Sunday, March 2, 2014

And The Oscar Goes To...

Year: 1998
Director: Jamie Blanks
Cast: Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

For the entirety of Urban Legend, all I could think about was how the pretty-boy teen star in front of me has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards tonight.

He was unfortunately snubbed for Best Actor in 1998.

I've been missing the slasher genre after a personal drought that feels like a hundred years. I haven't seen a solid slice 'n dice since the first week of January and I was really feeling it. I know that might be hard to understand, but for me slasher movies are the equivalent of Vitamin D. You don't need it every day but if you go without it too long you start to get pale and shaky.

Luckily my reintroduction to the genre came in such a perfectly crappy 90's package.

Remember when Scream happened? And suddenly every slasher film had to have a postmodern meta script? Well, most of those were written by Kevin Williamson who admittedly wasn't the most skilled screenwriter in the world. But Urban Legend is one of the first Williamson-style slashers to be produced without so much as a sidelong glance from the man himself and the absence is striking.

Replacing the "we are living a slasher movie" idea from Scream with "we are living an urban legend" sounds like an interesting idea at first, but the filmmakers don't seem to realize that what they're satirizing isn't actually a legitimate storytelling technique with more generic principles than "this totally happened to a friend of a friend."

Although I do know several people who succumbed to Didn't Check the Back Seat-itis.

But nevertheless the sassy self-aware teens are back, this time led by Parker Riley (Michael Rosenbaum), a douchey frat boy who's planning a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a mythical dorm massacre on campus (aka Randy). 

His sassy self-aware friends include Paul (Jared Leto), an intrepid student reporter who doesn't let pesky ethics get in the way of a good story aka Gale Weathers; Damon (Joshua Jackson), the douchey prankster aka Stu; Sasha (Tara Reid back when she was making theatrical releases - remember that?), a college radio host and slut about town aka Tatum; Brenda Bates (Rebecca Gayhart) the perky girl with huge eyes and an equally huge crush on Paul aka... Rebecca Gayheart in Scream 2; and her best friend Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt), the innocent heroine aka Sidney Prescott but with less personality traits.

It's telling as to the film's overall quality that Tara Reid is actually a better actress than Alicia Witt.

Luckily there's two sturdy genre mainstays on hand in the form of Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) and Danielle Harris (eternal Halloween Final Girl) to class up the proceedings a little bit.

Like they needed to.

Basically what happens is they all wander around their Hogwarts-sized campus and get killed in a variety of ways, all inspired by various urban legends. In between killings, there's pop culture references that range from obnoxious but fun (Joshua Jackson's car plays the Dawson's Creek theme song) to actually quite sweet (the resident security guard (Loretta Devine) is inspired to greatness by Foxy Brown).

And although nearly every single plot point is either predictable (Sergio guessed the killer about halfway through the film - faster than yours truly even! Cheers to Sergio.) or unfathomably dumb (the Final Girl has an urban legend-related backstory, the killer gives a Motive Powerpoint Presentation), the gore is nearly nonexistent, and the acting is bargain basement quality, it's a wonderful trip to the depths of the mid-90's postmodern horror period.

It's dumb, it's campy, people die, and everybody has a good time. The middle tends to drag, but it's an exciting look into the mechanics of the genre.

A quick discussion about the ending: Highlight for spoilers [REBECCA GAYHEART IS THE KILLER. Who knew? I figured it wouldn't be a woman because I'd have heard about it before now but no! It is! I mean her motive is basically "I want to bone Jared Leto" but who doesn't? As far as I'm concerned, that's a pretty solid reason to do anything. Anyway, female killers are a rarity and I always appreciate a break from formula. Thank you, dumb movie, for not being as dumb as I thought you would be!]

You'd be surprised what you can hide underneath a bulky coat.

I wouldn't really suggest this film to anybody either older or younger than myself, but this is the perfect nostalgic visit to the decade in which I grew up. Also Jared Leto. Who is the reason I wrote this in the first place. (Coming full circle, guys!)

Here's where it gets deep. Although Leto started out as a forgettable teen star in dumb post-Williamson slasher films, he is now up for one of the most prestigious awards in Hollywood. It's a testament to practice, hard work, and never demeaning where you are now. You might think you suck, or that your job is too menial or beneath you. 

But never forget that this is where you come from. Once you get there, you'll realize that where you are now was essential training in getting where you want to be. You can rise above your current status, you just have to keep chugging. 

Then, one day, you will be as pretty as Jared Leto.

Killer: [Brenda Bates (Rebecca Gayheart)]
Final Girl: Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt)
Best Kill: Dean Adams (John Neville) gets his ankles slashed like one of my favorite urban legends and then is impaled on those "DO NOT ENTER" car spikes, thereby proving my fears about those things are legitimate.
Sign of the Times: Every frame of every second owes its entire existence to the Kevin Williamson Dynasty.
Scariest Moment: The opening scene - always check the back seat. And never listen to "Total Eclipse of the Heart" when the phrase "Turn around" is ironic.
Weirdest Moment: Tara Reid fellates a microphone to illustrate her point - but she's hosting a radio show so nobody can see it.
Champion Dialogue: "He's most likely shacked up in some motel with a girl. Or a guy... Farm animal... Whatever!"
Body Count: 9; also a dog.
  1. Michelle is beheaded with a battle axe from the backseat of her car.
  2. Damon is hung from a tree and dropped onto a car windshield.
  3. Tosh is strangled and has her wrists cut.
  4. Dean's heel is slit and then he's run over by a car and impaled on tire spikes.
  5. Parker is force fed pop rocks and drain cleaner.
  6. Radio Man is strangled.
  7. Sasha is stabbed and beheaded.
  8. Professor Wexler is stabbed to death.
  9. Creepy Janitor dies in a car crash. 
TL;DR: Urban Legend is a dumb postmodern slasher movie, but it's just what I needed after a long drought.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count:1150

1 comment:

  1. Nice recap. I enjoyed this movie too. I've forgotten a lot of it and now I want to re-watch it again! And if you really want to swoon over Jared, check out My So-Called Life. ::drools::