When quizzed on my favourite slasher films recently, I was gawked at for citing Urban Legend. Later that week I watched it and, as it always has, it reignited my love for it. Thus, when one might ask “Urban Legend, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” I can answer like so… Oh, mind those dastardly spoilers, now!
1. The Artwork
Still one of my favourite movie posters, and easily the best of the 90s crop: The cracked glass, the negative paper cuttings, the lighting, the eye… It’s perfect. Perfect, I proclaim.
2. The Beginning
Albeit shamelssly ripped off from Scream (which itself was a complete theft from When a Stranger Calls), the ‘classic’ killer in the back seat legend sets things up awesomely as Natasha Gregson Wagner unfortunately becames the real life proclamation of Bonnie Tyler’s seminal “every now and then I fall apart” lyric she happens to be singing as the movie loon rises up behind her.
Can you swing an axe inside a car? Doubtful, but this is just the first of Urban Legend‘s many fab anomalies.
3. Natalie’s moral center
At the movies when I first watched the film way back in 1999, the turning point to perfection came early on when Natalie (Alicia Witt – my kinda lady) challenged campus journo Paul on his story, reminding him that it was somebody’s life. Witt’s acting skills, effortlessly dwarfing those around her, make her an exceptional final girl.
4. Rent-a-Cop Reese
Campus head of security Reese (Loretta Devine – almost 50-years-old when she made this!) is a sassy, Pam Grier-obsessed backgrounder who’s more important than she initially appears and was the only character to return for the sequel.
5. Killer wardrobe
The loon in Urban Legend wears a creepy fur-lined Parka coat – the type kids in Grange Hill wore in the 70s. Considering who it turns out to be, that hood can pack a lot down AND disguise the fiend’s face admirably.
6. …that everyone else wears
On no less than THREE occasions is the very same design of jacket used as as a fake-out. Everyone seems to wear it, from professors, to the janitor, even girls on the swim team – despite the sunny conditions outside.
This is an undeniably stupid plot aspect in a film with so much stock in passing off coincidences as something else, I think using it once would’ve been enough.
7. Laughter Lines and It’s-About-Time Lines
Even a super-talent like Witt could never deliver the line “It’s like somebody out there is taking all these stories and making them reality,” convincingly. It’s awful dialogue, matched later by a few other aural faux pas’ such as two girls bonding over a love triangle minutes after the killer has axed one of their friends to death…
However, this is buoyed by Natalie’s for once honest answer to the recurrent slasher movie question: “Are you OK?” On two occasions is she asked this and, on both, simply replies: “No.”
8. Danielle Harris as the skanky roommate
Once she was cute little Jamie Lloyd, ever on the run from her derange uncle in Halloween‘s 4 and 5; once she sat across the aisle from me at the world premiere of Hatchet II. But in between horror fame, Danielle Harris chews up this small, rather thankless role, as Natalie’s goth roommate, Tosh, who seems to do nothing but cruise chatrooms looking for a shag.
9. Contrived ways of getting events to accommodate the legends
The major obstacle in Urban Legend – both writing it and watching it – must be the method to tie all the murders together. It leans heavily on characters doing the right things at the right time for the killer to be able to exploit their actions: What if Damon didn’t get out of the car for a piss? What if Natalie hadn’t walked in on Tosh having sex before? It renders the entire film a crock in terms of reality, but, again it must be stressed that’s there’s never really been a real world slasher movie event – gun massacres don’t count – so it has to be stupid to work.
10. Killer casting
Leads Jared Leto and Alicia Witt both became stars in their own right, and they’re admirably propped up by a roster of familiar faces from various other films and TV shows of the era: Joshua Jackson makes the most of his small role as the peroxide-domed prankster Damon; future famous-for-being-drunk girl Tara Reid as Sasha, the borderline slut (but she’s not unpleasant); and who wouldn’t want to go to a class taught by Freddy Krueger!?
11. A long, drawn out chase scene
While it may not reach the dizzy heights of the chase scenes in Prom Night or I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend was savvy enough to know that nothing can get audiences going like a damsel being accosted by the killer. In this case, it’s Sasha (Tara Reid) who is stalked around the campus radio station by the axe-toting loon, apparently recreating “the one about the murder live on air” alluded to by some bit-parter in an earlier scene.
The scene wraps beautifully with Natalie arriving too late to help her friend, who has locked herself in a room on a higher floor and smacks futilely against the window. The killer comes through the other door and whacks her with an axe that miraculously remains perfectly clean.
12. A car chase – albeit quite a slow one
There’s been horror, comedy, romance, and now action! Once Natalie’s on the run again, she’s picked up by the grumpy janitor and, of course, there are no other cars on the road when the killer reappears to make yet another legend reality!
13. Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening
Tossing EVERY cliche into the bag once more, those Parka jackets and everyone who owns them prove their worth when the night brings a massive thunderstorm that Natalie finds herself running through on more than one occasion. Still, putting the final girl through the wringer is nothing new…
If you can read Latin, you’ll have already been informed by the college’s motto that ‘the best friend did it’. A friend of mine let it slip before it came out so there was sadly no surprise element, although Brenda’s deranged eyes and oversized shaggy perm soon outweigh the stupidity by their sheer awesomeness.
15. The Exposition
The Scream-era had no want for motiveless loons killing because they just do, 90s slasher films had to have a killer with a proper reason behind their killing spree. Anybody remotely familiar with how these films work would’ve pegged the real motivation earlier on when Natalie confides in Brenda her terrible secret… The girl-on-girl scene is a catty-dialogue lover’s wet dream and although there’s NO WAY IN HELL a skinny girl could ever hoist up a grown man, survive being shot and falling out of a third floor window, she’s freakin’ awesome and proof that hell certainly hath no fury…
16. Brenda’s lizard face of death
17. The significantly “less Hollywoody” new cast
Where the class of Pendleton University featured a uniformally beautiful group of friends, at nearby ‘Ashton’, the new class is a little less… shall we say… ‘conventional’. Though I do want the blond guy’s long hair and her glasses.
So there you have it, next time I ask myself “Urban Legend, how do I love thee, let me count the ways,” I can say with some certainty that I love it in at least seventeen different ways. Out.