Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review Double Feature: Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)

Once again, I review a pair of sequels to a horror film from the post-Scream era. This time, though, the original was more of a camp classic than anything...

Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)

Rated R for violence/gore, language and some sexuality

Score: 2 out of 5

I liked the original Urban Legend. It was fast, fun, breezy, and cheesy. The plot was stupid, but it was entertaining, and it certainly wasn't the worst thing in the world. I knew from their reputation that the sequels weren't hot shit or anything, but I was at least expecting a good time. This film, however, was just too dull for me to care about. Don't get me wrong, it has a few moments of competence. There are some effective gore shots that I'm surprised made it past the MPAA in the post-Columbine environment this film came out in, and it never truly turned into an outright disaster. The actors never excelled, but never were their performances awful. In other words, it wasn't bad enough for me to work up the energy to hate it, which is arguably worse, because I at least would've felt something either way if I'd watched a burning pile of shit. Everything has a feeling of "been there, done that" to it. It's the archetypal late '90s/early '00s teenybopper slasher flick, populated by beautiful people, a slick, MTV-ready style, and not much of substance.

Set a couple of years after the original film but otherwise unconnected to it outside of one supporting character and a cameo at the end, this film takes place at a new college campus -- specifically, the film school of Alpine University, where Amy Mayfield, the daughter of a documentary filmmaker, is enrolled. Amy has a chance encounter with security guard Reese (the lone returning character) about a killing spree that occurred at the school where Reese used to work (i.e. the events of the first film), giving Amy inspiration to make a horror film about a killer who is inspired by urban legends as her student project -- and enter the running for the prestigious Hitchcock Award. This being a slasher film, soon a string of urban legend-inspired murders starts happening for real, Amy, Reese, and the other students (their names are not important) must fight to survive and unmask the killer, blah blah blah.

The problems start in the opening scene, where we see another student making his own horror film (about a killer on a plane) as his entry for the Hitchcock Award contest. Rule of thumb to filmmakers: if you don't want to open yourselves up to easy jokes, don't insert into your movie a fake film that rests heavily on being bad deliberately as a joke, and then have the real movie be little better than the fake "bad" movie. The flaws of that movie are soon repeated in the most immediately noticeable place: the acting and characters. None of the actors in this movie are as deplorable talent-wise as the character of Sandra, the perky blonde student whose performance in the fake movie is one of dreadful overacting, but at the same time, the only one who felt like she was even trying was Loretta Devine as Reese. The Pam Grier-loving security guard from the first film is back, her position at a new school justified by her having been fired from her last college for trying to blow open the cover-up of the murders that went on, and thus being forced to start anew in an entry-level position. She actually seemed like she was having fun with her part, which is more than can be said for the dullards in the rest of the cast. Jennifer Morrison's vanilla blonde final girl Amy, Matthew Davis' handsome hunk Travis/Trevor (there's a twin twist thrown in around the thirty-minute mark, to give you a sense of what we're dealing with), Eva Mendes' hot lesbian Vanessa, Marco Hofschneider's mysterious German student Simon, and a whole host of interchangeable cannon fodder/red herrings collectively did nothing to make me care about them or their plight, reading their lines in a stone-faced manner and occasionally emoting a little or screaming so that they're not completely wooden. The writing is all over the place as it builds up to a ridiculous reveal at the end, one that came out of nowhere, made no sense, and didn't even provide us with any entertaining hamminess like we got from Rebecca Gayheart in the first film. There was just a great sense that nearly everybody involved with this film was going through the motions of mediocrity, doing enough to get by and not suck but never going above and beyond.

The same applies to the bread and butter of any slasher, the kills. This film does have a body count, and a few of them are even memorable, the most notable being the opening kill where a girl is drugged, wakes up in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing, and tries to escape only to be decapitated with a broken window slammed on her neck. There's another shot involving rats crawling through a victim's corpse that actually grossed me out a bit. Unfortunately, the filmmakers' creativity ran out quickly. Most of the deaths are bloodless, inoffensive, and forgettable; two of them involve people being electrocuted, and two of them happen off-screen, the bodies only being discovered later. The ending took place on the set of a sci-fi movie, but never exploited it for anything beyond a background. I can forgive some of this as coming down to the censorship of teen horror movies that went on in the wake of events in Littleton, Colorado suddenly rendering the sight of teenagers being brutally murdered a lot less fantastical. What I can't forgive so easily, however, is the fact that the filmmakers seem to ignore the whole premise of the movie with some of the kills. The main gimmick of this series is that it is based on urban legends, stories that are told to "a friend of a friend" that usually involve somebody dying in a creative manner. The killer follows the blueprints laid out by the urban legends with some of the kills, most notably the aforementioned kidney theft kill but also including references to the scream session rape and the snuff film story. Others, however, have only tenuous connections at best to urban legends, most notably the kills that occur on the sets of Amy's film, while in some cases, such as a murder made to look like a suicide or a simple hanging from a bell tower, they have nothing to do with them. In the original, nearly all of the kills referenced real-life urban legends in some way, but here, it seemed as though the filmmakers were too lazy to do that much work.

The Bottom Line:

"Lazy" is the operative word for the movie in general. If I were a professor at the film school where this takes place, I'd give this movie a D for attaining basic competence, not pissing me off, and nothing else.


And for the direct-to-video sequel...

Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)

Rated R for strong violence and gore, drug use and some language

Score: 1 out of 5

Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, unlike its predecessors, is a straight-out supernatural horror movie. Much like the second film, however, it is hopelessly dull, albeit for slightly different reasons. What few moments of inspiration it provides come down mostly to the SyFy-grade special effects, which had me bursting out laughing. Whereas the second film suffered on account of seemingly having little to do with urban legends beyond the title, this one suffers from how the urban legend conceit feels shoehorned in. The script by Michael Dougherty (who's capable of so much better) and Dan Harris feels like it was written as an original supernatural slasher movie that later had the Urban Legend name stapled on, with the deaths evoking urban legends, the characters discussing them, and the events of past films referenced for no reason whatsoever. Director Mary Lambert (who's also capable of so much better, having made Pet Sematary) is slumming it, while the cast is just as unenthused as last time, their characters behaving with no manner of logic and otherwise running around with the idiot ball. It's a pointless straight-to-DVD cash-in that has no reason to exist, without even the competence that allowed me to spare its predecessor.

The story goes that, back in 1969, a trio of high school girls in Salt Lake City (guess a condition of the Utah tax credits was that you show off the local scenery) attending the senior prom were drugged by their prom dates for the purposes of sex. One of them, Mary Banner, was accidentally killed when she tried to fight back (unlike her friends, she never drank the spiked punch). The kidnappers hide her body, and the incident is written off as a disappearance and becomes an urban legend that gets associated with the "Bloody Mary" myth. Fast-forward thirty-five years, and a teenage girl named Samantha is holding a sleepover with two of her friends, where they recite Bloody Mary's name three times. This wakes Mary's ghost, and the three of them vanish and reappear the next day at a mill outside of town, scared but unharmed. Samantha and her brother David initially suspect that the school jocks were responsible, as revenge for an embarrassing story that Samantha wrote about them in the school paper, but once people start dying in bizarre ways, they suspect that something supernatural is happening -- and moreover, that Mary may be seeking vengeance by targeting the children of the people who killed her.

The plot is full of huge leaps in logic, starting with the fact that none of the kids who were connected in any way with Mary's disappearance ever saw justice, for either that or the fact that they also kidnapped two other girls in the process. I get that 1969 was a different time, when it was expected that "boys will be boys" when it comes to how they treat their female counterparts, but murder is on a completely different level from date rape, and has never been treated with such flippancy. After that, we get a group of jocks who hate Samantha over an embarrassing article she wrote about them in the school newspaper, which has little effect on the plot except to supply another victim. The fact that they were, in fact, responsible for the kidnapping of Samantha and her friends in the beginning undercuts a big slice of Bloody Mary's menace, and the fact that she just so happened to come back the night that they kidnapped the girls in a manner reminiscent of what happened to Mary's friends is just too great a coincidence to be plausible. Grace, one of Mary's friends who was date raped and has since grown up into a black nationalist type (a part of her personality that never comes up outside her introduction, which admittedly supplied the hilarious greeting of "power to the people, free Angela Davis!"), serves as little more than a font of exposition. Everything finally collapses in act three as Samantha and David's stepfather, whose big (and glaringly obvious) secret is that he was the guy who actually killed Mary, goes psycho on them in an effort to "keep his secret". The script here was an all-around mess that feels like a rushed first draft of assorted ideas for a story more than anything.

And the actors clearly knew it, because they didn't care about their work either. Kate Mara, who played Samantha, is the only actor in this film who went on to any sort of career afterwards, though it's not like her performance here helped much. She had this weird earnestness about her that made it seem like she was trying to play her character as Nancy Drew, and it didn't work in the slightest. She joins her sister Rooney Mara (who has a non-speaking, blink-and-you'll-miss-it part in this as an extra) in having a crappy teen horror film on her IMDb page that she'd rather forget. The rest of the cast, a motley crew of washed-up '80s TV actors and various twentysomething nobodies, are even less remarkable, their performances being just dull and not even interestingly bad like Mara's was. The lackadaisical nature of the whole affair extended to director Mary Lambert, who's fallen a long way from making anything decent. The shots are unspectacular, and while there was one good and bloody death scene, another one that could've been great -- a spider laying its eggs in a girl's cheek, causing her to start tearing her face off once they hatch and crawl out of the bite -- is utterly ruined by hilariously bad CG spiders that look like they came out of a SyFy original movie, and which are horribly superimposed on the victim's face. It has absolutely nothing on the climax, though, where Mary drags the evil stepfather to hell in what may as well be a cutscene out of a PlayStation 2 game. Speaking of Mary, she doesn't look so hot either; when we get a good look at her face, she looks like a girl wearing a Halloween costume, not a malicious spirit from beyond the grave.

The Bottom Line:

An utter snore that I'm bored just talking about. Don't waste your time, even if you catch it for free on Netflix.

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