Film and television actress Anne Heche died over the weekend after a devastating single car crash in which she sustained a severe brain injury. She was 53 year old. RIP.
While her personal life was often the subject of tabloids (she famously dated Ellen Degeneres in the late ’90s), Heche remained a compelling and enigmatic screen presence who refused to be boxed in by genre or any one “type” of role. She could be hilarious, heartbreaking, horrifying—sometimes all in the matter of one scene.
Perhaps there’s no better example of her boundless skill than the year 1997, a major breakout moment for the star.
After her start in TV soap Another World and a successful run of indies (Walking And Talking chief among them—it’s a must watch), Heche had an impressive blockbuster run that year which saw her pull off gritty crime drama (Donnie Brasco), political satire (Wag The Dog), and disaster epic (Volcano).
But for our purposes, we have to talk about her small but unforgettable turn in that fall’s horror classic I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Written by gay Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, the slasher is remembered for taking the hottest young stars of the moment (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe) and having them run for their lives from a hook-handed fisherman.
But I Know What You Did Last Summer also gave Heche a juicy supporting role, one that left an indelible impression in just a few minutes of screen time.
She played Missy Egan, the sister of the local man that Julie (Hewitt), Helen (Gellar), and their friends believe they accidentally killed the year prior. Hoping to find out who’s behind the threatening notes they’ve been receiving, the girls visit Missy under the guise of a broken-down car to do some amateur investigating.
Missy is friendly enough at first, offering her phone to the girls, but the more she reveals about her brother, the more tense things get. Heche imbues the role with a deep sense of loss and heartache, but also keeps the audience on edge. Is she suspicious of the teens who showed up at her door? Does she know more than she’s letting on? Could she be behind the notes?
Heche even gets a good jump scare when she runs up to Julie and Helen in the car… only to tell them they forgot their cigarettes.
Especially in a horror movie over 25 years old, you’d expect a role like this to just be a plot device—meant to dump some needed exposition—or worse, to depict a lonely woman as unwell and maybe even a potential threat. But Heche makes Missy feel so real.
Even as I Know What You Did Last Summer plays into urban legend, performances like Heche’s keep things grounded in real human emotion, which makes it that much scarier when the killer comes back for revenge. As small as the part may be, Heche is a crucial reason why the film’s been a favorite of gays and horror fans (two communities with substantial crossover) for all these years.
Though she’s gone too soon, Heche’s filmography stands as a testament to her talent—a treasure trove with entry points for all kinds of movie-goers. No matter the role, no matter the film, was a committed actor who could always keep the audience guessing.