While it’s important to note that Wes Craven’s 1995 horror entry “Scream” was a very influential horror movie that reinvigorated the slasher sub-genre, it’s also important to chronicle the films that it influenced. After the release of “Scream,” every studio far and wide began releasing their own slasher films, and many of them were whodunits, and or based around some kind of gimmick. While slasher movies are the breakdown of taboos and morality tales with the help of folklore, “Urban Legend” cuts right to the chase creating a slasher who uses urban folklore to dispense of hapless victims in a college. The results are, suffice to say, a mixed bag.
A university is paralyzed by a sudden string of gruesome murders all of which resemble old urban legends and folklore. When her best friend Michelle is killed by someone hiding in her back seat, Natalie begins to notice the pattern. After her roommate it murdered in the same staging of a classic urban legend, Natalie grows paranoid and suspicious. Anxious to find out how the patterns connect to the killer, she begins investigating who might be donning a large hooded coat and axe, and soon her friends and classmates all become victims of the vicious mysterious murder lurking around the campus. Natalie now scrambles to find out the motive and the identity of the axe murderer before she’s next.
“Urban Legend” is just about the same movie I saw in theaters back in 1998. It’s creative, and unique, but doesn’t do a whole lot with its gimmicky premise. And while it’s not scary at all, it compensates with a novel aesthetic and a fun atmosphere by director Jamie Blanks. I fondly remember not only anticipating its release, but even researching all of the urban legends at the local library to bone up on what the movie had to offer. For a horror film that’s basically a whodunit and a slasher movie, “Urban Legend” succeeds more than it stumbles. It manages to do that by making the idea of the urban legend enticing and interesting again, setting up the primary modus operandi for the hooded killer that stalks the college campus in the movie.
Yes, like most post-“Scream” horror movies, the film is stuffed with a cast of young actors that were in vogue and on television at the time (Joshua Jackson, Alicia Witt, Jared Leto) as well as up and comers (Tara Reid, Michael Rosenbaum), but the movie pays off with some genuinely fun stalk-and-slash scenes, as well as an interesting mystery. One thing to remember is that it all links in to urban legends and the mystery inevitably clicks in to the idea of urban legends and how they can take on a new life with every generation. The killer’s garb isn’t quite as clever as Ghostface, but it stands out as a spooky amorphous figure that could house just about anyone. The great use of the killer’s costume makes up for a lot of goofy fake outs, including the sudden convenience that everyone on the campus begins wearing the hood just around the time the murders begin.
I also wish the script could have delved a lot deeper in to the idea of the urban legend, and how they apply to the whole dilemma. That said, “Urban Legend” is a sharp and gruesome twist on the “Scream” formula that reaches farther down than horror movies to touch upon classic tropes. There were a ton of slasher movies that were spawned by the momentum of the success of “Scream.” While Craven’s classic re-invented horror and the slasher film as we know it, but “Urban Legend” was one of the few wise enough to take what inspired classic horror films, and build on that idea with its own axe wielding maniac slaying young teens.
Scream Factory has been paying tribute to nineties horror lately, and give “Urban Legend” the royal treatment with a two disc collector’s edition. Along with new cover art, there’s an audio commentary with director Jamie Blanks, producer Michael McDonnell, and Assistant Editor Edgar Pablos. There’s also an audio commentary with director Jamie Blanks, writer Silvio Horta, and actor Michael Rosenbaum. Finally, there’s the original trailer in HD. On Disc two, Scream Factory offers up “Urban Legacy” a long, exhaustive eight part documentary chronicling the making of “Urban Legend.”
There are extensive interviews with director Jamie Blanks, writer Silvio Horta, executive producers Brad Luff, Nick Osborne, producers Neal Moritz, Gina Matthews, Michael McDonnell, chairman and CEO of Phoenix Pictures Mike Medavoy, the late production designer Charles Breen (To which it is dedicated at the close), director of photography James Chressanthis, editor Jay Cassidy, composer Christopher Young, actors Alicia Witt, Michael Rosenbaum, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Robert Englund, Loretta Devine, Rebecca Gayheart, Tara Reid, Danielle Harris, assistant Edgar Pablos author Peter M. Bracke and more.
All the chapters amount to almost two and a half hours of interviews and footage. This is a lively and fun documentary that works as a fun time capsule of the late nineties, but also details a lot of the conception of the movie, and how it turned in to a film from a small idea. There is so much information and fun behind the scenes footage to be mined here, it’s definitely a master stroke from Scream Factory, once again. There’s the ten minute Archival Making of Featurette from the previous release. It’s not as humongous as the new documentary, but it’s still a fun vintage segment. There are two minutes of deleted scenes, a slew of TV spots for the film, and finally a Gag Reel.