Have you ever heard the story about the group of teens being chased by a masked man? You know the story, where there’s a hip theme and some good-looking actors. Thinking of Scream? Wrong. Maybe it’s Scream 2? Wrong. OK, it’s gotta be I Know What You Did Last Summer! Wrong! It’s Urban Legend. Urban Legend is the next hip-slasher film to come down the pipe after the revival of the slasher-film genre by Scream.
In my review of I Know What You Did Last Summer I listed the common elements of the ‘90s hip-slasher films. Here’s a quick rundown 1) The killer has to wear some sort of a mask – this time around the killer is dressed as an Eskimo. 2) There needs to be ditsy female leads with ample cleavage. 3) There needs to be a cast of one-dimensional characters that serve as slasher fodder. I’m adding one more to this list: 4) There needs to be a point in the film where the undead dead killer returns for a final round. I’m happy to say that Urban Legend dutifully fills all these requirements.
On the campus of a quiet Maine university, a student, Natalie (Alicia Witt), is being harassed by a killer who is dressed like an Eskimo and likes to kill people by methods based on urban legends. Urban legends are modern folktales that may be true or may just be a hoax. We all know one or two urban legends, and a few are covered in the movie. During the movie we get The Ax Murderer in the Backseat, Pop Rocks & Pepsi, The Hung Lover, Woman Who Dried Her Dog in the Microwave, and a few more.
Sounds like a good premise. It reminds me of another movie, CopyCat, that used a similar premise. In CopyCat, the killer modeled his killings on previous serial killers. The difference between CopyCat and Urban Legend is that CopyCat is a good movie with good scares. Urban Legend is not.
The thrills in Urban Legend come in the form known as Cheap Scares. Cheap Scares are the type of scares in which a person’s head fills the screen, they are walking forward, and then WHAM! someone touches their shoulder. The WHAM! is punctuated with a burst from the musical score. It’s not a scare that’s built up, it’s just something that startles us. Urban Legend does this repeatedly – four or five times in the first half-hour. If I wanted this kind of scare, I’d have a monkey follow me around with a gong.
Some moments in the film are horrific though. I loved the opening (The Ax Murderer in the Backseat), which is slowly built up. Tension is never too high in Urban Legend.
Two actors in Urban Legend are serviceable Alicia Witt (“Cybill”) and Jared Leto (Switchback, Prefontaine). Witt does a good job onscreen, though she doesn’t have the scream of a “scream queen.” Leto doesn’t get too much screen time, but he does OK.
One actress sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m not sure what Rebecca Gayheart was aiming for, but she overshoots it by a mile. Gayheart just plainly overacts in Urban Legend.
Writer Silvio Horta actually gets the movie off to a good start. The first half of the movie – Cheap Scares and all – works well. However, as we slide into the halfway mark of the film, things go downhill. Red herrings and cliches are thrown at us like doggie-treats. And as the body count rises in the film, the thrill of this thriller proportionally drops. After awhile I just wanted the Eskimo to wipe out the whole school and be over with it.
Would I recommend Urban Legend? No. Rent Scream or Scream 2 for some good thrills. Urban Legend is just a bad knock-off of Scream.
Hey monkey, hit that gong! BONG! Scared?
Edited by Cher Johnson.