Dir. Jamie Blanks (1998)
A college campus falls prey to a serial killer who kills victims like those in popular urban myths.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Urban Legend burst onto the scene in 1998, taking full advantage of the post-Scream slasher renaissance by creating a unique take on the genre that attained a cult classic status of its own. Featuring a who’s who cast of 90’s stars like Joshua Jackson, Rebecca Gayheart, Jared Leto, and Tara Reid and with small roles from horror legends Robert Englund and Danielle Harris, the movie pulled no punches in exploring the world of urban myths that we’ve all heard throughout our lives. It’s campy and fun as the best slashers are, and it features enough twists to make it a superbly enjoyable film despite its reliance on decades-old tropes. It also features one of the scariest opening sequences in horror history, causing an entire generation to never go anywhere without checking their backseat first.
Fucking Bonnie Tyler, man…
The critics fucking hated this movie, criticizing it for being a ripoff of Scream, which came out a year earlier. Most of the criticism is nonsense, or at least no more nonsense than saying that Scream was a ripoff of hundreds of slashers that came before it. Tropes are tropes for a reason, and while Urban Legend is a tad more formulaic than some of the more popular slashers, it’s also exactly the kind of cheesy slasher movie that I love. It’s filled with genuinely scary scenes. I’ve always loved and been fascinated by urban legends, and I’m enthralled by the connection between these campfire stories, told to teach moral and safety lessons to children all over the world, and the horror movies that we know and love today. While many of these stories have faded in recent years with society’s increasing reliance on technology, the idea of stories that permeate society at these same levels continues today. Creepypastas are excellent examples of how folktales, often claiming to have a grain of truth, can spread throughout the world. The Slenderman story has spawned several movies, web series, and even at least one actual attempted murder. Though we may be at least partially past the time where verbal urban legends were ubiquitous with young adulthood, we are not past the mythology of (and interest in) things that cause fear.
At the end of the day, Urban Legend really is about as straightforward of a teen slasher as you can get. There’s nothing new here besides the concept of the kills referencing urban legends, as every other thing in the film has been done multiple times before. But isn’t that sometimes the fun of horror? Aren’t we always waiting for the teenage girl to run up the stairs when she could run out the door? I mean, isn’t that what Scream was all about, skewering these staples of the genre in a meta-horror sort of way? There’s nothing wrong with indulging in cheesy horror, and that’s why, even though the critics hated it, Urban Legend is indeed a cult classic. It’s a super fun movie, filled with dumb bloody fun and fantastically brutal kills. The twist is revealed in the motto of the University, for God’s sake: Amicum Optimum Factum, Latin for “The Best Friend Did It,” allowing for a great performance from Rebecca Gayheart at her most unhinged. You really can’t ask for much more than that.
Sorry for the spoiler, the movie is 24 years old.
Who this movie is for: Slasher fans; 90’s Horror lovers; People who can’t speak Latin
Bottom line: Dumb, cheesy, and absolutely fantastic, Urban Legend is one of the more entertaining 90’s slasher films. It may not rank anywhere near the all-time greats, but its always a fun rewatch and its filled with some great kills. I try to rewatch this one at least once a year, and it’s good even if you’re only watching it for nostalgia. It’s a great one for Halloween, and if you’ve never seen it before, I highly recommend it.