Coming a bit late in the post-'Scream' slasher revival of the late '90s, 'Urban Legend' is neither the best or worst of the bunch. Not as much silly fun as 'I Know What You Did Last Summer,' nor as clever in concept as 'Final Destination,' 'Urban Legend' is simply the kind of generic scare-flick the kids in 'Scream' would have made fun of. It's completely paint-by-numbers and rather rote in its meager thrills, but still glossy and fast-paced enough to stave off total boredom.
The story, as such, will be familiar to any fan of the '80s slashers that 'Scream' mocked. Alicia Witt stars as Natalie Simon, your typical horror do-gooder (if not quite virginal) with a shady past, who transfers to Pendleton University in hopes of starting a new life. But she soon finds herself pursued by a campus serial killer, who stages his/her murders to resemble famous urban legends. As she watches her friends get picked off in grand fashion one by one, she enlists the help of a student Paul Gardner journalist (Jared Leto) and her best friend Brenda Bates (Rebecca Gayheart). Truth will prove stranger than fiction, however, as the mystery begins to unravel and the killer's motive turns out to be far more unexpected (and personal) than ever imagined.
This is Slasher Movie 101. Most of these films are enjoyable precisely because we know what to expect, and 'Urban Legend' doesn't leave out a single cliche. There's the pre-title murder sequence (which is fairly effective). The brief introductions of a group of comely college co-eds, most of whom you know will die quickly. The killer who is so damn clever he/she seems to anticipate everyone's move ten steps in advance (or perhaps just downloaded a copy of the script from the internet). The over-the-top murders that are staged so elaborately that somehow, the authorities are always able to come up with some sort of ridiculously plausible explanation to brush them away. And the obligatory chase-climax, where our heroine uncovers all the bodies and the clues in rapid succession, all while screaming her lungs out.
'Urban Legend' does none of this with much freshness, but youthful director Jamie Blanks does have plenty of style and energy to burn, and is so darn naive that it's hard to hate a movie this eager. All the cast were probably smart enough to realize there aren't characters here to play per se but archetypes, yet say every single line with an absolute straight face anyway. The murder sequences are likewise fairly entertaining, even if the film runs out of well-known urban legends to pilfer by the halfway point. Unfortunately, the killer's visage isn't very effective (a guy/girl in a furry parka, really?) so 'Urban Legend' is never scary, but even that kinda works in its favor. This is more Scooby Doo than 'Last House on the Left,' and if fun is all you want, the movie delivers.
Needless to say, anyone who hates this genre will not be swayed by 'Urban Legend.' Still, I found it to be fun nostalgia, and the film is at least slickly made with passion and energy. You won't learn anything new from 'Urban Legend,' but then again, any movie where Tara Reid gets mercilessly killed can't be all bad.
'Urban Legend' is the latest late-'90s slasher flick to come to Blu-ray from Sony (hitting stores the same day as 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'), and I'm surprised by how good these low-budget movies look. 'Urban Legend' is not as slick as 'I Know,' but still has a nice, glossy sheen, and the cinematic value is helped immensely by the use of a widescreen (2.40:1) frame.
The movie is pretty well photographed. Colors are nicely saturated, with only some intentional desaturation making a few key scare scenes looking a bit bland. Daylight sequences are brighter, and better. The palette remais strong and and relative clean, however, and fleshtones are accurate. Blacks and contrast good to above average, giving the image a fair amount of pop and depth. The transfer has noticeable fine detail with some flatness apparent. Shadow delineation is can be strong in better-lit scenes, though the darkest scenes struggle with black crush. If not a superlative catalog release, Sony should also be commended for another nice 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, which is clean and free of artifacts.
Sony offers up a new English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround remix for 'Urban Legend,' and if not as a strong as the video, the film still benefits nicely from some spiffy sound design.
Surround use is generally engaged. The underrated score by Christopher Young swells throughout, giving a nice lift to the rears, and discrete effects are on fine display. The climactic passage of the film, which is drenched with rain, is also nicely done with sustained ambiance. Dynamics are strong, with excellent differentiation between highs and lows, a clear but not bright sound, and some deep low bass. Dialogue is generally well balanced, with only a couple of the loudest scenes a bit overbearing. 'Urban Legend' is still a '90s slasher flick and not a big-budget action spectacular, but it sounds quite good for what it is.
'Urban Legend' makes its Blu-ray debut with the same supplemental package as the previous standard DVD. It's not a hugely expansive set (and the extras are now dated), but it's probably enough to satisfy fans.
'Urban Legend' is a decent slasher movie that came near the beginning of the post-'Scream' frenzy of the late-'90s. I didn't like it as much as that Wes Craven scream-fest (or even 'I Know What You Did Last Summer,' which predated 'Urban Legend' by a year) but it's still a pretty fun flick. This Blu-ray is presented very well, however, with great video and audio, and a few worthwhile supplements. Fans of 'Urban Legend' can definitely pick it up with confidence.