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Remembering ‘Urban Legend’ 19 Years Later

Remembering ‘Urban Legend’ 19 Years Later

Released nearly twenty years ago, on September 25, 1998, Urban Legend had the misfortune of being lumped in as another Scream copycat, despite it being a box office success.  It’s hard to argue that aesthetically, and tonally, this teen slasher shared a lot in common with the string of ‘90s teen slashers released during the latter half of the decade. Urban Legend is definitely not without its flaws, but it’s a slasher worth revisiting for both its high fun factor and the clever script revolving around urban legends.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for Easter eggs and hidden horror homages, and Urban Legend has quite a few. Casting Robert Englund as unpleasant Professor Wexler was a stroke of genius. Not only is it always great seeing Englund appear in horror films, but his long-standing history as Freddy Krueger makes it even easier to believe that Wexler was behind the murders. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment, you can spy a Freddy Krueger puppet hidden in Wexler’s closet, just before the reveal of the axe. Brad Dourif’s casting as the gas station attendant during the kill that emulates the urban legend featuring the killer in the vehicle’s backseat was also a pleasant surprise. Also notable in that kill, is that the victim, Michelle Mancini, is named after Child’s Play creator Don Mancini. Urban Legend marked Danielle Harris’ first major theatrical horror release since her turn as Jamie Lloyd in the Halloween franchise.

Urban Legend

The killer’s final reveal is memorable for Rebecca Gayheart’s scene-chewing performance, but there are a few clues sprinkled throughout that the person hidden beneath the winter coat was a female. In keeping with the horror homages, Gayheart’s character, Brenda Bates, was named after Psycho killer Norman Bates. Poor Norman wasn’t known for his grip on reality, and Brenda revealed herself to be extremely unhinged by the film’s climax as well. If that’s too loose of a connection, then look to Pendleton University for more cleverly hidden clues. The motto found on the university’s emblem, in Latin, translates to “The best friend did it.” As for the strange choice for the killer’s outfit itself? It turns out that the original intent was for this to be a winter set story, but the warm weather during production changes those plans. Everything winter was tossed aside, well, except for the killer’s outfit.

That this killer prefers to stage their kills around urban legends gives this slasher an almost anthology quality. From the opening kill, the aforementioned backseat killer, to Tosh’s violent murder nod to “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?” Each death is varied enough that it’s fun predicting which urban legend will trigger the next death. With the endless possibilities to explore more fun kills through urban legends, it’s also the perfect setup for a franchise that inexplicably never quite stuck the landing. Brenda’s surprise appearance at the end, showing she survived, has her sporting a ribbon around her neck as an homage to the urban legend where the girl’s head falls off when the ribbon is removed.

Urban Legend

As far as the ‘90s teen slasher craze is concerned, Alicia Witt’s Natalie and Jared Leto’s Paul are two of the dullest protagonists. Natalie can be frustratingly incompetent. Yet, the commitment of the entire supporting cast makes this a forgivable flaw. Loretta Devine is such a scene stealer as rent-a-cop Reese Wilson that Ryan Murphy seemed to rip the character off completely for TV series Scream Queens. Gayheart imbues enough liveliness into Brenda that it more than makes up for Natalie’s lifelessness. Joshua Jackson nails the jerk role and takes humorous callbacks to teen show Dawson’s Creek like a champ.

Urban Legend wasn’t a game changer in the slasher genre, but it was a worthy attempt. It still is. It’s not perfect, but it’s one I revisit far more often than most of its time. It’s also one that I wish received a reboot. It’s an effective concept with a wealth of underexplored urban legends, that could use a modern update. As it stands though, it’s a lot of fun.



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COMMENTS

61 Comments
  • le4therfac3

    one of my favourite slasher movies. a blast from start to finish. the sequel isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be, either.

    • Saturn

      I kinda dig all 3 Urban Legend movie if I’m completely honest – none of them are what I’d call amazing, but compared to some of the post Scream slashers of the 1990’s they were fine.

      • le4therfac3

        yes, i’d even call bloody mary a guilty pleasure. the scene with the spiders is awesome.

  • Jay

    Love this film! Wish Scream Factory would do a 20th Anniversary release next year with some killer extras!!

  • Graham

    I love this movie, and appreciate it more and more as time goes on. I would’ve loved to see it become a stronger, more long-lasting franchise, but I think even by the time this one rolled around the second wave of slashers was already winding down. I’m not sure how likely a reboot would be, given that I don’t know that this one has much mainstream staying power, but I’d definitely watch it!

  • Travis_Bickle

    Saw this in the theater…now I feel old….lol?

    • gabriel

      It was showing when Bride of Chucky was in the theater too. Tried to sneak into both of them at the mall but no dice.

      • Travis_Bickle

        That sucks. I saw Bride of Chucky in the theater too….christ i’m elderly….

        • I saw it in the theater too, but I think it’s more a result of having a gorehound for a mother and less about being old.

  • MeeGhoulz

    Gotta watch this one yet!

    • Saturn

      You should be able to pick it up used pretty cheap if you have somewhere near you that sells 2nd hand dvds/blu rays.
      I’ve seen it in bargain bins in the UK for a quid – which is cheap as chips.
      Good movie too.

      • MeeGhoulz

        Thanks, love to go scavenging for old movies! If only my VHS collection had survived the merciless hands of time! DVDs are quite more resilient…

        • Saturn

          I have to admit that I look back with fondness when it comes to VHS (and going to the video store) but I wouldn’t want to go back to them.
          Dvd is fine enough for me these days (I have around 100 blu rays but don’t intend to upgrade every movie I have to that format, and have no intention of starting over again with those 4K Ultra disc things ot what replaces those in a couple of years) – as I can often find used dvds for an average of 50p (sometimes as little as 20p) – which is the equivalent of something like 68 cents and 27 cents.

          • MeeGhoulz

            Oh, VHS was not pratical at all! I would just be glad to still have them as a collection…

          • Saturn

            It may seem silly, but something I miss is my old collection of “dupes” that would have 3-4 movies on 1 vhs tape.
            Not that I condone piracy or owt.
            I don’t really condemn it either (in certain instances).

            Sometimes you have to go down the route of – ahem – borrowing digital files off of the internet and/or Youtube when it comes to movies that haven’t seen an official Dvd/Blu release, and probably never will.

            Of course though, once they do get an official release, support the companies who put the effort into putting them out – as I’d rather own a nice, digitally restored (if possible) version on an official disc,with artwork and extras than a low bitrate youtube download from an nth generation bootleg vhs tape.

            But even when it comes to nth gen boots, I still look back fondly on those, as it was often the only way we in the UK could get copies of ISOYG, Cannibal Holocaust, LHOTL and the other video nasties, and others that would never get a release in the UK.

          • MeeGhoulz

            Digital distribution can solve the issues of rare movies not getting a physical release on most countries, but alternative methods always will grant us a chance of knowing more movies! I live in Brazil, we’re not even considered as a market for most media releases, so I don’t even allow myself to use the term piracy, we say ‘alternative methods’… and my tapes with favorite movies were something of a selection! Borrowing to friends was such fun way to get people to know some obscure movies! Speaking of which, a friend rented this one, can’t remember the name but it was a 80s haunted house movie where a group of friends mess with an ouija board and a girl asks “what’s my age? What will be the age that I die?” and the ouija goes “23” twice… it was a sequel, and had a spider woman sucking a guy dry (literally)… all in the same movie! Oh, and it looked american… any chance you know it?

          • Saturn

            That’s an easy one : Spookies.

          • MeeGhoulz

            THANK YOU EVER SO MUCH!!! That’s it! If you ever find yourself stranded down here on Zyka land lemme know and the beers’ on me! Cheers!

          • Saturn

            Booking plane ticket now, anything for a free beer!

          • Dan Warren (Forgottenretroworl

            I got oddly turned-on by that sucker.

          • MeeGhoulz

            Who doesn’t?

  • tyler

    Very good movie! Still watch this just about every Halloween.

  • Simon Allen

    I kind of like this movie …..but when I go back and watch it (which I do now and then) it bores me and isn’t really as good as I remember it being ….if that makes sense ?
    Rebecca Gayheart is really the best thing about it .

    • Forca84

      It’s not a great film by any means but it’s ok. Once you start to dissect all of the coincidences the movie falls apart. Rebecca’s character doesn’t even seem smart enough or strong enough to carry this all out. Also the movie is surprisingly not that gory compared to other films.

      • Simon Allen

        Yeah i always thought that it was more violent than it actually is and lets face it none of characters are in the least bit believable LOL .

        • Forca84

          Alicia Witt is truly awful and wooden in the film. Tara Reid is ok. Michael Rosenbaum is ok. But they aren’t performing Shakespeare. Leto is annoying as hell.

          • Simon Allen

            None of them were ever getting oscar nominations 🙂 .

          • J Jett

            um, excuse me Tara Reid has already won 4 Oscars….at least in my mind she has. LOL. 🙂

          • Simon Allen

            She is sorely underrated …….LMAO !

          • Adam Matthews

            tara reid was actually great in this, i have always thought danielle harris should have been the lead actor

  • jackstark211

    I have not seen this film in years. Boy does this bring back memories.

  • Seed

    I loved this movie as a kid. I tried rewatching it about a year ago and it seemed so slow to me. I’ll have to give it another try.

    I never liked the sequel, though.

  • dukeblues

    Makes me feel old. I was in high school. But its just another in a long line of bad horror movies from the late 90’s right up there with H20 and Scream

    • Peter Evans

      was about to agree until you said “scream”

    • MrX13

      I wouldn’t say bad but definitely not great. It is a fun and entertaining movie though and fits right in with Scream, H2O, and a couple of others. But they weren’t bad

  • J Jett

    i liked the first film and have never seen the sequels. i am about to sit down (tonight) and watch part 2. hopefully it will end up being good/decent.

    • Paulo Victor Mascarenhas

      Do yourself a favor and skip part 3 altogether.

      • MrX13

        Wait, there is a part 3???

        Oh yeah, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, just googled it.

    • Barry El Beardo

      How did you find Final Cut?

  • Nicolas Caiveau

    The best slasher of the 90’s after Scream^^

  • Eastman420

    Been a long time since seen this. One of the things that got me was the dog in the microwave scene. “No this is the one about the crazy old lady who stuffs her dog in the microwave” Fucked up shit

    • Necro

      “Oh you fucking sick motherfucker!” poor ‘Hootie’!

    • MrX13

      That was some really f**ked shit! Why the doggie, he didn’t do anything!

  • Necro

    I enjoyed it, but if this could’ve been released just a few years later, I think it would’ve been a little better. It certainly could’ve used a little more blood and gore! Nothing over the top, but enough. All those ‘slasher’ films in that ‘time’ period could use a touch up IMO. ‘Valentine’, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’, ‘Urban Legend’ just to name a few etc. I’m not saying those films sucked by any means, it’s just 4-5 years later and all of a sudden blood, gore, and intense violence certainly wasn’t shy in any Horror film, well if that’s what the film was calling for anyway.

  • BreeBennett

    This franchise had a lot of potencial like Final Destination, but the terrible sequels killed it.

    • MrX13

      I don’t even remember what the sequel was about. That’s how bad the movie I guess.

      • BreeBennett

        It’s a good thing that you don’t remember.

  • Dave

    Awww, Urban Legend! I loved it! One of the best in a shitty lineup with Scream on top of course.

  • I quite like this one. It is not reinventing the wheel but some of the kills are creative enough.

  • Travis Ignaffo

    I have Urban Legend 1&2 in my dvd collection, they are decent movies in my opinion. Im not too picky about my horror films as long as people die.

  • Maxime C

    I like this one a lot. Tara Reid’s running scene is one of the good ones, being killed while on the radio, nice touch.
    Nathalie and Paul should have died though.

    • Barry El Beardo

      I love her death but her kill should’ve been on screen. Even seeing flashes of her being hacked up would’ve been even more brutal 🙂

      • Maxime C

        I Agree 100%

      • MrX13

        Her death scene worked well but I agree that splatters of blood or flashes of the hacking would have been better to watch. However, the chase scene was intense

  • Meatwad

    So many lil’ hottie in this movie. Not a terrible horror film, not the best either.

    • MrX13

      It was a fun movie to watch

  • MrX13

    I liked the concept of killer people based on urban legends. It was a good movie and the actors did well. Loretta Devine was a badass in that movie. I would say this could be a cult classic

  • marklola12 .

    I hated it…it was way too tame and hardly showed the deaths

  • Yay one of my all time faves! The first sequel wasn’t that bad but the third one… brrrrr

  • lonestarr357

    Besides Loretta Devine, the cameos and Christopher Young’s score, this film is distinctively meh. And then there’s the ending. Some people in that era could pull off the over the top, ‘crazy as fuck’ psycho (Matthew Lillard in Scream, Fairuza Balk in The Craft), but Noxzema girl…not so much.

  • James Quintanilla

    OMG i used to love this movie as a kid… Reading this article takes me back… Must find it and watch it again. Thanks. =)

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