Nowadays, all major horror flicks are remakes of Asian gorefests, featuring screamy women running from creepy new tech devices seemingly out to kill them. But there was a time, not that long ago, when horror movies still meant trying to avoid getting slaughtered by other human beings. The movies that came out of the genre’s commercial revival in the mid-to-late nineties were mostly crappy, of course, but if nothing else, they gave career-making screen time to a number of hot young things that we might otherwise have missed; from Urban Legend‘s Joshua Jackson and Jared Leto, to The Faculty’s Josh Hartnett, and I Know What You Did Last Summer‘s Ryan Phillippe. It might be an exaggeration to say I’m grateful for such bad movies (and did we really need post-ironoc horror flicks?), but at least something (someone) good (-looking) derived from it.
Chief among them, Ryan Phillippe. If Freddie Prinze jr. was the breakout star of the franchise, it was no doubt Phillippe that sold me on it, to the extent that I have actually seen I Know no less than three times over the years. Yes, he was a little wooden, but that’s part of the charm about these films. Actors weren’t supposed to act, they posed. Likewise, you weren’t supposed to think, only watch. Worked for me. He made his way into my early canon of Crushes You Never Talk About (which of course encompassed all of them, since they were all guys, but you see my point) by doing another playful playboy role, in the supposedly sexy Cruel Intentions (1999). What it lacked in substance, it strived to make up for in forced in sex-appeal, resulting in an admittedly good-looking, but utterly shallow vehicle. But heck, he was naked!
It was only later, however, that I realized that Ryan Phillippe’s potential hunkiness is best served not when he’s playing a jock, but rather playing more somber characters. He reintroduced himself to me in Gosford Park, and then, almost immediately afterward, in the wonderfully sardonic comedy Igby Goes Down. I had turned 17 at the time, and the range of my preferences may have broadened a bit (I was no longer just looking for classic beauty), but that’s not to say I wasn’t immediately reminded of what drew me to him in the first place. His looks gave exactly the aura of cool arrogance to his Igby character that I’m sure the casting crew were aiming for, and he didn’t completely botch his stint for Altman either. Also, it seemed he had learned to make the most of his admittedly limited skills, choosing roles in which his looks and somewhat stiff delivery served the greater artistic goal.
You don’t need much more than beauty and a certain ability to make decent career decisions to to justify my keeping an eye on what you’re doing. Especially if you were discovered when I was still in my teens.