Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)
"Legends never die"
After hearing the story about a series of murders that took place on a university campus, prestigious film school student Amy Mayfield decides to make a film about a serial killer murdering in the style of urban legends. However, as soon as she starts shooting, someone starts killing off her cast and crew.
Urban Legend was one of the earliest of the post-Scream cash-ins, featuring the standard issue cast of hot thirtysomethings playing college teens being killed off one-by-one by a masked killer, completely awash in self-awareness and with the gimmick of having the murders being based on urban legends. The film was a surprise hit at the box office, though I had better memories of my first watch of it back in 2000 than my more recent re-watch, of which I find it disappointingly routine.
Loosely connected to the original Urban Legend by some flimsy exposition and one sole returning character (along with a credits Easter egg), Urban Legends: Final Cut is a cookie cutter slasher film, one which has been eked out of the studio blender in double-quick time to cash-in on the dying days of the post-Scream meta horror boom. The film quickly does away with the focus on the urban legend gimmick – it was a one-note idea that sounded better in theory but quickly wore out its welcome in the original, let alone find enough fresh legends to turn into set pieces here. Instead, Urban Legends: Final Cut goes along the film-within-a-film route, coincidentally also taken by Scream 3 earlier in the same year this was released, and so expect a deluge of references, both subtle and not-so-subtle to things like Black Christmas, Peeping Tom and Hitchcock’s catalogue. Don’t let the pretension fool you though – this is nowhere near as smart or as clever as it thinks it is. Quoting French film theorists doesn’t make you a high brow horror film.
First-time director John Ottman did say that he thought of this more of a thriller (it’s anything but a template slasher flick!) and so there’s less classic slasher nods and more attempts to craft something more along the lines of a giallo. However, Ottman’s direction is pedestrian either way, with little knowledge of how to properly manufacture scares and generate some much-needed suspense or tension in the stalking scenes. The over-reliance on jump scares, loud noises, flashing lights and quick editing is the biggest giveaway that this is going to heavy weigh in favour of production values to try and keep its audience on the edge of their seat. It might work for teenagers sneaking in to watch their first horror film but for anyone who has seen even a handful of horrors from this era, there won’t be any real surprises in what happens and how scenes pan out.
Urban Legends: Final Cut does at least what a sequel is supposed to do and that’s up the body count and go further with the gore. The bulk of the splatter is generic gore but it’s still grislier than the original was, and the body count is a lot higher, offering a frequent sacrifice to the gore gods to appease them. An obvious change is killer is needed after the conclusion of the original and so out goes the horrendous parka costume and in comes…a fencing mask. Seriously, for some unknown reason, the killer wears a fencing mask. I get the need for slasher films to keep their killers under a mask for that aesthetic, but a fencing mask seems kind of cumbersome to be chasing people around dark corridors in. The eventual unmasking will come as little surprise to anyone, given how they literally kill off the majority of the suspects before the final twist, but their motives, whilst far too complicated to work, are at least believable.
Jennifer Morrison is decent enough in the lead role but, aside from Eva Mendes in an early role, the rest of the cast look as interchangeable as the rest of the late 90s/early 00s slashers. It is the males who come off worst, having little to distinguish themselves from each other, with their standard issue haircuts and bland one-note characterisations all blurring into one. Loretta Devine returns as the Pam Grier-quoting campus cop from the original, only with extra irritating comic relief this time around. Hart Bochner, having already paid his dues as one of the ‘teenage cast’ members in a slasher back in 80s flick Terror Train, returns to the genre, as one of the adult characters this time around.
Urban Legends: Final Cut isn’t exactly the lowest point in the post-modern horror era with some decent production values and a polished look to the whole thing. But its promise to be a clever and intelligent meta-horror seem to be a desperate attempt to mask over the fact that this self-awareness codswallop has been done to death. Urban Legends: Final Cut brings absolutely nothing new to the table, no matter how hard it tries to pretend otherwise.
Urban Legends: Final Cut
Director(s): John Ottman
Writer(s): Silvio Horta (characters), Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Actor(s): Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Hart Bochner, Loretta Devine, Joey Lawrence, Anson Mount
Duration: 97 mins