Urban Legend 1998
Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Starring: Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Jared Leto
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here it is, one of the first ever reviews that I wrote of a slasher movie. I posted this way back in 2001 and wanted to see if I still agree with what I said after eleven long years. I have updated some parts of it, but it’s still pretty much the same… Enjoy!
First things first, there are a couple of things that I have to get off my chest before I begin my review of Jamie Blanks’ much-maligned slasher/whodunit Urban Legend. What caught my attention initially was the fact that it boldly states on the front cover that it’s the: `Bloodiest teen slasherfest to come over from the states so far…’ That, I then thought to myself, was one hell of a bold statement to make. Could it be a film gorier than Nightmares in a damaged brain or Maniac? Could it even be a flick with more goo than Blood Rage, The Burning or the uncut Intruder? If so how did it gain a certificate from the BBFC? Or could it be that the unnamed reviewer from The Sun who wrote that article was trying out some freshly picked highly hallucinogenic magic mushrooms? I’m afraid that after watching this I found that the latter is probably the closest to the truth because although Urban Legend has its moments, gore is definitely not one of the movie’s strong points. As for it being one of the bloodiest of its kind to come over from the states so far? Well lets just say that this must’ve been the first slasher flick that the writer in question had seen, or he must have accidentally watched the wrong film. Who knows?
Secondly before watching UL I was biased into thinking it was going to be really rather terrible after the amount of bad publicity it got from its UK release. Almost every review that I read was warning the viewer to avoid it at all costs. But to anyone, who has got a video library filled with as many, how can I put it, ‘matter of taste’ flicks as me will know that is all the invitation I needed.
After an exciting opening, we are shown a campus named Pendleton University and introduced to a few likely suspects or victims that are discussing the recent murder of Michelle Mancini, a girl that was killed in the pre-credits. The conversation then turns to the legend of the ‘Stanley Hall Massacre’, where It’s rumoured that 25 years earlier at that same college a professor went berserk and off’d ‘a whole floor’ full of students before stabbing himself through the heart with a honey knife. In good old slasher tradition the kids decide to have a party to commemorate the aforementioned kill frenzy, which you know is definitely going to be a bad idea.
Before long a butcher in a parka coat puts in a few appearences and starts working his way through the cast in some pretty imaginative ways. Natalie, our obvious heroine, witnesses most of these murders but of course, no-one else sees them or believes her, especially the somewhat suspicious Deane. As more people disappear, the killer’s motive is revealed and it’s left up to Natalie to stop him.
To be honest, and I’m going to be an individual here, I can’t for the life of me see what is so bad about Jamie Blanks’ first attempt at a horror movie. Seeing how this was his directorial debut (previously he had worked as a camera operator on action flick The Huntsman) I think he’s done a pretty damn good job. I was so puzzled when I had finished watching after reading such bad reviews and thoroughly enjoying it that I rang up two of my friends and invited them to come around and view it with me and my girlfriend. When it was finished I asked what they thought and all three of them agreed it was a good film, one even went as far as to say it was better than Scream.
Each murder gets more imaginative than the next, with the killer going to various lengths to stage his slaughter. All are based on popular urban legends and most of them are burning with innovation. The opening gimmick is brilliant with the way it cheats the audience and who can honestly say that they didn’t jump when Damon bit the dust? I agree that when the butcher’s identity is revealed you are left thinking how did he manage to perform those killings unaided, but that is by no means grounds to say that the film is poor. If you’re watching a slasher movie for sensible continuity, then you’re on a losing team there buddy. What lifts Urban Legend way above average is its wonderful imagination, pulsating energy and ability to make the most of its bag full of good ideas. It also benefits from a haunting score and a strong cast, which were at the time of release mostly unknowns. Jared Leto has since gone on to earn roles in Fight Club and American Psycho, not to mention The Thin Red Line. He is an actor that I have seen many times, but has never grabbed the moment or left me with the impression that he’s an outstanding performer. He does very well here though and shows much promise in his delivery. Alicia Witt is solid as the final girl and there’s a fair turn from Rebecca Gayheart as her bubble head friend. This was made before Tara Reid had developed a reputation as a party girl and was hoping for a career as an actress. She had the look and a good agent, but that wasn’t enough to hide her limits as a dramatic success. I did kind of hope that her character would survive, although I believe that’s more because she’s hot. However, Blanks is quite ruthless with the cast and not many players avoid the assassin’s blade.
We are treated to a couple of effective jumps and false scares and some wonderful flowing cinematography, which keeps the energy level at maximum. Due to the impressive momentum, things also gets ‘edge of your seat’ tense toward the end as you play the game of work out the killer’s identity. The story keeps on twisting and pointing the finger at everyone who appears on screen and you can’t help but carry on guessing. I even enjoyed the OTT motive and even though the actor struggled to deliver a believable portrayal of insanity, the revelation just about works.
So all said and done I think it just goes to show Urban Legend is a matter of taste movie; you’ll either love it or hate it. I must admit that I actually thought it was fairly enjoyable and remains far more entertaining than the one-toned Valentine. Don’t be dissuaded by the poor publicity that circled this one, its well worth checking out.
Final Girl: √√√
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer 1998
Directed by: Danny Cannon
Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Brandy, Freddie Prinze Jnr
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I remember the times when I could come home to my own bachelor pad at any time and in any state and relax in front of a slasher movie on VHS. You know, if I had to chose a day of my life for a scenario like that which befell Bill Murray in the film Groundhog Day, it would have to be the time when I met a girl named Faye and we went back to my place and watched The Clown at Midnight then Blood Relatives and well, you can guess the rest… (I got her to watch two slashers, I mean, come on! Imagine what else she would do )
Anyway nowadays that old decadence killer, ‘age’ has caught up with me and the room that used to just have a 32″ screen and an ever increasing pile of slasher movies is now a collection of toy cars and dolls for my two kids. The film genre most viewed in the González household has been changed from horror trash to chick flicks and Disney classics and well… You get the picture…
Today, seeing as I share the house with the Mrs, I have to be creative in order to watch these flicks. “This one is different, honest” or “you’ll never guess the killer” etc. It’s either that or I need to stay up until the whole family are sleeping and even then it’s a case of enjoying synthesiser scores and screams on my earphones. That’s what you call settling down my friends.
I had some good fortune though recently, my boss (I mean the Mrs) actually liked I Know What You Did Last Summer, so I used my finest sales skills to get her to watch the sequel. Thing is, would it leave a satisfied viewer with a hunger to be manipulated in to watching more?
After the mega impressive box office from part one, only a fool would not put out a numero 2 and producers today may be many things, but un-eager to build on successes to make a pretty penny is certainly not one of them.
One year after the events in the previous film, Julie James has gone away to study and Ray has stayed back at home working on his fishing boat. The flame is still strong, despite the distance between them. Julie has been suffering nightmares because the body of Ben Willis was never found and as the anniversary of the event comes around, the visions are getting worse and worse. Things begin looking up, when her best friend wins a weekend away for four in the Bahamas. When they arrive, however it seems that maybe Ben is not dead and before long someone begins to slash his way through the Island inhabitants one by one…
First things first. I was impressed that after the dire criticism that the first instalment got, the production team had managed to rope in Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze Jnr for the follow up, which was a major plus. At first when I noticed that Prinze’s character had said no to the Bahamas trip, I presumed that he had only turned up for a cameo and then was to be subsequently written out of the plot. But no, here he was, on board for the whole hog and it added strength to the tone and continuity.
I wasn’t overwhelmed with Jim Gillespie’s lackadaisical direction in the previous entry, but almost immediately, Danny Cannon shows a more capable eye for building horror. I liked the flashing photography in the club and it was great for breaking up the cheese on toast dancing scenes that also have their place in these flicks. He built some tense scenarios in places and the film only has the odd moment where it loses the express-line momentum.
There’s a tad less of a focus on Love Hewitt’s breasts, although the sun bed scene seems to have been included only for that purpose. I liked the fact that Still Know had some African American players and it wasn’t just those of the turn up just to die variety and in all fairness, Mekhi Phiffer was probably one of my favourite personas of the bunch. Journey man actor Jack Black is on board too and admittedly he is the marmite of Hollywood comedians, but I have grown to appreciate him over the years and he was in fine form for this big-budget slasher. (He had to get one under his belt – I mean the guy has acted in genres that haven’t yet been defined)
Speaking of Madame Hewitt, even though she looked as ravishing as ever, the character of Julie had lost some of its charm for this follow up. It was not the fault of the actress, but the script made too much of her consistent jumping and whining and I think they somewhat overdid it. There’s a confrontation scene, where her friends find out that she has lied to them about the events from the first episode and I feel that they should’ve left that out, because it took an amount away from the strengths of a slasher heroine. Final girls should be almost perfect, not written up as liars who lead their friends to impending doom, even if it was understandable as to why she did it.
Now I know that they had to rush things a bit, because it’s a real push to get a film ready within only twelve-months, but this script was inexplicably silly in places. If you were a psycho killer; actually no wait… if you were an unemployed fisherman psycho killer, would you really pay to send the people you wanted to kill first class to the Bahamas? Then would you fund them staying in a hotel for the build up to their death? I mean, why, why WHY? He had a spot of fortune though, because as soon as they arrive, every other tourist on the Island completely disappears. Also, the line I still know what you did last summer is inept. I mean, shouldn’t this film be called I Still Know What You Did The Summer Before Last? It’s almost as if Scream (the film this heavily imitates) never happened. I also got the twist almost immediately. How can I say this without giving anything away? Erm… I can’t, so I won’t – but it takes the stupidity of say, Hospital Massacre and utilizes a similar method, even though someone who had taken the screenwriting share of the $24,000,000+ budget should have pointed it out. If I can see these things and I work for an IT Sales company in Basingstoke, why can’t a producer working in somewhere like Hollywood? Answers on a postcode…
On the hour mark things go slashertastically crazy and the film becomes an extravaganza of cheese, slasher thrills, a tad of suspense and a dynamic pace. I enjoyed some of the stalking scenes, the karaoke part was a blast and seeing Jack Black get butchered was hilarious. It was moments like these, which redeemed some of the out and out stupidity.
I am not sure if it was because I was tired, but it all seemed more predictable here than it has ever been, but in terms of out and out manic stalk and slash clichés, it is a ball of the cheesiest pedigree. I liked the sets, even if anyone with only the slightest sense of geography can see that it’s not the Bahamas, but Mexico is a great location anyhow.
I asked the Mrs after if she had enjoyed it and she wasn’t overly impressed, which means I really have to start thinking of some more selling points before I propose the next slasher film for evening entertainment. If you have any ideas, please do share them… otherwise, think of me in my earplugs shivering watching Friday the 13th part 9614 on my laptop…
Final Girl √√√
The Catcher 1998
Directed by: Guy Crawford/Yvette Hoffman
Starring: Monique Parent, David Heavener, Joe Estevez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ever since Black Christmas hit cinemas thirty years ago, the slasher genre has terrorised nearly every form of escapism that is available to modern civilization. From holidays to carnivals, trains and houseboats and even ski resorts and building sites have become the stomping ground of an insane killer with animosity scalded into their heart. It came as a shocking surprise then, when I first discovered that no one had yet decided to pitch a deranged slasher against America’s favourite past time. That’s right, surprisingly enough, not one psychopath had yet invaded a Baseball stadium, despite the glaring amount of victims and potential.
It took right up until the year 2000, but The Catcher has set about changing that by offering us a story that involves a twisted ex-ball player with murder on his mind and a bat in his grip. Who needs a hockey mask when you can wear a helmet? Who needs summer camp, when you can stalk a stadium? And who needs a machete, when a baseball bat can do just as much damage? Guy Crawford and Yvette Hoffman obviously saw the possibilities, so without further to do, let me tell you about The Catcher…
We start where we’ve started countless times before with the good ol’ abused child murders parent scenario. The gimmick added this time is that the motive involves baseball and the weapon of choice is a handy bat. Next we are introduced to the compounds of The Devils’ stadium, presumably sometime in the future. (We never find out for sure.) ‘The Devils’ have been unable to recover from a slump that the players believe is down to the performance of David Walker (David Heavener), their one-time top hitter.
It’s the last day of the season and Walker has already been thrown out of the game and whilst he’s waiting to say good-bye to his teammates, his girlfriend enters the locker room to tell him that she’s leaving. As if that wasn’t enough of an excuse to turn someone into a homicidal masked-maniac, next up he finds out that his new manager (Monique Parent) is about to sack him. (I hate those days) Before long, a mysterious killer begins slaughtering the sportsmen one by one using various macabre methods. Is it Dave Walker getting revenge for being fired? Or has someone else got something against the players?
For a direct to video horror movie, The Catcher at least looks fairly well financed. I noticed a couple of crane shots and there’s the inclusion of cast members that actually do have some previous experience. The performances aren’t great, but David Heavener had the odd moment and Monique Parent wasn’t dreadful either. The only really obnoxious turn came from Joe Estevez, who underlines here why Francis Ford Coppola chose the other brother to send up the Do Lung River to terminate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz. I admit that it’s harder to judge actors for their efforts in flicks like this, because even family members of famous stars generally just accept roles in the slasher genre for the paycheque, let alone the stars themselves.
Crawford and Hoffman direct fairly well for their first time out and the use of dolly tracks and steady-cam means that they haven’t scrimped on what’s needed to make the right impression. There were various baseball themed killings that were fun. The best of them included ‘death by pitching machine’ and another unfortunate guy gets a bat rammed up his bottom, which was rather bizarrely staged. I mean, at first I thought the maniac was about to rape him!
All the typical slasher clichés are accounted for, including the hulking masked killer, final girl and a cheesier than dairylea POV shot through a baseball helmet. They’ve included a few decent twists to keep you guessing through the mystery and although it’s all been done before in previous efforts, there’s the odd authentic touch that was commendable.
One scene stuck in my mind, in which the killer and one of the players were dressed in the same garb and the surviving girl has to decide which one to stab with a broken bat. Without giving away the conclusion, let’s just say that it works fairly well, without sticking to the conventional story directions.
There’s no memorable gore that warrants a mention and most of the murders are either off screen or just involve a splash of corn syrup, which was disappointing. The script could have done with a few re-writes also. We never even found out where the killer came from after his identity was revealed. Did he escape an asylum, or did he work on the Hot Dog stand? Who knows? The lighting also left a lot to be desired and Paul Amorosi’s music was patently under-produced in places, leaving scenes that could have generated tension that were crying out for accompaniment. The editing and sound mixing was somewhat ‘chop-socky’ as well, jumping like a drunk playing hopscotch at times.
The apparition parts were laughable to say the least and the psycho’s motives were never resolved, leaving an unavoidable feeling of half-heartedness. One of the chase sequences involves Monique Parent fleeing the nut job through the corridors of the stadium. Although the pursuing shots weren’t really that bad, it was obvious to see that she was ‘running’ at the speed of a tortoise that was recovering from a leg operation, so that she wouldn’t outpace the dolly track.
The Catcher isn’t a good film, by any means. But it at least manages to provide a few campy thrills that’ll bring about the odd giggle. There are a couple of bright ideas on offer, but the bad ones usually ruin them and to be honest we could’ve done without Joe Estevez’s unconvincing shouting fits. He died at the start of the movie, but makes a comeback later as an imaginary friend in the killer’s mind, which we really didn’t need.
So we have had a baseball themed maniac flick now, I am still hopeful for a psychopathic soccer star. A soccer ball kicked the right way can really do damage…. Oh and I almost forgot to mention that inside the VHS box I got a free The Catcher postcard with an image of the killer with glow in the dark eyes…. make of that what you will…
Final Girl √√