Urban Legend (1998)

Urban Legend (1998)

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

With a spate of murders taking place on their college campus, a group of students believe that someone is killing them off based upon famous urban legends.

 

Thanks to Scream’s success in 1996, the slasher film was back in vogue. Whereas the 80s featured low budget slashers made for peanuts and mainly starring no-namers looking to hit it big, the 90s brought the slasher film right into the studio system. With full blown studio budgets, production values that the likes of Sean S. Cunningham would have dreamed about when he made Friday the 13th, a cast full of hot-property TV actors from American teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek and a streak of self-awareness, this new wave of slash turned the humble slasher film into credible (well maybe not the right word – profitable is more appropriate) horror films. One of the first of the post-Scream teen horror slashers to hit the big screen, Urban Legend probably seems a bit fresher than it has any right to be thanks to the glossy production values, the big named cast and the addition of genre legend Robert Englund.

With the now-standard poster featuring moody headshots of the young cast and a killer who wears a costume with which they can hide their identity with until the finale, Urban Legend came along just at the right time when the slasher genre hadn’t become re-saturated. The entire novelty value of the film stems from the killer offing the characters courtesy of famous urban legends. It’s a film which has a gimmicky one-note premise but never totally outstays its welcome in this regard. You won’t forget things like the ‘microwaved pet’ in a hurry but this killer is still adept at offing the characters anyway he sees fit, including by car at one point. Urban Legend is never outright gory but the manner of some of the deaths is more violent and shocking than usual.

Director Jamie Blanks went on to film the weaker Valentine but here his direction is pretty solid, managing to sustain interest and throwing in plenty of decent scares for good measure (even if he does go down the ‘loud noises’ route a few too many times). Though the script has the usual cars not starting, mobiles ringing at inopportune moments and cats jumping into the frame, Blanks is able to balance this out with a fair smattering of creepy moments: the silhouette of the killer rising in the back seat of a car being the highlight.

It all goes a little pear-shaped in the finale third when red herrings, plot twists and attempts to subvert the audience are all used but raise more questions than answers, such as how the killer could have been so and such person in one scene when they were in two places at once. The script seems determined to throw you off the real culprit but it ends up unwinding a lot of the solid work that had gone before it.

The cast is one of the best assembled for a teen slasher, or at least full of the biggest names: Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Michael Rosenbaum, Rebecca Gayheart, Tara Reid, Joshua Jackson and Danielle Harris (all grown up now from the Halloween sequels) star as the teenagers and manage to fill all of the usual clichéd roles. Veterans like John Neville, Brad Dourif and Robert Englund on hand to provide the necessary red herrings and experience. Englund is especially creepy as Professor Wexler.

Ultimately what lets Urban Legend down is that it is just so similar to the endless supply of teen horrors that were released in the wake of Scream. The cinematography, the soundtrack, the dialogue, the look of the characters – it’s all very formulaic. Whilst Urban Legend was one of the earlier films out, it still doesn’t hide the fact that you’ll probably feel like you’ve seen it before.

 

Urban Legend is one of the better of the recent teen horror films with an original premise and decent production values. But it just doesn’t do anything worthwhile with the idea apart from use it as novelty value and completely disintegrates towards the end. The atmospheric opening scene will at least get you hooked, even if the rest of the film doesn’t really capitalise on it.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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