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
88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), 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)

Color, 2000, 98 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by John Ottman
Starring Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Hart Bochner, Loretta Devine, Joey Lawrence, Anson Mount, Eva Mendes, Jessica Cauffiel, Anthony Anderson, Michael Bacall, Marco Hofschneider, Jacinda Barrett
88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Sony (DVD) (US NTSC R0), Via Vision (Blu-ray) (Australia R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Color, 2005, 93 mins. 5 secs.
Directed by Mary Lambert
Starring Kate Mara, Tina Lifford, Robert Vito, Ed Marinaro, Lillith Fields
88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US NTSC R0), Via Vision (Blu-ray) (Australia R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The Urban Legendslasher film Urban Legendhad been written off as 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 direct-to-video entry, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary), and on its 20th anniversary in 2018, earned a mammoth two-disc Scream Factory special edition that easily outranked the treatment given to any of its peers. An expanded version of that same presentation would go on to join its two sequels in a lavish UK set from 88 Films, which means you get to enjoy the definitive releases of the series on either side of the pond.

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 killing 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 automotive death 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 stakes were definitely raised with 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; however, there is a very faint rolling pattern that can be spotted to varying degrees depending on the type of monitor or screen you're using, though most probably won't notice it. 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).

A Urban Legends Final Cutsequel that caused Urban Legends Final Cutmore than a bit of head scratching when it was first announced, Urban Legends: Final Cut was clearly intended to be the next step in a franchise to compete with Scream (whose third installment also opened in 2000) and the ongoing Chucky and Final Destination series. However, this entry had a few unexpected wrinkles that made it more intriguing than the average slasher film, namely following a different set of characters (apart from a welcome return appearance by a promoted Loretta Devine and a fun last minute cameo at the end) and handing directorial reins to John Ottman. A multitasker best known for editing and scoring almost all of Bryan Singer's films all the way back to their debut, Public Access, Ottman performed multiple duties on this film as well; though it would prove to be his only directorial feature, Final Cut acquitted itself honorably enough and would go on to spawn a third, direct-to-video entry from Mary Lambert, the unconnected Urban Legends: Bloody Mary.

At a prestigious film school, the class of Professor Solomon (Bochner) is going to extreme measures to win the much-coveted Hitchcock Award. An ambitious plane crash short film features the students in various roles for the director, Travis (Davis), whose vision is marred by the wildly subpar acting attempts of fellow student Sandra (Cauffiel). Meanwhile Amy (Morrison) is inspired by a conversation with Renee (Devine), the security guard from the first film, to go for the big prize by making her own thesis film Urban Legends Final Cutbased on famous Urban Legends Final Cuturban legends. A nasty spat involving plagiarism accusations results in a crew shakeup, but even worse, a maniac wearing a fencing mask is starting to kill off the students using the urban legend idea in real life.

The idea of using another first-time director for this sequel is a laudable one even if the results are far more uneven, with the grisly horror angle pushed more to the forefront along with more prominent comic relief from Devine and wisecracking future Black-ish star Anthony Anderson. The rest of the cast is fairly surreal as well with sitcom star Joey Lawrence rubbing shoulders with Europa Europa's Marco Hofschneider, playing up Eurotrash stereotypes in a really odd bid for Hollywood acceptance. It's a great-looking film with lots of creative visual ideas making use of the clever idea of mounting a slasher film in a film school, though the whole Hitchcock Award idea is too precious by half. That said, as a modest turn of the millennium slasher it's still an entertaining ride with at least one truly scary, spectacular sequence riffing on a famous urban legend involving organ removal.

Sony first issued this film on DVD in 2001 with a solid transfer for the time along with an interesting commentary by Ottman (who was probably worn out by the time he finished Urban Legends Final Cutand notes Urban Legends Final Cutsignificant editing and production issues along the way), a batch of deleted character development scenes (8m29s), an EPK-style featurette (3m35s), a gag reel (4m59s), and the theatrical trailer. An HD master was later struck around the same time the first film hit Blu-ray and made the rounds for a long time on the Sony Movie Channel, but it didn't hit physical media until its inclusion in a 2017 Australian box with the other two films in the series (retaining the preexisting special features).

The film later made its American Blu-ray debut in 2018 from Scream Factory in an expanded special edition timed to coincide with the label's lavish two-disc release of its cinematic predecessor. The Sony-provided transfer is excellent as you'd expect and in keeping with the studio's track record, and the DTS-HD MA English 5.1 and 2.0 tracks (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also still a fun one with lots of thunder, lightning, and loud music to keep your speakers stimulated. The commentary is ported over here along with the gag reel, deleted scenes, and EPK short. The new featurette "The Legend Continues" (17m4s) features producers Gina Matthews Urban Legends Final Cutand Michael McDonnell, executive Urban Legends Final Cutproducers Nick Osborne and Brad Luff, Phoenix Pictures Chairman And CEO Of Phoenix Pictures Mike Medavoy, first film writer Silvio Horta, and Devine and Rebecca Gayheart, all participants seen in Scream Factory's two-disc set of the first film. It's an interesting snapshot of how the film came together with the wheels in motion right after the release of the first one, though they reinforce the questionable idea that Ottman was aiming for more of a thriller than a horror film -- given that this one amps up the gore and body count considerably. They also explore some additions made to the film after test screenings, most notably the addition of the kidney sequence (which was written after the fact by Horta). A new interview with Cauffiel (16m41s) is easily the most memorable thing on the disc, especially as she recalls some potent details about shooting the "mile high" opener, her intense reaction to shooting a death scene, and other memories of the Vancouver shoot.

The 2021 edition from 88 Films also divides the first Urban Legend onto two disc, with the feature (identical specs) on disc one with both audio commentaries and the trailer. However, you also get a new commentary with the hack-and-slash gurus from The Hysteria Continues, and the quartet has a great time discussing one of the most entertaining nouveaux slasher films around with a fast-paced discussion of its role in the post-Scream sweepstakes, Blanks' use of familiar subgenre tropes, the ecstatic joy of that big climactic killer monologue, and lots more. The second disc replicates the same contents as the Scream Factory disc, with that comprehensive documentary in full. The Urban Legends: Final Cut disc also comes from the same master and looks identical, with all of the Scream Factory extras ported over. However, this one also adds a new audio commentary by the gang from The Hysteria Continues, Urban Legends: Bloody Maryand anyone familiar with the Urban Legends: Bloody Marypodcast knows they've been champions of this one as an underrated entry for years. They get to show their love here with another brisk track that points out the film's positive aspects and dissects its sort-of postmodern take on the slasher formula, as well as noting how it takes some really peculiar turns along the way and how they first encountered it.

Also included in the 88 Films set is the often overlooked third film in the series, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, which takes a page from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II by going completely supernatural and ditching any connection to the film(s) before it. In fact, that comparison extends to the premise itself with a decades-old trauma spilling over into the lives of a bunch of modern-day kids -- in this case, a Salt Lake City urban legend dating back to 1969 involving Mary (Fields) who gets assaulted and locked in a trunk following an attempted sexual assault on prom night. In the present day, school journalist Sam (Mara, whose sister Rooney pops up here as an extra) writes a less than flattering article about the school's football culture, something that lands her in hot water. Urban Legends: Bloody MaryDuring a sleepover, Urban Legends: Bloody Maryshe and two friends along with her brother, David (Vito), end up invoking the legend of Bloody Mary that supposedly brings the notorious girl back, which results in a major gap of lapsed time and a string of murders on campus patterned after urban legends. Now with the help of the one witness from the original event who knows the whole story, time is running out before Bloody Mary's kill list is complete.

An obvious drop from the previous films in terms of both budget and ambition, this is still a reasonably entertaining campus shocker with a few nasty death scenes and some revenge from the beyond hokum that never strays outside the usual formula. The main point of interest here is its director, Mary Lambert, returning to horror after Pet Sematary and its sequel; by this point her theatrical career had wound down following 2000's The In Crowd, but she wrings enough atmosphere here with Mara offering solid support as the heroine. If you love cable TV-style horror films with a '90s vibe, this one fits the bill just fine. The 88 Films disc marks the second appearance of the film on Blu-ray (it's still DVD-only in North America), Urban Legends: Bloody Maryessentially taking the lead from the Australian one from Via Vision with DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 English options Urban Legends: Bloody Marywith optional English SDH subtitles. The Sony-supplied master is watchable if unspectacular, with a gritty digital look that's been inherent in the source in prior editions as well. The preexisting extras ported over here include an audio commentary with Lambert (in discussion with journalists Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz), which is cheerful and informative even if the flow is kind of odd at times. Obviously it's always good to hear from Lambert though, especially early on as she explains how she took on the film as a different perspective on how women are sidelined when it comes to issues like date rape. Also included are the trailer and the original making-of featurette (17m26s) highlighted by Lambert chatting about the film on set and glimpses of some cast members being interviewed in full gory makeup.

Updated review on November 19, 2021.