Color, 1998, 99 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Jamie Blanks
Starring Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Loretta Devine, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, John Neville, Robert Englund, Danielle Harris, Natasha Gregsoon Wagner
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Sony (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Via Vision (Blu-ray) (Australia R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The Urban Legendslasher film Urban Legendhad been written off as long dead and gone by the end of the '80s, but everyone was in for a big surprise when Wes Craven's Scream took the world by storm in 1996. Complete with a marquee-worthy cast and a witty, self-reflexive attitude to the stalk-and-slash craze, it ignited a new wave of knife-wielding horror films with uncannily similar posters that filled theaters for the next five years or so. While Dimension Films was busy pumping out Scream sequels and imitators, other studios scrambled to ride the wave as well with Columbia Pictures releasing two of the most successful: I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1997 and Urban Legend in 1998. The latter was the feature debut of a young first-time Australian director, Jamie Blanks, a horror fan who had gotten attention with his striking short film, Silent Number. Production company Phoenix Pictures felt confident enough in his abilities to entrust him with the $15 million production, which turned out to be one of the very best and most visually striking entries in the entire neo-slasher cycle. Blanks' love of the horror genre extended to giving roles to some very welcome faces like Robert Englund, Danielle Harris, and Brad Dourif, and he was soon handed another high-concept slasher project from Warner Bros., the ultimately problem-plagued but underrated Valentine released in 2001. By that point the slasher fever was breaking, and Blanks was back off to Australia where he helmed the excellent Storm Warning and a remake of Long Weekend. Over the next twenty years, Urban Legend continued to Urban Legendamass a significant fan following, spawned Urban Legendtwo sequels (2000's Urban Legends: Final Cut and 2005's unrelated supernatural direct-to-video entry, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary), and on its 20th anniversary, earned a mammoth two-disc Scream Factory special edition that easily outranks the treatment given to any of its peers.

The campus of Pendleton University is rocked by the death of one of its students, Michelle (Wagner), who's axed to death in her car in a variation of a creepy urban legend first used in the horror anthology Nightmares. Radio host Sasha (Reid) and school journalist Paul (Leto) start to piece together clues from the killing while sharing stories with Michelle's shaken best friend, Natalie (Witt), dorm mate Brenda (Gayheart), Damon (Jackson), and Sasha's wisecracking boyfriend, Parker (Rosenbaum). A school course involving urban legends being taught by Professor Wexler (Englund) puts them on the scent of a supposed massacre that occurred at the school back in the '70s, and Natalie soon witnesses two brutal murders including her roommate, Tosh (Harris). As the body count among the friends begins to climb, it becomes clear that each xkilling is tied to a different urban legend with a dark secret uniting them all.

Though featuring a significant amount of comic relief including a scene-stealing turn by Loretta Devine as a Pam Grier-obsessed campus cop, Urban Legend largely avoids the self-aware Scream formula and instead works as a simple, straightforward Urban Legendslasher film in the classic style (though it avoids nudity and has very little sex, in keeping with tastes of the Urban Legendera). It's an impeccably mounted film with stylish and colorful scope photography, an energetic score by Christopher Young (Hellraiser) including a haunting theme inspired by his earlier work on Dream Lover, and a slew of appealing performances from the cast with everyone really getting into the right spirit. The biggest MVP is the cast member playing the killer, whose climactic "why I did it" speech is an outrageous highlight and one of the greatest in the entire genre; to say any more about it would spoil the fun. Unlike I Know What You Did, this film also plays fair with its audience by sticking to the rules it sets up and delivering an unmasking that's built on what's come before and makes sense, albeit in a grandiose and wonderfully absurd sort of way.

Of course, Sony has kept this film in circulation ever since its DVD debut in 1999. The original Sony Blu-ray from 2008 was no slouch, featuring a stellar HD transfer that still holds up well. Language options include Dolby TrueHD English (5.1), French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai, plus an audio commentary with Blanks, writer Silvio Horta, and Rosenbaum, who have a good time explaining how the film came together on a very tight schedule with the novice director Urban Legendimpressing everyone right out of the gate. A behind-the-scenes featurette (10m9s) is also included showing Young at work, a deleted (long) comic sex scene with Reid and Rosenbaum, and the creation of an automotivedeath scene. The same disc was later included in a three-disc Australian set of the entire trilogy, and it's the same right down to the Sony label itself.

Urban LegendHowever, the release to go for is definitely the Scream Factory two-disc Blu-ray set, which comes with a slipcase and, for the first 750 orders directly from the company, a poster of the new cover art. The transfer itself is identical to the earlier one, which is fine since that one still holds up extremely well; the usual DTS-HD MA English 5.1 mix is also featured along with the original commentary track. (English SDH subtitles are also included.) A new addition here is an audio commentary with Blanks, producer Michael McDonnell, and director's assistant Edgar Pablos, moderated by Crystal Lake Memories author Peter M. Bracke. The tone here is much more production oriented and tonally different since it's looking back from a considerable distance of time, with everyone very enthused about revisiting the film. What's interesting is that the track was recorded at the same time as the assembling of the rest of the special features (over twenty participants, some barely caught before they would have become unavailable), so it's also a warm account of how this entire edition came together. The theatrical trailer is also included. Urban Legend

The second disc is really centered around what's billed as a feature-length documentary about the film, Samuelson Studios' Urban Legacy, though instead of one film or a "play all" option it's split into eight separate pieces (presumably the usual snags involving special feature running times and royalty payments): "The Story Behind Urban Legend" (9m37s), "Assembling the Team" (17m44s), "A Cast of Legends" (18m46s), "There's Someone in the Back Seat" (15m42s), "Stories from the Set" (28m39s), "Campus Carnage" (23m30s), "A Legendary Composer" (16m29s), and "A Lasting Legacy" (17m1s). Yep, that's over 147 minutes revealing pretty much every single thing you could want to know about the production with participants including Blanks, Bracke, Horta, Young, Witt, Gayheart, Devine, Reid, Rosenbaum, Englund, Harris, Wagner, Pablos, producers Neal Moritz, Gina Matthews and McDonnell, Simon Millar (Blanks' manager), executive producer Brad Luff, Phoenix Pictures' Chairman and CEO Mike Urban LegendMedavoy and creative executive Nick Osborne, director of photography James Chressanthis, editor Jay Cassidy, and production designer Charles Breen. Among the highlights are riotous clips of Blanks' very gory early films, a funny in-joke involving the school crest, the profane finale of John Neville's last day of shooting as the ill-fated dean, memories of the premiere in Westwood, Harris's foot injury that posed an issue with her big scene, Leto's overzealous running skills just after shooting Prefontaine, the logistics of Reid's harrowing stairwell Urban Legendscene (which actually looks even scarier in the production footage), and a hilarious prank anecdote by Witt about a makeup person who turned out to be a huge fan of the film. Extra props for using that familiar Albertus font, too. After that you get two extra batches of extended interviews (39m44s and 33m46s) with Young, Englund, Rosenbaum, Pablos, McDonell, Harris, Matthews, and Chressanthis. After that it's three big chunks of behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot in chronological order (17m,16m20s, and 20m40s), including coverage of several major death scenes, an awesome bit with Brad Dourif reprising a dramatic moment from Child's Play in front of the gas station, casual chats with the cast between takes, and a fun peek at making priceless climactic showdown. Also included are the archival featurette, a reprise of that deleted sex scene (2m40s) but this time without timecode, four TV spots (1m36s), and a brief gag reel (2m14s).

Reviewed on November 16, 2018.