Everybody’s heard of them, yet they have no traceable source. They’re Urban Legends, contemporary tall-tales that emerge from the underground and take on colourful lives of their own.
When a series of strange deaths occur on the campus of Pendleton College, student Natalie (Alicia Witt) begins to suspect that there is a bizarre link, someone is making urban legends a sinister reality. Her classmates, loyal Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart), ambitious journalist major Paul (Jared Leto) and class joker Damon (Joshua Jackson) insist the deaths are just coincidences despite the extraordinary circumstances.
But when Natalie gets too close to discovering the killer’s demented desire to re-create the ultimate urban legend, she realises that she could be the next victim….
Urban Legend was one of the first films out of the gates after the unexpected success of Scream. For readers who are asking the question “Why was Scream not expected to do well?” The answer is simple. The slasher genre was well and truly dead before Ghostface decided to make his phone call. Numerous sequels and straight to DVD bottom shelve fillers made the boom which started in the 80’s go bust and fans were wanting more than just a Zombie in a Ski Mask attacking campers at a lake called Crystal.
Scream changed all that, only because it offered a more playful vibe to the terror and the “Scooby Doo!” sub plot of “Guess the Killer” was so well received that the horror field were shocked that a new slash boom had began. Many films will appear on this list that will offer the plot of the climatic face reveal, but while many followed, Urban Legend along with the I Know What You Did Last Summer film, were thee films that virtually started the craze after Scream. Its uncanny to look back now and see history was repeating itself. Friday the 13th took the blueprint of Halloween and created a new franchise killer with Jason and many years later, Urban Legend followed suit with a near identical re-run of what made Scream so great.
While the clever ploy of I know was not go down the same route that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson offered, Urban Legend was so blatant in your face that it happily rode on the back of Scream’s success, taking a mint at the box office, all because Slash fans were still on a high and seeing a film following the same blueprint was a welcome treat. Sadly though over the years Urban Legend has become one of my least favourite Slasher films and having re-watched it for this Slasherthon my opinion of the film has become worse.
The sad thing of the whole experience is how lazy the whole film is. There is not one moment of spark that gets me excited and I amaze myself that I actually enjoyed this so much when it was released in 1998. Right from the off we see the stupidity that is on offer. We start with the 90’s traditional scene of a woman in danger this one being Michelle (Natasha Gregson Wagner) who stops at a gas station in the middle of the night while its raining. Here comes a spoiler to all those who have not seen this film but I need to write about this moment to show how idiotic the whole thing is, so if you do not want to know then please look away and stop reading:
The Gas Attendant (Brad Dourif) comes out of the station and goes to put petrol in the tank when he starts to act strange. This worries Michelle who really thinks he is a weirdo and yet that does not stop her from getting out of the car as he informs her bank card is not working and the Bank is on the phone. Now look at the time scale of this. She gets out of the car, follows him all the way to the station, goes inside where he locks her in and then grabs her by the arm. His stutter means he can not get his words out, but Michelle in panic does not wait around to hear what he has to say so she fights back, escapes gets in the car and drives off. But here is the killer moment.
Dourif was a good guy! He runs after her and screams “There is someone in the back seat!!” which by now is pretty useless advice as Michelle has got her tiny arse out of there, only for further down the road she looks in her mirror and see’s an axe coming from behind. CUE…head chopped off and the title sequence appears.
Now lets rewind this moment and look back at how crazy this set up is. Re-watching the whole thing made me shake my head in disbelief. Why for the life of me could Dourif not warn her after she got out of the car?. Why did he feel the need to scare the poor girl by locking her in the station? I mean he had much better opportunities to warn her, he could easily have said “Hey love do you realise that there is someone in the back seat holding an axe?” when he was putting the petrol in. Its one of the worst starts of any slasher film and yet there was even worse to come!
The film carries on with this trend through out and while pre teens may get a kick out of this, Urban Legend is one of the classic cases of why the genre has such a bad name. We have moments like when the Heroine Natalie is looking from the window into the University pool and sees the killer fully suited walking towards her best friend Brenda who is having a nice swim. In panic she starts to bang loud onto the window but with Brenda’s head under the water she can not hear or see the killer who continues to walk up to her. Natalie now in panic mode picks up a chair and puts it through the window which obviously gets the attention of Brenda but SHOCK HORROR ITS NOT THE KILLER BUT A NORMAL PERSON GOING FOR A SWIM. This of course begs the question which every fan will have the same thought is”who in their right mind puts on a thick winter coat to go for a swim??????”
Even writing this makes me angry and yet it still gets worse. The scene for me that makes Urban Legend a real bad film is when the killer is axing a poor victim to death. Yet every time the axe swings there is no blood, all we see is a clean blade and a scream of a woman, so the film breaks the golden rule of the entire genre in that no matter how bad the film is, if you have great set-pieces then every slash fan will be happy. Urban Legend offers nothing and even then they save the worst till last!
The usual added scene after the climatic battle is not only one of the worst slash moments but also in all general horror. It really wanted me to pick up a kitchen knife and stab my eyes out because like the beginning, the end tries and succeeds wonderfully well in taking the piss out of my intelligence. I can only describe the scene to explain what I mean and while I will not reveal the killer, it may mean once again for readers to look away:
We have the battle won and the three survivors knowing that they have survived the onslaught can finally relax. But one of them is shot and probably bleeding to death so any normal film would see the three wait for the police to turn up and then the credits roll. But just after the killer is “dead” we cut to only two of the survivors driving in a car which can only mean that these two selfish bastards have fled the scene and left their other friend to die on the floor. Yes they do mention briefly that “the police is on their way!” but who would actually do that. This scene was only written for the half arsed twist which will bring laughs and not terror because its so daft that I would suggest you watch this film just to see this moment.
Urban Legend is nothing more than just a tired slash which failed to add anything new. It showcases what is bad about the whole attempt of a cash in and the only moments of class is when Robert Englund appears on screen. The lead Natalie (Alicia Witt) is very weak with no personality or back story and the likes of Joshua Jackson are just wasted in their roles. Even our Scream Queen for the generation Danielle Harris is in a blink and a miss it performance and while the whole concept centred around Urban Legends is a good one, its never fully given its potential.
Amazingly the box office figures were so good that a sequel was made which of course will be reviewed on here, and somehow pulled off the unbelievable feat of being a much better film. Director Jamie Blanks went on record to apologise for the film Valentine, another slash film he made, but for me personally, that is a much better film than what he offered here.
Urban Legends is one of those typical slash films that is not very good, but still somehow watchable. I may have ripped it apart in this review and to be fair it does deserve it, but the film is more daft and filled with nonsense than it is awful and while it succeeds in hiding the killer behind the hood well, the lack of blood and real good set-pieces, makes it one of the weakest entries not only after Scream, but before Ghostface even arrived within the genre.
Slasher fans will no doubt get a kick from the entire show, but for most horror fans, they will watch and realise why the Slash genre eventually died a slow death in the late 80’s.