In the last twenty years or so, it has taken very little to build a horror movie franchise. With the advent of home video, even the most modest of lucrative films – and some that can barely be called successful – can spawn an endless parade of sequels. More often than not, at some point these follow-ups become sequels in name only, having very little if not nothing to do with the previous installment in the series. Take a look at the Howling, Witchcraft or Hellraiser films as an example. So it is no surprise that the Urban Legend films have followed suit and segued into the realm of such familial disassociation.
While the first two Urban Legend films followed the slasher formula, with a group of people being picked off one at a time by some crazed serial killer, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary eschews such blatant cloning of old ideas in favor of cashing in on the latest cinematic fad: the vengeful killer ghost film. Popularized in recent years by such Japanese imports as Ringu and Ju-on, remade for Western audiences as The Ring and The Grudge, respectively; this subgenre can trace it’s roots through the decades all the way back to films like Strangler of the Swamp from 1946 and possibly even earlier screen efforts.
The film begins in 1969 and follows the tragic events that unfold during the night of the Homecoming Dance at a Salt Lake City high school. A group of jocks, accustomed to being idolized by all the girls in school, decide to play a joke on three girls who have never joined their groupies by drugging them and abandoning them far from home. Naturally things go wrong and one girl ends up sporting a nasty slash on her forehead and getting knocked unconscious. The jock responsible thinks he has accidentally killed her, and without letting any of his buddies know about it, secretly hides the body in an old trunk residing in the school’s basement. Only, the girl wasn’t dead…
Fast forward thirty-five years and we are introduced to a new trio of high school girls. This group is led by Samantha who, as editor of the school newspaper, ran some embarrassing photos depicting certain members of the football team in a less than glorious moment. Of course, they are upset and plot their revenge. They drug the three girls and abandon them in an old building far from home, but not before the girls manage to discuss the legend behind Mary Banner – the girl who vanished that night back in 1969 – and conjure up her spirit by reciting the name Bloody Mary several times. The girls escape their temporary prison and suddenly the guilty parties are dying in ways that resemble urban legends. Is there a killer on the loose, or has the vengeful spirit of Mary Banner returned, extending her wrath to those that would so cruelly perform pranks on others, just as had been done to her friends?
Despite the puzzlement of the characters, the film makes it obvious that the killer is indeed of supernatural origin. Mary pops up every now and then to off another character, sometimes as just an invisible force and sometimes actually manifesting as a visible and physical presence. It is when the latter occurs that the comparisons to Ringu and Ju-on are most noticeable, especially the way her long black hair is utilized in re-enforcing her creepiness. The deaths themselves, while not overly gory, should prove interesting enough for their adherence to urban legends, and the fact that it is a ghostly entity at work rather than a human killer, makes them more easy to believe.
Naturally, the events depicted in the current day are tied to what transpired thirty-five years in the past and only a first time horror film viewer will be unable to connect the dots well enough in advance to foresee all the plot “twists.” When the characters learn that they must find Mary’s remains and give them a proper burial in order to end her rampage and save lives, the audience can almost cross that element off a check list of clich&eactute; plotlines. Regardless of the title, Mary doesn’t show up all that much…at least until the end, so the film still conveys a “slasher flick” vibe. This is accented by the filmmaker’s choice to forgo a creepy atmosphere and focus more on the manner of deaths. The FX are adequate, with only one notable CGI sequence, but even that wasn’t too bad. However, there are several points where the viewer will scream in frustration at the idiocy displayed by the characters and their complete inability to see the obvious in front of them.
Sadly, just about everything in this film comes off as…well, as not too fresh. We’ve seen this all before. Numerous times, in fact. The film does have a decent look and sound to it, but it just doesn’t offer up anything new. Yet, despite that, the film is still more entertaining than one would first believe. Check it out if you’re a fan of the genre, but don’t expect too much blood or too many scares.
Final Grade: 3 out of 5