DECEMBER 4, 2012
Something delightful seems to happen every five minutes at Fantastic Fest, but a particular highlight was meeting the rarest type of person in the world: someone who had come to my Urban Legend screening at the New Beverly. Since she had relocated to Austin, I bemoaned that it was one less person who would possibly come to my dream screening of Urban Legend 2, only for her to reveal a tragic flaw: she was NOT a fan of that less popular (but equally awesome, IMO) sequel, and in fact preferred Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, the DTV sequel that abandoned the straight slasher motif and headed into supernatural territory.
The next day she gave me the film so I could see for myself (and I apologize for it taking 2 months+ to get around to watching it!), as I had never seen the whole thing. I rented it when it came out on DVD, but slept through just about all of it (all I remembered was "something about spiders") and never bothered going back to see what I missed. See, at that time, I wasn't as dedicated to such "lesser" fare as I am now - my feeling was, just TRYING to watch these sad, non-theatrical sequels should have been good enough.
And in some ways I'm glad, because the past 5 and a half years (Christ...) have given me a new perspective on these things - what might have seemed cheap and lame to me back in 2005 actually seems pretty classy now, after having suffered through just about every DTV Dimension title, various Asylum movies, and several hundred thousand "found footage" or "tie a girl up and beat her" movies. It's no classic of either of its sub-genres, but it's a solid, mostly well-made and enjoyable spin on the series' MO, with the rather novel idea of using an urban legend as its central killer/mystery as opposed to the other two, where rather typical slasher killers used legends to carry out their kills (as Mary does here, for the most part). Unless I somehow missed the urban legend of a professor who wanted to pass off a student film as his own so he killed everyone that made it.
Anyway, a flashback kicks things off, where we see an attempted date rape that accidentally turns into a murder instead, with the female (Mary!) body being left hidden in the high school by the jocks who were responsible. Now it's (whatever, 30 I think) years later, and heroine Kate Mara is being outcast at school after publishing photos of some modern jocks doing something immature. So one night they decide to get back at her by kidnapping her and her friends and locking them in the school for a while (this is a really awkwardly executed subplot, by the way - it's like they skipped a few connecting scenes or something), which awakens Mary's angry spirit. Acting as an avenging angel for something that wasn't that big of a deal, Mary targets the jocks who picked on Mary, some of whom happen to be the children of the ones she actually has the beef with, which of course leads to a (non) surprise that one of our supposed hero adult characters was among those responsible for her death. So it's basically the same damn thing as Cherry Falls, albeit with a ghost instead of Jay Mohr in drag.
Oddly, on the making of, director Mary Lambert says that we're supposed to be surprised that it's a ghost when it's "revealed" at the end of the movie, but we know that all along? There's no way a human could be responsible for the bulk of the death scenes - one of them involves a tanning salon bed being turned up on its own until the guy inside burns to a crisp (beating Final Destination 3 to the punch), and another involves a sudden burst of electricity. It's total ghost behavior, so I'm not sure why she thought anyone would be surprised by it - at no point does she try to make it look like a human might be responsible. There IS a human villain, but Mary's after him too, and he doesn't have a damn thing to do with any of the present day deaths. Weird.
But it works. Mara makes for an appealing heroine - she's very pretty but in a girl next door sort of way, so we believe (well, almost) that she'd be without a date for the dance and kind of unpopular. I've always preferred her to her sister (who has a bit part as an anonymous student), so it was nice to go back to a time when she was the more successful one. You're still THE Mara in my house, Kate! Halloween 5's Don Shanks pops up as the school's football coach, a nice little reminder of the original's genre fave-laden supporting cast. Speaking of the others, I was actually kind of surprised that they were mentioned - Kate finds an article about the killings in the first movie (though the guy reading it describes the plot of the 2nd, for some reason - bad prop?), and some of Mary's methods involve legends that were discussed in the last movie, such as the dog licking the hand. There's also a character who looks like Foxy Brown, a reference of sorts to the Loretta Devine character (who was obsessed with the character/film).
However it's not as fun as the others; there's very little humor, and the teen characters are mostly jock assholes or snobby girls, and since Kate's not popular you don't get the "group camraderie" that the other two had in spades. Most of the people who die mean nothing to her or her brother (the film's male hero), so there's a bit of a disconnect, and Mara herself never appears to be in any danger, so the movie sort of happens around her. And it all comes down to a "bury the body properly" deal, giving it a bit of a J-horror wannabe feel that makes it feel more dated than it should (since this was 2005 and thus most horror films were J-horror remakes or flat out ripoffs). Also making it feel dated is some truly terrible CGI; no wonder I remembered the spider scene - it's some of the worst I've seen, and the big effect at the end when Mary unleashes a swarm of "bad stuff" from her mouth (think John Coffey in Green Mile) is just as awful. Both of the other films were successful, so I don't know why Sony couldn't have coughed up the dough to give it professional FX work, especially when it's limited to only a few sequences.
Thus it's not too surprising how much of the making of is devoted to the practical FX work for Mary (who appears as a solid, not a half visible typical ghostly apparition), with actress Lillith Fields practically gushing over the opportunity to get all made up into a scary demon woman. It's a decent enough piece; nothing in it is very substantial, but it covers the bases and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. I do wish it included the thoughts of the screenwriters, who are none other than the X2/Superman Returns writing team of Dan Harris and Mike Dougherty, the latter of whom of course went on to give us Trick 'r Treat. I also wouldn't have minded hearing the complete version of "I Will Always Be There", which is sort of like Mary's theme song in the movie. It sounds a lot like Dusty Springfield's version of "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", but with a bit of Lesley Gore in the mix - it's pretty damn effective.
It's a shame the series didn't continue; they clearly found a way to expand it a bit without going too far off the rails, and certainly there are more urban legends to use as a backdrop. None of the movies are home runs, but it's 3 for 3 in being pretty good/entertaining slasher horror films, and they haven't dated as poorly as many of their peers. Why didn't Sony give it a chance to be run into the ground?
What say you?