Junkfood Horror: The Urban Legend Of ‘Urban Legend’

By  · Published on October 20th, 2012

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; our bubblegum is teeming with spider eggs. Legend tells of a bad movie column that resides in the darkest, stormiest parts of the internet. They say on this very day many years ago, a bad movie was murdered in this column. It was mocked mercilessly for all of its innumerable faults in what was supposed to be a prank, but things got out of hand. The perpetrator, JFC, tried to bury the evidence (i.e. their love for the movie), but it came back. When it comes to schlocky movies, like a car door handle at the end of a particularly silly 50s cautionary tale, JFC is hooked. That affinity for awfulness should serve as warning to others…that we have an affinity for awful. To celebrate our addiction, we will guzzle down all the pop rocks and soda we can find, or some other snack food themed to the film that won’t dissolve our insides…quite as quickly.

There are plenty of myths and tall tales swirling about the collective human consciousness, this one however is horrifyingly true. It occurred in the ancient era, in the time before time: September, 1998. According to the elders, it was a strange time to be alive. A man called William the Clinton was ruling our land, diamondbacks and devil rays were added to the field of professional baseball, and humankind was presented with the unfortunate task of choosing between Armageddon and Deep Impact. As the story goes, autumn’s arrival was heralded by the appearance of a sinister presence. It was said that the film Urban Legend, like actual urban legends, only existed if you believed in it. But I can attest to you that Urban Legend really existed, it happened to a friend of my cousin’s brother’s krav maga instructor. Also I saw the movie.

In dishonor of this rancid slasher runoff, we’ve decided to take this idiotic intro gimmick a step further. Let’s imagine a world in which only a couple of people actually saw Urban Legend in theaters. If the only exposure the rest of the world had to this horr(ible)0r film was word of mouth handed down again and again over generations like the weirdest game of telephone ever played, eventually its crappiness would take on its own legend. So here now are the urban legends people would inevitably construct around Urban Legend.

The Plot Holes are Coming from Inside the Script!

It’s pretty clear that the writers here needed a babysitter. This script was so removed of sense and logic that it could have escaped from a mental institution. Unsupervised by anyone, the script stalked the common sense of its victims; trying to break in and stab it to death with moronic conveniences. Are we really expected to believe that a major university was able to cover up a horrific massacre of students on their campus? They were supposedly able to cover it all up by offering the last survivor tenure as a professor in exchange for his silence. Given that he hadn’t yet earned his degree, and was not licensed to teach at the time, it must have initially seemed a paltry bribe. Thankfully the planets aligned to not only make him want to be a teacher, but to have the foresight to regard job security more highly than leaving the school where he was almost murdered. That’s saying nothing of the film’s insistence that two honor roll high school students would find it a passing fancy to engage in a mock gangland initiation and scare a speeding motorist half to, and then totally to, death jut to have a laugh. Apparently critical thinking was not a prerequisite for the honor roll at that school. We’ve downed Twinkie filling smoothies with more substance than this screenplay.

The Jacket Conspiracy

Despite the fact that years down the road Urban Legend’s ineptitude will inevitably be its own boogeyman, there will undoubtedly be ever-escalating discussions about the actual killer from the film. Moreover, the will be much debate over the giant winter jacket that comprised the killer’s disguise. Word will spread of a mysterious figure cloaked in shadow, seeking vengeance for wrongs suffered in the past; clearly a nod to giallo from a writer very…unpracticed in nods to giallo. Because if there was one thing every horror fan was clamoring for, it was “Dario Argento goes to Burlington Coat Factory.” The best part of this is that, despite the fact that there is no indication at any point in the film that the weather is cold enough to necessitate enormous winter attire, everyone on campus has the exact same coat. This parka-normal activity creates the most unpalatable red herring ever experienced…it’s practically a Swedish Fish. When schoolkids speak of this boogeyman, the story will take on new life. All 38 coats will be returned to one house in a nearby neighborhood only to find that all the various wearers have been dead for several years.

The Curse of Y2K

Though generations to come will think Y2K is nothing more than someone misspelling the name of their favorite Himalayan bovine, campfire rehashings of the film Urban Legend will remind them of the slight logistical glitch/apocalyptic calamity that was Y2K. The “stars” of Urban Legend will further the misconception of the terror of Y2K, as essentially none of them managed to make it out of the 90s. I can just see a wise, beloved grandfather, or at least a creepy track coach, weaving the tale, ominously stating, “by the time the movie was released, their film careers were already dead.”A few of them sought refuge in television series while the rest faded into the mist, relegated to the nether realms of mediocrity forever more. We’ve got Joshua Jackson, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Jared Leto, and Tara Reid…the only woman who does cigarette shots so that her smoking doesn’t interrupt her drinking. It’s like a “who’s who” of “which one is that again?” To be fair, certain members of this dated cast have enjoyed accomplishments post 2000. Some of them are on Fringe, some of them roll out of bed now and again for another sad American Pie outing, and others are greeters at Rebecca K-Mart.

The Little Girl from Halloween 4 Grew Up To Be Marilyn Manson

When I was a kid, the halls of my fat camp special awesome prep school for future spies became atwitter with discussions of a burgeoning androgynous stick bug freakshow named Marilyn Manson. Who was he? Where did he come from? Urban legends are often used to create comfortable, if wholly inaccurate, explanations for things we do not or cannot understand. That’s why we, the collective youth of America, landed at the perfectly logical conclusion that Marilyn Manson was actually Josh Saviano. That’s right Paul Pfeiffer from The Wonder Years had, according to the legend, grown up to become the king of controversial goth rock. In Urban Legend, our heroine’s doomed roommate is pallid, black-clad Lithium-popping post-modern sexpot. The actress who plays her? Danielle Harris. That’s right, the sweet little Jamie Lloyd from Halloween 4 & 5. What’s sillier than her desperately anti-establishment posturing, and her needing a chat room to find the other goth guys on a campus the size of a Payless Shoes, is the idea that her Marilyn Manson fashion sense and humble child star beginnings could lead to a complete re-appropriation of the Marilyn Manson legend. Instead of us not fact checking to discover Josh Saviano is not Marilyn Manson, kids in the future may actually not fact check to discover Danielle Harris is not Marilyn Manson. Man, given the existence of Google, it’s hard out here for a myth.

Listening to Total Eclipse of the Heart Backwards…Is Better Than The Ending Of Urban Legend

As we all know, rock-n-roll is the devil’s music; it was touch and go with Kenny G for a while, but rock did finally win the infernal sponsorship. For years rumors and legends spread revolving around the playing of rock albums backwards and the diabolical, demon-conjuring nature of the messages the reversed music would relay. At the beginning of Urban Legend we are (mis)treated to a spectacularly off-key rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by our (mercifully) first victim. If we were to record her singing and then play it backwards, it would summon naught but a migraine. But that’s very much like the ending of the film. After our remaining survivors have taken care of the killer, they inexplicably drive away before the authorities arrive, in fact leaving a wounded survivor behind. The brainlessness, and overwhelming illegality, of that story device notwithstanding, they then dispatch the killer a second time. We then immediately jump to a later date in the campus coffee shop while a group of the ugliest, mouth-breathingest extras sit and talk about the events we’ve spent 90 minutes tolerating as if they were themselves the stuff of urban legends. Our killer is then revealed to be among them, for reasons of don’t worry about it, and, just before the cheating cut to credits, teases, “this is how the story really goes.” Eventually this will lead to the legend that if you watch Urban Legend backwards it’s every bit as bad as watching it forward.

Junkfood Pairing: Smarties

Though there are several food-related urban legends, and several are explored in the film, the one that always baffled me the most was the one about glass shards in Smarties. This was probably further propaganda from our parents that “we shoudn’t eat unchecked candy” or “take candy from strangers” or “start several small brush fires.” Parents. Though a heinous act of child endangerment if true, this legend always made me laugh. If there were glass bits in Smarties, how could anyone tell? That first bite tended to make these chalky little discs jagged anyway, so who could even tell if the blood in their mouth was from the contaminated candy or from chewing their own tongue off at the thought that Smarties were the only available candy in the house? It makes about as much sense as someone surreptitiously putting fiberglass insulation into cotton candy.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.