Urban Legend Review

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by AVForums Jul 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

    Urban Legend Review

    Kick-started back in 1996 with Scream, the teen horror genre seems to churn out turkey after turkey - and those turkeys lay eggs from which hatch many sequels...

    I say Turkey because basically these films are all the same. Bunch of American teenagers (more than likely at college) discover a gruesome past about someone or something, strange things start happening (one or more of the said teens being killed - more than likely in a gruesome manner), the rest of them go down the basement after what's killing their friends...you get the picture. Big studios still turn these movies out because nine times out of ten, no matter how bad they, they're actually quite good...

    Actually released just a couple of years after the aforementioned Scream, Urban Legend has all the bad things required of it to make it a good teen horror.

    Scary happenings? Check

    College campus? Check

    Bunch of teenagers getting knocked off in any way the filmmakers can dream up? check

    However, what Urban legend has that the majority of other teen flicks don't are some half decent performances and a lesson on how to make your audience jump out of its skin...

    The story starts with college student Michelle Mancini (played by Natasha Gregson Warner) running low on fuel on a dark night in the middle of a thunderstorm...she pulls over into a nearby garage and waits for the attendant...and waits...and waits. Eventually he arrives and he's a kind of Marty Feldman look-alike - but with worse hair and a stammer. He lures the girl into the shop by telling her there's something wrong with her credit card. Once inside, he locks the doors and turns off the lights. She has the natural reaction of blind panic and smashes her way out, goes back to her car and manages to escape...or does she? As she races away, the attendant screams that there's someone in the back seat - and our killer has its first victim...

    Move forward sharply to the next day and were in the campus canteen. Frat leader Parker Riley (played by Smallvilles Michael Rosenbaum - with hair) is telling a story about how, some years previously, a mad college professor went crazy and killed all the students living in Stanley Halls. The college somehow managed to cover up a mass murder to keep its reputation intact. However, keen college paper journalist Paul Gardner (Jared Leto) dismisses the story as nonsense - but not so the two girls listening in on the story -Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt), and Brenda Bates (Rebecca Gayheart).

    Enter prime suspect number one in the shape of Professor William Wexler. You can tell he's the prime suspect here because he's played by none other than Freddie himself, Robert Englund. The professor is holding a class on Urban legends, a series of modern day folk tales passed on from generation to generation. In the lesson, we meet Damon Brooks, practical joker and ladies man - or so he thinks...

    That night, Damon (played by Joshua Jackson), Natalie and Damon are alone in a car in a secluded wood (see where this is going...?). Natalie reveals that she knew the girl that was murdered in the car but hadn't spoken to her for some time. Damon, being the typical red blooded alpha male type, sees this as a sign for a come on. Given the cold shoulder, he goes off into the woods and is next seen dangling on the end of a rope smashing through the car windscreen...and so it goes on.

    Both deaths so far had been strangely similar to Urban legends that Parker had mentioned in his story about the mad professor - so the killer has its theme...each gruesome death that follows is based on an Urban Legend. Natalie seems to be at the centre of most of the murders and she has her suspect...is it mad professor Robert Englund...? How about school journalist Paul Gardner - he's got motive as a good story will sell papers. What about sex siren Brenda...? Always one for a good bit of gossip...of course, I'm not going to reveal who it is here - but rest assured, I think you'll be as surprised as I was when the gruesome truth is revealed after the bloody chase through the college radio station...

    Or maybe not! Not being a great fan of the teen horror flick, I very seldom watch them. I have watched the obvious ones - Scream, Jeepers Creepers and my personal favourite so far, Final Destination - so I do have something to pit Urban Legend up against. And it actually pits very well...

    Helped along with some brilliant cinematography and a pumping soundtrack, Urban Legend will have you hiding behind the sofa - daring you to peek out from the side as everything goes quite onscreen. But just as the teens on that very same screen have been told not to look down there, you peek out a second to early and are met with yet another violent death!

    It contains some half decent performances from the then up and coming cast. We know that Rosenbaum has gone on to make it big in TV land as the evil Lex Luthor in Smallville - but I came up short when I tried to place one or two of the other cast members. The film also stars a rather portly Tara Reid as the college radio DJ - but her part isn't that big and I was surprised to see that she was probably the only other cast member that members of the general public could place or recognise.

    Director Jamie Blanks is making his big screen debut here. Surprisingly, his only other work that springs to mind is the awful Storm Warning. I say surprising because he shows real promise here. There's some great and unique shots all filmed under difficult conditions. From the opening frame, where the heavy rain falls into a pool of water lit by the moon, you can tell you're in for a treat here in the photography stakes.

    As a teen horror movie, Urban Legend ticks all the right boxes. Gorgeous looking young adults all making fools of themselves, plenty of screams and jumps, a few surprises, Robert Englund - and an ending that may well shock you as much as it did me.

    For lovers of this particular genre, I can recommend that you add this movie to your collection on release day. The remainder need look no further on the rental shelves on a Friday night on the way back from the pub with your mates.

    The Rundown

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