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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 297: Urban Legend

Urban Legend
Stop me if you've heard this one before

We've all heard a few urban legends. There are classics like the guy waking up in a bathtub full of ice with his kidney missing. Then there's story of the escaped convict with a hook for a hand terrorizing a parked car in the woods. And who could forget the girl who said “Bloody Mary” while looking into a mirror. These stories have their variations, but the main points stay the same and get passed on from person to person, town to town. Everyone knows someone who knows someone that swears the story is true. Even to this day, I still check the back seat of my car to make sure there's no one back there. That's just being safe and totally not at all paranoid. Since these stories are widespread and well-known it seems like a no-brainer that they would be the basis for a teen slasher flick. That doesn't mean they'll be good, though.

Urban Legend is a 1998 slasher movie starring Alicia Witt (88 Minutes, Four Rooms) as Natalie Simon and Jared Leto (Panic Room, Requiem For A Dream) as Paul Gardner. The movie beings with a Pendleton University student named Michelle Mancini stopping at a gas station. The gas attendant (Brad Douriff, Child's Play, Deadwood) tells her that her credit card company is on the phone, but when she picks it up, no one is there and the attendant locks the door. Afraid, she breaks a window and drives away, unaware that the attendant was just trying to warn her that someone was hiding in her back seat. Michelle is then killed by the hooded figure in the car. At Pendleton, Natalie and her friend Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart, Jawbreaker, Scream 2) listen to their friend Parker (Michael Rosenbaum, Smallville, Batman Beyond) discuss various urban legends. Paul, the school reporter, laughs off Parker's stories. The girls, along with Parker and his friend Damon (Joshua Jackson, Dawson's Creek, The Mighty Ducks), attend a class on urban legends taught by Professor William Wexler (Robert Englund, Friday The 13th, Inkubus). When Natalie hears of Michelle's death, she is shaken and Damon offers to take her to somewhere private so they can talk. When he exists the car, Damon is attacked by the same hooded figure who killed Michelle. When Natalie hears pounding on the hood of the car, she drives away, unaware that Damon is hanging from a tree. By driving away, she pulls the rope, which was connected to the car by the killer, thereby hoisting Damon high in the air. Soon, people close to Natalie start dying in mysterious ways, eerily similar to various urban legends. Who is behind the murders and what do they have to do with Natalie?

The pale and the restless

The mid to late 1990's were full of slasher flicks geared towards the younger crowd. The most obvious were Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Final Destination, with Urban Legend bringing up the rear. The movie feels like a patchwork of other teen slashers from the same time period and could easily be mistaken for one of them. Essentially, it's pretty white people with flawless skin being attacked by a hooded figure. Despite having a huge cast of popular actors at the time (seriously, we have Jared Leto, Joshua Jackson, Michael Rosenbaum, Rebecca Gayheart, and Tara Reid all in the same movie), the movie has little else going for it. The initial idea of having a series of murders based around various urban legends is fun, but only if you're reading a Batman comic book. It's the type of idea that a 14 year old would come up with and then promptly forget by the time something good comes on TV. Set in the real world, the idea is convoluted and unnecessary, especially when we find out why the killer is committing the murders. The rest of the story is a strictly by-the-book slasher fest, giving us plenty of forgettable characters just to kill them off. I will give the movie credit for cramming in a whole lot of urban legends, including some I had never heard before. Of course, by doing so, the movie felt crowded and rushed at times.

The movie isn't excruciatingly bad or anything, it's just not very good. It's certainly watchable and if you've never seen a slasher movie, you might actually enjoy it. It has the usual music swells and jump at you moments that we've come to expect. The acting is fine for what is required. Rebecca Gayheart puts in a scene-chewing performance worthy of Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever and I mean that in the best way possible. It's highly entertaining and it's a shame it only comes at the end. The movie also includes horror veterans Robert Englund and Brad Douriff (Chucky from Child's Play), but only uses them briefly. If you have two great horror actors in your movie, wouldn't you want to use them as much as possible? There is a decent amount of violence in the movie and some blood, but nothing too over-the-top or gory.

"Ah! That jacket is so out of style!"

Urban Legends is a boiler-plate slasher film with only a gimmick that separates it from similar films. Logic and reason is thrown out the window in an effort to include various means of killing people through urban legends. It keeps things interesting, but requires the audience to not think. The violence is decent and the acting is good enough to keep things moving. The soundtrack for the movie is probably the best part, including music from Stabbing Westward, Monster Magnet, Ministry, and Motorhead. There have been a few sequels, but apparently they are far worse than the original. If you're feeling nostalgic, Urban Legend is fun to watch while wearing Jncos and drinking a Surge cola. It's your standard slasher and there are far better ones out there.


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