Urban Legend (1998)
US (dir. Jamie Blanks)
Cast: Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, Michael Rosenbaum, Loretta Devine, Robert Englund, Danielle Harris, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Brad Dourif
Synopsis: A college coed suspects that murders around her campus are connected to urban legends.
Review: “Urban Legend” is a fun movie based on one of the best concepts ever conceived of for a random killer movie. The killer, who bases his/her kills around popular urban legends, goes after a random assortment of college kids from a Northeastern University. Each kill is interesting, gory, and fun. You get all the best urban legends represented here, the “aren’t you glad you didn’t turn your lights on?” legend, the drying the wet dog in the microwave legend, and of course the killer hiding in the backseat of the car legend (which I’ll admit, to this day, has me checking my backseat every time I drive). Since every kill has a legend associated with it, it makes the story more interesting than had the movie just been about some random person killing off students for no reason and with no unique style. Needless to say, I appreciate the way urban legends are worked into this movie and also how all the events within the movie become a sort of urban legend themselves.
The actors in this movie are really what make it pop. Sure they are by no means the best actors out there, but they make the movie fun and easy to watch again and again. You also get the eye candy: Jared Leto and Joshua Jackson and the horror alumni: Robert Englund, which makes this movie a great late 90s joyride. The story is solid, the pace is perfect, and the dialogue is suitable for the age group it is targeted for (i.e. there’s no obscure pop culture references or excessive usage of swearing or complicated vocabulary that teens would never understand). This is the kind of movie that makes you want to watch it over and over again when the fall season starts and that back to school feeling is in the air. It’s also kind of fun to reminisce about all those crazy, spooky tales you heard when you were a kid and see them brought to life on the big screen. I also really loved the ending, which it made it seem as though the whole movie itself was an urban legend. Very twisted!
This movie is directed by Jamie Blanks who, in my opinion, does a damn good job with the material he has to work with. This movie made a shitload of money when it was released, despite being considered crap by critcs (pffft, what do they know?) and it spawned two sequels, so in my eyes, it’s hit. If you’re a fan of the wave of original horror movie slashers that came out in the 1990s, you will love this one.
DVD Special Features Review (September 2010)
My beloved “Urban Legend” DVD comes with a small handful of special features. There is a making of featurette, a deleted scene, cast biographies and a commentary with director Jamie Blanks, screenwriter Silvio Horta and actor Michael Rosenbaum who plays Parker in the film. The featurette is 15 minutes long and consists of B roll footage of two death scenes (the Dean’s slashed ankles and impalement scene and Damon’s hanging death scene) and the gas station scene which is essentially the first major scene of the movie. Jamie Blanks discusses where and how the scenes were shot and emphasizes how the movie was filmed entirely in and around Toronto (yay!). There is also a portion of the featurette dedicated to describing the post production process, specifically the creation of the theme song (which is awesome, by the way), the scoring session with a huge orchestra, and an automated dialogue replacement session with Joshua Jackson, who plays Damon in the film. The featurette ends off with a really crappy deleted sex scene featuring Sasha (Tara Reid) and Parker (Michael Rosenbaum) that ends with Parker’s dog, Hootie, finding a severed finger. It’s a stupid, stupid scene and I’m so glad they cut it out of the film, despite rendering the film entirely sexless.
The commentary track with the director, screenwriter, and actor Michael Rosenbaum proves to be the only feature of any worth on this DVD. Director Jamie Blanks spends a lot of time pointing out the various locations in Toronto where the film was shot and some of the simple looking scenes that apparently took numerous re-shoots to complete, such as a scene where Natalie gets into Damon’s car (really, it took so many shots to get that just right?). Silvio Horta talks a lot about the things in the film that were changed from his original screenplay and about the fact that this was literally his first piece of work in Hollywood ever (same goes for Jamie Blanks). In fact he has a hilarious little anecdote about pitching the movie to the studio then returning to work as a perfume sprayer at a department store the same day. Actually, a lot of actors in this movie were relatively new, or just plain young. Joshua Jackson was only about 19 here and this was one of Tara Reid’s first major films as well. Hilariously, Jamie Blanks predicts Reid will be a “big star” and fortunately that has not happened to date. Jared Leto is also in this film and there are several quips about him having made a movie called “Prefontaine” though virtually nothing else is mentioned of his talents or potential career as a major film star. Michael Rosenbaum spends a lot of the commentary track interrupting Jamie Blanks or completely speaking over Silvio Horta, he has occasional funny moments but for the most part I wish he’d just shut the fuck up. There’s a lot of discussion about how awesome Toronto was to film in and how great the University of Toronto campus looked in the movie and there’s also an interesting discussion on making horror films in a post-“Scream” world where comparisons to that particular movie were rampant. I think they really did a nice job of discussing the movie, but there is nothing particularly exciting on this commentary track except for the fact that we find out Tara Reid almost lost her fingers when the stuntman killer swung an axe at her outstretched hands. Better luck next time maybe?
Also included on the DVD is the theatrical trailer and cast biographies, both of which are merely filler yet surprisingly not advertised on the DVD case. Either way, they are useless – though the trailer does have an additional deleted scene in it that was discussed in the commentary, but you’d have to be a real film nerd to really catch that.