Urban Legend (1998) starring Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Loretta Devine, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, Robert Englund directed by Jamie Blanks Movie Review

Urban Legend (1998)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Tara Reid as Sasha Thomas in Urban Legend (1998)

Serial Scream-er

"Urban Legend" is basically "Scream", we have a mixed group of typical teenagers, some serious some comical and we have a serial killer at loose who not only as we learn has a motive but seems to be targeting those close to Natalie. Where as "Scream" had the USP of the rules of horror movies "Urban Legend" has the USP of a serial killer who, yes you guessed it murders their victims in the style of these tales which get spread from one generation to another. Now that isn't a bad idea and nor is the fact that here we have a movie which in pretty much every way is in the same style of "Scream" mixing horror and humour. But unfortunately when it comes to the folklore aspect of these killings it is let down because they just come across as a poor way of having different style killings, some which come off better than others. As such "Urban Legend" is entertaining but only in the same way that "Scream" was.

Following the gruesome murder of Michelle Mancini (Natasha Gregson Wagner) in her car, the students at Pendle University, especially Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt - Blue Smoke) begin to wonder if there is more to her murder than meets the eyes. Soon Natalie begins to suspect there is a serial killer at large as another student is murdered this time in the style of an urban legend, just like Michelle was. But why and more importantly for Natalie why are those being murdered seem to be some of her closest friends.

Alicia Witt and Rebecca Gayheart in Urban Legend (1998)

I keep mentioning the similarity between "Urban Legend" and "Scream" and I am going to do so again because the movie starts in the same sort of way as we watch Michelle Mancini driving on a stormy night, pulling over to a creepy service station when she is almost out of petrol and after freaking out drives off only to meet her doom when someone in the back seat takes an axe to her. It's actually a very good opening with some genuine horror, some creepiness thanks to Brad Dourif who plays the creepy man at the service station and some humour as Michelle is listening to "Total Eclipse of the Heart" which has such ironic lyrics as "Turn Around" and "I get a little bit terrified". In fact it is a better opening to that in "Scream" thanks to the clever song choice.

But get this opening out of the way with and "Urban Legend" soon settles to the typical formula with a diverse bunch of teenage friends who just happen to be at the creepy Pendle University and who also happen to be taking a class in folk lore. What follows on from there is routine, a second victim is claimed Natalie thinks there is a serial killer at work whilst others think she is just freaking out, more people die till finally we get the big climax with Natalie fighting for her life and we learn not only who the killer is but their motive. Is it a surprise when we learn the identity, although that is more to do with the fact that there is nothing to suggest who the serial killer is.

What this means is that "Urban Legend" really comes down to the effectiveness of the death scenes and the occasional moment of humour. Well most of the humour fails, even Tara Reid's character talking about blow jobs on University radio although some of the dark humour is genuinely good including Natalie being in the same room whilst a murder is happening but thinking that the screams are those of sexual pleasure. But sadly the death scenes are not that good, okay so the opening death is good and there is a genuine cleverness to a death which happens in the woods when a victim gets strung from a tree but connected to a car which is trying to get away. But then the other deaths are just sort of generic and seem less to do with actual urban legends and more to do with just a serial killer claiming victims in various, visual ways.

As for the acting well Jared Leto gives us blue eyed handsome whilst Tara Reid gives us bouncing cleavage as she tries to run but as you may expect from that we are talking cliche teen horror characters here. And to be honest there is not a standout performance in this youthful cast not even Alicia Witt who as Natalie is central to the story. In fact the most entertaining performance end up a small one from Robert Englund as a folk lore professor who suggests that urban legends are stories created to put younger people off of doing something.

What this all boils down to is that "Urban Legend" is an entertaining teen horror movie very much in the same style as "Scream". It does have some good moments especially the opening murder but the good idea of a serial killer who murders in the style of urban legends seems to go by the wayside as the deaths become more and more generic.