Urban Legend is pretty much like Scream, but a lot less meta and a bit more atmosphere, unfolding as you’d expect it to, with a group of college kids getting killed in bizarre circumstances that all relate to half whispered local myths. One of their professors is Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, and who better to lay down the tongue in cheek groundwork than such a familiar face and expressive, dynamic presence like him. Looking back on this it’s fairly shocking how terrific of a cast it has and how it’s been mostly forgotten in the annals of slasher archives. Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, Natasha Gregson Warner and Danielle Harris headline as the varied campus rats, with Harris a standout as the obnoxious bitchy goth stereotype, far from her timid Jamie Lloyd in the Halloween films. There’s a prologue cameo from horror vet Brad Dourif as well as appearances from Loretta Devine, Julian Richings, Michael Rosenbaum and a priceless John Neville, getting all the best lines as the college’s salty Dean. The kills are all done in high 90’s style, the story takes a Scream-esque twisty turn in the third act and as far as atmosphere goes, it pretty much outdoes the ol’ ghostface franchise. Spooky good time.
Some franchises feel stale and wrung out by the time the third effort comes along, but not From Dusk Till Dawn. In fact I’d even be so bold as to say that despite not having quite such a budget and resources as the original Tarantino/Rodriguez splatter party, this prequel almost has more in the way of imagination. The first came out of the gate roaring and paved the way, the second was a more mellow heist orientated flick that incorporated the horror elements in as it went, but the third does something altogether different. It’s a period piece, set a hundred years in the past, sometime around the Mexican/American war. When notorious outlaw Johnny Madrid (Marco Leonardi) dodges the hangman’s noose and escapes, he brings abused daughter Esmerelda (Ara Celi) along and scrambles for the state line. The ferocious hangman is none too pleased, given the menacig scowl of Maori bad boy Temuerra Morrison, who played Jango Fett in another prequel we all love. Rounding up a posse, he hunts Madrid and his scurvy gang through the terrain. Madrid is unknowingly headed for a far worse danger though, when he and Esmerelda run straight into the iconic Titty Twister bar, dressed up like a frontier whorehouse this time around. Also along for the ride are a group of wagon travellers including a young newlywed couple (Rebecca Gayheart and Lennie Loftin), oddball Ezra (Orlando Jones) and the real life writer Ambrose Bierce, played with alcoholic grit and gallows humour by Michael Parks. Bierce is famous for actually disappearing somewhere in that area back then, and I like how the film cleverly weaves fact and fiction, putting in a commendable effort to make the turn of events fascinating beyond just a servicable horror level. Danny Trejo also returns, as he must, playing pretty much the same character he did in the first and second, never mind the fact that he keeps dying (you can’t really kill Danny, everyone knows this). I love the formula for these films; they always start out with a slower paced, pulp/crime style narrative that suddenly explodes into creature FX, blood orgies and vampire mayhem without much warning. The first was the bank robbers on the run with hostages, the second was the heist crew and the third is a rousing Desperado style actioner that morphs into the horror we all know is coming. Well produced with a lot of love and some real thought put into the story, exciting and provides more than enough for any horror fan. Definitely the better of the two sequels.