Urban Legend (1998)

urban legend

“He once convinced a sophomore that he was the middle Hanson brother just so he could get laid”

The Scoop: 1998 R, Directed by Jamie Blanks and starring Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart and Joshua Jackson

Tagline: It Happened To Someone Who Knows Someone You Know… You’re Next.

Summary Capsule: A college killer reaches new depths of unoriginality while taking out Dawson’s Creek co-eds.

Justin’s rating: The Arctic Parka Of Death

Justin’s review: Let me tell you how stupid filmmakers think I am. They think I am so incredibly dumb that I put my jock strap on backwards. They think my IQ has dropped so severely that I am the type of person who would willingly believe that Kathy Lee Gifford is fighting for the side of all that is good. And they truly believe that all that powers my intellect is a three-legged hamster limping on a wheel in my head. Why do they believe this?

Because they made a little movie called Urban Legend.

While Scream was a brilliant satire on the entire horror film industry, it did us much wrong by unleashing a storm of substandard Scream-ripoffs that rely less on wit and honest scariness and more on big-boobed women from Dawson’s Creek who go around screaming as everyone’s a suspect. Ack. Blah. Puh-lease. Ick. Rin-Tin-Tin.

First step in making a shoddy meta modern horror film: While the film itself is in the horror genre, every character constantly refers to horror film staples in an effort to be ironically self-aware.

Second step: Stock the cast with cute, yet highly suspicious-looking 20-somethings. 1:1 guy:girl ratio preferred.

Third step: Begin killing off the cast one by one through extremely unlikely murder setups that would require planning on the scale of Desert Storm.

Fourth step: Scream a lot. Utter clichés out the wazoo. And blast the soundtrack up about ten times than is normal (this operates under the theory that if a film is loud, you’ll either be scared or vibrated into shock).

Fifth step: The end killer will explain his/her motive for being said unlikely killer. Then they will be duped after a long fight sequence into forgetting that someone who’s been shot/stabbed/axed is not actually dead.

Sixth step: The killer disappears after his/her apparent demise.

Sigh. The slightly funny thing is, this formula is pretty much what ’80s slasher films relied heavily upon. If you’re going to make a horror film, it’s essential to be original nowadays (that goes for romantic comedies as well). Don’t pander to the audience and be so blindingly obvious who the killer is during the first reel — as they did in Urban Legend. On the other extreme, don’t make the plot so convoluted that no one has a chance of figuring out the mysterious killer and his/her motive (see Wild Things for the worst offender of that).

Urban Legend relies upon rehashing good ol’ urban legends to kill one college kid after the other. These are only mildly scary, although the dog in the microwave bit was a new one to me. Other than that, the lead heroine is not believed by anyone as she witnesses these deaths and must fight the killer alone. Blah, blah, blah.

Films like this take all the joy away from yelling at the lead character “Don’t do that! Don’t go into the dark, organ-scored basement with only a weak flashlight! Don’t lower your guard after the first false scare!” Another thing that this film forgot to do (as well as I Know What You Did Last Summer and others) is to give the lead characters enough backstory and development to make you care whether they live or die. I knew our heroine wasn’t going to bite it, but believe me when I say that I would gladly pay for an alternate version where she gets canned.

The other highly insulting factor was the fact that the killer is disguised in nothing other than an arctic parka with oversized hood. First of all, why does one need to be disguised when the only people who will recognize you will be disemboweled two seconds later? (answer: it maintains a weak sort of suspense for the viewing audience) Second: who the heck thinks a parka is scary? Sure, Scream had that great mask/outfit, but now we’re just reaching in horror cinema. A parka. Doesn’t that cut down on your peripheral vision?

Urban Legend is the cinematic experience of spitting in your face and then telling you it’s raining. Only see it if you need to raise your blood pressure for some reason.

Kyle’s rating: Alicia Witt: she’s not very “Witt”y, but she’s very . . . uh, pretty. Yeah.

Kyle’s review: Somewhere between an amusing excursion to a water park (fun) and fetid piles of garbage (piece of ****) is the film Urban Legend. Thankfully, for my sake (I bought this movie for $5 previously viewed at Blockbuster before I had seen it) Urban Legend is closer to “fun” than “piece of ****.” Granted, my idea of “fun” is watching lobotomized monkeys performing a primal version of Brazil in my backyard, but you really shouldn’t knock something without seeing it yourself at least once. That goes for both the monkey thing and Urban Legend.

Alicia Witt is hot. Her acting skills, though you wouldn’t know it from this movie, are quite good. This film simply calls for her to play tormented and confused either individually or both at once, and she pulls that off admirably. Alicia also has to look great, which comes rather naturally to her. I don’t think she got any awards for this role, but I made an award for her (it’s just a humble hunk of Styrofoam, but it’s still an award with her name on it, dammit!) because I think she performed her role (redhead college chick) perfectly. There are also other people in this movie, boys and girls alike.

The plot is simple, as all slasher films require their plot to be easily described in one sentence. Here is this film’s sentence: revenge-seeking murderer terrorizes a group of college students in an urban legend-inspired killing spree. Sounds great, eh? Alright, it sounds sorta ass, but it makes for adequate entertainment, if you like these gory types of films. The production values are fine, there’s a good-looking cast (and Alicia!) filling all the college stereotype characters (you got your pretty girls, pretty boys, drunken frat dude, sex fiends, inquisitive reporter, crusty dean, fat security guard, scary professor, blah blah), there’s blatant sexual content, jump scenes, and overly-elaborate death schemes which claim the foolish yet leave the heroes (mostly) unscathed.

There is also the is-the-killer-really-dead-ending, which I must mention just so you’re ready for the open ending and won’t still there drooling as the credits roll, expecting some sort of closure you won’t find until you reach the afterlife and throttle the true ending out of the also-deceased Urban Legend scribes. If you’re in the mood for a good-looking slasher movie with attractive characters and bloody deaths, and without pesky character development and plausibility to get in the way of your enjoyment, Urban Legend is a good rental for you. Sure, it’s all cut-and-dried plot rehash from every slasher film you have and ever will see in your life, but for approximately a hour and a half of your life, what more do you want?

[Insert fart joke hereIntermission!

  • Freddy Krueger as “The Professor”
  • College on-line chat: your goth connection
  • If you look behind Natalie and Parker in the auditorium, you will see the writer Silvio Horta acting as a college student
  • The book sitting on the desk in Professor Wexler’s desk in his class is “The Vanishing Hitchhiker,” which is one of the seminal texts on urban legends.
  • If you look behind Natalie and Parker in the auditorium, you will see the writer Silvio Horta acting as a college student.
  • Joshua Jackson cranks his car before he takes Natalie to “that” spot in the woods; when it cranks the radio plays Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” from the TV show Dawson’s Creek also starring Jackson.
  • At the end of the movie, students from an unnamed college recount the movie’s events as an urban legend. They joke about the tale’s validity, and one says, “And I bet Brenda was the girl from the Noxzema commercials.” Actress Rebecca Gayheart, who plays Brenda in the film, did indeed appear in several commercials for Noxzema.
  • In addition to this film “The Skulls” and “Gossip” (both starring Joshua Jackson) were also filmed at the University of Toronto.
  • Blood congeals after half an hour exposed to oxygen, it is therefore impossible that the character’s wrists would still be bleeding enough to soak through the white sheet the coroner’s men put the sheet on her in the morning.
  • If you have a really hard time spotting the whodunit killer in these movies, I’ve created a quick guide to obvious clues that will allow you to spot our friendly neighborhood slasher in Urban Legend:
  • Urban Legend is trying desperately to be original. This means trying to do the opposite of what every other recent slasher film has done. What gender would you least suspect here?
  • If you don’t see a person get slaughtered on screen, chances are they aren’t dead.
  • What main title character gets the least screen time?
  • They’ve already done the phone-fake-out in Scream. Nobody in their right mind would repeat it.
  • Unrequited love is one of the best motivators of murderers.
  • It’s not anyone who looks freaky or has weapons in their current possession.

Groovy Quotes

Damon: Hey, we’re going down to Parker’s dorm. Hottie’s gonna pierce his nose.
Natalie: Hootie’s a dog, Damon.
Damon: That’s no reason why he can’t be hip.

Dean Adams: Missing? Please! It’s the weekend. He’s most likley holed up in some hotel somewhere with a girl. Or a boy… farm animal… whatever! Weren’t you ever eighteen?

Parker: Please, Damon is the biggest practical joker I know. He once convinced a sophomore that he was the middle Hanson brother just so he could get laid.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Urban Legends: Final Cut
  • Scream
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer


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