Urban Legend (Home Video Review)

Starring Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Jared Leto, Tara Reid

Directed by Jamie Blanks

Distributed by Scream Factory


Sometime around 2001 or 2002, I attended the (sadly) now-defunct Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors in Pasadena and there was a panel late in the day featuring Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Clive Barker, and one or two more familiar faces (Kane Hodder, maybe?). The guys were mainly bullshitting about their careers and despite all of them having a turkey or two in their filmographies the group got a good laugh when someone gave Englund shit about making Urban Legend (1998). He was unamused and offered up a moderate defense. I don’t know why that little nugget has stuck with me for almost twenty years but I do know I find recalling it slightly more enjoyable than the film itself. Back in 1998, starting my senior year of high school, my taste in movies was… more forgivable. I saw Urban Legend in theaters and liked it well enough. This was the post-Scream (1996) era and teen slashers were still in vogue. Seeing a bunch of fresh-faced college freshmen getting sliced in storied ways offered up a tempting hook, but the film isn’t much more than everything we’ve seen before.

The students of Pendleton University are being slaughtered by a fur-lined coat wearing murderer with a penchant for using urban legends as a modus operandi. Well, “students” sounds a bit broad; it’s really Natalie’s (Alicia Witt) small circle of classmates, made up of a ‘90s fresh-faced roster including Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart, Tara Reid, Joshua Jackson, and a few more “oh, that person!” actors. Get ready to see so many of those vaunted urban tales, like the gas station attendant trying to get a woman to exit her car because there’s actually a killer in the back seat, or the one where flashing your headlights to another driver gets you killed, and don’t forget the boyfriend who got hung above the roof of his car by an escaped mental patient, his feet scratching the roof and scaring his girlfriend within. All those old apocryphal tales conveniently collected in one film.

The approach taken to this slasher is certainly novel; these are stories kids have been passing down for years and my only surprise is that it took until 1998 for someone to commit them to film. The murders themselves aren’t noteworthy for being overtly gory and having been pulled off with extraordinary FX work but there is a brutal edge to each that provides a nice visceral twinge. None of the actors are doing Shakespeare here; each plays their respective part well enough and with so many familiar faces half the entertainment is seeing who went on to better things and who got stuck in DTV hell. Englund seems to be having fun, though. I’d have taken that studio money, too. I’ll give the film credit for keeping viewers guessing as to the identity of the killer. Red herrings are everywhere and once the big reveal is made it’s a shock – not only because of the “who” but because it really brings into question everything we saw the killer do. That person doesn’t seem quite as capable as the film would like us to believe. This is a dumb-fun way to kill 100 minutes.

There isn’t much to complain about in regard to the film’s 2.40:1 1080p image. The picture offers up strong detailing and a pristine picture, free from damage and dirt. Definition is impressive throughout, even during nighttime scenes when lighting is minimal. Film grain is smooth and filmic, with no signs of digital manipulation. This is a superb image and a considerable upgrade over the old DVD, though it is similar to the Blu-ray Sony released some years back.

English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound tracks are made available. Dialogue is balanced and clean and sound effects have a good sense of weight and reality to them. Discreet placement is important in horror mixes and this one does a fine job of putting viewers in the action, with footsteps and creaks all around when the tension is ratcheting. The real highlight is composer Christopher Young’s score, which soars with the expected intensity of his works. Subtitles are available in English.

Special Features:

DISC ONE

  • NEW audio commentary with director Jamie Blanks, producer Michael McDonnell, assistant Edgar Pablos, moderated by author Peter M. Bracke
    Audio Commentary with director Jamie Blanks, writer Silvio Horta and actor Michael Rosenbaum
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature

DISC TWO

  • NEW Urban Legacy – an eight-part documentary on the making of URBAN LEGEND (147 minutes) including interviews with director Jamie Blanks, writer Silvio Horta, executive producers Brad Luff, Nick Osborne, producers Neal Moritz, Gina Matthews, Michael McDonnell, chairman and CEO of Phoenix Pictures Mike Medavoy, production designer Charles Breen, director of photography James Chressanthis, editor Jay Cassidy, composer Christopher Young, actors Alicia Witt, Michael Rosenbaum, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Robert Englund, Loretta Devine, Rebecca Gayheart, Tara Reid, Danielle Harris, assistant Edgar Pablos author Peter M. Bracke and more…
  • NEW Behind-the-Scenes footage
  • NEW Extended interviews from the eight-part documentary
  • Archival Making of Featurette
  • Gag Reel
  • Deleted Scene
  • TV Spots
Urban Legend (1998)
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  • Special Features:
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