• Urban Legend (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 20th, 2018.
    Director: Jamie Blanks
    Cast: Jared Leto, Joshua Jackson, Alicia Witt, Tara Reid, Robert Englund, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum
    Year: 1998
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    Urban Legend – Movie Review:

    When Wes Craven’s Scream hit box office gold and ushered in a new wave of slasher films to a primarily teenage audience, the market was quickly flooded with a lot of subpar product made fast and cheap with popular ‘teen friendly’ stars in an attempt to cash in on that film’s unexpected success. Directed by Jamie Parks (Valentine, the Long Weekend remake) in 1998, Urban Legend is neither the best nor the worst of this wave – but for its many and obvious flaws it does make for a fun time killer.

    When the movie begins, a student at Pendleton University named Michelle Mancini (Natasha Gregson Wagner of Wonderland and Mind Ripper) stops at a gas station during a thunderstorm. She pays the creepy attendant (Brad Dourif of Spontaneous Combustion and the Child’s Play films) and he tries to bring her into the office, telling her that the credit card company needs to speak to her. She panics when she notices no one is on the other end of the phone and despite his efforts to talk to her – he has a stutter – she makes an escape only to get murdered by whoever it was hiding in the backseat of her car.

    Cut back to the campus where Natalie (Alicia Witt of Twin Peaks and Vanilla Sky) grieves over the loss of her friend, albeit only briefly. Later she walks in on her goofy goth roommate Tosh (Danielle Harris of Halloween 4 & 5 and The Last Boy Scout) having sex with her boyfriend. Natalie and her friend Brenda Bates (Rebecca Gayheart of Scream 2 and Beverly Hill 90210) hit if off with guys Damon Brooks (Joshua Jackson of Dawson’s Creek) and Paul Gardeener (Jaret Leto of Blade Runner 2049 and American Psycho), goofing off in the urban legends class taught by Professor William Wexler (Robert Englund of the Nightmare On Elm Street series, duh!). Campus radio DJ Sasha Thomas (Tara Reid of the American Pie films and Uwe Boll’s Alone In The Dark) is a little weirded out by the fact that her voice may have been the last thing that Michelle heard (it wasn’t, it was Bonny Tyler singing Total Eclipse Of The Heart) but her boyfriend Parker Riley (Michael Rosenbaum of Guardians Of The Galaxy and Smallville) has pierced his dog’s nose and is planning a big party, so it’s all good. Still, Natalie and snoopy journalism student Paul can’t help but wonder if this has something to do with a massacre that took place on campus some time ago, one that rumors say was covered up by the cops and the administration, led by Dean Adams (John Neville of Cronenberg’s Spider). Even the campus cop, the Pam Grier worshipping Reese Wilson (Loretta Devine of Hoodlum and Waiting To Exhale), figures these kids are just goofing around. After Natalie ‘thinks’ she was with Damon when he was ‘killed’ she’s told to forget about it, he was a prankster and just playing a joke on her – but soon enough, everyone on campus starts to realize that there is very definitely a killer on the loose, one offing people left and right using popular urban legends as inspiration.

    While the film doesn’t such a hot job of keeping its killer’s identity a secret from the audience (those who speak Latin will pick up on a massive clue!), there are enough fun twists and turns in the storyline to keep this engaging. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch and gorehounds will surely be disappointed by the surprising lack of onscreen grue featured in the picture, but Parks does a good job of staging some suspenseful scenes and some clever, effective editing helps here too. The movie features a strong score and is nicely shot. It’s well-paced and overall the production values are strong. The film was shot in Toronto but the University Of Toronto campus does a pretty nice job of standing in for a New England school.

    A big part of the draw, when this movie was first released, was the cast. Like Scream before it, the film really is a ‘who’s who’ of popular, young actors and actresses, some better than others, likely cast as much for their looks as for their acting abilities. Alicia Witt isn’t bad at all as the female lead but Tara Reid doesn’t fare so well. Danielle Harris is (intentionally) funny as Tosh the horny goth while Rebecca Gayheart does fine in the first two thirds of the movie only to seriously chew the scenery in the last act. As to the guys? It’s fun to see Robert Englund and Brad Dourif show up in decent sized supporting roles here. Joshua Jackson plays the obnoxious frat stereotype well enough and Jared Leto is… okay, as the male lead. Not great, but okay.

    And that basically sums up the whole movie, really – it’s not awful by any stretch, it mixes in some moments of effective humor and will entertain you, but it never quite rises above to the level you hope it will get to. As unrealistic as the premise may be, it is an interesting one and you never quite feel like the film exploits that as effectively as it could and should have. More emphasis on the urban legends that the film uses to base its murder set pieces off of would have helped, and this gets pushed aside in favor of the type of teen drama that seemed to be required in a lot of slasher films from this period. Obviously, it’s important to build interesting characters but the melodrama doesn’t quite pay off that way, it just kind of pads the movie. That said, if you keep your expectations in check and you can have a good time with this one.

    Urban Legend – Blu-ray Review:

    Presented on a 50GB disc in a 2.40.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, Urban Legend looks pretty nice on Blu-ray. This was a reasonably glossy production and it features nice color work and good black levels. Skin tones look fine and there are no noticeable compression issues. The image is pretty much spotless, showing no noticeable print damage. Fine detail isn’t quite reference quality here, but it’s solid throughout with good texture and decent depth to the image.

    The movie gets DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo options, in English, with optional subtitles provided in English only. The 5.1 mix here is a lot of fun, right from the opening scene with the rain swirling around us through to the ‘shock’ ending. The very nineties-era soundtrack pumps through all channels with plenty of strength and strong bass, with dialogue remaining clear and audible throughout. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion and the engaging surround activity definitely does add to the film’s more active scenes and murder set pieces.

    Aside from a trailer, the first disc in the set contains two audio commentary tracks. The first track, which is exclusive to this release, is with director Jamie Blanks, producer Michael McDonnell and assistant editor Edgar Pablos. Moderated by Peter M. Bracke, the author of Crystal Lake Memories, this is a fairly technical discussion with a lot of emphasis put onto how the production came to be, the locations that were used, the involvement of the producers and the studio, the cinematographer, getting the cast together and lots more. The second track gets Blanks together with writer Silvio Horta and actor Michael Rosenbaum and is carried over from the older Sony Blu-ray release of the film. It’s a good track, these guys are clearly having fun reminiscing about the making of the movie

    The main extra on the second disc is an eight-part documentary entitled Urban Legacy. For some reason you’re only able to watch each part individually, so keep the remote handy, but regardless, this is a very thorough look back at the making of the picture and the popularity it has enjoyed ever since. The eight parts are as follows:

    The Story Behind Urban Legend (ten-minutes) / Assembling The Team (eighteen-minutes) / A Cast of Legends (nineteen-minutes) / There’s Someone In The Back Seat (sixteen-minutes) / Stories From The Set (twenty-nine-minutes) / Campus Carnage (twenty-four-minutes) / A Legendary Composer (sixteen-minutes) / A Lasting Legacy (seventeen-minutes)

    There are a LOT of people interviewed here, including Blanks and Silvio Horta, executive producers Brad Luff and Nick Osborne, producers Neal Moritz, Gina Matthews and Michael McDonnell, CEO of Phoenix Pictures Mike Medavoy, production designer Charles Breen, composer Christopher Young, director of photography James Chressanthis, cast members Alicia Witt, Michael Rosenbaum, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Robert Englund, Loretta Devine, Rebecca Gayheart, Tara Reid and Danielle Harris, editor Jay Cassidy and writer Peter M. Bracke along with a few others, and a lot of ground is covered here. They talk about where the idea for the story came from, what went into getting the right crew put together for the project, how the cast of young stars came to be assembled as well as how some of the genre’s veterans came to be involved in the picture, what it was like on set, the locations, Young’s work on the score and the film’s enduring popularity. There are also some interesting clips from some early films that Jamie Blanks worked on included in here too which are cool to see. At two-hours-and-twenty-seven-minutes in total, it’s an investment but superfans will appreciate it.

    There are also two sections of extended interviews taken from the shoot for the documentary, the first running forty-minutes and made up of footage with Christopher Young, Robert Englund, Michael Rosenbaum and Edgar Pablos and the second running thirty-three-minutes and including more thoughts from Michael McDonnell, Danielle Harris, Gina Matthews and James Chressanthis.

    From there, dig into three separate segments of behind the scenes footage. These are presented in chronological order, which is a nice touch. The first part runs seventeen-minutes, the second sixteen and the third just over twenty-minutes in length. There’s a lot of interesting material in here and this does a really nice job of documenting what it was like on set, how some of the more memorable murder set pieces were created and some of the ordeals that the cast and crew dealt with on the project.

    There’s also a ten-minute archival making of featurette included here where we get a chance to see Christopher Young working on a scene involving Reid and Rosenbaum. This was also carried over from the previous Sony Blu-ray release.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is a three-minute deleted scene, ninety-seconds’ worth of TV spots and a two-minute gag reel. Both discs in the set include menus and chapter selection options.

    Shout! Factory packages this release with a collectible slipcover and some nice reversible cover sleeve art with newly created artwork on one side and the original theatrical poster art on the reverse.

    Urban Legend – The Final Word:

    Urban Legend takes itself just seriously enough to work, allowing us to accept the admittedly preposterous concept and look past some rather massive logic gaps and just have fun with it. Yeah, fine, it’s never particularly scary and it could have used some more onscreen carnage but the movie benefits from a pretty amusing cast and a few memorable twists even if it never full exploits its premise as well as it should have. That said, Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release presents the film with a fine transfer, strong audio and a whole lot of supplemental features – those who really enjoy this one should be quite pleased with how this set has turned out.

    Click on the images below for full sized Urban Legend Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I was thinking about this the other day, I think that Rebecca Gayheart was in just about every movie I saw back then.
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mark Tolch View Post
      I was thinking about this the other day, I think that Rebecca Gayheart was in just about every movie I saw back then.
      It’s funny how negligent vehicular homicide can derail an acting career, isn’t it?
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Huh, I had to look that up. I didn't know that. I thought you had her confused with Amy Locane.
    1. jonaand's Avatar
      jonaand -
      why close matte