Sometimes Shout! Factory releases are sobering reminders that I am not a kid anymore. Their new Collector's Edition of Urban Legend is a welcome addition to their horror catalogue, but I was shocked to see the film came out 20 years ago. Damn, where did the time go?! Two years after Scream re-ignited the teen horror craze, studios were churning out horror films seemingly every other weekend. Some of them were decent (The Faculty), but many were not (Teaching Mrs. Tingle). Something is special about Urban Legend. It has a cast stocked full of young, familiar faces (Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart, Tara Reid), and the premise - a serial killer who uses urban legends to kill - is unique. I could nitpick Jamie Blanks' film to death for its liberal genre cliches and teen-movie excesses, but I enjoyed Urban Legend when I saw it in 1998 and still do. Fans will want to immediately grab this new Blu-ray edition, which includes a feature-length documentary.
The opening scene is memorable: A young college student drives alone at night, only to be decapitated by someone hiding in her backseat. The action then cuts to Pendleton University, where several college students attend Professor Wexler's (Robert Englund aka Freddy Krueger) lecture on urban legends. Our heroine is Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt), who is unwillingly thrust into a dangerous game as classmates being dying all over campus. A reporter for the school's paper, Paul Gardner (Leto), wants to figure out who is using urban legends as the basis for kills. Simon's friends Brenda (Gayheart), Sasha (Tara Reid) and Damon (Joshua Jackson) think her concern is overkill, but a hooded killer soon makes an appearance at their campus haunts. Among the urban legends referenced are the dangers of Pop Rocks and soda; summoning Bloody Mary by saying her name repeatedly; the kidney heist; flashing headlights at oncoming drivers; and the ankle slasher legend.
While some of the film's jolts are not as intense upon repeat viewings, Urban Legend still has plenty of surprises. The sheer volume of urban legends and randomness of some of the kills keeps the uneasy tension brewing. You never know what the killer will do next, and the action moves at a furious clip. Australian director Blanks has not shot a movie in nearly 10 years, but does a nice job elevating this project above typical teenage horror material. Sure, Silvio Horta's script has instances of bad dialogue and a number of contrivances, but Urban Legend is a respectably shot, cut and acted film considering its slim $14-million budget. The film also is unique in its use of practical effects, and, at least to my eye, there appears to be very little digital trickery here. Almost all the stunts and gags appear to have been done in camera. Blanks keeps some kills out of frame but makes effective use of his budget and these practical effects when appropriate.
Above all, Urban Legend is entertaining. The cast plays very well together, and the documentary interviews confirm the group had a lot of fun making the film. It was brilliant to cast party girl Reid as the vacuous host of a radio sex show, and Leto shows hints of future ambition in this early role. The meta gags and horror-legend cameos, some extended to full performances, are also successful. Among my favorites are Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait" playing when Jackson's character starts his car; Danielle Harris of late ‘80s Halloween sequel fame showing up as Simon's roommate-from-hell; and Brad Dourif trying his damnedest to save a woman's head. While it is sobering to think 20 years have passed since Urban Legend's theatrical release, we now have an excellent Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory to help us relive the thrills.
This is probably the weakest aspect of the disc, but the recycled 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image still maintains acceptable clarity and detail. Fine-object detail is generally good, with facial features, fabric texture and landscapes benefitting the most from the HD image. Some shots have a softer, almost gauzy appearance, but some of this may be due to source issues for the lower-budget film. Colors are acceptably bold and well saturated; skin tones are accurate if a little anemic; and shadow detail is acceptable. There is some black crush and noise in nighttime scenes, but nothing too oppressive. The film grain appears natural, and I did not notice any overt edge enhancement or noise reduction. Aliasing pops up a few times but is fairly inconsequential. A remaster for this would have been nice, but the image quality is acceptable.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix effectively relays the horror with plenty of atmospheric effects, sound pans and LFE kick during action bits. Dialogue is crisp and clean. Clarity and range are both solid, and the mix is perfectly audible during quiet scenes and action-oriented sequences. Some of the jolts, like an ax flying through a window or a body falling into frame, earn rapid subwoofer response and fully immerse the viewer. The score and popular music selections are weighty and appropriately layered. English SDH subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Ah, the times we live in. A buddy of mine enjoys horror as much as I do, and we frequently remark how we never expected movies like Urban Legend to receive such lavish Special Editions. We can thank Shout! Factory for that, and I'm pleased that they continue to license more films from more studios. This two-disc set is packed in a standard case that offers dual-sided artwork. The case is wrapped in a slipcover that replicates the newly commissioned cover artwork. One Disc One you get a recycled Commentary by Director Jamie Blanks, Writer Silvio Horta and Actor Michael Rosenbaum; a newly recorded Commentary by Blanks, Producer Michael McDonnell and Blanks' assistant Edgar Pablos, moderated by Author Peter M. Bracke; and the Theatrical Trailer in high definition. On Disc 2 you get the real treats: Urban Legacy is a nearly two-and-a-half hour, 10-part documentary on the making of the film. Segments include The Story Behind Urban Legend (9:37/HD); Assembling the Team (17:44/HD); A Cast of Legends (18:46/HD); There's Someone in the Back Seat (15:42/HD); Stories from the Set (28:39/HD); Campus Carnage (23:30/HD); A Legendary Composer (16:29/HD); A Lasting Legacy (17:01/HD); and Extended Interviews Part 1 and Part 2 (39:44 and 33:46/HD). Simply, this is a phenomenally exhaustive piece on the production, horror cinema in the late 1990s, and how Urban Legend earned its cult following. Interviewees include Blanks, Rosenbaum, Producer Neal H. Moritz, Phoenix Pictures CEO Mike Medavoy, Witt, Gayheart, Reid, Loretta Devine and many others. You also get three reels of Behind-the-Scenes Footage (54:00 total/HD); an Archival Making-Of Featurette (10:09/HD); a Deleted Scene (2:40/HD), which is an over-the-top comedic sex scene; a Gag Reel (2:14/HD) and TV Spots (1:36/HD).
This two-disc Collector's Edition release of Urban Legend from Shout! Factory subset Scream Factory is a must-own for horror fans. This fun 1998 horror film features some A-list actors in early roles, has plenty of meta references, and the story - about a killer who uses urban legends to murder college students - is unique. The Blu-ray offers decent A/V specs, an excellent feature-length documentary and tons of behind-the-scenes footage. Highly Recommended.