United States: 1998
Original title : –
Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Screenplay: Silvio Horta
Actors: Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart
Publisher: ESC Editions
Cinema release date: March 17, 1999
DVD/BR release date: June 1, 2022
Students at the University of Pendleton diligently follow courses devoted to urban legends which evoke terrifying stories whose origins are unknown. When a student is brutally murdered and inexplicable disappearances occur, only Nathalie Simon suspects a link with the legends. She tries to sound the alarm, but no one wants to believe her. Paul Gardener, a young journalist eager for sensational subjects, decides to explore this track…
In addition to giving screenwriter Kevin Williamson work for a few years, the international success of Scream in 1996 helped create a new wave of slashers, which we would quickly name the “Neo-Slasher”. This genre resurrected the teenage horror film for a time, creating a handful of light horror franchises centered on TV series stars and overall much less intense, scary and “gore” than the slashers of the 80s.
If we saw a shovelful of them 25 years ago, most of these neo-slashers tend to get confused in our minds today, and for good reason: the cast of these films seems largely interchangeable, the characters were generally uninteresting, the direction uninspired, and the storylines and kill scenes were certainly entertaining overall but also very forgettable. Urban Legend isn’t hugely different from the all-comers at the heart of this wave of neo-slashers, but a handful of elements set it apart a little from the rest and ultimately make it perhaps a bit more newsworthy than most of his contemporaries.
Released on US screens in September 1998, only a year and a half later Scream, Urban Legend is, however, already the second experience of producer Neal H. Moritz in the field of neo-slasher: the previous year, he had literally knocked the house down with Remember… last summerwhich featured a handful of young people bound by a dark secret and overtaken by a killer representing the ghosts of their past and their guilt.
Natalie, the heroine at the heart ofUrban Legend embodied by Alicia Witt, develops the same kind of guilt as the characters in the 1997 film. At the same time, Jamie Blanks’ film will choose to evoke and illustrate a small handful of urban legends, and while his friends will see themselves eliminated one by one by a hooded maniac armed with an axe, Natalie will have to face her past with the help of Paul (Jared Leto), a journalist for the university gazette acting as if he works for the New York Timesand her friend Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart).
We will readily admit that the characters ofUrban Legend are generally more interesting than the average neo-slasher “teenager”. Note, for example, that the characters played by Michael Rosenbaum and Joshua Jackson (insiders will notice in the film a little nod to Dawson) are quite finely sketched, and relatively skilfully divert the usual clichés concerning this kind of supporting roles. As the campus security guard, Loretta Devine surprises, especially in the way she tries to “take power” by drawing inspiration from Pam Grier and the film Foxy Brown. Tara Reid delivers an interesting pre-American Pieand Danielle Harris, who portrays here a goth rather focused on sex, creates an interesting link between Urban Legend and the founding saga of slasher, namely Halloween (Danielle Harris played little Jamie in Halloween 4 and Halloween 5).
In the same spirit, it should be noted thatUrban Legend will instantly gain in credibility and appeal thanks to the whirlwind appearance of two horror icons: Robert Englund, who plays a rather fascinating teacher character, and Brad Dourif, who appears in the opening sequence as a weird gas station attendant. These are two minor, but remarkable characters, and it’s always a treat to see two veterans amidst a cast of young up-and-coming actors. For the rest, Urban Legend follows all the rules of the genre to the letter: the false leads are numerous and the spectator will never cease to wonder about the identity of this killer with a happy heart. The revelation of the murderer’s identity may prove surprising, and his motivations are sufficiently substantiated to prove convincing, even if one cannot help but raise an eyebrow at the performance of the killer’s interpreter, who rather makes crates once his true nature is revealed. On the production side, the Australian Jamie Blanks (then a beginner) offers us a fairly successful atmosphere, with a beautiful photo by James Chressanthis and an effective soundtrack, which we owe to the excellent Christopher Young.
Whether Urban Legend was indeed released in Blu-ray format in 2008, the cake published at the time by Sony Pictures was exhausted, and traded at exorbitant prices on the second-hand market. The re-release of the film in High-Definition at ESC Editions is therefore excellent news. On the master side, the whole thing is very satisfactory: the sharpness is correct, the colorimetry solid, and the cinema grain is present, without major attenuation. Of course, the film has not been remastered, and despite some reservations, the Blu-ray disc published by ESC offers us an overall thrilling rendering, far superior to any SD source, especially if you watch the film on a very large screen. It should also be noted that the film is naturally offered in 1080p. On the sound side, the publisher offers us two mixes (VF / VO) in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, dynamic and spectacular. Both versions are clear, clean and well balanced. The acoustic rendering is nice, with sometimes surprising small sound details on the rear channels: very nice work.
On the side of the supplements, we will start first with the piece of choice of this edition: a presentation of the movie provided by Marie Casabonne, Guillaume Le Disez and Claude Gaillard (21 minutes). The three speakers, co-authors with Fred Pizzoferrato of the book “Slashers – Attention, it’s going to cut…” (Éditions West Winds2021), will put the film back in its shooting context, will evoke the neo-slasher post-Screamwill return to the genesis of the film and certain scenes, and will end by returning, each in turn, to their favorite scene fromUrban Legend. A good time, mainly driven by the excellent analysis of Guillaume Le Disez, whom we know well on film reviews for being the initiator of the breathtaking Blu-ray collection “Atomic Future”, devoted to post-nukes most exciting rituals. We will then continue with a short making-of (7 minutes), which will give us a glimpse of some moments stolen from the set, commented by Jamie Blanks: we will discover images of the scene of the death of Joshua Jackson, of the first sequence with Brad Dourif (with a funny wink ‘eye to Chucky), as well as the recording of the film’s music by Christopher Young. We will then quickly move on to the blooper of the film (2 minutes) in order to concentrate on the very interesting deleted scene (3 minutes), which deepened the relationship between the characters played by Tara Reid and Michael Rosenbaum. Finally, we will end with the traditional trailer.