There is a hook - the sharp kind. There are lots of foul-mouthed words and there is a body count. The corpses might not be as numerous as some, but that's all to the good. And when teens have sex, they're sure to end up dead.

The best thing is that the emphasis is on mystery rather than gore.

The setting is Southport, N.C., a quiet fishing village. The laughable opening is at the Miss Croaker Beauty Pageant. The beauty queen and her quarterback boyfriend end up in a beach tryst, accompanied by her brainy girl friend and the resident poor-boy-who-seeks-acceptance from his rich friends. In a drunken stupor, they hit a man on the seaside road. Panicking, they throw the body into the sea, but, at the last second, they realize he isn't dead.

Skip ahead one year. The brainy girl is back in town and receives a note reading ``I Know What You Did Last Summer.'' The foursome, as have dark murderers from ``Macbeth'' on, fall apart in their guilt. And, yes, new murders do occur.

The cast is made up of a bunch of nonentities who show no hint that the film might be seen as something of a joke. Anne Heche (one-half of the much-publicized Ellen DeGeneres couple) makes a brief appearance as a backwoods character. Freddie Prinze Jr. is one of the teens. Not much is required of them.

The best thing about ``I Know What You Did . . . '' is that the plot twists are convincingly sewn up. Charlie Chan or Sherlock Holmes could easily have taken on this case. No one, blessedly, wakes up from a dream that would have let the writer off the hook.

On the minus side, this bright, witty writer seems to have retreated into the very genre he spoofed in ``Scream.'' ILLUSTRATION: JAMES BRIDGES

The characters played by, from left, Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer

Hewitt, Sarah Gellar and Ryan Phillippe begin to panic after an



``I Know What You Did Last Summer''

Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan

Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Anne Heche

Director: Jim Gillespie

Screenplay: Kevin Williamson

MPAA rating: R (language, gore)

Mal's rating: **1/2

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