30 for 31: Jamie Blanks’ “URBAN LEGEND”Columns,Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
The Season of the Witch is upon us, ye ole FANGORIA Readers! And to many, Halloween means candy, costumes and creepshows of all sorts. But to the staff at FANGORIA, Halloween can mean something more entirely. Therefore, we present 30 FOR 31, in which FANGORIA recounts the cinema that most strongly represents what Halloween means to us.
I’ve always been fascinated by Halloween for the fact that it’s a holiday tied to so many strange traditions and mythologies. And while other holidays had their own backstories, the evolution of their traditions is nowhere near as intriguing and ambiguous as that of Halloween. But for every interesting piece of Halloween history, there was also nasty conjecture surrounding the safety issues that went along with the holiday.
However, the catalyst for this particular and peculiar interest in the holiday’s background came from the most unlikely of sources: Jamie Blanks’ URBAN LEGEND. A byproduct of the post-SCREAM slasher boom, URBAN LEGEND hit theaters a little over a month before Halloween in 1998 and this writer, in his adolescent love for all things horror, was determined to see it. Yet fate was not so kind; I was still too young to see R-rated fare on my own and even my older cousins could not get me into the film.
Nevertheless, my imagination was not satiated, and I started to dig into the horror section of my library to find what “urban legends” exactly were. I had previously gone through my SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK books, but they were never supposedly real in origin. And soon enough, I found plenty of material and learned of as many “urban legends” were, yet along the way, I also found many of the legends surrounding Halloween as well. Next thing I knew, I was searching down any and all books related to the season of the witch.
Coincidentally enough, it wasn’t until a year later, around the Halloween of 1999, that I finally saw URBAN LEGEND on VHS, likely courtesy of my horror-loving babysitter. And in a weird way, the movie truly stuck with me as opposed to the more forgettable slasher films of that era. The dialogue was elevated by a mostly talented cast, the kills felt more brutal than those in comparative fare and the film stuck to all of the urban legends I had read up on.
Of course, everything from the vernacular to the characters felt like a safely homogenized version of characters from SCREAM or I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. But whereas Ghostface or Ben Willis focused on the stalk-and-slash tactics relative to the genre, the hooded killer from URBAN LEGEND goes all out for the death scenes. Elaborate bait-and-switches, technological prowess and intricate murder displays all come a part of this killers plan to be rigorous faithful to their inspiration. And even if it’s another flaw in the logic of the film, it’s something that I’ll always respect about the film.
Even though the film is rather forgettable in hindsight, I must say URBAN LEGEND gets an unfairly bad rap as opposed to its contemporaries. I think the film is ultimately a silly film regarding a silly but ultimately true-to-the-subgenre concept, with the occasionally effective set piece. And to that fact, I think the contrast of silly and scary fits the Halloween season quite perfectly; after all, what holiday has spawned so many urban legends of their own outside of Halloween? Face it: even if you hate it, URBAN LEGEND carries the spirit of the season better than most slashers that don’t adorn the holiday in the title.