By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, and Rebecca Gayheart
Directed by Jamie Blanks
Written by Silvio Horta
God, I miss the 90s. Those halcyon days when “Zoot Suit Riot” was a party staple, friendships were lost over dial-up modems, and skincare ad girls could be cast as psycho killers. Okay, maybe it wasn’t all so great, but at least Jared Leto was still firmly stuck in the heartthrob lane (where he goddamn belongs) and slick, sexy, stupid post-SCREAM slashers like URBAN LEGEND (1998) were all the rage. A cut below the ouput of teen-scream-machine Kevin Williamson, perfume spritzer turned screenwriter Silvio Horta’s debut project is nonetheless the best rip-off of its kind. Which is to say…it ain’t good, but for anybody who just can’t subject themselves to their three-hundredth helping of Woodsboro and Matthew Lillard’s drool acting, URBAN LEGEND is a good alternative to scratch that itch for winking, Clinton-Era snarkitude. Luckily for those people, URBAN LEGEND is now available in a killer new collector’s edition from Shout! Factory.
After the seemingly random beheading of a young woman, college student Natalie (Alicia Witt) finds herself at the center of a series of urban legend-inspired murders. She seeks to uncover the truth with the help of campus reporter, Paul (Jared Leto) and stop the killer before she becomes an urban legend herself.
Horta’s major failing as a screenwriter (besides his loosey-goosey interpretation of what constitutes an urban legend in the first place) is that it’s impossible to care about his smart-mouthed co-eds. As irritating as some of the SCREAM series’ characters can be, they don’t hold a candle to the callous-bordering-on-sociopathic young people in URBAN LEGEND, who greet the bodies of their slaughtered classmates with glib jokes and shameless ribbing. Witt almost fades into the background as a thoroughly uninteresting leading lady, though Joshua Jackson and Tara Reid give the proceedings some necessary mid-90s star-wattage as supporting characters. Loretta Devine seems utterly lost in a thankless role as a campus rent-a-cop, while horror icons Robert Englund, Danielle Harris, and Brad Dourif are each featured as a nod to director Jamie Blanks’ love of the genre. The best of the bunch is Rebeccca “Noxzema girl” Gayheart who (SPOILER) is ultimately revealed to be the ski-jacket wearing killer. The finale, in which the frizzy haired, wide-eyed model does her damnedest to summon the spirit of Glenn Close circa 1987 is ludicrous, but Gayheart’s im-so-crazy-cant-you-see-how-crazy-i-am mugging is almost endearing, and she gets my vote for one of the most enjoyably camp slasher villains of all time.
If there’s a single area in which the film surpasses the bona-fide hit it’s aping, it’s in terms of mood. URBAN LEGEND boasts a slinky, threatening vibe conjured by director Jamie Blanks and composer Christopher Young, whose stylistic flourishes really help to prop up the somewhat limp material. Young’s score is grand and robust, with echoes of Philip Glass and Danny Elfman, while Blanks exhibits the craftsmanship of a dyed-in-the-wool horror obsessive. He truly had the makings of a would-be genre stylist in his day, though taking this film and his sparse directorial efforts since (such as 2001’s VALENTINE) into account, the idiom “all dressed up with nowhere to go” seems all too fitting.
Shout! Factory’s two-disc collector’s edition goes above and beyond to present this frequently dismissed teen slasher in the most loving manner imaginable. As this isn’t URBAN LEGEND’s debut in Blu-ray format and there’s been no mention of a new transfer, it would seem that the film as presented here is of the same visual quality as previous releases. This, however, isn’t the selling point of this set, which includes more special features than any sane person could possibly desire for this flick. In addition to an older audio commentary with Blanks, Horta, and actor Michael Rosenbaum, Shout! includes a new one, again with Blanks, producer Michael McDonnell, and assistant Edgar Pablos, which is moderated by author Peter M. Bracke. Disc two features behind-the-scenes footage, an archival featurette, a gag reel, deleted scenes and tv spots. The disc’s pièce de résistance is the eight-part, feature-length making-of documentary, URBAN LEGACY made up interviews with a who’s who of cast members and production personnel. All in all, it’s an exhaustive package for a film that may or may not deserve such luxe treatment, but that, of course, is for the viewer to decide.
Though URBAN LEGEND, with its barely-there concept and aesthetically uninspired killer may be considered one of the most brazen cash-ins of the 90s teen slasher cycle, the folks at Shout! Factory have given it the royal treatment in a package full to bursting with special features. Twenty years on, Jamie Blanks’ glossy, post-SCREAM slasher is a tasty slice of 90s teen horror: nostalgia softening its logical flaws, caustic young people, and of-its-time-ness into charms. If you’ve never watched URBAN LEGEND or saw it in theaters and vowed never to do so again, thanks to Shout! Factory, now is the perfect time to rediscover its braindead yet beguiling blend of high style and pop horror hokum. For better or worse, they don’t make ’em like this anymore!