From the DVD case:
When two teenagers make prank phone calls to strangers, they become the target for terror when they whisper, “I saw what you did” to a psychopath (John Ireland) who has just murdered his wife. I Saw What You Didfeatures a cavalcade of Castle-style shocks, plus a gloriously over-the-top performance by Joan Crawford as the killer’s desperately amorous neighbor. (1965, b&w)
I Saw What You Did is a cross between The Patty Duke Show and Hitchcock’s Psycho. Unfortunately, the emphasis rests primarily on the Patty Dukeaspect of the story. Of course, when William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler) is listed as producer and director, you know to expect a fair amount of kitsch.
The premise of the story, based on the novel Out of the Dark, by Ursula Curtiss, sounds intriguing enough: Three girls (two teenagers and a little sister), spend the night alone in a secluded country home. To relieve their boredom they make crank phone calls. One of their routine calls consists of whispering, “I know what you did, and I know who you are,” to the person on the other end of the line.
Most people realize the call is a prank and hang up. However, Steve Marak (John Ireland, The House of Seven Corpses) has just murdered his wife, Judith (Joyce Meadows). To him, the call is deadly earnest. Through a series of events, Steve learns of the girls’ whereabouts and arrives at the house to kill off all witnesses.
With a story like that you would think it would be hard not to make this movie suspenseful, but William Castle somehow manages it. But maybe I’m being too harsh.
Sarah Lane and Andi Garrett play the two teenage girls, Kit Austin and Libby Mannering, respectively. Kit and Libby are what I suppose people thought of as typical teenage girls at the time. They are giggly, mischievous, boy-crazy, and a bit daft. And though we are never given evidence of this in the picture, I have a feeling that a hot dog would indeed make them lose control. That’s another Patty Duke reference if you’re of a younger ilk.
Libby has a little sister, Tess, played by Sharyl Locke. Tess is one of those annoying little kids that appear often in films of this era and genre (for more examples watch for the little brother in The Blob, or that unpleasant boy in The Black Scorpion.) Tess, like the two older girls, has a naïveté about her that borders on a mental impairment.
John Ireland plays the murderer, Steve Marak, in a determined but colorless fashion. In an obvious rip-off of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Marak stabs his wife to death in the shower. We are even treated to shots of the water nozzle and chocolate syrup (blood) spiraling down the drain. But in Castle’s version of the shower scene, it is Marak in the shower, and he pulls his wife, fully clothed, in with him to finish the deed. He then shoves her through the glass shower door and leaves her splayed on the bathroom tile. I have to admit, when first viewing this film I did not expect such a violent screen death.
More frightening than John Ireland’s character, though, is Joan Crawford (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) in the role of Amy Nelson (that’s Crawford pictured above). Just look at that face. Look at those eyebrows. Look at that hairdo. Look at that NECKLACE! Everything about her promotes terror. Even a killer like Marak seems a little afraid of her.
Amy is Marak’s neighbor who has obviously harbored feelings for him for quite some time. She believes Marak’s wife has run off and so she takes this opportunity to make her own claim on him. When she discovers what actually happened, she tries to blackmail Marak into marrying her, which doesn’t turn out well. Crawford gets star billing, but she has very few actual scenes. However, her campy performance adds tremendously to the entertainment value of the film, and I am thankful her role was included.
One of my biggest complaints about this production is the incredibly annoying and inappropriate soundtrack. The music was composed by Van Alexander, and always puts me in the mind of Baby Elephant Walk. It’s fun and perky, but does nothing to build suspense or add to the secluded atmosphere. At some points the music takes a slightly darker tone, but it’s always based on that same sappy theme. It’s hard to imagine a worse soundtrack for a thriller.
I do give I Saw What You Did some credit for attempting to create an isolated and spooky setting. A house secluded in the country can seem a little eerie. The evening sequence almost captures a menacing quality, but the friendly animals (a goat and a horse) seem to negate the mood somewhat.
Though I Saw What You Did really isn’t that scary, it does have some camp value and a few shocking moments. It’s definitely not one of my favorite Castle films and seems to be a bit longer than necessary. Look for Leif Erickson (Invaders from Mars) in the role of the father, Dave Mannering.
I Saw What You Did was remade as a TV movie in 1988.
Scene to watch for: Amy (Joan Crawford) strains to finish her kiss with Steve (John Ireland) even after he has just fatally stabbed her. Talk about looking for love in all the wrong places.
Line to listen for: “You want to crack a whip? Get yourself a dog.”
Trivia: During its original release, some theaters provided seat belts so you wouldn’t be “shocked out of your seat.”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.