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URBAN LEGEND

SYNOPSIS:
After the brutal murder of a fellow classmate, Michelle Mancini (Natasha Gregson Wagner), the students of Pendleton College are a bit unnerved. That's because Paul (Jared Leto), an aggressive investigative journalist for the school paper, has printed a story about a homicidal lunatic being loose on the campus, a story that doesn't sit well with Dean Adams (John Neville), or Reese (Loretta Devine), the head of campus security. None of that's helped by American Folklore Professor Wexler (Robert Englund) and his class on urban legends (myths). When a hooded stranger kills a friend of hers, Damon (Joshua Jackson), in front of her eyes, Natalie (Alicia Witt), tries reporting the incident to the authorities, but they don't believe her. People believe that Damon - a known practical joker - was just playing a practical joke. As more people are killed in the style of various urban legends, Natalie tries to figure out the identity of the killer while attempting to warn others of the impending danger.

"This is the kind of film most self-important critics are going to hate, and that's a fact. Clearly, it's by no means faultless. It's incredibly derivative, it follows on the success of films far better, such as the Scream films, it contains subtle references to classic thrillers. Yet if one goes past all of that, what remains is a highly engaging, entertaining, well-executed, genuinely suspenseful, cheeky little thriller, that manages to play with the genre, contains snappy dialogue, and interesting enough characters with a fairly unpredictable denouement. Most of these relatively low-budget thrillers are strictly by-the-book, with little care to direction. First-time Australian director Jamie Banks has cut his teeth on a familiar genre yet managed to enhance it all with some wonderful touches. The film is beautifully crafted with some fine, fluid camera work, brisk pacing and taut editing. The director has also elicited above-average performances from his energetic young cast, including the attractive Alicia Witt as the level-headed academic who learns how to scream real loud, and Joshua Jackson, who has a lot of fun with the unpleasant Damon. Urban Legend does have problems in terms of script and occasionally lets itself down with some unintentionally silly dialogue. But then this is not a writer's film, but a director's, and Banks has obvious talent in the way he manipulates the camera and enhances the genre's use of suspense and point-of-view. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and strikes the perfect balance between thrills and laughs. On its own level, Urban Legend is a highly entertaining, well-crafted thriller, a genuine crowd pleaser for lovers of the genre."
Paul Fischer

"Spot on, Paul; I boringly agree. But I will emphasise the special strengths of the film: Blanks has an instinctive talent for performance, for the genre and for camera use. It’s a film aimed specifically at the youth market, at the very core of the horror genre market that demands the conventions be met."
Andrew L. Urban

"Jamie Blanks' assured direction delivers a well executed horror thriller which although formulaic, is engaging, entertaining and will satisfy lovers of the genre. All the ingredients are thrown into the mix – the oomphy use of haunting music with repetitive phrases, shadowy production design, and haven't you noticed how there's always an electrical storm brewing in these films? There's effective contrast between girl-next-door type characters and those with a darker side. There are plenty of voodoos and superstitions on show; in fact the media screening was held on Friday 13th. Red herrings are generously planted throughout, and it's only close to the end that we learn the truth. Admittedly, the script goes overboard towards the end with almost farcical character turnaround, but let's face it, it's not Shakespeare. Blanks' approach of allowing the imagination to soar is far more powerful than presenting graphic images of violence– we anticipate, we imagine and we see some effects from the results. Our imagination can work wonders given the right props. Blanks is obviously at home in this genre – his use of scare tactics are both effective and intriguing. It's a most impressive Hollywood debut for a talented Australian director, who will no doubt become one of a new breed of our successful exports."
Louise Keller

"Teen slasher movies are back...sort of. This first effort by local boy Jamie Blanks faithfully copies ('rips off') the Scream franchise, but doesn't show the same skill at combining flip humour with grueling shocks. You can see Blanks straining to build suspense with grainy, underlit images and too many false alarms (every time someone turns round, the soundtrack whips itself into a short-lived frenzy). Eventually he gives up and throws the switch to vaudeville: the climactic high-camp screaming match would seem over-the-top on a season finale of Melrose Place. The 'urban legends' gimmick feels extremely forced from the outset, but it's so feeble and badly-worked-out it doesn't hurt the film much. In a totally tongue-in-cheek piece like this, however, I would have appreciated less restraint in the big death scenes. There are a few nice one-liners in the jokey script; Alicia Witt, the one cast member with proven comic timing, is bafflingly wasted as a troubled maiden who mopes round looking willowy and pale. Is this faintly 19th century role meant to give proceedings a touch of class? And what can be done about screenwriters who believe that references to the Internet or body piercing are really up-to-the-minute and funky? Complete with the usual in-jokes and half-apologetic, mock-thoughtful reflections on 'violence as entertainment,' Urban Legend is typical of the new, 'knowing' wave of horror: sometimes funny, hardly ever scary, totally safe and domesticated."
Jake Wilson

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

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See Andrew L. Urban's interview with director
JAMIE BLANKS

TRAILER

SOFCOM MOVIE TIMES

URBAN LEGEND (M15+)
(US)

CAST: Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Tara Reid, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Michael Rosenbaum, John Neville and Robert Englund.

DIRECTOR: Jamie Blanks

PRODUCER: Gina Matthews, Michael McDonnell, Neil H. Moritz

SCRIPT: Silvio Horta and Don Roos

CINEMATOGRAPHER: James Fressanthis

EDITOR: Jay Lash Cassidy

MUSIC: Christopher Young

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Charles Breen

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 28, 1998

VIDEO RELEASE: July 7, 1999

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Home Entertainment

RRP: $24.95 (Mar 13, 2000)







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