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Urban Legend (1998, Alicia Witt, Jared Leto)

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After being declared America’s safest campus, New England’s Pendleton College begins to see that title tested by some random acts of mayhem: first a student loses her head, then the campus’ practical joker is left to die in bizarre circumstances.

Natalie (ALICIA WITT) suspects a link between the murders, but her friends are too preoccupied with other things to consider the deaths might be more than coincidence. Paul (JARED LETO), an aggressive journalist at the school paper, is only interested in a story based on facts that will hopefully win him the student Pulitzer Prize. Brenda (REBECCA GAYHEART), though concerned for Natalie, is more interested in flirting with Paul. Sasha (TARA REID), the host of a sex advice show on campus radio, is less concerned with the impending danger than with working her way through the Kama Sutra.

So when Natalie sets out to uncover the killer – and get to the bottom of Pendleton’s own urban legend about a massacre of students at the hand of a professor – she discovers his demented purpose to fashion the ultimate urban legend, with her as its centrepiece…

‘Since Scream there was a renaissance,’ says director Jamie Blanks of the horror comeback. ‘I’m just hoping it doesn’t peter out because we are just glutting the market too quickly.’ Although he was right to worry, the Aussie former film student was not part of the problem, thanks to his unexpectedly deft feature debut.

Combining genuine suspense with obvious affection for the genre, the film works on energy and in-jokes that feel less smug than some of Kevin Willliamson’s work, which they dare to lampoon (when JOSHUA JACKSON turns on his car stereo, the Dawson’s Creek theme blasts out). The casting of ROBERT ENGLUND also has obvious echoes, but it’s Witt’s movie, proving you don’t need to be a silicone-enhanced centrefold to make great slash and stalk.

production details
Canada – USA | 99 minutes | 1998

Director: Jamie Blanks
Script: Silvio Horta, Jason Shultz,

cast
Alicia Witt as Natalie Simon
Jared Leto as Paul Gardener
Rebecca Gayheart as Brenda Bates
Michael Rosenbaum as Parker Riley
Loretta Devine as Reese Wilson
Tara Reid as Sasha Thomas
John Neville as Dean Adams
Joshua Jackson as Damon Brooks
Julian Richings as Weird Janitor
Robert Englund as Professor William Wexler
Danielle Harris as Tosh Guaneri
Natasha Gregson Wagner as Michelle Mancini
Gord Martineau as David McAree
Vince Corazza as David Evans
Stephanie Mills as Felicia
Danny Comden as Blake
Nancy McAlear as Jenny
Kay Hawtrey as Library Attendant
Angela Vint as Bitchy Girl
J.C. Kenny as Weather Lady
Balázs Koós as Nerdy Guy
Shawn Mathieson as Hippie Guy
Clé Bennett as Dorky Guy
Danielle Brett as Trendy Girl
Roberta Angelica as Swimming Woman
Matt Birman as Killer
Brad Dourif as Michael McDonnell, Gas Station Attendant (uncredited)