This column contains spoilers for Urban Legend.
It’s easy to compartmentalize Urban Legend as lesser Scream or a cynical attempt to cater to the same late '90s teen audience. Both of those statements are not wrong. Back in 1998, I had a certain excitement and then immediate resistance to Urban Legend because it was made for me, but not as good as Scream and Scream 2. Those films cast a giant shadow over their self-aware teen slasher imitators. It’s only in the past two years that I’ve been able to put aside the trend it was capitalizing on and see Urban Legend as the best of the Scream piggybacks and a very entertaining film in its own right. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but the movie has aged quite well. Urban Legend is just fun, making it easy to revisit 20 years later. Fun is everlasting.
Urban Legend has a memorable cast, even though they’re all playing douchenozzles. A disturbingly normal Jared Leto as Paul, the campus investigative reporter; Alicia Witt as the blah final girl (who really should have been the first girl); Rebecca Gayheart as Witt’s best friend; Michael Rosenbaum as Dane Cook; Tara Reid as a sex radio call-in show host (we’ll get to that soon), and a frat boy prankster played by George Clooney clumsily operating a bleached-blonde Joshua Jackson robot. The film also co-stars Loretta Devine as a campus cop who loves Coffy, Baron Munchausen himself John Neville as the dean of students, horror royalty Danielle Harris as Witt’s goth roommate, and the irreplaceable Robert Englund as the erudite folklore professor who teaches the kids about urban legends in his lectures. It’s apparently the only class of importance at this university. I want to go.
We need to talk about that scene real quick. The killer is SPOILER Rebecca Gayheart and she commits to this bit beautifully. By this point in the movie, I was not a fan of Alicia Witt or Jared Leto’s characters and when Gayheart is mocking her and flirting with him, it’s hilarious. My favorite lines Gayheart delivers are “Lucky for you MISS THANG, I have a visual aid”; “We would be so fucking hot together, Paul”; and, of course, “DING DING DING DING DING!” after Witt guesses one of Gayheart’s questions correctly. It certainly helps that Gayheart has a Magenta from Rocky Horror Picture Show hairdo in this scene to signify she’s crazy. Gayheart’s character gets shot, falls out of a second story window, and then somehow climbs into the back of Witt and Leto’s getaway car where she attacks them, is thrown through the windshield/off a bridge and into a river. Then (in a twist) she survives and ends up at a new college with a different group of friends who are all hanging out chatting about urban legends.