Urban Legend (film)

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Urban Legend
Urban Legend film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jamie Blanks
Produced by
Written by Silvio Horta
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography James Chressanthis
Edited by Jay Cassidy
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date
  • September 25, 1998 (1998-09-25)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $14 million
Box office $72.5 million

Urban Legend is a 1998 American psychological slasher film directed by Jamie Blanks, written by Silvio Horta, and starring Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, and Tara Reid. Its plot focuses on a series of murders on the campus of a private New England university, all of which appear to be modeled after popular urban legends. In addition to its younger cast, the film features supporting performances from Robert Englund, Loretta Devine, John Neville, and Brad Dourif.

Filmed in Canada in 1997, Urban Legend was released in the United States on September 25, 1998, and grossing over USD$70 million worldwide. The film has been credited by both cinema and folklore scholars as being one of the first major films to redistribute the urban legends and folklore depicted within it to the public.[a]

It was followed by two sequels: Urban Legends: Final Cut, which was released theatrically in 2000, and the direct-to-video film Urban Legends: Bloody Mary in 2005.


On a stormy night at a gas station, a woman named Michelle Mancini fights off an apparent attack by a stuttering attendant. However, he was actually trying to warn her of an attacker in the back seat, and, as Michelle drives off, the attacker in the back seat decapitates her with an ax. The next evening, Pendleton University radio host Sasha receives calls from sexually inexperienced students and offers her expert advice. Meanwhile, in the student lounge across campus, coed Parker relates to friends Natalie Simon and Brenda Bates how one of the campus halls, Stanley Hall, had been the site of a massacre in 1973. The story is discredited by school journalist Paul Gardner.

(From left) Damon, Brenda, Parker, and Natalie attend their folklore class.

As news of Michelle's decapitation spreads around campus, the students share rumors and gossip. Sasha seems concerned that her voice on the radio could have been the final thing Michelle heard, while Damon makes light of the news with lighthearted jokes. Natalie seems more affected by the news than anyone else and withdraws from the conversation. That evening, Damon offers to talk with Natalie, whose estranged friendship with Michelle has left her shaken after her horrific death, and the two drive into the woods. After Natalie refuses his advances, Damon is attacked by a killer in a hooded parka, who hangs him from a tree with the rope attached to the car. As the killer approaches Natalie, she attempts to run him over, strangling Damon to death in the process. As the killer recovers, Natalie tries to drive away, but Damon's body lands on top of the car, forcing Natalie to flee and alerting security guard Reese Wilson, who doesn't believe her when they find the car and Damon's corpse missing.

Paul consoles a distraught Natalie.

Natalie is demoralized the next day when Parker, Sasha, and Brenda are skeptical about what Natalie claims to have witnessed. Realizing Damon and Michelle's murders resemble urban legends, Natalie goes to the library to research. She runs into Sasha, who once again tries to assure her that her fears are unfounded. Natalie shares a book featuring urban legends, and Sasha shares a book full of sex positions. While she is away, her goth roommate, Tosh, is strangled to death by the killer. Thinking her roommate is merely engaging in sexual activity, and having previously walked in and interrupted Tosh in similar circumstances, Natalie doesn't turn on the lights and goes to bed. In the morning, Natalie discovers her corpse and the words "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?" scrawled on the wall in blood. Distraught over Tosh's death, Natalie confesses to Brenda about her past: one night Natalie and Michelle re-enacted an urban legend; they were driving with their headlights turned off and pursued the first driver who flashed them, causing him to run off the road and die in the crash. Next, the school dean Adams is attacked in the parking garage and run over by his car. Later the same evening, Reese finds Professor Wexler's office in disarray and covered in blood. Meanwhile, Paul has discovered the Stanley Hall massacre actually occurred and Wexler was the sole survivor.

Sasha attending the anniversary party.

At a fraternity party coinciding with the massacre's 25th anniversary, Paul shares his knowledge about Wexler with Natalie and then Parker. Parker belligerently insults Paul and tells him to leave. Sasha gets annoyed at the drunken antics of Parker, her boyfriend, and leaves to go to the campus radio station. Once both Sasha and Paul are gone, Parker gets a phone call from the killer telling him that his dog is in the microwave. After opening the microwave and seeing his dead dog, he runs to the bathroom to vomit, where the killer ties him to the toilet and forces pop rocks and bathroom chemicals into his throat, killing him. At the radio station, Sasha is attacked by the killer while on air, and her screams for help are broadcast live. Sasha is chased throughout the deserted radio station while Natalie runs to her aid. Sasha is unable to outwit the killer and after injuring her leg in a fall she eventually finds herself trapped on the third floor and Natalie arrives just in time to witness the killer hack Sasha to death with an ax.

Natalie finds Brenda and Paul and they drive off campus to find help. Paul convinces the girls that the killer is Wexler. When Paul stops at a gas station, Natalie and Brenda discover Wexler's dead body in the car and flee, thinking Paul to be the killer. Natalie loses Brenda in the woods but makes her way to a road, where the school's janitor picks her up. When the janitor flashes a car with its lights out, it swerves around and pursues them. The janitor's car is forced off the road, but Natalie survives and makes her way towards Stanley Hall. She hears Brenda screaming from inside. When Natalie breaks into the building, she discovers the dead bodies of several of the murder victims, and Brenda lying on a bed. As Natalie starts crying, Brenda sits up and knocks her unconscious.

Brenda taunting Natalie over Sasha's death.

Upon regaining consciousness, Natalie finds herself tied to a bed and gagged. The killer comes in and unmasks herself as Brenda, who plays mind games with Natalie and taunts her about her dead friends. She reveals that the young man Natalie and Michelle killed was Brenda's boyfriend, David Evans, and she is now exacting her revenge. She grabs a scalpel and starts cutting Natalie's belly, almost reaching her belly button. Suddenly, Reese rushes in and forces Brenda away at gunpoint. Reese frees one of Natalie's hands; however, Brenda tries to stab her with a switchblade and the two struggle for Reese's gun. Brenda is able to shoot Reese and stops Natalie from escaping. Paul then appears and tries to trick Brenda into thinking that he will help her frame Wexler for the murders, but she doesn't believe him. As Brenda is deciding whether to shoot Paul or Natalie, the wounded Reese shoots Brenda in the elbow with another gun. Natalie grabs the gun and shoots Brenda, who falls through a window and onto the ground.

Natalie and Paul drive away to get help. Suddenly, Brenda appears in the backseat and attacks them with the axe. Paul swerves the car until he crashes on a bridge, sending Brenda through the windshield and into the river below. Brenda is believed to be dead and Natalie and Paul share an emotional embrace as police sirens are heard from the distance. The film's events are then revealed to be an urban legend being told among a different group of students at a different university, who say that Brenda's body was never found. Most of them disbelieve the tale with the exception of one young woman, who is revealed to be Brenda. She claims that the story was incorrectly told, and begins to tell them "how it really goes."


Urban legends depicted in the film[edit]

The film depicts various urban legends, some of which are featured as murder sequences and others that are merely referenced or discussed in passing.


  • Michelle is murdered by a killer in the backseat. This legend is also referenced by various people looking at the backseat or talking about it.[1]
  • Coverage of Michelle's murder in the university newspaper is covered up by the dean, referencing the "University cover-up of campus murder,"[2][3] and the subsequent fears of the students reference the "Hatchet man" legend, which has an unnamed killer targeting college campuses at random.[4] The origins of the latter have been traced to serial killer Richard Speck.[5]
  • Brenda and Natalie attempt to invoke Bloody Mary at the entrance to Stanley Hall.[1]
  • Professor Wexler suggests eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda at the same time. The death of Little Mikey from this is mentioned by Brenda.[6] The killer later re-enacts this legend on Parker, substituting soda with cleaning chemicals.[7]
  • Damon is hanging from a tree while Natalie is waiting in the car below.[1]
  • Gangs driving with their headlights turned off, pursuing the first driver to flash them and running him off the road, is mentioned by Sasha in the library. It is later revealed that Natalie and Michelle did this, killing a young man; it is subsequently re-enacted by the killer on Natalie and the janitor and finally revealed as central to the killer's motive.[1]
  • Natalie finds her roommate strangled to death next to her with the note "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?"[1]
  • The "ankle slasher under the car" legend[8] is re-enacted on Dean Adams.
  • A guest at the fraternity party claims that the song "Love Rollercoaster" contains a real murder scream; meanwhile, Sasha screams for her life on air during her radio broadcast.[9]
  • Parker finds the remains of his dog in the microwave, resembling the "Old Lady dries wet dog in microwave" legend.[7]
  • Brenda attempts to re-enact the "kidney heist" on Natalie.[1]



Box office[edit]

Urban Legend premiered in the United States on September 25, 1998.[14] The film earned $10.5 million in its opening weekend (nearly recouping its $14 million budget), showing at 2,257 theaters across the United States.[14] It would go on to gross $38 million domestically, and earn an additional $34 million internationally.[14]

Critical reception[edit]

As of 2018, the film has a 20% approval rating on the internet aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[15] Many critics drew negative comparisons to Wes Craven's Scream, release two years prior.[b]

Anita Gates of The New York Times called the film a "teen-age moviegoer's dream", adding: "It has familiar young television stars, familiar older stars with cult followings (Robert Englund as the aforementioned professor, John Neville as the dean), an edgy sense of humor, a tricky plot and characters too genre-savvy for their own good. Maybe there will be an oversaturation of Scream-inspired horror films someday soon, but this one feels fresh."[16] Bob Heisler of the Los Angeles Times called it an unoriginal "low-voltage drive-in movie, made strictly by-the-book."[17]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film two out of four stars, but praised Christopher Young's musical score, and adding: "The film is competently made, and the attractive cast emotes and screams energetically, and does a good job of unwisely grabbing one another by the shoulders."[18] Entertainment Weekly's Ty Burr wrote of the film: "Proficiently filmed and utterly uninspired, it at least features a ghostly lead performance by Cybill's Alicia Witt and a final twist that’s entertainingly stupid. But why do all the characters have to be such nasty little dorks? Oh, right, otherwise we’d care about them."[19] Kim Newman of the British publication Sight & Sound wrote: "Urban Legend manages somehow to be rather endearing, from Natasha Gregson Wagner's opening bit (what must now, after Scream, be called 'the Drew Barrymore position') to the hokey shaggy-dog punchline."[9]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C" on an A+ to F scale.[20]

Home media[edit]

Urban Legend was released on DVD by Columbia-TriStar Home Video on February 23, 1999.[21] The release contained an audio commentary with director Blanks, writer Horta, and actor Michael Rosenbaum, as well as a making-of-featurette.[22] The film received a region-free Blu-ray release on July 22, 2008 by Sony.[23] In July 2018, Scream Factory announced a collector's edition Blu-ray, scheduled for release on November 20, 2018.[24]


There were two soundtracks released on behalf of this film; composer Christopher Young's original score and the original motion picture soundtrack.[25]

Urban Legend (Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Urban Legend soundtrack.jpg
Compilation album by Various
Released September 29, 1998
Genre Alternative rock
Length 35:48
Label Milan

Track listing[edit]

1."Tortured"Annette Ducharme4:43
2."Condition"Ruth Ruth3:41
3."The Only One"Junkster4:36
4."Trying Not to Think About It"Juliana Hatfield3:01
5."Love Rollercoaster"Ohio Players4:47
6."Urban Legend"Christopher Young5:00
7."Sex Advice with an Axe"Christopher Young10:00

Additional songs featured in the film:


  1. ^ Gail de Vos notes the film's influence in re-transmitting the legends it depicts intra-narratively.[1]
  2. ^ Some critics compared Urban Legend negatively to Scream, deeming it a clone or imitation, while others, such as Anita Gates (who gave the film a positive review), merely noted the films' relation as late-1990s slasher films.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g De Vos, Gail (2012). What Happens Next? Contemporary Urban Legends and Popular Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-598-84634-8. 
  2. ^ a b Koven 2008, p. 107.
  3. ^ Tucker 2005, p. 48.
  4. ^ Tucker 2005, p. 90.
  5. ^ Tucker 2005, p. 91.
  6. ^ Brunvand, Jan Harold (2012). Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-598-84720-8. 
  7. ^ a b Koven 2008, p. 106.
  8. ^ "SHOPPING MALL ASSAULTS ARE A LOW CUT". Desert News. 6 March 1990. Retrieved 18 September 2017. 
  9. ^ a b Newman, Kim (6 June 2012). "Urban Legend". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. 
  10. ^ Mikkelson, David (26 July 2007). "Aspirin Mistaken for Birth Control Pills". Snopes. Retrieved 30 August 2017. 
  11. ^ Mikkelson, David (7 June 2014). "The Promiscuous Cheerleader". Snopes. Retrieved 19 September 2017. 
  12. ^ Mikkelson, David (21 October 2014). "Penis Captivus". Snopes. Archived from the original on 16 December 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2017. 
  13. ^ Blanks, Jamie (1998). Urban Legend (Blu-ray) (film). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 
  14. ^ a b c "Urban Legend". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 17 September 2017. 
  15. ^ "Urban Legend". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 18 September 2017. 
  16. ^ a b Gates, Anita (25 September 1998). "'Urban Legend': The Guy Who Looks Like Freddy Krueger? Nah, Too Obvious". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 September 2017. 
  17. ^ Heisler, Bob (25 September 1998). "'Urban Legend's' Lack of Originality Is What's Scary". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 September 2017. 
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (25 September 1998). "Urban Legend". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 18 September 2017. 
  19. ^ Burr, Ty (25 September 1998). "Urban Legend". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 30 August 2017. 
  20. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com. 
  21. ^ "Urban Legend". Amazon. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  22. ^ Pilcher, Brad (31 October 2000). "Urban Legend". The Digital Bits. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  23. ^ "Urban Legend Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  24. ^ "Urban Legend [Collector's Edition]". Scream Factory. Retrieved July 20, 2018. 
  25. ^ "Urban Legend: Original Soundtrack". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 September 2017. 

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]