Urban Legend’s cookie-cutter stereotypes undermine its slasher capabilities



By Steve Newton

Usually, the youthful victims in slasher flicks get slaughtered for having sex, but in the opening scenes of Urban Legend, college student Michelle apparently gets her head whacked off just for driving badly and singing along, out of tune, to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.

Perpetual freakoid Brad Dourif—the voice of possessed doll Chucky in the Child’s Play series—aids the film’s effective intro with his portrayal of a stuttering gas jockey who tries to warn the unlucky lass about the axe-wielding figure hiding in her back seat. His creepy persona only frightens her into speeding away with the murderous stowaway, thus presenting one of the so-called “urban legends”—contemporary tall tales and bits of macabre mythology—the movie turns on.

Like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the other teen-oriented murder flicks on the market nowadays, Urban Legend sports an ensemble cast of too-cute actors whose primary purpose is to act like bozos or bimbos and die horribly while you try to figure out which one of them, if any, is the killer.

The film revolves around conservative coed Natalie (Alicia Witt of TV’s Cybill), whose fellow students at New England’s Pendleton College start dying at the hands of a mysterious maniac in a hooded winter coat.

Could it be Prof. Wexler (Robert Englund, of Freddy Krueger fame), the eccentric American-folklore instructor? Paul (Jared Leto), the overly ambitious journalism major? Damon (Joshua Jackson), the platinum-haired practical joker? Who knows? And as long as we get to see an obnoxious fraternity stud force-fed a killer cocktail of Pop Rocks and Drano, who cares?

The idea of a horror flick centred around scary myths—such as the one about the babysitter who gets threatening phone calls and then discovers they’re coming from the baby’s room upstairs—is a promising one. But the makers of Urban Legend stock their film with so many one-dimensional, cookie-cutter stereotypes that its potential for exploiting deep-seated fears gets numbed.

Still, it’s good to find out once and for all that “Mikey”, the little kid who “eats anything” in those old Life cereal commercials, did not, as playground lore has it, die from ingesting Pop Rocks and Pepsi.

To read more than 350 of my reviews of horror movies released theatrically in North America between 1988 and 2018 go here.

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