With the possible exception of Pulp Fiction and Clerks, no film of the '90s inspired quite as many people to make quite as many bad, bad movies as Scream. And while the seemingly endless procession of Scream rip-offs is good news for members of the Dawson's Creek cast and people who enjoy gazing upon the cleavage of mid-level starlets, most of these films bear the same relationship to Scream that Slumber Party Massacre bore to the original Halloween. The latest and quite possibly weakest bastard child of Scream, Urban Legend, stars Alicia Witt as a perky, bland college student whose friends are killed one after another in the style of popular urban legends. The faculty of the school tries to cover up the massacre, but Witt and an ambitious college reporter (Jared Leto) are determined to catch the killer before they end up dead themselves. Urban Legend has an undeniably clever premise, which plays on a sort of cultural mythology shared by the filmmakers and the ostensibly media-savvy audience, but it fails to do anything interesting with it. Urban legends draw their appeal from their exclusiveness, from the idea that they exist in a sort of cultural vacuum, ignored by traditional electronic media but thriving as a sort of post-technological American folklore. But as used in Urban Legend, this shared folklore is nothing more than the basis for a slew of bloody, unimaginative setpieces. Who's the killer? Could it be the spooky janitor? The spooky teacher played by horror veteran Robert Englund? And what does this all have to do with the massacre that supposedly happened 25 years ago? Urban Legend is awash in red herrings, but it's difficult to care about the fate of Witt and her friends, since none of the characters seem to have any reason to exist other than to propel its convoluted plot. It would be nice to think that the sheer awfulness of films like Urban Legend would somehow inspire a moratorium on self-referential horror films featuring the WB's finest. But, as the success of the last Halloween sequel proved, there's a huge, undiscriminating audience for these films. Don't expect them to disappear any time soon.

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