Urban Legend Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Jamie Blanks
Written by Silvio Horta
1998, 99 minutes, Rated R
Released on November 20th, 2018
Jared Leto as Paul Gardener
Alicia Witt as Natalie Simon
Rebecca Gayheart as Brenda Bates
Michael Rosenbaum as Parker Riley
Loretta Devine as Officer Reese
Joshua Jackson as Damon Brooks
Tara Reid as Sasha Thomas
John Neville as Dean Adams
Robert Englund as Professor Wexler
Danielle Harris as Tosh
The students at Pendleton University are being stalked and slashed by an anonymous killer using urban legends as inspiration. Natalie Simon and her friends are the targets of this maniac, but the murders may not be entirely random. Natalie, her friend Brenda and campus journalist Paul Gardener are determined to find out who is responsible and why. Could it have anything to do with the university’s dark secret of a massacre on campus twenty-five years ago? Time is running out as the masked assassin draws closer by the hour.
The horror genre has seen a lot of ups and downs over the years and all it takes is one solid hit to breathe new life into the industry. The first half of the 1990s was a disappointing landscape of shoddy offerings that satisfied few moviegoers. Everything changed with the release of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), a $100 million runaway hit that convinced studios that horror was not really dead. A fresh wave of slickly-produced films started coming out in quick succession, each paying homage to the classic slasher films of the 1980s. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) was the first to strike and it too was a hit. By 1998, the formula was set and the road paved for the high-concept Urban Legend, a movie that starred a hip young cast, contained a smart script and strong direction. Australian newcomer Jamie Blanks (Valentine) makes a strong debut in the director’s chair and delivers a fun, fast-paced flick. First-time screenwriter Silvio Horta (Ugly Betty) wrote a smart and satisfying story and Blanks was up to the challenge of filming it.
Urban Legend is not a gory retread of the slasher but follows the broad strokes of the subgenre. A group of attractive young people is trapped in an isolated location and hunted by a masked killer. The deaths are numerous and inventive but do not wallow in gratuitous violence or bloodshed. Blanks leaves a lot implied, opting instead to focus on suspense. This decision serves the project well and there are several set pieces that ratchet up the tension. Unlike Scream, this film is not self-aware nor does it poke fun at the genre; rather it plays the material straight. The killer has a distinct look and uses a wide variety of weapons, keeping things fresh from one kill to the next. Blanks maximizes his locations and benefits from a deep bench of familiar faces.
Several contemporary (1998) up-and-coming actors hitting their stride appear in this film. Jared Leto (American Psycho) stars as Paul, the journalist looking for a big scoop. He is determined to uncover the truth about the campus massacre of old and see if the dots connect to the current murder spree. Leto plays the role in earnest and walks the line between hero and suspect with ease. Alicia Witt (Cecil B. DeMented) stars as Natalie Simon, not your typical Final Girl. Natalie has a troubled past and carries at least one big secret. Witt plays her as a vulnerable but determined heroine, not easily pushed around and smart enough to elude the killer more than once. Rebecca Gayheart (Santa’s Slay) is Brenda, the best friend invested in discovering the villain’s identity. She has a crush on Paul and doesn’t mind helping out if it means she can spend time with him. Gayheart and Witt deliver strong performances and work really well off each other. Comic relief comes courtesy of Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville), whose frat boy Parker Riley is more interested in finding the next party than worrying about the chances of being murdered on campus. Rosenbaum is instantly likeable in the role and gets in a lot of humorous moments throughout the picture.
The supporting cast is equally strong, most notably horror veteran Robert Englund (The Phantom of the Opera) as Professor Wexler, the folklore instructor. He is given a great scene early in the picture explaining what an urban legend is. He raises the film’s pedigree with his involvement and is well utilized in the role. Lending a touch of class to the project is John Neville (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) as Dean Adams, the man determined to keep the campus’ recent rating as the safest school in the country. The always-welcome Brad Dourif (Child’s Play) makes a cameo appearance as a creepy gas station attendant in the intro and delivers another solid performance.
Rounding out the cast are even more familiar names, including Loretta Devine (Crash) as campus security officer Reese. She wants to be a real cop and takes inspiration from old Pam Grier movies, but Reese really cares and is good at her job. Joshua Jackson (Fringe) plays practical joker frat boy Damon Brooks and Tara Reid (The Big Lebowski) appears as campus radio host Sasha Thomas. Genre favorite Danielle Harris (Victor Crowley) plays Natalie’s bitchy Goth roommate Tosh and Natasha Gregson Wagner (Lost Highway) plays the doomed Michelle Mancini. Everyone in this cast is really good and each is given at least one great moment to shine.
A lot of this picture takes place at night, in the rain and director Jamie Blanks never met a crane shot he didn’t like. Working closely with cinematographer James Chressanthis, the movie is given a slick look that is immediately attractive. Composer Christopher Young (Drag Me to Hell) contributes a lively score that punctuates the many high points of the film. Urban Legend is not a perfect movie, but it is a really fun one. It is fast-moving and suspenseful, but relies too heavily on jump scares. The ending works with a nice reveal and motivation, but doesn’t line up with all of the killer’s previous actions. It had been several years since I saw this title and I was pleasantly surprised that it holds up as well as it does. Horror fans are likely familiar with the material, but the filmmakers are having an infectious amount of fun executing the tale.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Urban Legend looks really good here although I am not sure if this is a new transfer or the same used for Sony’s earlier Blu-ray release. The image is strong with plenty of small-object detail. Colors are rich and black levels are bottomless and everything is well-defined.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track is rather aggressive and gives the rear speakers a real workout. Dialogue levels are well-balanced against music cues and everything is clear and free from distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
This Collector’s Edition comes stacked with special features and fans will find a lot to like. The material is spread across two discs with the majority of the supplements appearing on the second disc.
Starting things off, we have two commentary tracks; the first is a newly-recorded discussion with director Blanks, producer Michael McDonnell and director’s assistant Edgar Pablos, moderated by author Peter Bracke (Crystal Lake Memories). The group reflects on the twenty-year history of the production and is clearly having a nice time revisiting the picture. There is a lot of information provided with minimum down time, as everyone has a lot to say.
The second commentary is actually a holdover from the original DVD release, featuring Blanks with writer Silvio Horta and actor Michael Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum provides a lot of quick quips and keeps things light while Blanks and Horta share various production stories.
The original theatrical trailer is included.
The all-new documentary Urban Legacy (147 minutes) commemorates the film’s twentieth anniversary with a wide ranging collection of interviews featuring several members of the cast and crew. There are more than twenty on-camera participants and everyone gets time to have their say. This is a well-crafted, thoughtful piece made as much for the filmmakers as for the fans, as it gives everyone a chance to reconnect on the project. By all accounts the film’s set was full of friendships and good times and the documentary serves as sort of a homecoming. All aspects of the production are covered here, from the initial pitch of the script, through casting and shooting to the release and audience response. Split into eight parts, the documentary moves at a steady, informative pace without feeling too long. If I have one complaint it is simply that each segment must be accessed individually and there is not a “play all” option.
Extended interviews (73 minutes) from the documentary are included here in two parts and allow for more information to be shared from a handful of interviewees.
An extensive collection of behind-the-scenes footage (54 minutes) is presented in three parts. We get a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the film shoot detailing rehearsals, shooting and down time between setups. Anyone curious about life on a film set will find plenty to enjoy here.
The archival making-of featurette (10 minutes) is composed of behind-the-scenes footage narrated by director Blanks.
A deleted scene (3 minutes) offers a humorous look at Parker and Sasha’s sex life, but was cut for pacing.
A short gag reel (2 minutes) offers the usual collection of flubbed lines and minor goofs during production. Some intrusive music steps on the audio, but otherwise this is a satisfying extra.
Four TV spots offer a look at the film’s marketing campaign.