Urban Legend

USA/France 1998

Reviewed by Kim Newman


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Pendleton University, New England. Student Michelle, driving home late, escapes from a stuttering gas-station manager. He is trying to warn her about the axe murderer hiding in the back seat of her car. News of her death spreads across campus, especially affecting her estranged friend Natalie who is taking Professor Wexler's course on urban legends. When Damon, a prank-playing friend, is murdered in front of Natalie in a re-enactment of an urban legend, she confides in fellow students Brenda, Parker, Sasha and Paul. Parker floats the theory that a serial killer is recreating urban legends.

Natalie's roommate Tosh is murdered, leaving the message "aren't you glad you didn't turn on the lights?" in blood, but the Dean writes her death off as suicide. Natalie confides in Brenda that she broke her friendship with Michelle after they played a prank based on an urban legend which resulted in a boy's death in a car accident. During a frat party, the killer murders the Dean, Parker and Sasha. Paul, Brenda and Natalie flee. Brenda and Natalie find Wexler's body in the trunk of Paul's car and run from him, but it is actually Brenda - the girlfriend of the boy Michelle and Natalie killed - who is the murderer. Paul and Natalie fight off Brenda, who falls into a river. Later, on another campus, Brenda listens as someone recounts the story of her murder spree as an urban legend.


Urban Legend calculatedly cross-breeds the youth-appeal of Wes Craven's Scream (especially the poster design), the novelty serial killer of Se7en, and the persecuted guilty-teens motif of I Know What You Did Last Summer. This yields a silly but not unlikable formula horror picture, one exactly like the wave of early 80s movies that were name-checked in Scream 2 (The Dorm that Dripped Blood, The House on Sorority Row, Graduation Day, Final Exam). Credibility is not a high priority. The guessable revelation of who the guilty party under the hooded parka is glosses the details. For instance, how does this killer get the first victim to make a late-night visit to an out-of-the-way gas station? How can he be sure the stuttering attendant will be unable to warn anyone? How can he swing an axe with killing force inside a small car? And how come the entire plot is directed at the less culpable Natalie rather than Michelle, initiator of the original incident?

The monomaniacal thesis, elaborated both by Robert Englund's blatant red-herring professor and wiseacre Parker, also stumbles because there aren't enough urban legends to go round. Despite references to the 'dog in the microwave' and the 'snack food and soda intestinal explosion' stories, the string of murders that clutters up the second half of the film are just stereotypical stalk-and-hack killings. Some key legends mentioned in the film ('dead granny on the roofrack', for example) are left out, and only a token stab is made at the 'call her name five times' tale, to avoid invoking memories of Candyman. That film was more sophisticated in its deployment of urban legends and was actually urban in setting. (Intriguingly, almost all the stories classed as urban legends take place on lonely roads or woods miles away from cities.)

Nevertheless, Urban Legend manages somehow to be rather endearing, from Natasha Gregson Wagner's opening bit (what must now, after Scream, be called 'the Drew Barrymore position') to the hokey shaggy-dog punchline. Alicia Witt, whose resemblance to Gillian Anderson is a short-term advantage but long-term handicap, is fine as the 'final girl', shouldering all the sensitivity while her friends carry on with the now-obligatory Scream-style callousness. (Best excuse for ignoring screams for help: "She's doing a performance piece to commemorate the massacre.") Lithium-chugging, pierced, goth Tosh breaks up the overwhelming preppiness of even the nastiest frat kids, and there's an amusingly transparent murder set-up scene as Damon drives Natalie out to the woods, pretending to be understanding in order to make out with her.

First-time director Jamie Blanks isn't in Wes Craven's league when it comes to timing a sudden lurch-into-the-frame shock, and writer Silvio Horta doesn't have Kevin Williamson's knack for referentially postmodern yet convincing teen talk, but this is a movie that follows rather than makes trends. It may well be most notable for echoing Halloween H20 by cementing the newest addition to the repertory of slasher clichés: the comic-relief black security guard - chubby middle-aged Loretta Devine, devoted to early 70s Pam Grier movies - can be killed but only if she turns out to be alive after all a few minutes later.


Neal H. Moritz
Gina Matthews
Michael McDonnell
Silvio Horta
Director of Photography
James Chressanthis
Jay Cassidy
Production Designer
Charles Breen
Christopher Young
©Phoenix Pictures, Inc.
Production Companies
Phoenix Pictures presents a Neal H. Moritz/Gina Matthews production
In association with Canal + D.A.
Executive Producer
Brad Luff
Associate Producer
Brian Parker
2nd Unit Production Co-ordinator
Susan Phillips
Unit Production Manager
Brian Parker
Location Manager
Peter Boboras
Post-production Supervisor
Bill Brown
2nd Unit Director
Michael McDonnell
Assistant Directors
David McAree
Jonathan Wright
Sarah Campbell
Richard Black
2nd Unit:
Stephen Morrison
Script Supervisor
Elaine Yarish
John Papsidera
Wendy O'Brien
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Richard Allen
Camera Operators
Peter Rosenfeld
Mark Willis
2nd Unit:
David Towers
Peter Rosenfeld
Wescam Operator
John Trapman
Digital Visual Effects
Special Effects
Martin Malivoire
Dan Gibson
Dean Stewart
Editorial Consultant
Steven Kemper
Art Director
Benno Tutter
Set Decorator
Cal Loucks
Key Scenic Artist
Rossana DeCampo
Storyboard Artist
Jason Shultz
Costume Designer
Mary Claire Hannan
Wardrobe Mistress
Karen Renaut
Leslie Sebert
Hair Stylist
Carol Marinoff
Pacific Title
Orchestra Conductor
Pete Anthony
Christopher Young
Pete Anthony
Jon Kull
Frank Bennett
Patrick Russ
Music Supervisor
Elliot Lurie
Score Co-ordinators
Gernot Wolfgang
Jonathan Price
Benedikt Brydern
William V. Malpede
Music Editor
Richard Whitfield
Music Scoring Mixer
Robert Fernandez
Synth Programming
Mark Zimoski
Synth Recording Engineer
Larry Mah
"Total Eclipse of the Heart" by James Steinman, performed by Bonnie Tyler; "Summer Days" by Bernie Meisinger, Charlie Gigliotti; "Condition" by Chris Kennedy, performed by Ruth Ruth; "Spook Show Baby" by/performed by Rob Zombie; "Trying Not to Think About It" by Juliana Hatfield, Todd Phillips, performed by Juliana Hatfield; "Save Yourself" by Christopher Hall, Jim Sellers, Andy Kubiszewski, Walter Flakus, Marcus Eliopulos, performed by Stabbing Westward; "I Don't Want to Wait" by/performed by Paula Cole; "The Only One" by Deirdre O'Neill, Michael Creedon, Graham Darcy, Donal McPartlin, performed by Junkster; "The End of Sugarman" from the film Coffy by Roy Ayers; "Tortured" by/performed by Annette Ducharme; "I Know God" by/performed by David Ivy; "Crop Circle" by Dave Wyndorf, performed by Monster Magnet; "Love Rollercoaster" by Ralph Middlebrooks, James L. Williams, Leroy Bonner, Marshall Jones, Clarence Satchell, Willis Beck, Marvin Pierce, performed by Ohio Players; "Zoot Suit Riot" by Steve Perry, performed by Cherry Poppin' Daddies; "Every Day" by Adam Hamilton; "Comin Back" by Ken Jordan, Scott Reiss, Trudy Reiss, performed by Crystal Method
Production Sound Mixer
Tom Mather
Re-recording Mixers
Melissa S. Hofmann
Chris Minkler
Supervising Sound Editor
Per Hallberg
Co-supervising Sound Editor
Karen Marie Baker
Dialogue Editors
Lauren Stephens
Dan Hegeman
Sound Effects Editors
Christopher Assells
Dino DiMuro
Geoffrey G. Rubay
Bryan Bowen
Alan Rankin
Mark Mangino
Ron Bedrosian
Constance A. Kazmer
Mary Ruth Smith
Laura Graham
Jimmy Moriana
Jeff Wilhoit
David W. Alstadter
Craig S. Jaeger
Lou Kleinman
Stunt Co-ordinator
Matt Birman
Animal Trainer
Creative Animal Talent
Film Extract
Coffy (1972)
Jared Leto
Alicia Witt
Rebecca Gayheart
Joshua Jackson
Natasha Gregson Wagner
Michelle Mancini
Loretta Devine
Tara Reid
Michael Rosenbaum
Danielle Harris
John Neville
Dean Adams
Robert Englund
Professor Wexler
Julian Richings
Gord Martineau
Kay Hawtrey
library attendant
Angela Vint
bitchy girl
J.C. Kenny
weather woman
Vince Corrazza
David Evans
Balazs Koos
nerdy guy
Stephanie Mills
Danny Comden
Nancy McAlear
Shawn Mathieson
hippie guy
Cle Bennett
dorky guy
Danielle Brett
trendy girl
Roberta Angelica
swimming woman
Matt Birman
Brad Dourif
gas station attendant
Columbia Tristar Films (UK)
8,959 feet
99 minutes 33 seconds
In Colour
Super 35 [1:2.35]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011