ndsu spectrum: movie review
‘Urban Legends’ a finely crafted horror gem
By JOHN HANSEN
Sept. 29, 2000
As one of the characters in “Urban Legends: Final Cut” points out, filmmaking is a collaborative process. Yet when you consider director John Ottman’s background as a film composer, you can’t help but think he played the biggest part in shaping this horror sequel into a scary, fun and nearly flawless finished product that plays like a beautiful piece of music.
“Urban Legends” is a loose follow-up to 1998’s singularly-titled “Urban Legend.” The first one took place at Pendleton College, where a parka-wearing psycho traipsed around campus killing students after the fashion of urban legends. The sequel takes place at an industrialized, oceanfront film school called Alpine University; it focuses less on exploring classic urban legends and more on the concept that the first film’s events actually are just an urban legend in the minds of the sequel characters. The murders were covered up by the authorities, but one woman, police officer Reese Wilson (Loretta Devine) knows they were real.
After hearing Reese’s story, talented young filmmaker Amy Mayfield (Jennifer Morrison) decides to make a horror film about an urban legend killer as her thesis project. The prize for the best student film is the Hitchcock Award, which is pretty much a ticket straight to Hollywood. But there’s a little production problem: a maniac in a fencing mask is roaming around campus offing film students.
Despite the competitive nature of the school, the central cast of characters gets along fine for the most part. The cast may not have the star power of the first film, but these little-known actors’ distinct, winning personalities are perfectly suited for this movie. Along with Amy, the characters include brothers Travis and Trevor (both played by Matthew Davis), Graham (former teen heartthrob Joseph Lawrence), Toby (Anson Mount), Vanessa (Eva Mendez), comically bad actress Sandra (Jessica Cauffiel), suave cinematographer Simon (Marco Hofschneider), and the comic relief duo of Stan (Anthony Anderson) and Dirk (Michael Bacall).
The real breakout performance comes from Morrison, who played the retarded murder victim in “Stir of Echoes.” As the emotional center of “Urban Legends,” she has a highly credible screen presence–everything happening around her, no matter how weird, becomes believable through the down-to-earth perspective she provides the audience. Even when Morrison is going through the obligatory paces of over-the-top screaming and frantic fleeing, you feel like Amy really is terrified. Stan and Dirk also make an impression with their pleasantly humorous film-geek diatribes. At one point, Dirk disses George Lucas’s use of digital effects, and Stan comments with all seriousness, “You’re going to hell.”
Although there’s a bit too much comedy at the film’s end, the jokes are mostly well-timed and on-target. But that’s not to say that “Urban Legends” is one of those teen horror flicks obsessed with making fun of itself and shooting off references to genre classics. Although it does start out with a scene straight out of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” the viewer is left with more of an impression that the scene was scary, not that it was an homage.
Ottman, along with writers Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, have crafted a suspenseful yarn with many creepy sequences and spooky sets. Remember the climax of the first movie, when the villain threatened the heroine with one last urban legend-turned-real? Well, the sequel takes that concept a bit further in a horrific, drawn-out sequence that incorporates the Hitchcockian motif of a bathtub. Believe me, no one was laughing at this sequence, although there were plenty of shocked gasps. And for spine-tingling sets, you can’t beat a wax museum shrouded in plastic tarps or a bell tower with a winding staircase.
The filmmakers’ love of Hitchcock comes through not only through “Urban Legends’” style and Ottman’s musical homages, but also through the themes, as they are outlined by Professor Solomon (Hart Bochner). Paranoia, wrongful accusations, the blurring of fantasy and reality–these are all classic Hitchcock themes, and they are all worked into this movie in surprising ways.
If there are any flaws with “Urban Legends,” they are the same ones you could point out about many genre films. For example, when Amy is being chased by Fencing Mask Guy, sometimes you just want her to stop running and take the guy on. And yeah, there are points in this film when you do have to suspend your disbelief a bit.
But by and large, “Urban Legends: Final Cut” is not interested in treading old ground or seeing how silly it can be–it simply aims to give us a good scare and be more inventive than its source material. The first film piled on the red herrings and never gave the viewer a chance to guess the killer’s identity; the sequel’s resolution is much more sensible, so you can participate in the guessing game and not feel cheated at the end. The original was initially entertaining but didn’t hold up on repeat viewings; the sequel will hold up just fine if only because it’s crafted with such an expert touch.
Title: “Urban Legends: Final Cut”
Starring: Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Joseph Lawrence, Anson Mount, Eva Mendez, Jessica Cauffiel, Anthony Anderson, Michael Bacall, Marco Hofschneider, Loretta Devine, Hart Bochner
Written by: Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson
Director: John Ottman