The late 90’s were a pretty good time to be an attractive TV star who hoped of breaking into movies, wasn’t it? It seems like every other week there was a horror movie that was just a compilation of attractive young people, thrown together with no rhyme nor reason. We partly get to blame Scream, which helped revive the slasher genre in a clever and hip way, and we can BLAME I Know What You Did Last Summer for the “People like their TV shows so let’s put them in a movie!” motto. Urban Legend was able to combine the talent from shows like My So-called Life, Felicity, Dawson’s Creek, and most importantly, Cybill. It’s basically the Justice League of great, GREAT television programs.
And to think, only 15 years ago Tara Reid was viewed as an object of desire instead of just another actress turned trainwreck.
A young woman is driving alone through a storm, and when she stops to get gas, is confronted by the gas station attendant. She thinks he is trying to attack her, but we then learn he was trying to warn her of someone in her backseat, and she gets her stupid head chopped off. At the college this girl was attending, some students discuss the similarities of this murder to a similar urban legend, and then Robert Englund makes a kid drink Pop Rocks and soda. Well, Robert Englund in the role of a professor, not just the actor himself showing up and bossing people around. This leads to a series of events where college students die in classic urban legend stories, from a boy’s feet dangling on the roof of a car and scaring a girl which causes her to drive away and hoist his body into the air to the dog in a microwave trick. We eventually learn that these urban legend murders center around our lead character, played by Alicia Witt, because she was friends with the girl who died in the beginning. The two were driving around without their headlights on, like the urban legend, and waiting for cars to signal them with high beams and then turn around and follow that car. It resulted in the death of that driver, and then we learn the driver’s girlfriend (Rebecca Gayheart) is the one doing all the killing. When she is confronted and “killed”, the movie ends with a group of college kids telling the story of everything we’ve just seen as if it were an urban legend, only to have Rebecca Gayheart lean forward and say something snarky, revealing she’s still alive! WHOA!
Not sure if Rebecca Gayheart would have been nearly as terrifying without that crazy lion’s mane hairdo.
I remembered who the killer was when I had seen this when it originally came out, so there wasn’t much of a surprise there. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by practically everything else in the movie. The amount of urban legends that they were able to squeeze into a bland, clichéd slasher was entertaining, and obviously incorporating Robert Englund as the creepy, possible suspect professor added some authenticity to the cheesiness. Same thing with Danielle Harris, who played the roommate of Alicia Witt that was goth and was always fucking people so when she was being murdered and Witt’s character walked in, didn’t turn on the lights. Despite picking well-known legends, they were vague enough that knowing the setup didn’t necessarily mean you knew the end result. The frequency of the legends and murders also meant minimum amount of creativity on the part of the filmmakers, so that by the time you got bored, another legend was about to get started. The actors were fine, I suppose, and there was a bit where Pacey (Joshua Jackson) was trying to bone this girl so he turns on the radio and it was that Paula Cole song from the opening of Dawson’s Creek and he got really mad! That joke probably won’t hold up when future generations study this movie, I am old enough to get this “joke” that I had completely forgotten about.
Supposedly the movie was supposed to take place in the winter, which justified why the killer simply wore a big coat as a disguise. When they couldn’t afford snow, they simply said FUCK IT and this is all they had. Real scary guys, real scary.
My immediate reaction after finishing this movie was that it was a good “B Movie” that got a theatrical release. Then I started thinking, and discussing on Twitter, what exactly makes a modern day movie a B Movie? The term originated in the days of double features in movie theaters, where you’d have an A Movie with a bigger budget, higher production value, and it could afford more talented actors, and B Movies were created just to fill that time slot of a second feature. This meant shoddy production value, not enough time for multiple takes, a cheesy script, and any available actors you could find. The major defining characteristic of a B Movie was that it didn’t have as high of a budget, which caused the overall quality of everything in the movie to be poor. This makes it quite difficult to determine which movies that come out now are B Movies, considering there are movies that cost $100 million that have terrible actors and awful dialogue, but also movies that cost $10,000 that have more talented actors, better scripts, and more creative shooting locations. This poses the question: If budget is no longer a factor, what are the current definitions of a B Movie? We see movies being released theatrically that are intentionally trying to mirror and sometimes mock the B Movie style, and most of them flop because it’s not authentically cheap. I think B Movies are typically endearing, and people are willing to look past obvious flaws to admit that they were entertained, which is how I felt about Urban Legend. There were plenty of flaws, poor dialogue, ridiculous situations and twists, but it kept me entertained for an hour and a half.
Wolfman Moon Scale