Urban Legend


Rating 3

Directed by Jamie Blanks

Written by Silvio Horta

Starring Alicia Witt,
Rebecca Gayheart, Jared Leto, Tara Reid, Joshua Jackson, Natasha Gregson Wagner and Loretta Devine

Horror films, certainly those being made by the mainstream Hollywood studios now for a largely teenage audience, are frequently approached with hostile distain by mainstream critics. The hardcore horror film fanbase can often be even more hostile, but for them instead of simply being suspicious of all horror films it becomes increasingly about personalities and sub-genres. For example, the emergence of “torture-porn” was partly a reaction to the glut of Hollywood remakes of “J-Horror” films, which were dismissed (offensively, I think) as, “Horror films for teenage girls that don’t like horror films.”

‘Urban Legend’ is the product of a studio looking to cash in on the success of ‘Scream’ and its immediate successors, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and ‘Scream 2’, three films that grossed more than $471 million between them at the box office. It could be argued that because ‘Scream’ already existed (and, indeed, John Carpenter’s timeless 1978 masterpiece ‘Halloween’, surely the most influential horror film of the last 30 years) there was no need to make a film like ‘Urban Legend’, except as a purely cynical moneymaking exercise.

Whatever the reasons behind the making of this film, it is one of my favourite horror films. Based on the number of times I must have watched it now, I could probably put it into my top five. Set in an isolated university, a group of friends are menaced by a series of sinister and suspicious deaths, each one appearing to match an urban legend.

The film was written by Silvio Horta, who is now the executive producer of ‘Ugly Betty’. It was directed by Jamie Blanks, who doesn’t seem to have done anything else of much note, except the rather horrible David Boreanaz and Denise Richards horror flick ‘Valentine’, although it was he who originally pitched the idea for ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and filmed a promotional demo trailer prior to the directing duties being passed to Jim Gillespie.

It has a cast of young actors who were starting to make waves, mainly on television, many of them popular teen pin-ups at the time:

Alicia Witt had just spent three seasons and 87 episodes in the sit-com ‘Cybill’.

Jared Leto came from the short-lived but highly praised ‘My So-Called Life’.

Rebecca Gayheart had featured in eight episodes of the sixth season of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ and more recently had a supporting role in ‘Scream 2’.

Joshua Jackson had also made an appearance in ‘Scream 2’ and was on his way to ‘Cruel Intentions’ and a lead role in ‘Dawson’s Creek’.

Tara Reid is probably better known as an early example of the new breed of Hollywood “hellcats”, but she came to this film on the back of her role as Bunny Lebowski in ‘The Big Lebowski’ and went on to feature in ‘Cruel Intentions’.

Michael Rosenbaum ended up with one of the lead roles in ‘Smallville’ and has now appeared in 140 plus episodes of that TV show.

Natasha Gregson Wagner, whose brief appearance at the beginning of the film (memorably singing along to ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’) mirrors that of Drew Barrymore in ‘Scream’, is the daughter of Natalie Wood. Her film debut was in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.

Added to this was some clever casting among the older supporting actors. John Neville had played the title role in Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’ and was familiar from a recurring role in ‘The X Files’. Robert Englund, playing one of the college professors, was a nice piece of casting for horror film fans.

The film is almost stolen by Loretta Devine, playing an eager squeaky-voiced campus security officer who dreams of being like Foxy Brown and ends up getting her chance to be just that.

The film grossed $72.5 million worldwide against a production budget of $14 million. A sequel, ‘Urban Legends: Final Cut’, was released in 2000, achieving a $39 million worldwide gross. Only Loretta Devine from the original cast returned for this film. A direct-to-DVD third instalment, ‘Urban Legends: Bloody Mary’, appeared in 2005. I have not seen either of these films.


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