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Film / Urban Legend

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"Someone's taking all of these stories, and making them reality."

Urban Legend is a 1998 Slasher Movie directed by Jamie Blanks, starring Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, Michael Rosenbaum, Robert Englund, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif and Loretta Devine.

After the vitality boost given by the success of Scream (1996), slashers returned to mainstream media and followers were sure to follow. Urban Legend is one of those followers, along with I Know What You Did Last Summer and Valentine.

The movie and its sequels, Urban Legends: Final Cut and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, all share a similar premise: someone is killing young adults, taking cues from well-known urban legends.

These examples happened to someone who knows someone you know:

  • Adults Are Useless: And cops too. Averted by the campus police officer Reese Wilson, who represents both. She actually lampshades this trope:
    Reese Wilson: You know what really chaps my hide? The way you pledged an oath to serve and protect — and then you don't give a rat's ass when something really happens!
  • Alliterative Name: Brenda Bates. A possible reference to Norman Bates... which fits perfectly.
  • Asshole Victim: Michelle, Tosh, Damon, Parker, and the Dean.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved:
    (Reese tells him that Damon is missing)
    Dean Adams: Missing? He's not missing! It's the weekend. He's most likely shacked up in some motel with a girl. Or a guy... farm animal... whatever! Weren't you ever eighteen?
    Reese: Not that kind of eighteen.
  • Big "WHY?!": When Brenda reveals herself as the killer, Natalie asks Brenda about the reason.
    Brenda: ...Well, I guess you can say I'm a little...nutty.
    Natalie: Why?
    Brenda: [impersonating Natalie's whimpering] Whyyy? Whyyy? (finally in anger) WHYYYYY? Still haven't figured it out, have you?
  • Bilingual Bonus: Believe it or not, the movie’s twist is staring us in the face the whole time… in the form of Pendleton University’s motto; Amicum Optimum Factum, which in Latin translates to, "The Best Friend Did It".
  • Book Ends: The film ends as it started after opening credits, with a group of people discussing urban legends.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: In the film's opening, a gas station attendant (Brad Dourif) tries to warn Michelle Mancini about the killer in her backseat, but is unable to do this due to his stuttering.
  • Car Cushion: Damon drops into one.
  • Chase Scene: Sasha is pursued by the axe-wielding killer through a deserted radio station.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Tosh's lithium pills become important when police suspect she may have overdosed on pills to commit suicide.
    • Reese gets a second gun after the killing spree gets out of hand. She is able to fire a surprise bullet into Brenda after Brenda takes one of her guns.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Wexler's class on the babysitter legend and the Pop Rocks legend becomes relevant when the killer uses said legends to kill Parker and his dog.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Parker. The Pop Rocks urban legend is used on him, but the killer substitutes soda with a combination of bathroom chemicals.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Pendleton University's janitor, although it's a Red Herring to add to the whole "urban legend" feel.
  • Cute and Psycho: Brenda is an adorable girl with big Quirky Curls...and is also a deranged psychotic spree killer.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: The killer hides in the backseat of a car. Twice.
  • Dean Bitterman: Dean Adams doesn't show concern and turns a blind eye when Reese informs him about the Pendleton students who start missing one by one. Thus, when he's murdered by the serial killer, audience thinks he deserves it.
  • Death by Mocking: After getting a call from the killer, Parker taunts the killer for invoking the very unoriginal The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House scenario. The killer replies that he killed Parker's dog, which pisses him enough.
  • Downer Ending: Brenda, the killer, not only gets away but is implied to have successfully killed everyone in the sequel.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: In the climax, upon revealing herself as the killer, Brenda confesses the real reason why she did the killing spree followed by removing her necklacenote .
  • Evil All Along: The killer is revealed to be Natalie's best friend, Brenda.
  • Evil Gloating: The killer enjoys taunting Natalie after each killing and during The Reveal.
  • Expy: Most of the cast qualifies as Expies for characters from Scream.
    • Natalie is obviously very much inspired by Sidney Prescott.
    • Paul is Gale Weathers, as both are reporters who initially take advantage of the killing sprees to help their careers before having a change of heart and helping solve them.
    • Reese is Dewey, a seemingly inefficient but ultimately dedicated and surprisingly competent comic relief cop
    • In addition, these three are the survivors of the movie, much like the Scream trio. Maybe. Of the others, Parker would be Stu and Tatum would be Sasha. And Brenda would be Billy.
  • False Friend: Brenda is revealed to be this to Natalie.
  • Final Girl: In the final fight, Brenda has Natalie at her mercy, but she fights back and ultimately survives. However, this is subverted when the ending reveals that Brenda is still alive with the sequel confirming that Brenda killed Natalie.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Natalie complains about a strange smell in Paul's car before discovering Wexler's corpse in the trunk.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The killer's modus operandi of using urban legends to murder people isn't just a mere gimmick. After all, Brenda's lover died after Natalie and Michelle recreated the flashing headlights gang initiation myth.
    • Brenda's poor reaction to her romantic interest kissing Natalie makes sense since Natalie killed David, Brenda's previous love interest.
    • The killer also follows the flashing headlights gang initiation myth to the tee when chasing Natalie. Only the dean and Brenda know about Natalie's Dark and Troubled Past with said myth, and the dean is dead at this point, leaving Brenda as the last plausible suspect.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The newspaper covering the Stanley Hall massacre goes into more detail about said massacre than the actual movie does. The killer, named Frank by the newspaper, duel-wielded two handguns and was also armed with a machine gun.
  • Genre Deconstruction: While invoking some Urban Legends, the film occasionally deconstructs a few of them.
    • The opening is based on an urban legend in which a Creepy Gas-Station Attendant saves a woman by persuading her to come inside the store before warning her that there is a killer hidden in her car's backseat. Here, Michael McDonnell, the stuttering gas station worker, speaks too cryptically for Michelle to understand. When Michelle figures out the attendant was lying about the phone call for her, she mistakenly believes Michael has a nefarious motive and runs back to her car where the real killer was hiding all along.
    • Professor William Wexler debunks the lethality of ingesting soda and Pop Rocks at the same time in class by making Brenda and Damon do the same as an experiment. A more realistic version occurs when Brenda kills Parker by forcing Pop Rocks and drain cleaner chemicals down his throat.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Sasha's death is shown in a cutaway as the killer axes her to death. It's no coincidence that the only Nice Girl to be killed in tearjerking manner has a more off-camera death than the rest of the victims.
  • Goth: Tosh dresses in all black, and has a penchant for black makeup, as well as rough sex through an email for Goths.
  • In the Hood: Killer dresses in a hooded parka.
  • Karma Houdini: Brenda is presumed dead after a climatic crash, but the final scene reveals she is very much alive and, due to her being Legally Dead, seems to have gotten away with everything. And as revealed in the sequel, got a job as a nurse, of all things. She also asserts in the ending that the story was told incorrectly, and Urban Legends: Final Cut confirms she killed eight students when only six students were killed onscreen in this movie. Ultimately, she won.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Downplayed with Sasha, who is a lot more "lovable" than "Alpha Bitch". The meanest thing she does is mocks a really dumb caller on her radio show.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Brenda. It was the death of her fiancé David that caused her to snap.
  • Make-Out Point: Damon tries to score with Natalie at one. Then the killer shows up and kills him.
  • Menacing Stroll: The killer approaches all of his victims like this.
  • Microwave the Dog: The killer does this to Hootie the dog in order to draw one of the victims out to kill him.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: In the opening scene, a woman mistakes a gas station attendant for this (or a rapist; it's not entirely clear) when he was really trying to warn her about the murderer hiding in the backseat of her car.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Sasha is introduced as the sex-obsessed radio host on campus. During her extended chase scene, she's wearing a low-cut dress and knee-high boots. The camera lingers on her cleavage throughout the scene, with a few close-up shots of her breasts.
  • My Car Hates Me: Damon's car pulls this when he is being attacked.
  • Off with His Head!: Done, but not shown with Michelle's death.
  • Oh, Crap!: Natalie during the film's conclusion at Stanley Hall, upon realizing who Brenda really is.
  • Organ Theft: This is one of the murder methods the killer plans to use. Of course, the killer admits that they are not too good at anatomy and will probably just grab the first major organ they see.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: At Stanley Hall, Natalie runs into a row of these, more specifically the corpses of Parker, Dean Adams, and Damon.
  • Really Gets Around: Tosh, which is the cause of the (subverted) Sex in a Shared Room entry below.
  • Red Herring:
    • Professor Wexler becomes one early on. Not only was he the sole survivor of the Stanley Hall incident, he also frightens students in his class by debunking two well-known urban legends, one of them reenacted by the killer later for a murder. The real killer later discloses that Wexler was the Fall Guy.
    • The janitor is a strange character who knows quite a bit about the Stanley Hall murders and helps out the protagonists by pointing them to Wexler. With Wexler's death, it does seem like the janitor is trying to frame Wexler.
    • Journalism reporter Paul has no ethical issues with reporting sensational news about a murdered college student. As noted by Parker, starting a murder spree would help Paul on the journalism front.
  • Red Herring Twist: The Stanley Hall massacre allows Brenda to frame Wexler, the sole survivor, as the scapegoat.
  • The Reveal: Natalie and Michelle had played a prank by blinking the headlights of their car to an unsuspecting driver, disorienting and accidentally killing him. The same driver turns out to be Brenda's beloved fiancé whose death had caused her to snap.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • Brenda's earnest belief in urban legends, best demonstrated in Wexler's class, can be attributed to how an urban legend resulted in her fiancé's death, not to mention that Brenda made an urban legend come true when killing Michelle.
    • At one point, Brenda asks if her friends knew who Michelle was. On rewatch, it becomes obvious that she was trying to draw out Natalie's reaction to Michelle's death.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The hooded killer is revealed to be Brenda.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Reese, the security guard at the college.
  • School Newspaper News Hound: Paul repeatedly badgers everyone, especially Natalie, to get the inside scoop on the killings.
  • Sex in a Shared Room: Invoked, and subverted. Natalie thinks this is happening when she returns to her and Tosh's dorm room and finds Tosh pinned down by a dark figure. She goes to bed and puts her headphones in. It turns out that Tosh was actually being killed in the dark, which Natalie only realizes once she turns on the light. In Natalie's defense, there had been a previous scene where she did accidentally walk in on Tosh and a sex partner, so she had reason to think it was the same thing again.
  • Shout-Out: The initial victim, Michele Mancini, shares the surname with Child's Play creator Don Mancini. This is especially relevant since the gas station attendant who attempts to warn her is played by Brad Dourif, the voice of Chucky.
  • Slashers Prefer Blondes: Blonde-haired Sasha is the final victim of the ax-wielding killer in the film. Her death plays up the character's sexual nature by dressing her in a skimpy, low-cut dress for a long chase scene through a campus building.
  • Stab the Scorpion: Played with and subverted in the film's opening as it seemed the gas station attendant was going to attack Michelle, but was actually trying to tell her that someone was in the backseat of her car. Needless to say, she learned the hard way.
  • Suspect Existence Failure: Wexler's corpse is what convinces Natalie that Paul or the janitor could be the killer.
  • Tagline: "It happened to someone who knows someone you know. You're next."
  • Tragic Keepsake: During The Reveal, we find out that Brenda’s necklace is this. It was given to her by her fiancé David (because he couldn’t afford an engagement ring at the time) the very same night that he was killed in the car accident Natalie and Michelle caused.
    Brenda: (sadly) David and I were gonna get married that summer. Right after graduation. He didn’t have enough money to buy me a ring yet, so... (grips her necklace) he got me this instead. (angrily rips necklace off and glares at Natalie) The night YOU TOOK HIM AWAY FROM ME!!!
  • Unreliable Narrator: The ending reveals that the events of the film have become an urban legend at the school, and it's implied that the person telling the story is this. See Fridge Brilliance for more.
  • Warning Mistaken for Threat: The stuttering gas station attendant chases the opening victim Michelle Mancini, hammering on her windows and scaring the hell out of her. She thinks he's attacking her and runs away fast, only to realize that he was trying to warn her about the killer hiding in the back of her car.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Brenda turns out the be the killer, but it's all because Natalie and her friend caused her fiance to die due to a stupid prank. While this doesn't justify mass murder, she's completely justified in being furious at Natalie.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • Suspecting that the gas station attendant is trying to trap her in the store, Michelle pulls off an escape and runs back to her car, which would be the right move... if she was in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Unfortunately for Michelle, the killer is recreating urban legends, more specifically the myth about the backseat killer in Michelle's case.
    • The dean checks his car's backseat in anticipation of the killer in the backseat legend. It turns out that the killer was hiding under the car to reenact the ankle-slicer myth.
    • Parker gets a phone call from the killer and taunts the killer by asking if he was going for The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House legend. Brenda curtly replies that she was going for the microwaved dog legend.