During the teen slasher craze of the 90s, and after the wild success of Scream, this little movie comes along. Original? Yes. Violent and bloody? Yes. Great music? Yes. Pop culture references and cool dialogue? Yes. Excellent, groundbreaking filmmaking? Well, no, BUT, awesome for what it is, and completely entertaining. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. But I don’t feel one bit guilty!
The film opens on a dark and rainy night (don’t they all?), and we meet a young woman, Michelle (Natasha Gregson Wagner), driving down the road, singing along to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (not very well, mind you). After nearly crashing into another vehicle, she realizes she’s practically out of gas, and stops at a nearby station, which looks a bit on the creepy side. The attendant (played by Brad Dourif), has a stutter that does not come in handy for Michelle. He lures her into the station, telling her there’s something wrong with her credit card, and she thinks he is trying to attack her. She pepper-sprays him, and takes off in her car. Finally able to get his words out, he yells, “Someone’s in the backseat!” As she drives down the road, in shock, she notices someone behind her, as he/she lifts an ax, and chops her head off. Back in town, on the campus of Pendleton University, we meet Sasha (Tara Reid) who has a daily radio show about nothing but sexual advice, her boyfriend, Parker (Michael Rosenbaum), and friends, Natalie (Alicia Witt), Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart), and Paul (Jared Leto). Parker tells the girls about the Stanley Hall Massacre, a local urban legend that does hold some truth to it. Journalist Paul is a bit of a prick at first, but it’s somewhat acceptable because it’s Jared Leto. Anyway, later that night, Natalie and Brenda decide to mix stories, and say Bloody Mary five times in front of the old, worn-out Stanley Hall building. They are spooked by another friend, Damon (Joshua “Pacey Witter” Jackson).
Natalie goes back to her dorm, and is unpleasantly surprised to see her roommate, Tosh (Danielle Harris), having sex, which she is forced to listen to all night long. The next day in Folklore class, taught by none other than Robert Englund, they discuss urban legends, and how prevalent they are in society, and how they change from person to person, and such. Professor Wexler tells Brenda to come up to the front of the class to volunteer for an experiment (the mixing of soda and Pop-Rocks). She refuses, but Damon decides to go for it. He’s fine at first, then launches into a dramatic fake-out, freaking Brenda out. Everyone on campus is now aware of the murder, as Paul has written about it in the school paper. He makes light of it, but Natalie is clearly hurt by his lack of emotion and compassion. Natalie is depressed about the murder, but everyone else does not seem concerned, with Damon even remarking, “I’ll miss her too, cuz that girl gave great head!” Okay, totally crass, but it was fucking hilarious.
Later when Natalie goes back to her dorm room, we learn that she knew Michelle and they used to be best friends, after she is bitched out by Tosh over the phone line usage (oh, the days of dial-up!) She is sad and takes Damon up on his offer to talk. While trying to start his POS car, the radio comes on suddenly, loudly blasting, “I Don’t Wanna Wait”, the theme song from Dawson’s Creek, to which he replies, “Oh, god!” Yeah, that was pretty rad. Anyway, he listens, but really just wants to get into Natalie’s pants in the woods, though I do think he means well, sort of. Hey, he played Pacey, what can I say? Anyway, she rebuffs his advances, including punching him in the face, and he goes to take a piss. He is then attacked by the killer, and hanged above the car, causing Natalie to hear squeaking on the roof (“The Boyfriend’s Death” urban legend). When she peels out, he is left to hang and die. When Natalie goes to get Reese, the awesome security guard, they can’t find any trace of his body. Her friends tell her he’s snowboarding in Killington, but she knows what she saw was not a mannequin.
She ventures into the library stacks and finds a book on urban legends, after realizing that Michelle died in a similar manner, while back in the dorm room, Tosh types away in a chat room looking for a gothic dude to hook up with. Big mistake, girl. Tosh is attacked by her new online “date” who has snuck into her room, and when Natalie comes home, she doesn’t turn on the light because she thinks her roomie is having sex yet again. She wakes up to find Tosh dead, and a cryptic, bloody message scrawled on the wall, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?” Everyone thinks Tosh killed herself because her wrists are cut, but Natalie knows someone else was there. Honestly, that is one of my favorite urban legends; it really is creepy if you think about it. Anyway, Natalie is completely paranoid now, and Paul confronts her about knowing Michelle in high school. She confides in him her theory about an urban legend serial killer.
He thinks it’s a stretch at first, but begins to believe her, and they begin investigating what really happened at Stanley Hall years ago. They start wondering whether the murders have anything to do with the 25th anniversary of the massacre, which is the subject of Parker’s fraternity party that night. They ask the janitor if he knows anything, and he tells them to talk to Professor Wexler. They snoop around his office, and find an ax, as well as Wexler himself, who promptly turns them in for trespassing. They accuse him of the murders, but are met with disbelief and anger from the administrators. They also bring up Natalie’s hush-hush criminal record, for reckless endangerment from high school, which pisses Paul off. Also pissed, Natalie goes to the campus pool where Brenda is swimming laps. Up in the viewing area, she sees someone walk in wearing the same coat as the killer does. She tries to get Brenda’s attention by breaking the window, but it’s only a fellow swimmer.
Natalie confides in Brenda that she knew Michelle, and that they were no longer friends because of what she did. What he did was run someone off the road playing a dumb game, and using the urban legend “The Gang High Beam Initiation” as an influence. It was Natalie’s car, and she was riding shotgun, but she didn’t tell her to stop. The other guy died, and they only got probation. Dean Adams is killed while attempting to get in his car in the parking garage, and Brenda convinces Natalie to come to the party at the frat house, so she does. Parker is making his dog, Hootie, do a beer bong (oh, Lord), and Paul finds Natalie to tell her about what the janitor gave him – a newspaper from 25 years ago, stating that Professor Wexler was the sole survivor of the massacre. She gets scared, and they start kissing, and Brenda witnesses this. She gets pissed and storms off, because she has a massive crush on Paul, and Natalie knew that. Tsk, tsk….
Paul tells Parker his theory, but he’s drunk, acts like an asshole, and blows him off. Sasha goes to host her radio show, and Parker begins receiving harassing phone calls. Though this is a crowded party, the killer somehow has taken his dog and put it in the microwave, killing it (I was mad, but it was a take-off on the “one where the old lady dries her wet dog in the microwave”). He finds the bloody mess, and goes to puke in the bathroom. There is attacked, and tied to the toilet. The killer emerges, and forces a funnel into his throat, and gives him a concoction of Pop Rocks and drain cleaner, killing him. Damn, that’s harsh. Sasha is attacked at the radio station soon after, and is chased around. Natalie can hear her screams over the radio at the party, and rushes to help her. She is killed with an ax, and the killer waves menacingly at Natalie. She bumps into Paul, who tells her the phones are dead and he can’t find Reese. They run back to campus and meet back up with Brenda, who says she heard Sasha screaming on the radio.
They all get in Paul’s car and take off down the road. Stopping at a gas station, the girls rekindle their friendship, and notice a nasty smell, and discover it’s the Professor’s body in the trunk. Freaking out and thinking Paul’s the killer, they run back to campus. There is so much running in this movie, I’d be exhausted. Paul gives chase, wondering why they took off, and the girls get separated in the woods. Natalie makes it to the road, and hitches a ride with the janitor. She notices he has a similar coat to the one the killer wears (this coat must be popular in New England), and begins to suspect him as well. Paul’s car passes them on the road, and the janitor signals that his lights are off, starting the Gang High Beam Initiation. The car runs Natalie and the janitor off the road, and he is either killed or knocked unconscious, because we don’t see him again. Natalie runs back to campus, and hears Brenda scream from inside Stanley Hall. Bravely, she makes her way inside, and comes across the dead bodies of her friends.
She finds Brenda passed out on a bare mattress in a room filled with candles. Upset, she begins crying, when Brenda sits up and punches her hard in the face. Now Natalie is tied to the bed, and Brenda enters wearing the now infamous coat. She is the killer, and her motive? The guy Michelle and Natalie ran off the road and killed two years earlier was her fiancée. She’s clearly snapped and gone crazy, well, she might have been crazy already, but the death of her fiancée triggered her rampage. She thinks she’s going to frame Professor Wexler by using the urban legends as the method of killing, and because of the 25th anniversary of the Stanley Hall Massacre. Reese pops up, just as Brenda begins cutting into Nat’s stomach, attempting to perform The Kidney Heist legend. Reese frees Natalie, and forces Brenda against the wall, but Brenda has other plans. She cuts Reese with a knife she has hidden, grabs her gun, and holds Natalie hostage again.
Paul shows up, and tries to coax Brenda into giving him the gun by pretending to be on her side, causing Natalie to question him once again momentarily. But Reese saves the day, and shoots Brenda with another gun, and Natalie grabs the other, shooting her again. She falls out the window onto the ground below. Natalie and Paul leave the scene, which is just weird because it’s a crime scene, and not to mention, I would want to stay with Reese even if the cops took over, because she saved them practically. Regardless, they begin driving away, when Brenda pops up in the backseat with an ax. She attacks Natalie, while Paul attempts to both drive the vehicle and help her. He purposely crashes into the guard rail above the river, causing Brenda to fly through the windshield into the water below. Presumably months later, at a different college, we see a group of students discussing that very case, and the fact that it has become an urban legend. Much of the dialogue is verbatim to the conversation that was had at the beginning of the film. Only one girl believes the story – it’s Brenda! Fade to credits.
So, yeah, if you’ve seen it and liked it, you understand how fun and entertaining it is, but if you haven’t, I can see how from my description it might sound sort of lame. It is not the best horror flick of the 90s, or the 90s teen horror phase, but it is worthy, and pretty good. With all the cultural references, and current as well as classic songs (anything from Rob Zombie to Paula Cole to The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and The Crystal Method), there’s really nothing wrong with this film at all. It is a hoot to watch, sort of creepy at times, but like with most horror movies, once you realize the killer’s motive, it’s not scary or atmospheric anymore. Does that make sense? Oh well, it’s still good, and worth a watch. I always liked it, and I had a blast seeing at the theater years ago. Being eleven at the time, I didn’t get the head joke back then, but now that I do, it’s flippin’ hilarious. Also, and it’s surely obvious by now, I love anything that references Dawson’s Creek, so that’s a given. I saw the sequel to this movie, and it sucked, really badly. So, I stopped watching them after that. I sometimes get sick of numerous sequels being made, especially ones that get worse and worse each time. Ergo, I will stop with this first Urban Legend film. I wonder, what are some of your favorite urban legends?