I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up, and on both sides there was a general adoration of scary movies. One grandmother loves to recall that my favorite movie in the 3rd grade was Silence of the Lambs—not quite the b-movie slasher, but nonetheless disturbing. The other grandmother notes that we rented virtually every VHS from the horror section at our location rental spot. This ranged from all the Pet Cemetery movies to classics like The Omen. A select few really shook me to the core: The Ring was probably the biggest anxiety-driver, and the original Halloween will always be perfectly spooky. At a younger age however, Urban Legend caused a lot of lock-checking & nightlights.
As the title would suggest, Urban Legend is the film of the millennial-era that informed many a young mind of the horror stories that haunt society, passed along at camp fires and on road-trips. A killer starts knocking off students, faculty, and staff at a college one by one, seemingly bent on mirroring famous urban legends. As an impressionable child with a decent imagination, those legends stuck. I remember discussing them with friends at school, on the bus, in after-school-care. It was influential. The film does its job: a plot based on a bunch of smaller plots, mixed together to assure that many general scenarios are accounted for and everyone leaves the film uneasy. It did this within the Scream genre format, blending teen drama with jump scares.
In addition to incorporating a role call of hip, hot, and young actors like the best 90s slashers do, the film takes college stereotypes and puts them on the forefront. The burgeoning journalist, the party girl, the goth chick, the frat bro, the lowlife… they’re all there. Jared Leto plays the journalist, constantly at odds with the school administration, and Joshua Jackson of Dawson’s Creek fame fills the role of the bleach-haired loser. Tara Reid fills the “college radio DJ”, serving as the college’s sex therapist/advice columnist, her show omnipresent through much of the movie. Alicia Witt, a child star put on the scene by David Lynch in his version of Dune is the seemingly innocent straight-girl, as well as the main character.
This combination of character & plot tropes makes a fun viewing experience, in retrospect. There’s a near-constant stimulus of noticing the film within the film and/or the generalized singular dimension of the characters. Urban Legend is a film both fun for people looking for that campy brand of 90s horror and hoping to just rip a b-movie apart.
For the month of February, Nitehawk Cinema will be showing 1990s teen horror flicks at midnight on the weekends, as part of their Death Candy series. Be sure to catch Urban Legend this weekend, February 17th & 18th.