Back in 1998, a group of friends and I immersed ourselves in various local urban legends. As I listened to the stories that traveled around the area, I became even more fascinated by the legends after viewing the film Urban Legend during its opening weekend. For years afterward I bought and read random books on urban legends around the world. Finally, I found an encyclopedia of sorts on them, but not as nice as the one in the film sadly. If only.
Urban Legend is one of the many films that came out after Scream (1996) with the horror comedy combination used successfully. Tiny moments present themselves within the feature to ease any tensions. For me those are the perfect horror films. Then again this could be because I laughed at the part where the guy jumps out at the store at Sarah Michelle Gellar during I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).
I digress though. Urban Legend is about the events that occur after the murder of Michelle Mancini (Natasha Gregson Wagner). While at first the police believe that a gas station attendant (Brad Dourif), committed the crime, in truth he was the one attempting to warn Mancini before she drove off terrified she would not escape him. The moment where he yells, Someone’s in the backseat still sends chills through my spine. I have also never been able to listen to Total Eclipse of the Heart the same since.
After her death we are introduced to Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt) and her friends on campus. While the police will not admit to the fact a killer on the lose, Paul Gardener (Jared Leto) becomes determined that Michelle Mancini’s murder is the first of many to come. All the while, Natalie and her friends are enlisted in a folklore class that semester, taught by Professor Wexler (Englund). The only survivor of a set of murders that occurred to various students in Stanley Hall twenty-five years prior on the same campus.
Initially no one wants to give Paul’s story any merit. However, Natalie cannot help but think there could be some truth to what he has reported after all. Maybe a killer on campus. After all, Damon (Joshua Jackson) disappeared the night they were in the woods together, the murder of her roommate, though the police are determined she committed suicide based on the stereotypes of the situation, and the person she sees walking around campus with a more sinister agenda. She’s of course right.
This film is far from perfect, but a few moments where the actors shine. My favorite character within the film is Brenda Gates (Rebecca Gayheart). Gates goes through a spectrum of emotions that no one else can even begin to fathom within the film. This says a lot since everyone is trying to stay alive and out of the killer’s grasp for a good portion of the film. Gayheart’s big reveal at the end of the film is one of my favorite reveals of a killer in a slasher film even after all these years. If one cannot appreciate her they are truly missing out.
My favorite other character within the film is Loretta Devine (Reese Wilson), a campus security guard. During her spare time, she yearns to be more badass like the females seen in earlier blaxploitation films. Part of why I love that Reese shines by the end of the feature living up to her film heroes.
Natalie is also one of my favorite characters within the film though she is the cliche female who needs someone to save her. This is not to say that she is not afraid to fight, but she always manages to get herself in situations where someone needs to save her. Considering how strong they make Natalie out to be initially this is slightly annoying.
The film also focuses on Michael Rosenbaum and Tara Reid. In many ways the film reads as a whose who of 1990s teen films. This does not deter me from re-watching the film repeatedly, or enjoying the acting for that matter. Plus Robert Englund is their professor. What more does a horror film need?
Overall, Urban Legend will always be one of my Halloween staples. However the sequels, Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005), are not worthy of a re-watch. To be honest, the second one is not even worth a first watch. With the addition of humor, Urban Legend presents an interesting and unique spin on the horror genre. I truly believe this could have been one of the best horror franchises had they handled the content better. I also recommend learning about all the legends around your own city. Besides, you never know what you could discover.