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URBAN LEGEND

URBAN LEGEND

5 Stars  1998/18/96m

“Just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it can’t.”

Director: Jamie Blanks / Writer: Silvio Horta / Cast: Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Loretta Devine, Robert Englund, Tara Reid, Michael Rosenbaum, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Danielle Harris, John Neville, Julian Richings.

Body Count: 9

Dire-logue: “It’s like someone out there’s taking all these stories and making them reality.”


Urban Legend, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Damn, there are too many, I’ll just type it all out.

February 2009 will mark the ten year anniversary of my first of six cinema viewings of UL, my hands-down favourite ‘post modern’ slasher pic. You don’t read a lot of praise for this little gem; it’s often cited as being nowt more than a second-rate Scream wannabe. While it’s undeniably in heavy debt to that film, UL goes to all the places I wanted Scream to go to but didn’t. Like what, you say?

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Well, it starts with, like, the coolest murder set-up. Natasha Gregson Wagner (what happened to her?) is driving along a lonely stretch of highway when she runs outta gas. She pulls up in this dank little filling station where a stammering Brad Dourif entices her out of her SUV and attacks her. Or does he? Tasha gets away and speeds off, leaving Brad’s call of “someone’s in the backseat!” to be swallowed by the wind. Half a click down the road, a shady figure emerges from said backseat and swipes of her head with a funky axe!

Yes, it’s a slasher film about those stories, the ones you tell around campfires, in the school playground or when you’re slacking off work and want to talk about something other than the X Factor. Conveniently, the group of college kids at the centre of the ensuing terror are taking a class in urban legends, taught at Pendleton University by Robert Englund, which should be enough to make anyone think twice about signing up…

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We meet our teens-of-terror. There’s campus journo-wannabe Paul (Leto), who’s super-ambitious. Ambitious enough to commit murder though? He’s our Gale Weathers stand-in. Brenda’s got the hots for Paul and says a lot of neo-bimbo things to get his attention. Damon (Jackson) is the peroxidified-prankster who’ll do anything for a gag or a shag… Parker and Sasha are the oversexed couple; he’s an aging frat boy and she runs a call-in radio show about sex things. Then there’s Natalie, our final girl elect, played by the fab ginger princess who is Alicia Witt. Natalie is conscientious and smart, she can look after herself and she’s an unconventional heroine, none of this ‘woe is me’ crap…although she does have a few secrets that might be relevant…

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The murders continue with good pace, each of them revolving around Natalie in some way: her date, her goth roommate (Danielle Harris – nice to see her ten years on from Halloweens 4 & 5). Natalie is the only one to suspect that the Parka-coated killer is twisting urban legends into the murders, but everyone she goes to with her suspicions thinks up a reason to disuade her: suicide, prank, suspect already in custody yaddah yaddah…

Even Pam Grier-loving campus cop Reese (Loretta Devine, our Dewey stand-in) is sceptical… What’s a girl to do? Natalie part-convinces Paul to look into it, as it appears that the University’s own campus legend about a dorm massacre a quarter of a century earlier may also be more than just a myth…

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Grisly murders continue, all of them satisfying in their creativity without being excessively grotesque… There’s the psycho-under-the-car one, the Pop Rocks and soda one, another about flashing your headlights to cars driving around without theirs on and the wet dog in the microwave thing…

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Answers start to unfold eventually as Natalie confides her guilty secret to Brenda, that she knew the first victim and that they’d done something bad a few years earlier. Wouldn’t it just be so convenient if the reason that Natalie is always around for each killing is that it’s something to do with the ‘accident’ she was involved in? Hmm…time to assemble Fred, Daphne and Velma.

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In the final third, Blanks ups the ante on cliches-what-work. Now, most people moan and whinge about cliches, but that’s why we love these films, right? We’d be upset if the slutty girl didn’t die. Parker’s fraternity throws a costume party to commemorate the is-it-or-isn’t-it-true campus legend and Parka-man comes with an axe to grind. There’s a great chase scene when Sasha finally comes face to face with the killer with some nifty mini-stunts and great near misses, akin to the film’s production cuz I Know What You Did Last Summer, where Sarah Michelle Gellar – who incidentally was the first choice to play Sasha! – was accosted to the death by the psycho fisherman. It’s a great scene, let down like its contemporary by refusing to show the kill, but all is forgiven because everything’s so much fun!

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Action moves into the woods for a short while so that Natalie can discover a few things, cross a few suspects from her list, all the time jockeyed into position by a luckier-than-lucky killer, who’s surely got psychic abilities to be able to turn up in the right place at the right time every time!

We’re dragged back to campus for the finale, at which point the killer’s identity is revealed and this is the part where most people who didn’t like the film probably groaned aloud. Yes, it’s stupid and campy. No, the assailant probably couldn’t have possibly done most of the things they did. My God, that motive is cheesy! But hey, hell hath no fury, right? And that should spell out who it is if nothing else does!

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Ugly Betty scribe Horta adds enough humour to offset all the slashin’ and killin’, while Aussie helmer Blanks makes the best of the ultra-pristine university setting, even if he has too strong a penchant for strobe work and jump-cuts. It wouldn’t be easy to make a film like Urban Legend work; stringing together separate stories and making them all connect to the same group of people, perpetrated by one person is neo-impossible, hence the abject ridiculousness of it all.

I love the outcome, I love the killer’s soliliquy and I love the production quality. As it functions as a mystery, most people make their final judgement based on how satisfying the answers to their questions are. Somebody told me who the killer was before I saw the film so I was not let down by anything, if anything it set things up to make a majorly positive impression because it checked all my favourite boxes. Most of these things are down to the choice of Witt as Natalie, who wields a great scream, convinces as a college girl and makes the best face ever when it comes to facing off with the killer…

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Love. It. I want an ‘I Heart Urban LegendT-shirt. I’d wear it with pride alongside my Voorhees hockey top and Camp Crystal Lake Counselor shirt. The world might well be a better place if we all loved Urban Legend. No, really, it might!

Blurbs-of-interest: Loretta Devine was the only cast member to return for the largely-unrelated sequel, Final Cut, and the third film was all but an island, but still good. Rumours of a fourth come and go, it’d be nice if they did a ‘Return to Pendleton’ flick..! Gayheart and Jackson both make small appearances in Scream 2; Danielle Harris later turned up in Rob Zombie’s Halloween and its sequel and also Hatchet II, Blood Night, and ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2. Julian Richings (the creepy caretaker) was Three-Finger in Wrong Turn, and of course Englund and Dourif turn up all over the place in cameos and stuff. Jamie Blanks turned out Valentine three years later to even less positive reviews and a couple of other horror films more recently.

HALLOWEEN (2007)

HALLOWEEN

2.5 Stars  2007/18/116m

“Evil has a destiny.”

Director/Writer: Rob Zombie / Original Script: John Carpenter & Debra Hill / Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Sheri Moon Zombie, Kristina Klebe, Daeg Faerch, William Forsythe, Hanna Hall, Danny Trejo, Dee Wallace, Ken Foree.

Body Count: 21*

*varies depending on version


Remakes. Ree! Ree! Ree! Clashing thunder! Hell rain! Lava volcano spurting grossness from the depths of hell eeeeeeevil!! A divisive subject if ever there were, not least of all to the faithful horror fan.

You could blame Japan for all those spooky girl-out-of-the-TV films, they’ve resulted in a lot of remakes, as have Euro horrors, most recently the Spanish glut. There’s a real topic here that I could banter on about for pages and pages about, but we’re here to talk about the ballsiest remake so far… Halloween.

The original Halloween, made the same year I was, is an undesputable classic, a horror film so important it never fails to appear on lists of the best horror films ever made… So, after the uninspiring mish-mash that was Resurrection, the death of the series’ executive producer and nothing happening with a ninth entry in the saga, somebody suggested a reboot. Worked box-office magic for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But Hallo-fuckin-ween? Who’d dare to take on that gargantuan task? The name’s Zombie. Rob Zombie.

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As you can see here, things don’t look so different… Creepy stalky Michael, Doc Loomis, Laurie and her doomed gal-pals. Be not fooled, Halloween 2007 is really very different from John Carpenter’s bargain city masterpiece. One of the original ideas bandied around for Halloween 9 was an origin tale of Michael’s years at Smith’s Grove prior to that night. It’s been half-realised in the first hour of Zombie’s effort, notably the better half of a seriously difficult to comprehend project.

Michael Myers is now the middle child of good natured stripper Deborah Myers, who lives with abusive layabout Ronnie, her slutty daughter, Michael, and baby sis who I think was called Boo, but I couldn’t tell. Mike’s got some hot-probs, most concerningly, he’s violent n’ stuff, shown to us when he clubs the school bully to death before offing step dad, sister and sister’s boyfriend on Halloween night. He’s shipped off to Smith’s Grove under the watchful eye of Dr Sam Loomis (McDowell) and we follow his progress there for the best part of an hour, his sinking into a darker place of the soul, further violent outbursts and the eventual suicide of mom.

Fifteen annums later, Michael has miraculously grown from sub-five foot Avril Lavigne look-a-like child to hulking looney bin fixture. Now, the scenes in the asylum vary between the theatrical and unrated versions. In the former, Michael flips and kills a gaggle of security personnel and other employees, leading to his escape, whereas on DVD, the rape of another inmate by a couple of nasty guards sets off this psychosis. Either way, he’s out!

It’s fair to say that up to this point, Zombie has created a pretty good horror film. It’s grisly and littered with his trademark white-trash elements, grime and sleaze, but there’s a thoughtful strain running through it all, a feeling of, dare we think it, sympathy for Michael!? It’s this development that effectively skewers the second half and turns things into a bit of a crapfest. Haddonfield is presented the same as before, a small, tight community where crunchy leaves adorn the pavements and children are revved up for the night’s candy-flavoured surprises.

It’s the characters we meet that begin to unveil a less wholesome insight into things. Think back to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie. The good girl who wasn’t a swot, she was shy, the doormat to her promiscuous friends. You loved her, wanted her to be your friend, your babysitter. Laurie ’07, played by Scout Taylor-Compton, is a bit of a cow.

She’s smarter than Annie and Lynda, we know this because she wears glasses, but she’s just not very…nice. She’s OK, I spose, but the way in which she greets Tommy shows this Laurie is less model teen, more selfy smart girl. Annie and Lynda are essentially no different than before, just more profane. Lynda is only in two scenes (three if you count the one where she’s dead) and only says ‘totally’ once. Annie is a more interesting story, played by Danielle Harris who was, of course, Jamie Lloyd in Halloween‘s 4 & 5 until the character was cruelly offed in 6. She wants sex with Paul, Lynda wants sex with Bob. They all have sex (or at least attempt to), three of the four die as Annie’s fate is left dangling in a strangely hollow scene.

The stalk n’ slash process, which made up a good 75% of the original film, is shrunken down to next to nothing in pacing terms. There’s no tension to speak of. Characters are killed off very rapidly, very violently and the last half hour is nothing more than Laurie and Michael playing cat and mouse around the abandoned Myers house. He initially kidnaps her to try and forge some twisted sibling connection thing but, as she has no frickin’ clue she’s adopted, doesn’t quite work out so he decides to kill her instead.

Things end very definitely. Laurie gets to ask Loomis if ‘that was the Boogeyman’, to which he responds ‘yes, as a matter of fact it was’, more violence erupts and there’s no sign of any obvious strands by which to attach a sequel. But then it was only a few sequels ago that Michael recovered from total decapitation…

As you can tell from the screencaps, Zombie has created a handsome picture, far more professional looking than 95% of the teen horror films from the last decade. So, what’s the prob, chief? In a word: Laurie. The final girl is at the centre of the slasher flick, without her, it’s pretty much dead in the water. The same outcome occurs when said final girl is undeveloped or obnoxious. I didn’t give a toss if Laurie lived or died this time around, the only character we learn anything about is Michael! This shift of alliance to the killer ruins most horror films, it was what stopped Freddy being scary, what made Jason’s latter outings exercises in rinse and repeat teen-killing. Having said that, I hated this film the first time I saw it, hated it to the point of wanting to cry… A second viewing only cemented that the Haddonfield-set part of it does indeed suck beyond the telling, but that also Zombie’s talent lies in the story of Michael’s past, that he can create a scary psycho out of a floppy haired child and piece together a genuinely engaging horror film beyond the unhinged exploits of his previous psychadelic gorefests.

Blurbs-of-interest: Taylor-Compton continued her retread sins by appearing in the worst of the bunch, the DVD crapfest that was April Fool’s Day. Aside from her previous series appearances, Danielle Harris was also in Urban Legend, Blood Night, Hatchet II, and ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2. McDowell was in The Surgeon. Brad Dourif, of course, was the voice of Chucky in all five Child’s Play films and also turns up in Trauma, Dead Scared (The Hazing), Color of Night and Urban Legend. Dee Wallace was in Scar, Dead End Road and Popcorn. William Forsythe was in Hack and iMurders. Kristina Klebe co-produced and had a small role in BreadCrumbs.

Don’t play that song again

JEEPERS CREEPERS

3.5 Stars  2001/15/87m

“Evil is right behind you.”

Director/Writer: Victor Salva / Cast: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck, Patricia Belcher, Eileen Brennan, Brandon Smith.

Body Count: at least 9

Dire-logue: “You know the part in scary movies when somebody does something really stupid and everybody hates them for it? This is it!”


How can one begin discussing Jeepers Creepers, a film with a title so ultimately surplus to its premise that it could have been called ‘Oops! …I Did It Again’ or ‘Mmmbop’? Well, it’s not yer vanilla slasher fare, that’s for damn sure. It’s teen horror for sure, dude, but this one takes a left at the fork in the road whereas its Scream-modelled bretheren carried on down the straight.

Jeepers Creepers is an audience divider: Marmite, if you will. There are those who think it sucks and, in their defence, they’re partly right. And there are those who think it’s the best thing since internet porn sliced bread. And some of what they say is right too.

‘Tis the story of collegiate siblings Trisha and Darry, homeward bound for Spring Break via ‘the long route’ at Trish’s request due to a questionable break-up. This entails driving her aged Chevrolet along East 9, a scenic but virtually deserted route with a few urban legends to its name. The terror begins just minutes after meeting the bickering duo as they are nearly run off the road by an especially creepy old truck known as ‘BeatingU’ (in accordance with a license plate game the kids are playing).

A little further down the road they spot BeatingU parked up alongside a boarded up church, it’s inhabitant now tossing person-sized packages, covered in red blotches, down a sewer pipe.

Having quite obviously been seen by the stetson-hatted driver, BeatingU revs back into life to chase them down in the creepiest car chase since Duel. Trish and Darry escape and appear to have been spared when they discuss going back to the church in case whomever was wrapped up in those bloody sheets is still alive. Unlike many other slasher films, this is actually a pretty understandable reason for going back. Back in the 80s, our jock and cheerleader would have gone back for kicks or to make out in the basement. Tension has been nicely stacked up by now and Darry soon ends up taking a slide down the pipe where he witnesses one of the bagged-up victims croak from a sewn up torso wound. Worse still, the entire cavernous basement of the church is covered by a tapestry of naked, dead corpses, all of them preserved “like petrified wood” as Darry later tells a cop…

From here, things get creepy with mystery phonecalls from people who know their names, protector-cops are effortlessly done away with and we learn that the killer possesses abilities beyond those of an everyday human psychopath… Things are kept taut up to the hour mark, after an encounter with ‘The Cat Lady’ and we get a good look at exactly what is after the Jenner kids.

It’s the final half hour where Jeepers Creepers strays from its horror-on-the-road simplicity and quite literally loses its way. The revelation of just what the creature is and what it wants (explanation thanks to a local psychic who has dreamt the answers) is fine. It’s different, but it’s fine in a fantasy comic book way. The cop-shop showdown is what’s unoriginal. Memories of Terminator 2 abound and it seems like Salva simply didn’t know where to go to bridge the end of the road scenes with the true meaning of the titular song which, as said psychic tells them, means ‘bad things’ for one of the sibs.

Scribbler-helmer Victor Salva seems to attract more column inches because of his shady past then for his directing talent, which is considerable. Most people who criticise higher budget commercial horror films for ‘being rubbish’ pay little attention to the craft itself and should perhaps watch more only-on-DVD features where nobody gives a crap about the lighting or composition. Jeepers Creepers is gorgeously shot, overflowing with perfect pans and cranes, shadows are in all the right places and it’s a genuinely unsettling visual experience. We’ve all had those great film ideas that sound so perfect in our heads but would never translate so well to the screen, hell, that’s why so many book-to-film adaptations implode! This is simply one of those, two-thirds terrifying road-trip from and to hell, one-third bizarro creature feature with a bit of a depressing ending. See it for the setup, stay for the photography.

Blurbs-of-interest: Creeper Breck was also in The Caretaker and Mask Maker. Salva followed things with an okay sequel in 2003 and another due in the future. He had previously directed creepy B-flick Clownhouse. Justin Long returned for a brief cameo in JC II. Eileen Brennan turns up in The Hollow, but she’s not a kooky Cat Lady.

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