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Urban Legend (1998)
Another Scream-inspired hip horror film, filled with beautiful 20-somethings and a mystery killer. Unlike lesser examples of this trendy subgenre, though, Urban Legend benefits from expert direction and a hard-working cast.
There's a killer on the campus of Pendleton College, one with a very interesting modus operandi. They're using urban legends to murder people. You know, those silly stories that your kid sister insisted happened to a friend of a friend. Anyway, all the murders are happening to people that Natalie (Alicia Witt) is connected to in some way. Now she's trying to figure out who is doing them. Could it be the weird janitor (Julian Richings)? What about Professor Wexler (Robert Englund), who teaches a course on urban legends? Natalie doesn't know, and with each moment she and friends Paul (Jared Leto), Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart), and Damon (Joshua Jackson) are in more and more danger.
That's a standard issue slasher film plot, ready and pre-packaged from an assembly line of horror scripts. This was Silvio Horta's first produced script, and he hasn't done a lot since then -- it's obvious why. Though the basic premise is inventive, it appears that his method of producing it was to look at the structure of Scream and see how he could squeeze his ideas into its format.
Without a great script, the film's success rests on the shoulders of the direction and the cast, and they deliver in spades. In particular, Jamie Blanks work at the helm, from the great first shot on, is fantastic. He keeps things going at a good pace, and creates some serious suspense. Because of his direction on Urban Legend, I'm now anxious to see his next work, Valentine, a movie I was previously indifferent about.
A basic generalization these days is that a cast of teens and folks in their 20s isn't worth the Noxema they apply before filming. I refer you to American Pie for an example against this idea, and I would also recommend you look at Urban Legend. Although Witt and Gayheart are merely average, Leto is believable as the reporter with a head for a story and little heart for ethics, despite the fact that his part isn't that well written. In fact, nearly all the characters suffer from weak development, and are only dredged out of it by good performances.
I don't think that Urban Legend is any better than Scream. Scream, was, in my humble opinion, a landmark horror film. Because of its trailblazing status, it can't be readily compared to the movies that follow it. I'd say that if you liked Scream and its sequel, you'll have a lot to enjoy in Urban Legend.