One of the main things many people of a certain generation of people know about I Know What You Did Last Summer is that it was a movie from a very specific era of slasher pics from the late ’90s and featured Jennifer Love Hewitt spinning in the street, unraveling as a killer is stalking her and her friends as she screams “What are you waiting for, huh?!” It’s quite an iconic movie.
When it was announced that Amazon would be making a reboot of the franchise as a TV series, fans were excited…. and maybe a little skeptical. Either way, showrunner Sara Goodman had here work cut out for her to please fans of the original film, bring in a new audience, and pay homage to Lois Duncan’s novel which all of this is based on. No pressure.
Even though Goodman’s proximity to horror started all the way when she was a little girl in Michigan. One of the main screenings of Sam Raimi’s classic Evil Dead. Her father was one of the Hollywood dentists that help fund the iconic horror starring Bruce Campbell.
Goodman said that experiencing Evil Dead as a child imprinted a little bit of horror in her — but she isn’t necessarily her main go-to avenue of storytelling. “I like psychological horror,” Goodman tells Diaspora. “I mean, I like a slasher or two, but I think I just like stories. I think I like things that have surprising ways of making exclamation points — of making drama. Horror is one of those.”
With shows like Preacher and Gossip Girl on her resume, Goodman’s iteration of I Know What You Did Last Summer on Prime Video is a bloody fun marriage of the two. In fact, all her work gets pretty dark — and some people might not expect that from someone like her.
“I’m very polite. I mean, I swear a lot,” she laughs. “I wear a lot of pink, fluffy shit.”
Goodman continues, “I look like a nice lady. I’m also like five feet tall…so yeah, I feel that the darkness is best on the page and just try to keep it out of my life and keep it in my work and that’s a good balance.”
Diaspora talked to Goodman about her iteration of the beloved slasher franchise, diversity in horror movies, avoiding tokenism, and why women tend to push the envelope when it comes to the genre.
DIASPORA: What was your reaction when you were first presented with this new version of I Know What You Did Last Summer?
SARA GOODMAN: I mean, I think my reaction is probably similar to what it is now, which is: I, while I love that movie and I love slasher movies of the 90s, for me, the only way to do it was to reinvent — to do a new version that was back to the original concept of the novel, which was written in 1973 that could sustain over at least eight episodes. So that for me was more psychological than slasher…but there’s lots of blood, obviously.
DIASPORA: How familiar were you with Lois Duncan’s novel?
GOODMAN: I actually knew about the book before I knew about the movie. When I was growing up, I was not allowed to watch TV, which means I read a lot… and I secretly read books I wasn’t allowed to read. That was my thing until I could secretly watch television. I had read this book when I was young and was kind of obsessed with the book. Interestingly, in the book, I don’t know if you know it, but they kill a kid and the kid’s brother infiltrates their lives and things devolved from there. But so there was something in that book as a little kid that was really fascinating to me.
DIASPORA: There’s the book, the movie from 1997 and what you want to bring to the table when it came to this narrative. How did you juggle all of that?
GOODMAN: Not very well (laughs). I felt like it was super important to tell a story that took place now. With characters that are modern and relevant; with characters that behave how teenagers behave now and with those pressures and with those realities. That includes social media. That includes parents who are involved in a much different way in their kids’ lives than they were in the 90s. There were no parents in those movies! (laughs)
I wanted everyone to know I respected the movie more so even than the book, because it’s the movie that has those die-hard fans. So I put it in little Easter eggs and tried to make it clear that this was a new; that the movie was of that time it was. It was of such a specific time in cinema and in our culture and this is such a different time.
DIASPORA: Speaking to that, How do you think this iteration speaks to today’s generation and the cultural landscape that we’re currently in?
GOODMAN: I mean, I definitely had younger writers on my staff. I made sure of that and I have my own little focus group, but I didn’t want to feel like I was pandering to them. With this generation, there is so much self involvement. There is so much involvement with the device and what’s happening on the device. There’s less transparency in their relationships. At the same time, they’re not defined the way that we were defined when we were younger. They’re figuring it out as they go. They don’t want labels and I think that’s important as well.
All the writers except for one on the show were women. The DP was a woman. The line producer was a woman, the post producer was a woman, the production designer was a woman — there were more women department heads than I’ve ever worked with on anything. Interestingly, I think it does kind of flip the “woman as victim survivor” trope on its head. I think women in the show are dangerous. I also don’t think it’s all gender based the way that it was in those slasher films from the past. It’s not innocence based.
DIASPORA: Let’s talk about that a little more. Behind the camera, the horror genre in film and in TV haven’t really been populated by women. Why do you think that is?
GOODMAN: Yeah, it’s a really interesting question because I think, at least my experience, women are willing to go way farther. But it’s an interesting question… I’m not sure. Maybe culturally, the women who are of age now were not brought into the horror genre. Boys watched that. Girls weren’t brought into that genre so early. For me, I remember it was Alien that really just freaked me out and it was Sigourney Weaver. I mean, that was someone I could somehow want to be. Someone to relate to — and the girls running away weren’t. So maybe it has something to do with that, which is changing now obviously as our culture changes.
DIASPORA: Unlike the first movie, this iteration of I Know What You Did Last Summer is very inclusive with race, gender and sexual identities. However, many are seeing many instances of diversity in film and TV being performative and an act of tokenism. For you, how did you navigate this series in terms of inclusion with the characters?
GOODMAN: I mean, for me, I really just felt like the sexuality was part of the character’s identities, just like everything else was, and all of these characters have all of these kind of identity issues, which is part of the big twist, obviously.
I felt like there’s a lot of fluidity in the show. I just felt like I just wanted to be honest about it without doing like capital “M” message. So I felt like to be honest, the only character that I said had to be a white man was Dylan but that has to do with at the en — and I don’t want to give anything away — but I was like, because of this thing that happens toward the end, I felt that Dylan needed to be a white man, but everyone else, I feel like it was a real representation of people without going “Okay, check, check, check.” Hawaii is very white and very Asian and the show has a huge Asian population. It was also really important to me to not cast a lot of people that you don’t see in Hawaii.
DIASPORA: What is it you think women, people of color and other members of historically marginalized communities bring to give the horror genre a different perspective?
GOODMAN: I feel that women are not always the innocents. I think portraying women as all kinds of different characters, I think is interesting. It’s not just one thing. It’s not just woman as prey, but woman as predator too. I mean, I think Killing Eve did that in a really interesting, good way.
And that just because someone identifies as part of a marginalized community, doesn’t limit what they’re capable of, or doesn’t limit the roles that we want to see them in. I worked on a show one time, which will remain nameless, where there was only one female character. I was the only woman in the writer’s room. The only female character was a rape victim and I was like, “You guys, maybe she raped him.” I mean, I’d rather have that than have the only woman in a show be a victim. I’m not saying that women aren’t victims, but to be able to be portrayed as all of the different kind of characters in genre is much more interesting.
DIASPORA: With I Know What You Did Last Summer, how mindful are you of who dies and who survives? Did you have characters you love that need to survive or did you approach it in a Game of Thrones way where anyone could die at any moment?
GOODMAN: The decision at the beginning was “Okay, who do I love the most? I have to kill that person so that everybody knows that anyone can die at any time.” No one’s safe, because then you always have tension. If you kill someone that you hate or you kill an ancillary character at first, then I think the audience starts to feel safe. The audiences are very sophisticated and teenagers, especially. I think you want to know that anything is on the table.
For me, there’s one death that I find disappointing in the show just for logistical reasons in the way that it was shot and had to come together. Some things had to be cut that we didn’t have and it was disappointing. The rest of the deaths are some you see on screen and off screen because it’s a mystery. I definitely felt like, “Okay, how do we take it one step further than what the audience is expecting” That’s what Preacher did incredibly well.
DIASPORA: Speaking of Preacher, how did that show and Gossip Girl help inform the way you approached
I Know What You Did Last Summer?
GOODMAN: Well, Preacher is the craziest show in the world if you actually watch the whole thing. I love Preacher, obviously. I worked on it for four years. It’s has very much my sensibility where it’s just absurd but so violent. It’s really crazy. At the same time, it’s about a guy searching for God. I mean, he wants to beat the shit out of him, but it still is about that. And so I think there’s this absurdity and violence that’s inherent in the show.
I think Gossip Girl — everyone hated those characters. In the reviews they hated them, they hated them, and they loved them. I think there’s something about teenagers that we will forgive because they are figuring it out as they go. They behave so badly, but it’s not like 50 year olds behaving badly — no one wants to watch that.
You find away to heighten teenagers’ behavior and make it more relatable. The bad decisions I think are somehow more understandable in that age group. Weirdly, I Know What You Did Last Summer kind of feels like a combination of those shows in its own separate lane.