Last weekend, Slender Man brought the Internet urban legend to life on the big screen. Sadly, the meme-based boogeyman was a critical dud. It’s too bad because urban legends are rich with opportunity for horror movies. Most urban legends have developed over years based on deeply entrenched fears just waiting to be exploited. In a recent edition of The Chopping Block, I took a look at some of the best horror films based on urban legends. One noticeable exclusion was a movie that styled itself as kind of a ‘greatest hits’ compilation of urban legends. The movie even called itself Urban Legend. Why was that movie not included on the list? Though it spawned a sequel – and some horror fans swear by it – critics thought it was abysmal.
In 1973, Pendleton University was the site of a massacre in one of its student residences, Stanley Hall. Years later, a masked killers stalks Pendleton students and stages their deaths using urban legends. Student reporter Jake Gardner (Jared Leto) and Natalie Simon begin investigating, hoping to stop the killer before all their friends become ‘urban legends’.
Urban Legend A Caricature of Slashers
It didn’t take long to write that synopsis given that there isn’t much to this movie. Of all the slasher-lite films released after Scream, Urban Legend is one of the worst. In fact, it’s probably only exceeded in its ineptitude by Valentine. Not surprisingly, director Jamie Blanks was responsible for both of these slasher movie. In spite of its unique approach to the subgenre, Urban Legend is slavishly devoted to the slasher formula. Bright viewers will quickly recognize the red herrings, approximate order of death, and identify the film’s ‘final girl‘.
There’s an almost perfunctory feeling to much of the movie, making it feel like everyone was just going through the motions.
The most offensive part of this neo-slasher is that it had a goldmine with which to work. Yet somehow Blanks takes some of our scariest urban legends and sucks any suspense out of them. There are few scares in Urban Legend. Some scenes, including the opening ‘driver in the backseat’ legend, are clumsily executed. In addition, there’s an almost perfunctory feeling to much of the movie, making it feel like everyone was just going through the motions. On a couple of occasions, Urban Legend delivers some fun blood and gore. The ‘dog in the microwave’ urban legend manages to give the movie a grotesque jolt. Too bad it’s too little, too late.
Urban Legend Wastes Its Talented Cast
Like most mainstream Hollywood slasher films that followed Scream, Urban Legend rounded out its cast with a collection of young, attractive performers. Many of the young faces would have been recognizable to teen audiences as television regulars. Alicia Witt, Michael Rosenbaum, and Joshua Jackson either had or would go on to star in successful television series. None them register in any way in Urban Legend, which owes more to the bland screenplay than their own talents. Jared Leto also shows up and manages to not embarrass himself. But he would probably like to remove this movie from his resume.
Urban Legend opts to use the horror icon as a lazy red herring; Englund barely has any screen time.
And don’t be misled by seeing Robert Englund’s name attached to the movie. Urban Legend opts to use the horror icon as a lazy red herring; Englund barely has any screen time. As the film’s killer, Rebecca Gayheart chews the scenery in a performance that would make Nicholas Cage blush. Sadly, her expository-laden monologue is cringe-worthy, but at least distracts from the lame dialogue.
Not Even Nostalgia Can’t Save Urban Legend
Some of the post-Scream slashers, like I Know What You Did Last Summer, have managed to retain some charms as they have aged. But not even nostalgia can add a silver lining to Urban Legend. It was this kind of lazy storytelling and neutered violence that ended the the brief slasher renaissance. Horror fans would abruptly move on to remakes and torture porn. If you’re planning a neo-slasher night of 90’s and early 2000’s slashers, do yourself a favour and skip Urban Legends.