31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- Misery (1990)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- Misery (1990)

World famous author Paul Sheldon crashes his car whilst driving in a blizzard but is rescued by nurse and super-fan Annie Wilkes who has read everything he’s ever published as well as reading and viewing every interview he’s ever given. Sheldon finds himself trapped with multiple injuries included compound fractures to his legs meaning that he is immobile and dependent on Wilkes to care for him. She also tells him that the telephone lines and down and roads closed, both of which are lies. Things take a darker turn still when Wilkes goes and buys the latest book by Sheldon which has just been published (yes the road to town has mysteriously been reopened but there’s no mention of Wilkes taking Paul to a local hospital) only to discover that her favourite character Misery has died during childbirth. Wilkes isn’t happy about this. This is bad news for Sheldon.

Misery explores the obsessive, irrational fan devotion that was explored in very different circumstances in Scorsese’s meisterwerk The King of Comedy, a film that bombed at the box office whilst Misery was a huge hit but is inferior in comparison. Oh, the irony.

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The dangerous side of fandom. The King Of Comedy (a much better film)

Before seeing Misery for the first time I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s masterful novel of the same name. The film adaptation feels like the finer nuances of the novel have been erased to make a big screen shocker that contains great performances by Kathy Bates (Wilkes) and James Caan (Sheldon) with Paul’s literary agent being portrayed effortlessly by the ever divine Lauren Bacall.

But the film also feels like some kind of TV movie that lacks not just the depth of King’s novel but also the cinematic grandeur that might have been envisaged and realised by another director other than Rob Reiner.

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Misery feels like an attempt to hit big at the box office by creating two dimensional characters and cheap shocks rather than delivering anything with real intelligence. And it worked. Misery brought in the money and earned Bates an Oscar. But watch Misery next to other, better King adaptations such as The Shining and Carrie and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no comparison.

Grade- C

Leatherface and Me- Growing Up With (and Without) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Leatherface and Me- Growing Up With (and Without) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

I saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre at the cinema the other day. It’s been a long road but I feel like I’ve had my own personal journey with this horror masterpiece. After years of not being able to view the film, it grew in my mind to almost mythic proportions. When I finally got to see the film, was it worth the wait and would it live up to the hype?

From the very beginning there was a massive amount of controversy with the film in the UK. On it’s original planned cinema release it was banned outright by the BBFC. However, those were the days when local councils could override the BBFC’s official decisions and so, whilst some local authorities agreed with the Board’s decision, a number decided to allow screenings of the film.

The advent of home video would give the film a new, albeit brief, lease of life. The film was originally released on video in 1981. But in 1984 the Board decided that all videos had to be classified by them and so for three years or so the film could be rented and viewed in the privacy of one’s home. My father actually remembers seeing the film on video, an occasion which I wasn’t privy to. Maybe he had decided to watch it when I was safely tucked up in bed. My Dad’s attitude to me watching horror and violent films from an early age was rather laissez-faire to say the least, but maybe even he thought that the film that had such a shocker of a title would be too much for me to take at such a tender age. When he spoke about it, he did so as if to say, ‘Yes, I saw that film!’ accompanied by a startled look on his face. With such a backhanded compliment I now regard my not being able to watch the film with the rest of my family as akin to some kind of child abuse.

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With the Video Nasties moral panic, TCM was promptly banned. However, the parents of a friend of my older brother owned a local video shop and so, as many video shop owners did back in the day, they didn’t return any of the newly banned videos they were asked to take off their shelves. I got to see The Evil Dead via this route but my friend never showed anyone TCM as she had seen it and was truly traumatised by what she had witnessed. With this knowledge, the legend surrounding the film grew even bigger.

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There was an excellent film in the 80’s called Terror in the Aisles which was a compilation of the juiciest bits of horror movies that were segued by legends Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen. Within the movie were clips of TCM along with scenes from another withdrawn classic, The Exorcist which meant the Terror in the Aisles was essential viewing. The scene in which Pam stumbles (literally) into the room covered with chicken feathers and adorned with bizarre home furnishings was included and was so perfect that the fact that the full film couldn’t be seen in the UK meant that I hated the BBFC even more than I already did.

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As I then started to get into punk rock I saw a picture of Johnny Rotten wearing the stickers given away to the patrons of the original screenings of TCM that was being shown in London against the BBFC’s wishes. The Sex Pistols had seen the film and were endorsing it on their ripped clothing. It must be something really shocking and I needed to see it, like, NOW!

TCMStickerTCMJohnnyRottenIt wouldn’t be until 1994 when I would finally get to see the film from start to finish. My friend Tom has scored some horror classics that he taped onto two blank video tapes for me with the jewel in the crown being TCM (the others were Last House on the Left, Cannibal Holocaust and Driller Killer). And so that’s how I got to see the film- a copy that had been copied from a copy that had possibly been copied numerous times before with diminishing quality each time. The picture was fuzzy, some facial expressions were a bit hazy and fine detail was very much lacking. But hey, here was the film! And I loved it! But whilst it was and is such an intense and unnerving experience, there was something that I hadn’t been told about and hence wasn’t expecting- the humour. ‘Look what your brother did to the door!’ was one such moment. Another was the moment in which the garage owner takes the time to go back inside to turn the lights of his garage off just after he’s kidnapped Sally after explaining that the cost of electricity these days could send a man out of business.

Something that also caught me off guard but that I loved was how much the film felt like the most surreal and violent EC Comic that just so happened to have been turned into a film. The film was lurid, colourful and surreal.

Skip forward a few years and I’m living in London and have just completed a film degree. The Institute of Contemporary Arts has curated a festival of film screenings in which still banned horror titles could be legally shown for one day each after getting the green light from the BBFC. One of these films was TCM and so I could finally see it on the big screen.

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My original ticket stub for the ICA screening

But it was a wider release shortly after this and without the OK from the Board that would lead to the film being legalised. Just as years before local councils could usurp the Board and show films anyway, Camden Council decided to show the film at a cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue (and rather cheekily just a few streets away from the Board’s Soho HQ). I didn’t know about these screenings until I was walking past the cinema and my eyes jumped out of their sockets as I saw the poster. Camden Council even had their own certificate of ‘C for Camden’ for the film. I had planned an afternoon (and night) of drinking in London’s more salubrious gay bars but waylaid this to take an excursion into Hell first. The screening was amazing and the sound had been turned up to deafening levels. It really did feel like myself and the two other people in the afternoon screening (that’s right, there were only two other people in the whole cinema!) had undertaken a traumatic experience together and as the film ended we all glanced at each other, nervously laughed and then exited.

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My original ticket stub for the 1999 screening

It would be these screenings that would persuade the BBFC to reexamine their classification of the film and agree to pass it uncut with an 18 certificate. Another significant factor in these proceedings was that James Ferman had retired as Head of the Board. It was during his tenure that he had tried to cut the film to finally get it released. But he concluded that there was nothing that could be cut as there was very little gore and such an underlying sense of constant tension to the film that made it impossible to cut. So basically he was ensuring that the film remain banned for being a horror film that was too effective as a horror film. Ridiculous. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the film was then passed.

The film was duly issued in the UK on both video and DVD by Blue Dolphin in 2000.

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But a funny thing happened just before this release. With the advent of the internet there was a website called Amazon (you may have heard of it) that was based in America where loads of horror movies were available uncut and could be bought and shipped to the UK. This was very much a game of chance with some films being seized by customs and some not. The films that were confiscated bizarrely included some titles that weren’t even banned in the UK at the time. The artwork of other VHS and DVD titles that boasted of their notoriety were being let through (the box artwork for The New York Ripper proudly stated the number of countries the film was banned in but was amazingly let through by customs to the ever grateful horror fan who had ordered it). I ordered the Pioneer DVD of TCM which was chock full of special features such as a director’s commentary and blooper reel and it got through. Yeehaw.

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With such a film as TCM now being available there was only one direction in which the releases from now on could go and that was to restore the film so that it could look and sound as good as possible. But with a film like TCM which has always had a grimy and gritty look to it, would these new restoration programmes mean that the film would loose some of this grit and dirt and look completely different?

Dark Sky picked up the film in the US and cleaned up the visuals and audio significantly for a 2006 DVD release. Suddenly, details that couldn’t be seen before were now visible. It was akin to layers of grime being lifted from a classic painting. There were also oodles of special features and presented in a 2 disc steelbook to boot. And more importantly, the look of the film didn’t suffer one iota because of these new efforts to make the film look and sound as good as it possibly could. The film still sounded like it always had with the bassy and subhuman tremors experienced still present but now sounding even more unearthly. 

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With the advent of Blu ray as a format and then 4K, this meant that even more work could be done on the film and even more care taken to present and preserve the film as the cultural force it had become. Again, Dark Sky took up the task and released a 4 disc Blu ray edition of the film, complete with 7.1 Dolby remix (along with the original mono soundtrack for the purists) and all of the special features imaginable (3 discs worth to be precise!)

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And it was this print that I saw the other day at a cinema that was state of the art and with the biggest screen I’ve ever seen this side of IMAX. It was ironic that I should be watching the film in such a beautiful cinema with gorgeous leather seats and state of the art projection equipment when the film would originally have been seen and experienced in grindhouses and Drive-Ins across America on it’s first run. But did the film still hold up in such surroundings? You bet it did! There was even nuance that could be only be picked up on the mammoth screen and details that could only be heard within the 7.1 remix that couldn’t be picked up in mono (the film gets gradually louder and bassier as the action goes on) with the later part of the film being the hellish (in a great way) experience that all TCM fans know and love. 

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So, as you can see my journey with TCM has been long and winding but so rewarding. The film being banned and then passed uncut and then released on new formats and after extensive work has been done on it has meant that the makers of the film have certainly got their dollars worth from fans like me. But the pleasure of snapping up each new release has been an absolute pleasure and I’m so happy that the film can be appreciated and savoured by future generations. TCM will always be in my list of my Top 10 favourite films. The wait was certainly worth it. 

Robert Smith’s US Tour Shopping List

Robert Smith’s US Tour Shopping List

You’re on tour in the U.S. as the frontperson of one of the biggest bands on the planet. Some people would request a room full of hookers and cocaine. Some would demand that all of the brown M&M’s are removed from the band’s munchies.

Robert Smith of The Cure, on the other hand, is a man after my own heart. He did exactly what I would done. He requested the films that were either banned or unreleased in the UK due to the overzealous and prudent British Board of Film Classification that were freely available to be seen in America.

The following fax was sent by Robert in the 90’s so that someone could obtain these celluloid goodies for him.

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And what a list it is! Cult film fans would swoon at such classics. Not only is Robert a master of pop music but he has a fantastic taste in movies too.

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I remember in one of The Cure’s tour programmes that Robert stated his favourite films as being Taxi Driver, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Polyester and Grey Gardens amongst others.

Robert- I didn’t think I could love you anymore than I already do. I was wrong.

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31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 22- The Ambulance (1990)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 22- The Ambulance (1990)

A young cartoonist Josh chats up a young woman named Cheryl in the street (the board at Gillette must be despairing at this) but when she collapses she is then taken to a nearby hospital in an ambulance which has been called for her. When Josh tries to track her down there appears to be no trace of her being taken to any hospital in an ambulance. Josh then learns that the same fate happened to Cheryl’s roommate. Something fishy is going on. Does it have anything to do with that specific ambulance?

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With such a great premise I was expecting a cross between Coma and Maniac Cop. But, alas instead this is more like a TV movie that feels very slight and somewhat hollow.

I was also expecting more as this was directed by the great Larry Cohen and whilst there are some great directorial flourishes and some great dialogue which Cohen also wrote (all of the supporting characters in Cohen’s films have the best in quirky left-field comebacks), they don’t save this movie.

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A wasted premise and a shame.

** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 20- The Guardian (1990)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 20- The Guardian (1990)

A young couple have their young baby snatched away from them and offered as a human sacrifice to an ancient tree to prolong it’s life by the infant’s nanny. We then see a short time later the Druid nanny from Hell starts new employment caring for another couple’s child.

This tautly and stunningly beautiful film was director William Friedkin’s first excursion into the horror genre again after that low-key film that he directed in 1973 that no-one ever talks about anymore. Just kidding. Friedkin’s first horror movie after The Exorcist was bound to garner much press and this film did. It was also predictable that any film that wasn’t as genre-defining and revolutionary as The Exorcist would provide howls of derision and bad reviews which was the fate for The Guardian.

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I refuse to think of any film directed by William Friedkin to be irredeemably bad or massively flawed. And this truly is the case with The Guardian. Amazingly directed, beautifully shot, pinpoint perfect performances (a big shoutout goes to Jenny Seagrove as the anti-Mary Poppins) and you have a taut 1990 film that has more positives than negatives. If anything is lacking it’s maybe the generic source material and the constant re-writes that affected the film. But it’s interesting to see such a great director working on strictly genre fare and seeing what happens. This reminds me of Martin Scorsese directing Cape Fear and seeing what he could do within such parameters.

The horror scenes are great and the buildup of tension is lovingly established. The film establishes the feeling of placing the well being of your baby into someone else’s life and that someone turning out to be a nutjob (if only the film had ditched the supernatural element and made it about a psycho nanny instead. This film could have been to childcare what Jaws was to sharks). The loss of control and the erosion of some of the most precious parental boundaries are fully explored here and the result makes for a very chilling film.

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Time has been very kind to The Guardian. It’s established a fanbase and isn’t the disaster some critics would have you believe it was at the time. In fact, it’s a very good movie.

***and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 9- Ringu (1998)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 9- Ringu (1998)

Every now and again a horror film’s reputation builds through word of mouth and because the first horror fans who have seen it rave about it and this snowballs until it can’t be denied or ignored by fans and film journalists alike. This happened in 1998 when Japanese film Ringu was made. This was also when the internet was in it’s infancy still and so this was actual word of mouth which made it’s way into print media such as Empire magazine and other publications. Everyone was saying that Ringu was one of the most imaginative, innovative and scary movies that had been seen in some time.

When I finally saw the film I had to agree. Again, this was before the internet and social media when fanboys (and girls) can build up hype about a film just as filming has started. The consequence of this is that when the film is actually released it turns out to be a huge damp squib (take a bow recent woke Halloween reimagining). And so the acclaim and word of mouth before the internet boom felt a lot more sincere and genuine.

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The film concerns a cursed VHS tape which brings death to it’s viewers seven days after they have watched it. When the niece of an investigative reporter watches it and then has an apparent heart attack, the journalist Reiko Asakawa starts to dig deeper. When she goes to a cabin that friends of her niece’s had died in in much the same way as her niece she finds a videotape. She then recruits her ex-husband to unfathom the mystery and hopefully break the curse.

This film works on so many levels. Firstly, there is the whole adventure that we are whisked away on which is extremely dark and full of mystery and intrigue. It never lets up for the viewer and never lags. There are also so genuine shocks along the way, one that involves Reiko’s son.

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The film also mines into the culture of VHS tapes that was still prevalent at that time amongst horror fans. Before the internet took off and made it possible to order first generation video tapes from overseas (hello Amazon!) the main way to obtain videotapes of films that were unavailable or banned in the UK was through film fairs. Films were taped from other sources onto blank video tapes (the picture and sound quality of these ‘pirate videos’ could vary massively!). The timing of the Ringu’s production and release was impeccable because DVD was just about to take off and make the whole VHS horror film fair scene obsolete. No more fifth generation pirate tapes when a pristine and legitimate copy of The New York Ripper could be bought online and delivered to your door (customs permitting).

The film also brings centre stage the continued relevance of urban myths and urban legends. The schoolgirls who watch the video tape have heard about the dangers attached through the myths told regarding it. So even in the advanced age in which the film takes place the power of a shared story told between friends still shocks and frightens just like the film itself for the viewer.

The use of photographs that show it’s subjects as distorted is also interesting and brings to mind The Omen. Photographs taken of subjects within the 1976 film show distortions and imperfections of how that person will die. The same is true within Ringu. 

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And then there is the tape itself and it’s contents. I’m not going to spoil the surprise of watching the tape for the first time for cineastes here but I’d just like to say that it lives up to the hype and will make your skin crawl.

In fact ‘lives up to the hype’ could be an expression used when describing Ringu as a whole. Unmissable. 

****and a half out of *****

Book of the Week- Martin Scorsese: A Journey by Mary Pat Kelly

Book of the Week- Martin Scorsese: A Journey by Mary Pat Kelly

It was great timng when I started to get completely obsessed with the work of Martin Scorsese in the late 80’s because it wasn’t long before a pretty much indispensable text was published that lifted the lid on his oeuvre to a frighteningly thorough degree.

There was already the excellent Scorsese on Scorsese that was published in 1989 that was a great introduction to the great man’s career up until The Last Temptation of Christ.

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But in 1991 came Martin Scorsese: A Journey by Mary Pat Kelly that examined each of Scorsese’s films up until the newly released Cape Fear but with each collaborator and person involved giving their own take on events in a ‘He said, she said’ style that meant that each film was examined in minute detail and accounts came from straight from the horses mouths, so to speak. 

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The book’s UK front cover

Scorsese’s early life, his early short films (now on Criterion) were also gone through with a fine tooth comb as was his aborted 1983 attempt to get Last Temptation made. 

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The book’s US cover

With the numerous interviews that were conducted for this book from a cast of pretty much all of the main players of Scorsese’s career up until this point it means that theres a massive scope of opinions and viewpoints that helps to broaden the canvas on everything regarding the auteur’s filmography. This book feels like an encyclopedia of all thing Scorsese and is a very welcome tome because of it. Add to that the rare stills used from all of his films and you have everything a Scorsese fan and film lover could wish for. 

God is in the details and this book is full of them. Highly recommended. 

Book/Publication of the Week- Fangoria Magazine

Book/Publication of the Week- Fangoria Magazine

It was in 1986 when I discovered Fangoria Magazine. A comic book store in a beat up shopping arcade in York in the UK had started stocking it on import from the US. I instantly began buying it and fell in love with the publication. 

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The down at heel (but still sadly missed) Davygate Arcade in York, UK where I bought my first issue of Fangoria from in 1986.

There was a brief time after that that Fangoria couldn’t be bought in the UK anymore as SS Thatcher had purposely banned it’s import and other similar ones (Gorezone and the French Vendredi 13 were two such) as they were viewed as being obscene and as the spectre of the Video Nasty moral panic from a few years earlier was still looming large. But this didn’t last long and the magazines were restocked and horror fans were kept happy. 

A couple of years after this I started to escape the small town of York and escape to the big city of Leeds which was close by. There was a great film memorabilia store there called Movie Boulevard that stocked actual back issues of Fangoria that covered the late 70’s/early 80’s golden era of the slasher films and the time period when new horror movies were seemingly being released every week. I picked up many older issues from there including issue number 1 and also the issues that featured Halloween 2 & 3 on it’s front covers, amongst others.

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The Halloween sequels featured on Fangoria’s front covers

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When I moved to London to study Film in the early 90’s I found even more back issues in the amazing film stores there including the Music and Video Exchange in Notting Hill that were selling issues for as cheap as 50p a pop!

So what was it/is it that makes Fangoria so indispensable? In a word- everything. The articles on new releases, the pieces written about classics from the past and forgotten gems that are still unjustly under the radar of most horror hounds and the essays on films ripe for reappraisal that were criticised and ridiculed on first release by critics who sneer at most horror.

There were also pieces on the still vile MPAA and how they were trying to butcher the horror fare being released back then. In fact, I remember Fango’s editor Tony Timpone being one of the few people defending horror as a genre against the censors and so called ‘moral guardians’ in the US at that time. 

But it was also the ads for horror masks, for soundtracks and t-shirts. And it also featured the classified column which contained horror-based snippets from readers and their profound offerings (‘Jason SUX!!!’). 

To me, Fangoria felt like a vital piece of Americana, a gorgeous monument of American popular culture that only confirmed even more my love of this very special country over the pond.

Fangoria was also loved by those in the horror film industry. There were even pictures of actors on the sets of various productions reading the magazine.

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There were even cameos of the publication in various prominent films.

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Debbie reads Fangoria in a hammock in Friday the 13th Part 3D…

 

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…perusing an article on Tom Savini

 

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Her enjoyment of the Godzilla piece was interrupted though. You know what happens next…

It’s funny that a magazine can fully encapsulate that golden phase of my horror obsessed childhood. Fortunately one does and that’s Fangoria. It’s THAT special to me and thousands of others all over the world.

Fangoria continues to this day and is still as great as ever even though the golden age of horror is well and truly over. I’m glad it’s still being published. Now, we just need gorgeous coffee table books/compendiums of it’s back issues.

Until this is the case we can still look at back issues which have been scanned by others and ready to be perused due to the beauty of the internet. The Halloween 2 issue is here whilst the Halloween 3 issue is here. In fact, there are LOADS more issues on this site which can be found here

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- Mikey (1992)

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- Mikey (1992)

This entry into the taboo ‘killer kid’ horror sub-genre involves 9 year old Mikey. The first scene shows him slaughtering his entire adoptive family (yes, really) in one fell swoop. Whats more, hes videotaped the whole thing for his later entertainment. Mikey is found hiding in a closet by the police officers investigating who could have done this. After fobbing them off with a fake description of the perpetrator he is then placed up for adoption.

The majority of the film is centred around Mikey’s new life with his new family. He starts out by looking every bit the model angelic child but then red flags start to appear. Then the number of ‘accidents’ and casualties starts to grow.

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The power of this film is that it was filmed and feels like a TV movie. It adheres to this genre’s conventions but subverts it because of it’s controversial subject matter. This juxtaposition works amazingly well especially as the film pulls no punches when it comes to the truly sadistic and brutal deeds of it’s central character. The performance of Brian Bonsall is pitch perfect as the psychopathic child. It’s also great to see Ashley Laurence from Hellraiser fame make an appearance as Mikey’s concerned teacher.

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This film was actually made for the ‘straight to video’ market in the US but was then to be released theatrically in the UK. The film was submitted for a certificate to the BBFC and was awarded an 18 cert in November 1992. But then things took an unexpected turn. The abduction of toddler James Bulger by two other children dominated the news in February of the next year and the media was stating how horror films and specifically home videos must be the cause. A number of films that had been released were targetted with Childs Play 3 taking most of the blame. The Daily Mail (who else) noted how Mikey was a future release and involved a child killer. Surely this couldn’t be released now, could it, they opined.  Head of the BBFC, James Ferman then took the unprecedented step of taking back the 18 certificate that had been granted to Mikey and banning it outright. It’s hard to believe that this happened but it did. Mikey was resubmitted for a certificate in 1996 but was rejected. The film is still banned in the UK.

BUT, it’s on YouTube.

4 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Urban Legend (1998)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Urban Legend (1998)

A group of teens find themselves the victims of urban legends that come true. These legends range from ‘The Stranger in the Backseat’ to ‘Eating Pop Rocks and Drinking Soda’ (never heard of this but I’m keen to try it).

In the late 90’s there were a slew of teen horror movies made in the wake of one of the most irritating and terrible films ever made, Scream. They involved a group of pretty young actors in movies completely devoid of likeable characters, tension or any kind of intelligence.

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This still is better than the entire film

Urban Legend is an example of this wave. Stars from recent TV shows were cast to draw in the young audience members who wouldn’t know good from bad in terms of filmmaking. Even Robert Englund can’t save this turkey.

Aside from being a time capsule from the late 90’s this really doesn’t serve any purpose. When I went to see the vile Scream in the 90’s I saw David Cronenberg’s Crash straight after it. So my advice to you is to watch this auto-erotic car fetishist’s wet-dream instead. Crash proved that some great horror movies were being made in that time period.

1 out of 5 stars