I really enjoy a good urban legend. I like those mad stories of how someone stuck a razor blade into an apple given out to trick or treaters on Hallowe’en (like in Halloween 2 – actually, according to Snopes.com that story is true!), or the story about the escaped lunatic beating on the roof of a car with the head of its missing driver, or the one about the groom walking out of his wedding after revealing that the bride and best man were really good friends. Some of those tall tales are just plain funny while some of them are really quite horrific, so of course there’s a movie or two about urban legends.
The cleverly named Urban Legend (1998) opens on a wonderfully clichéd “dark and stormy night” that you don’t really see that often in films. University student Michelle is driving home from somewhere on the night in question and stops for go-go juice. The petrol station attendant is more than a little creepy though that’s largely due to his ramshackle appearance and speech impediment. He manages to lure Michelle inside the petrol station under the false pretence that there’s a problem with her credit card and that the card company are on the phone and need to speak with her. When Michele realises that there’s no one on the phone and that the attendant wants something unmentionable from her, she makes a break for it and speeds away in her jeep, just as the attendant overcomes his stutter to shout that there’s someone on the back seat!
Whoever it was hiding in the car murders Michelle with an axe and sets of a chain of events on the campus of Pendleton University, where we meet Natalie and her student chums, Brenda, Parker, Sasha, and Paul (Jared Leto – I’m only mentioning the famous actors this time). Parker regales the rest of the bunch with a story about one of the student halls of residence on the campus that is now closed as a result, Parker claims, of a massacre that took place there about twenty five years previously.
The next day, Paul gets into a spot of bother with the university authorities who are not happy that he’s written a front page article for the campus newspaper detailing the murder of one of the students by an axe-weilding psycho and are censoring him by stopping the distribution of the paper. It’s from the newspaper that Natalie finds out about the murder and she’s pretty upset by it. That night she goes for a drive with another of the group, Damon (Joshua Jackson – from Fringe and some other soppy girly shite from a few years back), who uses the opportunity to make a move on Natalie. She rejects him and he steps out of the car to answer the call of nature before returning to the college. While outside the car Damon is attacked and left hanging from a tree with the other end of the rope tied to the car. The killer startles Natalie and she attempts to drive away, thus killing Damon in the process.
With Michelle and now Damon dead in ways that resemble well known urban legends it quickly becomes apparent to Natalie that there’s something very wrong on campus and she tries to warn her friends, but they’re not too inclined to heed her warnings despite the danger to themselves…
There’s a lot to like about Urban Legend, much like the legends themselves. Urban legends, or modern folklore, or whatever you want to call them are fun, scary stories that are designed to frighten a little in order to teach a lesson about the hazards of modern living and as such form a great basis for a horror film. With such great source material the only real challenge to making a film about urban legends is how to tie them all together into a complete story. In Urban Legend they manage to do that quite nicely and, almost, believably, though due to the quantity of legends used it does feel like all you’re doing is lurching from one legend to the next.
The legends used in the film are all quite low-key and therefore didn’t overly tax the effects department. Unfortunately, those types of legends don’t offer much in the way of scares either when you see them on the screen, even though they might be quite powerful when told in front of the fire on a dark night, or in the break room of a stormy Tuesday afternoon.
Urban Legend occurred at a perfect time for films of this kind as a lot of TV shows had created minor stars of people who were around the right age to be in a film like this and at the same time horror was going through a bit of a resurgence. Particularly worthy of note were Jared Leto as Paul, Alicia Witt as Natalie, Robert Englund (yes, the Freddie Kruger Robert Englund) as the Professor, and even Joshua Jackson (from Dawson’s Creek) turned in the right kind of performance.
As you might imagine there’s a a load of trivia associated with this film (check out the links below for more details) and a lot of urban legends are referenced throughout the film without being major plot points. Other little bits feature and I especially liked the Dawson’s Creek joke at Jackson’s expense (when he starts his car the theme music from that show is playing on the radio) but they could have made more of Robert Englund’s past.
Urban Legend is an enjoyable, harmless little movie with lots of details you might recognise, much like the stories that inspired the film.
One Up and One Thumb Down for Urban Legend.
Here are some Links that actually happened to my cousins room-mates dogs groomers best friend: