Retro Review: ‘Urban Legend’


Director: Jamie Blanks

Cast: Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Tara Reid, Michael Rosenbaum, Loretta Devine, Joshua Jackson, Brad Dourif, Robert Englund

Plot: An ‘urban legend’ themed murderer starts picking off people on a university campus.

Review: This by-product of Scream‘s success is one of the many movies lost to the fog of time that attempted to ride Wes Craven’s brilliant take on the genre. This one got by me at the time and appears to have left public consciousness, and with good reason. The effort falls on the generic side of late century slasher with barely an original thought to hold it together.

Wanting to ape the meta-narrative of Scream but unable to comprehend why that was clever concept, Urban Legend runs with the gimmick of a murderer basing their attacks on ‘urban legends’. Well, sometimes. And even then, it’s a bit of a stretch to say these are recognisable legends. Some are well known, but at least as many killer attacks are variations on these couple of tales. Someone thinks something is happening, it’s not, then a killer pops out.

What makes a special little time capsule are two things. The first is the cast. There’s something hilarious 90s about them. Tara Reid is a college radio sex-therapist. Jared Leto is the hard-nosed journalist student. Michael Rosenbaum is a sinister conspiracy theorist. Joshua Jackson is the blonde guy archetype. They even have the required cameo, as Robet Englund plays a tweed-wearing professor. All the characters seem to be getting diplomas in ‘urban legends’, which is an awkward way to tie together an awkward idea for a movie.

The second special moment is in regards to the ‘twist’. The movie is Scream stripped down to the most basic elements, with the murder mystery getting a full Shyamalan ending. The twist is…wait for it…the killer is a girl! Such subversion!

If your concepts fails…and in this case, it does, you can get by on a memorable villain. This is the usual masked knife wielder (all the more to subvert expectations!) fare, but there is nothing memorable to be found here. They wear a parka. It’s blue. South Park characters are not as scary as you think they are. I remember the killer in the sequel having a fencing mask, which is a step down somehow, so a double fail on the villain side of things.

I’ve never had cause to use the slang term ‘extra’ before, but it feels like the right descriptor for this movie. Urban Legend is extra. The acting is weirdly intense for the material, and the dialogue is consistently unnatural. Everything hinges on the reveal of the killer and there’s nothing to let you work this out for yourself, so that’s no fun. You could try and predict the urban legend that’s being set up, but I’m not convinced they weren’t made up for the movie.

I saw this movie as a way to fill in some gaps in a period of horror that I’m usually pretty clued in on. I do not feel like it’s added anything to the experience.

Rating: TWO out of TEN