Rated R - Running time: 1:40 - Released 9/25/98

When coming up with an idea for a teen horror movie, it isn't easy to think of something original. Urban Legend, a debut effort from both writer Silvio Horta and director Jamie Blanks, is a testament to that fact. Horta's feeling is, the stories are already there; all we have to do is work them into a script. But for a first-time effort, he could have done worse. This story, although it requires the viewer to overlook some rather major discrepancies, is reasonably compelling and fun, and falls right in line with the new-generation '90s-hip horror genre brought on by Scream and its descendants.

We used to just call them "ghost stories," but lately they've taken on a new name. "Urban legends" are the modern-day equivalent to folklore, usually involving some kind of horror in a college or big city setting. We've all heard them: There's the boyfriend who leaves the girl in the car on a dark, spooky night to investigate a mysterious tapping, and when she finally opens the door she discovers that the tapping is caused by her boyfriend's feet as he hangs dead from above the car. There's the creepy gas station attendant who drags the girl out of her car, and when she breaks free and speeds away, we learn that he was only trying to tell her there was a killer in the car with her. And perhaps the most recent, passed around of late on the Internet, is the person who is drugged at a party and wakes up in a tubful of ice, with his kidney removed for sale on the black market. None of them are true, but everyone insists that he knows someone who knew the victim.

So begins the story at Pendleton University in a quiet Maine town. The college is known for its safety, but there is a sudden rash of strange killings done in classic "urban legend" form. Natalie (Cybill's Alicia Witt) keeps losing her classmates, and she's getting concerned. But her best friends, party girl Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart) and newspaper reporter Paul (Jared Leto), are trying to help her stay sane while figuring out the case. The most obvious suspect is Professor Wexler, played by Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger of Nightmare fame), who teaches about urban legends in his psychology class. But along the way, Natalie has reason to suspect just about everyone she encounters, until she's running for her life with the parka-wearing killer hot on her heels.

As teen thrillers go, Urban Legend is about average. There are several plot holes common to the style, like indifferent authorities who don't investigate multiple murders — even though the bodies keep disappearing — and a killer who repeatedly comes back from the dead. But plot sense is not the top priority when selling a horror movie to 14-year-olds, so it will do well. An adequate performance is given by Witt, and despite a slow start it moves along with plenty of chills. ***

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive