selected from Starburst #246
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Urban Legend

Alicia WittTHE latest in the post-Scream hip Horror stream is another stupefying stalk-and-slash rehash. The scariest thing about director Jamie Blanks's I Know What You Did Last Semester is that it seriously believes it's doing something different from every Happy Birthday to Me, Don't Answer the Phone, Hell Night knock-off 20 years ago. Okay, the urban legend theme is a goodie (well, baddie as it turns out under Blanks's blank direction) but the red herrings, endless shock cuts, ridiculous actions of the protagonists under duress and surprise left-field maniac could all be stamped with a 1984 sell-by date. Only the wide-screen treatment, lush production values and referential use of Freddy icon Robert Englund ally it to the psycho-on-the-loose recursive New Wave and that won't be enough to satisfy the discriminating splatterati.

A lunatic in an anorak is terrorizing Pendleton University with murders based on popular urban legends. You know, the macabre apocryphal stories that have supposedly happened to a friend of a friend's girlfriend about baby sitters receiving chilling calls from an unknown source traced to the upstairs bedroom, micro-waved pets and being decapitated by a stranger lurking in the back seat of your car. Well, all these and more are being carried out on the student body although the authorities don't seem to be too worried when Natalie (Alicia Witt, Zoe in the sit-com Cybill) witnesses one of the murders.

So she sets out to uncover the killer herself. Does it have something to do with a massacre that supposedly happened at the University 30 years before? Could it be that ambitious journalist Paul (Jared Leto) merely wants to sell more school newspapers and will commit tabloid worthy crimes to do so? Or is it something in Natalie's own past that has kick-started the inventive blood-letting? Don't hold your breath for the answer.

A few years ago Blanks made the student film Disconnection, a marvellously chilling short about a husband calling home only to be told by his son that his mother is in bed with another man. The father orders his son to kill his mother and later realizes he's dialled a wrong number. None of the imagination, verve or style discernible in that mini gem is on show in Blanks's feature début which relies on relentless camera movement - especially upwards over trees - and the sudden appearance of unexpected faces in framed close-up. This shock tactic technique gets tired very quickly and then becomes irritating because Urban Legend has no real story and uses surface empty flash as a poor subsitute.

No one in the cast makes any real impression. Professor Robert Englund is wasted like John Neville as the University's principal who meets a spiky end. As for Loretta Devine's cop modelling herself after Pam Grier's Foxy Brown, there can be no rational explanation apart from extra Tarantino reference points. Alicia Witt tries her best, but even that isn't good enough when she's saddled with such dumb stuff as going to the library to withdraw 'The Encyclopaedia of Urban Legends'. Then there's her final line after the mystery has been solved - or has it? Oooh! Cue creepy twist ending! "Do you think we're on the way to being a legend ourselves?" she says. Er, no, is the short answer to that one.

Starburst rating: 4 out of 10
Urban Legend picture copyright Columbia Tristar

Urban Legend is ‘another stupifying stalk-and-slash rehash’

Urban Legend: Producers, Neal H Moritz, Gina Matthews & Michael McDonnell. Executive producer, Brad Luff. Director, Jamie Blanks. Screenplay, Silvio Horta. Music, Christopher Young. Special effects supervisor, Martin Malivoire. Starring Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Natasha Gregson Warner, Loretta Devine, Tara Reid, John Neville & Robert Englund. 100 mins. Cert R/18. Released America: September. Britain: February.
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