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Urban Legend

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Urban Legend

Starring: Rebecca Gayheart, Alicia Witt
Director: Jamie Blanks
Rated: R
RunTime: 99 Minutes
Release Date: September 1998
Genre: Horror

*Also starring: Loretta Devine, Joshua Jackson, Danielle Harris, Robert Englund, John Neville, Julian Richings, Brad Dourif

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"Urban Legend" follows the conventions of the collegiate horror movie but it is so well-written, tightly paced and realistically acted that it rates as the scariest film of its kind since "Scream." If "Halloween H20" has turned you off on the species, have your faith restored with director Jamie Blanks's work, based on a script by the 24-year-old Silvio Harta.

The high concept that propels the movie is similar to that of Jon Amiel's 1995 hit, "Copycat," a similarly tense and visceral story of a man determined to trod down the same paths as other serial killers. In this case, the murderer acts out the details of urban legends, modern-day folk tales which, like the Greek tales of past millenia (thinks "Oedipus," "Antigone" and "Medea,") deal with the untimely end that comes to people to flout societal (or religious) conventions.

While no alligators appear in the sewers of the New England college (only in New York, remember?), other myths are cleverly and horrifyingly re-enacted with special touches for originality. The fairly banal fable of the woman who put her wet cat in the microwave oven to dry gets a canine slant thanks to an adorable West Highland White, while other folk tales--such as one playing on the severe damage that your car may suffer if driven over parking-lot spikes and another about kidneys which are extracted from unwilling victims and sold on the black market--are given new life with a vengeance. What's particularly praiseworthy this time around is that most of the time an guiltless guy or gal gets tapped suddenly and without warning on the back, it's not usually an innocent encounter but a prelude to something gory.

The story begins in the typical fashion as a car, running out of gas, traverses a lonely road. The driver, Pendleton college student Michele Mancini, reluctanty accepts a tankful of gas from the frightening attendant (Brad Dourif) whose stuttering banter petrifies the wits of the coed but turns out--like much of the rest of the movie--to be other than you think it is. Michelle becomes the first victim of the killer's axe, soon to be joined by a number of others who all have a special connection to one particular student: we in the audience are challenged to figure this out thereby exposing the motive and the perpetrator--all revealed in the penultimate scene.

"Urban Legend" features Alicia Witt as girl-next-door Natalie, yet another figure who is not all who she appears to be. In fact her criminal background becomes a major clue in this whodunit horror film. Ms. Witt is ably supported by an ensemble of stereotypical college students who spend their days pursuing more interesting pleasures than their studies. The erotic scenes and sexual banter are pumped for their humor, particularly underscoring college radio broadcaster Sasha (Tara Reid) whose programming of carnal counsel may have been modeled from Howard Stern's show. Practicing what she preaches, this blond libertine's favorite book is the Kama Sutra and her motto might well be "willing to try any and all positions." But handsome, blue-eyed Jaret Leto is the Leo Di Caprio guy who, in the role of college journalist Paul, is likely to bring in the audience of high-school and college women. Joshua Jackson as practical joker Damon turns in the best situation gag of the movie, Robert Englund plays the kind of professor we all wish we had, and the veddy British John Neville bring an exceptionally sharp touch to his role as college dean--the man who hushed up a multiple murder in the school's Stanley Hall 25 years earlier.

"Urban Legend" is a young person's motion picture but one with a mythic resonance likely to appeal to moviegoers of all ages. Following its dictates could save your life. For example, we already know that we should wear weat belts and drive within the speed limit. But did you know you could get yourself killed some night for warning an oncoming car that its headlights are out?

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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