- Rated R
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All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he horror genre has always operated in cycles. When one movie breaks new ground, the industry quickly follows suit until that particular fad has been completely tapped. It happened in the 70s with occult films like “The Exorcist” and “The Omen,” in the 80s with slasher films like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th,” and again in the 90s with Wes Craven’s “Scream.” Such is the genesis of “Urban Legend,” an incoherent "Scream" wannabe with a ludicrous premise and a twist ending that is so much like the Craven classic you'd think it was the next installment in the series.
The film takes place at a preppy New England university where a student has just been brutally killed. The local cops chalk it up as an unrelated murder, but when other students around campus begin suffering similar fates, Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt) suspects that the killer is using urban legends to dispatch its victims. Aside from what her Abnormal Psych professor (Robert Englund) has taught in class, Natalie’s knowledge of the subject material is minimal. What she does know is that all of the victims are connected, and though her friends (Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid and Michael Rosenbaum) think it’s all part of a big prank to commemorate the school’s own urban legend, by the time they discover the joke is on them, it's too late.
“Urban Legend” is one of those horror films that has clearly put a lot of thought into the premise, but very little into the actual execution. It’s too bad, then, that the premise is one of the film’s biggest flaws. The idea of someone using urban legends to kill people isn’t unique, it’s stupid, and the fact that the filmmakers have to re-use one of them proves the topic isn’t quite as ripe for material as originally believed. Another one of the film’s deaths is even altered just so the character involved will actually die, and it only goes to show just how poorly all of this was planned out. Of course, when your killer can access other people's cars and dorm rooms with little effort, it’s not surprising that the story is littered with plot holes.
Director Jamie Blanks is so willing to conceal the identity of the film’s killer that he begins to include details that are downright farcical. One of the university's faculty members keeps an axe in his office that he claims is for class (as if that would ever be allowed), while everyone in town seems to own the exact same winter coat. It’s flat-out ridiculous, and while horror films have been including these kinds of story devices for years, the combination of so many at once is simply too much to excuse. “Urban Legend” could have been just as big of a hit as “Scream," but like other movies before it, the film suffers from trying too hard to be the perfect clone.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The HD release of “Urban Legend” may contain a new video transfer and audio track, but the special features haven’t changed since the film’s original DVD. The commentary with director Jamie Blanks, writer Silvio Horta and star Michael Rosenbaum is informative but dated, the deleted sex scene between Rosenbaum and Tara Reid is particularly unsexy, and the “making-of” featurette is actually a mishmash of behind-the-scenes footage from production and post-production.