Urban Legend

Wicked Wednesday: Urban Legend (1998)

For years I was intrigued by Urban Legend but was always warned away by anyone who had ever watched it. “It’s terrible,” they said, and I listened. So in its own say, Urban Legend had become its own urban legend for me.

And you’ll never believe how disappointed I was when I finally watched this 90s slasher and came to the realization that it is neither terrible nor a hidden gem. It’s…pretty much every 90s teen horror film that followed in the wake of Scream.

Where Scream brought new life to tired horror movie tropes, Urban Legend tries to intensify the fear of popular urban legends.

And in fairness, it does start on a good note: the infamous “killer in the backseat”. This is my least favourite (meaning favourite) of all urban legends because it feeds on my greatest fears. Poor Michelle doesn’t understand that she’s about to get a starring role in the tale.

While driving one day, college student Michelle runs out of gas and stops at a gas station. The attendant tells her to go inside the building. When she’s inside, she believes he’s attacking her and she run away. Unbeknownst to her, the attendant was trying to warn her about the person in her back seat. The hooded figure promptly chops off her head with an ax.

On the campus of Pendleton University, the news of Michelle’s death is broken by journalism student Paul (Jared Leto). His papers with the article are pulled, though, considering he’s claiming there’s a madman out to get them.

One of the students to hear Paul’s news is Natalie. Despite being quiet about it, it’s revealed that she was a good friend with Michelle. Her friend’s death gets to her, but she keeps their relationship a secret.

But her glum attitude is noticed by her friend, Damon (Joshua Jackson). He tries to “cheer” Natalie up by taking her into the woods and attempting to get it on with her. Natalie rejects his advances, so Damon heads into the woods to take a piss. While out alone, a hooded figure in a parka fights him and puts a noose around his neck. He’s hung when Natalie panics and tries to drive off with his car, which has been tied to the noose.

When she returns to campus, Natalie realises that no one believes her that Damon is dead. Thanks to a convenient course she’s taking on urban legends, Natalie concludes that both Damon and Natalie’s murders are based on the familiar stories. No one believes her. Even her urban legend-loving pal Brenda.

Soon the murders get out of control. Natalie’s roommate is killed while she’s in the room. It’s somehow deemed a suicide. Apparently autopsies don’t exist in this cinematic universe. Or the ability to choke yourself to death exists.

Natalie and Paul team up when he eventually comes to believe in her theory. They go to question their Professor Wexler (Robert Englund), who they discover is the only survivor of a massacre at their school 25 years earlier. Somehow a major massacre happened there and was successfully covered up – only to survive in legend. That’s a thing.

Inside Wexler’s office, they discover a parka and an ax. That’s seemingly murder solved. Only of course not because no killer is that lazy. Even a movie one.

In the build up to the Massacre Day frat party (no idea what it’s really called), Natalie becomes uneasy. She admits to Brenda that she knew Michelle. Years before, they killed a boy in a car accident. Only Michelle covered up the manslaughter and got away scot-free.

In true slasher-movie style, everyone else is killed off during the party. Bodies are discovered and teens freak out. Paul, Natalie and Brenda flee the school. While stopping for gas, Natalie and Brenda discover Professor Wexler’s corpse in Paul’s trunk. They flee and are separated.

Natalie eventually returns to the university and finds the corpses of all the victims. It’s then revealed that Brenda was killer. The girlfriend of the dead boy, murdered by Natalie and Michelle (well, by accident).

Paul and Natalie work together to defeat Brenda. And they believe they succeed after shooting her, getting into an accident, and catapulting her body into a river. That works for offing most people…right?

After all these years of being warned away, I guess I expected a bit…more. Either something truly horrible or really campy. But it’s honestly one of the most whelming movies I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly watchable, though, and I think that counts for quite a bit. It would have been more fun to build up the lore and eliminate more useless side characters.

It tries, but Urban Legend is certainly no Scream. And it’s impossible to not make similarities between the two. One is just much more clever than the other.

Also. For getting top billing, Leto doesn’t do much here. Alicia Witt carries the whole damn thing as Natalie. Popular names be damned! Gersten was great. Rebecca Gayheart (playing Brenda) was equally great at balancing innocent and absolutely batshit crazy.