A college student believes her friends are being picked off one-by-one by a hooded killer, their deaths mimicking classic tales. However no one believes her but the school journalist hottie *insert Jared Leto*. Starring some baby-faced WB heartthrobs and a horror icon, Urban Legend is a pure 90s teen slasher that frankly, I just find totally underrated.
In the 1990s, slasher films saw a resurgence that rivaled the classic movies of the 70s and 80s. Iconic films like Halloween and Friday the 13th found their 90s counterparts in Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. This teen slasher boom would bleed into the next decade, with new franchises being launched like Final Destination and plenty of remakes, spin-offs, and reboots to keep us entertained; including all the aforementioned titles funnily enough.
Urban Legend had its own sequel misfires in the 2000s with Urban Legends: Final Cut and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, both direct-to-video releases. We’ll ignore the obvious cash-grab franchise attempts, and focus on the film that started it all and why it is truly the underdog of the 90s slasher darlings.
While some films, even outside the horror genre, have borrowed from spooky folklore tales, this film was the first I saw that took those stories and put the legends at the forefront, instead of as hidden inspiration. The film itself boosts inventive kills and creative twists on those “ULs”, stories I loved reading about in my teen years – and even now, I suppose.
For more advanced horror fans, it might not be totally terrifying, but it definitely has its fair share of perfect jump scare moments and some creepy scenarios. If the legends didn’t have you checking your back seat before, this film might inspire you to do so from now on.
From the start of the film, it establishes its not-super-serious tone with a memorable kill set to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart“. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard that song and not immediately thought of this film – truly an iconic moment. Overall, it has a really sarcastic view on the genre, making the film slightly meta and partly an ode to films before it. It has a totally bonkers killer, whose reveal sort of makes you cock your head with wonder over the impracticality of it all. But honestly, it all makes it even more fun.
The plot isn’t much more complicated than my brief explanation at the start of this article. Alicia Witt portrays our protagonist, Natalie, who after finding out an old high school pal was killed just off campus, fears the same killer is murdering others. She soon discovers the deaths are being ripped straight from the pages of urban legends, the same stories they’re learning in class by Professor Wexler (Robert Englund).
She’ll find an unlikely ally in Paul (Leto), and the two dig up some of the schools dark history; giving their theory more weight. With the school Dean disinterested and her best friend Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart) more focused on flirting with Paul, Natalie attempts to figure out what’s going on before anyone else gets hurt.
It is certainly not the greatest slasher to have come out in the 90s, but it definitely doesn’t get enough love, in my opinion. Sponsored by my adolescent crush on Jared Leto, I would have this DVD as the must-watch scary movie during slumber parties. I always remember everyone having a blast watching it and even now I enjoy introducing friends to it. While my idolization of Leto has fleeted, my affection for this film has not.