Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Sound formats: Dolby Digital / SDDS
A serial killer descends on a New Hampshire college where he/she kills a number of students in the manner of various urban legends.
History has a habit of repeating itself. In the early 1980's, a series of low budget 'slasher' movies emerged in the wake of HALLOWEEN (1978) and "Friday the 13th" (1980), most of which were condemned as substandard imitators by critics and horror fans alike. The same thing happened in 1996, following the success of Wes Craven's SCREAM, a smug reworking of genre clichés which allowed 'sophisticated' multiplex audiences to indulge an attitude of superiority over those 'crappy' old horror flicks and the 'unsophisticated' viewers who once supported them. The subsequent wave of teenage horror pics were flashy, sexy and ramped to the max, and - true to form - virtually all of them were (ho hum) trashed by critics and horror fans alike. And yet, most of them made a profit, perhaps BECAUSE they were flashier and sexier than those earlier pictures, and because they were designed for a wider demographic than 'mere' horror fans.
Jamie Blanks' URBAN LEGEND is a case in point: Most reviews ran the gamut from harsh dismissal to faint praise, yet the movie is a visual treat, as creepy and atmospheric as any of the films which inspired it. Furthermore, Silvio Horta's unassuming screenplay confounds expectations with its solid narrative arc, recognizable characters and dynamic set-pieces, not to mention a climactic 'reveal' which offers a robust motive for the killer's devastating onslaught. There are a few embarrassing lapses along the way (such as the murder which takes place in full view of heroine Alicia Witt, which she ignores because she thinks it's a couple having sex!), and Horta can't resist a handful of cop-out contrivances (eg. the killer slashes the wrists of a girl known for her depressive tendencies, causing authorities to dismiss her death as suicide, though a routine forensic examination would have revealed the cuts were administered post mortem, AFTER she was strangled to death!), but these occasional blunders are redeemed by the movie's fast-paced editing, neo-Gothic visual scheme and clever plot developments. Blanks orchestrates proceedings with consummate skill, but he refuses to indulge the kind of transgressive gore that once distinguished this downmarket subgenre (where's Tom Savini when you really need him?!).
As expected, the talented young cast - including Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart and Tara Reid - is pleasingly photogenic, and there are lengthy appearances by TV favorites Michael Rosenbaum ("Smallville") and Joshua Jackson (watch out for the terrific "Dawson's Creek" gag!). Major co-stars include Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger himself!), John Neville and an uncredited Brad Dourif, who features heavily in a powerful opening sequence where Blanks and Horta pull a major switcheroo on the audience (I'll say no more). Loretta Devine is amusing as the campus security guard who views herself as a modern-day Coffy/Pam Grier (her fantasy is rudely curtailed by a climactic encounter with the rampaging maniac), and there's a brief appearance by Danielle Harris, the former child star of HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988) and HALLOWEEN 5 (1989), playing an adult character FAR removed from the angelic poppet of those earlier pictures! Beautiful, fairy-tale score by Christopher Young. Followed by the largely unrelated URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT (2000).