Review Date: February 23, 2001
Released by: Columbia Tri-Star
Release date: February 23, 1999
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes | P&S: Yes (Side B)
begins on a dark and stormy night as college student Michelle Mancini (Natasha Gregson Wagner
) drives along a darkened road. Realizing that she's getting low on gas, she stops at a roadside station. As the attendant (Brad Dourif
) begins filling up her gas tank, he begins to act strange, as if he notices something very wrong with her vehicle. He runs inside the station and comes back a second later, asking her to come inside because her credit card company is on the phone. However, when she goes inside, he locks the door and Michelle becomes so frantic that she doesn't understand the man is trying to tell her something. She very kindly maces the poor guy and rushes back to her car and drives off. Unfortunately for Michelle, what the poor station attendant had been trying to tell her was that he saw a man with an axe hiding in her back seat. Too late for her, the assailant pops out and chops her head off.
Michelle was a student at the fictitious Pendleton University in New Hampshire, and the campus is shocked by the news of her murder. Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt
), one of her fellow students, is particularly disturbed because she and Michelle were close in high school, although she keeps that information secret. Natalie and her friend Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart
) happen to take a class on "urban legends", or modern-day folklore, taught by the noted Professor Wexler (Robert Englund
), and she immediately recognizes that what happened to Michelle - someone hiding in her backseat with an axe - is a classic urban legend. Also taking Wexler's class are Parker (Michael Rosenbaum
) and Damon (Joshua Jackson
), a couple of oversexed frat boys who are planning a party that weekend to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a massacre by a deranged professor that allegedly took place at Pendleton and was covered up by the school, a story which Paul (Jared Leo
), a reporter for the school newspaper, is simply another urban legend.
Not surprisingly, Natalie begins to feel a little bit depressed about Michelle's death, and she goes for a drive with Damon. The two go out to a lonely, wooded area, where Damon tries to put the moves on her. She rejects the advance and tells him to take her back to her dorm. But first, Damon steps out of the car to take a whiz in the bushes, and a hooded figure sneaks up and attacks him, putting a noose around his neck and hanging him from a nearby tree, then attaching the other end of the rope to Damon's car. The assailant then attacks Natalie, who somehow didn't notice any of what was going on around her, and when she tries to drive away, it only tightens the noose and kills Damon. She manages to escape from the attacker and runs back to the school, returning with Reese (Loretta Devine
), the campus security chief. They don't find any trace of Damon or his car, and Reese accuses Natalie of being drunk. Even worse, none of her friends believe her story, simply assuming that Damon pulled a practical joke on her based on one of Professor Wexler's urban legends, one about a couple at lover's lane that ends up with the girl finding her boyfriend hanged.
The next morning, Natalie wakes up to a shocking discovery - she finds her roommate Tosh (Danielle Harris
) dead, with her wrists slit. Natalie had walked into their room the previous night and heard Tosh moaning, and thinking that she was screwing around with some guy, didn't turn the lights on. The authorities and the dean of Pendleton (John Neville
) conclude that Tosh's death was a suicide since she was a manic depressive, even though Natalie - and the audience, who were treated to Tosh's death - know differently. A message written in blood on the wall, reading: "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light", is from another urban legend, although everyone writes it off as a morbid suicide note. Natalie quickly realizes that the murderer is killing people based on various urban legends, but the only person who will even listen to her is Paul, who's interested in the story's potential to give his fledgling journalistic career a big boost. Will the two be able to stop the maniac before the entire student body meets a grisly end?
Speaking as a teenager myself, I've usually been pretty much indifferent to the whole late-90's wave of teenage slasher flicks like the Scream
and I Know What You Did Last Summer
series. But I have been rather mystified at the way these movies have been singled out for special ridicule by fans, many of whom have treated them as if they were the only crummy horror movies ever made. Some have complained because movies like Scream 3
and the like are made for and marketed towards teenagers, even though that's a practice that's been going on since the 1950's. Others have complained because many of these films have talentless casts of lifted from TV shows, ignoring the fact that there's no shortage of terrible actors who specialize in movies, either. And then some have complained that the studios are neglecting other types of horror films for the teeney-bopper stuff, even though the major studios haven't been a consistent source for quality horror for decades anyway. In truth, most of these films aren't really better or worse than the kind of horror schlock that's always been around. A movie like Valentine
doesn't suck because it's got some attractive young people in it, it sucks because, like most other movies that suck, it makes the same kind of errors in script, conception and production that people have been making as long as there have been movies.
Which brings us to this film. Urban Legend
isn't a terrible movie. It isn't a great movie, but it's not a terrible one. With the exception of veterans Robert Englund, Loretta Devine and John Neville, the acting, from kids who've had parts in such shows as Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson's Creek
and My So-Called Life
, is rather colorless. There are numerous plot holes and gaps in logic - for instance, Pendleton University, a school described as having 3500 students, evidently only has a campus police force consisting of one person. Also, like other slasher movies, this is one where any adult in the position to help the situation ignores all evidence and doesn't believe there's a problem until a helluva lot of people are already dead. But there are positive qualities to the movie as well. Despite some of the shoddy acting, the characters still have an endearing value to them and the concept of an "urban legends" killer is actually kind of interesting. And for once we finally get a twist ending that's actually appropriate to the story.
But in the end, Urban Legend
simply doesn't work too great as a horror movie. In defense of director Jamie Blanks and the team that produced it, the reasons for this are not completely their fault. The whole "killer on the loose" concept is one that has been examined so much by so many slasher movies, Italian gialli and other Scream
knock-offs that there are virtually no surprises left. You know exactly where each and every shock is going to be, which direction the killer is going to come from, and when he's going to suddenly pop out and murder somebody, because it's all been done before. By now the scares are almost completely generic. Kinda takes the point of suspense, doesn't it? Someday somebody is going to come up with a new way to use movies to scare people, I just hope it will be soon.
Columbia Tristar presents Urban Legend
in both a 16x9 enhanced version letterboxed at 2.35:1 on Side A of the disc, and a Pan & Scan version on Side B. You'll definitely want to stick with the widescreen version. There isn't a whole lot to complain about here in the video department - the image is incredibly clear and detailed, with no specks and only a hint of grain. There are a few times where the colors seem a tad oversaturated, and there seems to be more of a problem with aliasing than appropriate, although both of these flaws are minor.
There are two sound options available: Dolby 2.0 Surroud and Dolby Digital 5.1. Both tracks are powerful, but the 5.1 track does an especially good job of adding to the power of the movie. Optional English subtitles are included.
The extras seem a little bit skimpy, considering some of Columbia Tristar's other releases, but they're still of interest. A commentary track with director Jamie Blanks, writer Silvio Horta and actor Michael Rosenbaum (Parker) is included. The three guys have a blast talking about their work, covering everything from production, the films that influenced them, and even how annoying it is to have their movie constantly compared to Scream
. Also included is a brief featurette that is mostly just a montage of behind-the-scenes footage and includes a deleted scene. Finally, to round it all off there's a theatrical trailer and talent bios for most of the cast.
Great audio/video presentation, not so great movie. For fans of Urban Legend
, this DVD is good deal, although if you're not a fan of the new wave slasher flicks, the film would probably a waste of your time and money
Movie - C
Image Quality - A-
Sound - A
Supplements - B-
- Running Time - 1 hour 40 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- 28 Chapter Stops
- Dolby 2.0 Surround
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- English subtitles
- Filmmaker's commentary
- "Making-of" featurette
- Theatrical trailer
- Talent bios