31 Days of Slashers: Urban Legend (1998)

The twentieth film in the 31 Days of Slashers series is Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend (1998). Pendleton University is shocked by the murder of one of its students. Natalie (Alicia Witt) and her friends talk about the murder and tell some stories that they’ve heard about other violent occurrences on campus. Paul (Jared Leto), head of the university’s newspaper, discredits the tales as simple urban legends. As the film progresses, Paul discovers that one incident was actually true and that their American folklore professor (Robert England) was a survivor of the massacre. Soon, Natalie’s friends and fellow students are murdered one by one. Can Natalie discover the identity of the killer before she’s the next victim? Could Professor Wexler be murdering the students in the ways he discusses in his lectures on urban legends?

Urban Legend is an absolute blast from start to finish. The young cast is a great draw for this one, in particular, as the film features performances from Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Tara Reid, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, a blonde Joshua Jackson (who can really pull off the bright hair color), and Danielle Harris (the young Jamie Lloyd in the fourth and fifth Halloween films). My absolute favorite performance of the film, however, is Loretta Devine as campus security officer Reese Wilson. Devine steals every single scene she is featured in, and her character’s love of Pam Grier is just another glorious touch to this fun film.

We’re returning to another fantastic slasher film directed by Jamie Blanks, whose Valentine (2001) I discussed earlier in the month. Blanks delivers excitingly staged death sequences and brings a very engaging visual style to the film. One of the absolutely brilliant moments that always stays with me is the opening sequence of the film, where Michelle (Natasha Gregson Wagner) stops for gas and as she drives away, the gas station attendant (Brad Dourif) tries to tell her that someone is hidden in the back of her SUV. Blanks highlights the moment by playing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler on the radio in the car. As she sings “Turn around…” the killer moves into view, starting the film off with a thrilling death sequence but also a lovely burst of comedic irony. The film features many fun moments like this and references to other films in the genre.

Written by the late Silvio Horta, who was greatly talented and is greatly missed, the film breathes fresh life into the slasher boom of the late 1990s. By integrating the creepy legends that are always passed around by friends at school, around campfires, and at sleepovers, Horta created a narrative that reaches out to everyone. Regardless of what you are afraid of, at least one of the legends represented in the film will take you back to discussing them with friends. When I read a book about urban legends in middle school, the one that always spooked me the most was the tale of the killer that waited underneath cars to slash the ankles of his victims as they finish their shopping. Silvio Horta was also the creator of two television shows that I really loved: Ugly Betty (2006-2010) and Jake 2.0 (2003-2004).

Through its fantastic performances, its excellently staged death sequences, and its fun references to countless urban legends, this film is an essential watch this Halloween season. If you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for? Do yourself a favor and check out this classic slasher from the late 1990s.

Urban Legend is streaming for free on the Tubi and Pluto TV apps and can be rented on Amazon, DirecTV, Google Play, Redbox, and YouTube. The Shout! Factory blu-ray, which features a treasure trove of special features and an excellent transfer, can be bought HERE.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series!


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