“It’s like someone out there is taking all these stories and making it a reality.” A young woman is driving, she realizes her car is running on empty, and of course there’s a rain storm. She pulls into a small gas station and a man comes over to help. He has a stutter and is hard to understand. As he’s pumping the gas he glances in the backseat of her car and then disappears with her credit card into the office. He comes out and asks the young woman to come inside because there’s a problem with her card. She’s on edge, this guy is creeping her out and there’s torrential rain outside.
She grabs pepper spray from her purse and follows him into the station where he locks the door. He tries to explain something to her but his stutter stops him from getting a full sentence out. Instead, the woman panics, pepper sprays him, breaks the window and jumps out. She leaps into her car and races away as the old man chases after her, finally getting this words out; “SOMEONE’S IN THE BACK SEAT!”
But over the sound of the rain and her own sobbing, she doesn’t hear him. Half way down the road a shadow appears in the backseat as a figure rises with an axe. She finally notices the figure in her rear-view mirror. But it’s too late. The axe swings and chops her in the neck. Total Eclipse of the Heart plays over the radio. “Turn around, bright eyes…”
Possibly one of my favorite horror movie openings. They really did the best openings in the late 90’s and early 00’s. This one is of course, Urban Legend. And in 2018, Scream Factory released their new collector’s edition. Which is why we’re talking about it today!
Urban Legend was directed by Jamie Blanks, and written by Silvio Horta. It was originally released in 1998. And oh boy is the movie pure 90’s. The cast alone is a who’s who of 90’s pop culture. Jared Leto plays our lead male Paul, Alicia Witt plays our final girl Natalie. We also have Tara Reid, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, and Joshua Jackson...just to name a few.
Set at Pendleton University, the story follows a group of friends who are being killed one by one in the style of urban legends. Natalie and Paul are fighting to save their friends, themselves, and find the killer over the span of a weekend. But everyone has secrets, and a lot of them have motives, and does the urban legend of Stanley Hall play a part?
This is a slasher flick through and through - there’s tones of slasher tropes, big epic kills, and some wicked one-liners. But it’s also a crazy murder mystery that reminds me of Agatha Christie. A group of people, trapped in a building because of some sort of storm, murder, and a killer. But who’s the killer?
Every ten minutes you’re convinced you know who the killer is as the film throws different characters at you all with their own motives. And when the final killer is revealed as Brenda, you don’t see it coming. But when Brenda explains why she’s doing it - the whole story comes together nicely. The mystery is wrapped up and every piece has its place to bring us to this finale. It’s incredibly well crafted and written.
Let’s talk about the kills - each one is completely epic and well thought out. It’s not just your generic slasher stabby stabby situation. Each one is its own story. Obviously, it all starts with the urban legend of someone being in the backseat of the car. Michelle falls in that one.
Next is Damon who takes Natalie out to the woods. He tries to come onto her but she punches him in the face. My favorite part of the movie. Annoyed, he goes off into the bushes to pee but never returns. A figure wearing a parka comes at Natalie who panics and tries to drive away. She hears thumping on the top of the car and thinks it’s the killer trying to get in. But it’s Damon, hanging from the tree, his feet scrambling against the roof to gain footing before he’s strangled to death.
Then we have Danielle Harris, she plays Tosh, Natalie’s goth roommate. Who spends her time on a website called Goth 4 Goth looking for hookups. This is not a real website. I didn’t look it up…
She falls victim to the “aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the lights” legend. Tosh is attacked in her room and is strangled in her bed, while Natalie sleeps in the same room unaware. Natalie is used to hearing Tosh have sex with her various hookups so she’s got her headphones on and doesn’t think anythings wrong. When she wakes, she sees blood all around Tosh’s bed and finds her dead with her wrists slit. Written on the wall in blood is the message.
The high beam gang initiation is the most important legend in this movie as it ties everything together. When Natalie and Michelle were in high school, they played the game. They drove with their lights off, and when someone flashes their high beams at them to tell them, they would chase the vehicle. This ends with a young man being killed in a car accident, who turns out to be Brenda’s fiance. Hence why Brenda has gone on this killing spree. And Brenda uses the game against Natalie when she manages to escape with the janitor, causing the janitor to crash the truck and having Natalie run for her life.
There’s also the most traumatizing legend kill - the dog in the microwave. There’s the story of the babysitter who realizes the call is coming from in the house. Parker is drunk at his frat party when he receives a threatening call from within the house. He heads upstairs accusing the person on the phone of playing the urban legend game. But the killer tells him that this is the legend of the woman that tried to dry her wet dog off in the microwave. And when Parker races down into the kitchen, he hears the microwave beep. And inside is his dog. SO TRAUMATIZING.
Parker is also fed Drano and poprocks on a play of the poprocks and coca cola that makes your stomach explode.
Lastly, Brenda tries to kill Natalie at the end by attempting to set up the urban legend of the missing kidney. Where a man wakes up in a tub full of ice, his organs missing.
There’s also a tone of other urban legends references throughout. It’s fun to try and spot them all!
Granted, this is a typical 90’s horror flick, so not all the performances are strong. Natalie comes off a little hysterical and spends most of the film pouting and crying. Paul is the stereotype of that bad boy, sticking it to the man, figure. There’s 0 sexual chemistry between Natalie and Paul, even though the film forces them together.
But, there’s also some winners. The janitor is played by Julian Richings who does a wonderful job of lurking in the shadows and startling all the characters. Robert Englund plays Professor Wexler who teaches the students about urban legends and is also wrapped up in the Stanley Hall mystery. Tara Reid actually does a pretty great job of playing Sasha. She’s a radio host for the college and plays the stereotypical over sexualized young woman who runs screaming for her life and inevitably dies a gory death. BUT - she does it with flare. Brad Douriff plays Michael, the gas station attendant. He’s only on screen for like 5 minutes but he’s such an incredible performer, he sticks with you throughout the whole flick.
My favorite performance is by Gayheart as Brenda. Throughout the flick you see her as the sidekick to Natalie. She’s there for her best friend to give advice or support. She heart eyes Paul and comes off a little ditzy. But at the end when she flips and reveals she’s the killer, Brenda becomes absolutely insane. It’s absolutely over the top and over dramatic, but you have a great time watching it and find it believable because of Gayheart’s performance.
Urban Legend still holds up incredibly well, and even though I knew who the killer was based on previous viewings, I still had a great time watching it. It’s just a well rounded slasher/murder mystery full of pop culture references, nods to the genre, and entertaining kills. The killer is simple - a terrifying figure in a parka. But the simplicity and faceless killer creates for a terrifying interaction. It also has a great ending that leaves it open to sequels.
Urban Legends: Final Cut was released in 2000. And then in 2005 Urban Legends: Bloody Mary was released. But neither even come close to holding a torch to the original.
Highly entertaining, and still holds up. I absolutely recommend a re-watch or a first time watch. The Scream Factory edition is beautiful and has a tone of extra features including director commentary, and an 8 part making-of doc, extended interviews and behind the scene footage. They get pretty much everyone back to talk about the movie.
Overall, Urban Legend is a unique slasher that brings an Agatha Christie mystery to the table, along with some terrifying legends that we all have heard happened to a friend of a friend of a friend.