Urban Legends: Final Cut (second review)

The title URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT sounds like an escalation, because the legend has suddenly become plural, but I seem to remember this sequel coming out with a whimper. I thought I remembered respecting it a little more than others at the time, but in my review back then I seem to have thought it was pretty bad.

It starts on an airplane during a storm, which seems crazy enough for the series that you can probly guess it’s the ol’ “actually we’re watching a movie-within-a-movie” cold open fake out. The reveal is kind of cool, though: suddenly the pilot sees a Tom-Cruise-looking asshole in sunglasses staring into the cockpit from the outside – he’s the director of this student film (filmed on a set from PUSHING TIN). In an even more aggressive “you kids liked SCREAM, right? Check this out!” move than the first URBAN LEGEND, the story has moved to Alpine University Film School, where aspiring directors are in a cutthroat competition to win “the prestigious Hitchcock Award,” which they all talk about it like it’s a guaranteed Hollywood career because it has been a “springboard” for successful filmmakers in the past.

Our protagonist Amy (Jennifer Morrison, STIR OF ECHOES) finds inspiration for her thesis film after walking home from the library alone during a snow storm. She suffers a bird jump scare and a flashlight in her face that turns out to be campus security offering her a ride. And what do you know, it’s part 1’s Pam-Grier-loving officer Reese (Loretta Devine, CLASS ACT).

When Amy mentions she “can’t even think of a good story” for her thesis film, Reese says, “I got a good story. Yeah, it’s about a campus serial killer who murders eight students, but nothing happens because the prestigious university covers it up.” Amy has heard the story, but thought it was an urban legend.

Reese wouldn’t go along with the cover up, got fired, ended up here. It’s a cute way to connect the movies, and to show that the events of URBAN LEGEND have already been mistaken for an urban legend. More importantly it gives Amy the idea to make her thesis film about a serial killer doing murders based on urban legends. We’ll ultimately learn that (SPOILER) the killer in this movie was jealous when he heard her idea and did the murders to frame her and take her film out of contention.

In other words, the act of recounting what happened in the first film actually causes the second film! (And one can only assume that Reese spent the rest of her life moving around to different jobs, causing new murder sprees each time she tells someone how she got there.)

As Amy struggles to make her film,an actual murderer starts doing actual urban legend murders, some of them on the set of her movie, causing confusion between what’s real and what’s for the movie.

One difference from SCREAM’s approach to movie fandom is that director John Ottman wasn’t all that into slasher movies, and wanted to make sure everyone knew he was more into Hitchcock. I guess Amy sort of reflects him in that she gets excited to do a horror movie but it’s outside of her wheelhouse (which is documentaries). Similar to Randy in SCREAM, the hardcore horror fans are depicted as socially awkward comic relief via Amy’s makeup FX artists Stan (Anthony Anderson [SCREAM 4] in his followup to ME, MYSELF & IRENE) and Dirk (Michael Bacall, FREE WILLY). Unlike Randy the horror movies they nerd out about are fake – VAMPIRE CHEERLEADERS, “the SPLATTERTOWN sequels.” But they do mention at least one filmmaker who really exists. There’s an exchange where Dirk says that “Digital sucks, man. Latex rules” and is told “That’s not what your god George Lucas says.” I thought that was funny since the first part is timeless (nerds still get aggressive about practical over digital) and the second part isn’t. But it’s evidence for my controversial claim that THE PHANTOM MENACE was well received at first. This was filmed before the tides turned, when the excitement was still fresh. There for us to treasure, frozen in amber.

There’s no Party of Five or Dawson’s Creek type star in this cast, but they do have Joseph Lawrence, formerly Joey, trying to be taken more seriously after growing up on the sitcoms Gimme a Break! and Blossom. He’s saddled with that baggage but good at the role of Graham, an unlikable prick always showing off his brick phone and bragging about being the son of some Hollywood bigshot.

The most memorable horror sequences is a tangent away from Amy. “The next Spielberg” Travis Stark (Matthew Davis, TIGERLAND, PEARL HARBOR) has a drink with his friend Lisa (Jacinda Barrett, CAMPFIRE TALES, The Real World London), then leaves her alone. An unseen somebody drugs Lisa’s drink – it’s made to look like it might’ve been this one creepo film student, Toby, who hits on her.

I was very amused when I realized that was a young Anson Mount, who I know as Captain Pike on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. He looks different with bangs. Anyway, Lisa finds herself in the famous urban legend scenario of waking up in a bath tub full of ice cubes and realizing someone removed her kidney (casually achieving what Brenda failed at in the climax of part 1). This leads to a well done chase scene where she tries to escape from the unseen surgeon through a bathroom. There’s a chained up dog barking outside as she’s trying to climb out the window, the killer is reaching through a hole in the door trying to unlock it, he makes it in in time to grab her and as he’s pulling on her her fresh set of stitches gets torn open! He slams the window down, decapitating her, and then throws her kidney to the dog, as a treat.

It’s a hell of a sequence, the movie really comes alive there, so it was interesting to learn afterwards that it was shot after the fact when they test screening audiences wanted to know why the fuck it took so long for anybody to get killed. That explains why it’s so separate from the main story, but also it’s crazy because it’s one of the more fun and better shot parts of the movie. Correct me if I’m wrong, because I don’t have the blu-ray with me anymore and I can’t find another source for this, but I believe either the commentary track or the interviews said that they convinced part 1 screenwriter Silvio Horta to write this sequence. But I found a recent interview where Ottman said he enjoyed going over the top with the gore there, and in the end the producers were happy enough with the movie that they bumped it from DTV to theatrical.

Travis never finds out his friend died, because she was about to leave on a trip. But he’s depressed about some other stuff, and then everyone is told that he committed suicide by gun in the bell tower. Amy is shocked when she subsequently runs into him… but actually it’s his twin brother Trevor, who believes Travis was murdered. I kept thinking this twin business would be a trick, but no. He’s really dead and this is really his twin.

One of the better meta-gimmicks is a PEEPING TOM deal. When they’re watching dailies, discussing how terrible the actress Sandra (Jessica Cauffiel, ROAD TRIP) is in them, suddenly a reel is where whoever’s holding the camera is really chasing and killing her on set. They’re confused about what they’re looking at, but crew member Vanessa (Eva Mendes, CHILDREN OF THE CORN V: FIELDS OF TERROR) gets into it and says, “Get her!”

Nobody will admit to shooting the footage, so Amy suspects it’s real, but everybody convinces her that the reason Sandra disappeared is she went to play a coma victim on E.R.

One scene in Amy’s movie is about a woman who’s killed and no one hears her screams for help because it happens during a finals week tradition where everyone screams at midnight to release tension. While Amy is recording her friends screaming to use in the scene her mic picks up the real scream of her cinematographer (Marco Hofschneider, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU) being beaten to death with his prized camera lens nearby. Similarly, when they re-create the story of the Tunnel of Terror that’s filled with real dead bodies, the killer adds real real dead bodies to their fake real dead bodies. So the filmatists find some good ways to combine movie-making shit and urban legend shit to make horror shit.

They also do their due diligence to have the finale take place on a soundstage with different sets. There’s a good part where Toby gets shot through the wall of one set into an alien spaceship one we had no idea was there. I assume they probly had this left over from some TV show or something, but I dearly hope they made it specifically for URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT.

“I haven’t seen you for months, what have you been working on?”

“The alien scene.”

“There’s an alien scene?”

The conflict continues onto a fake cemetery, where Trevor gets knocked into an open grave, then crawls out like a zombie. Also, after a gun falls on the ground a whole rack of prop guns is dumped out on top of it, so everyone scrambles for the real gun but can’t tell which one it is.

The killer wears a fencing mask, which is a cool look, and it works especially well for the most flagrantly Hitchcockian sequence: while Amy goes for a jog she remembers suspicious things different characters said throughout the movie. The mask is superimposed over the jogging scene and then the faces of the different suspects dissolve over it as she considers them.

Actually is that more DePalma-ian than Hitchcockian? I don’t know. But it’s cool, even if it looks goofy in this screengrab.

Another goofy part is when the killer tricks Vanessa into thinking Amy wrote her a love letter. I’m not sure what that part’s about. But from the way she responds maybe Amy should’ve just rolled with it.

Perhaps signaling some resentment against film school professors, (long expired spoiler) the killer turns out to be Amy’s advisor Professor Solomon, played by Hart Bochner (TERROR TRAIN, SUPERGIRL, BULWORTH). At the beginning you see Ellis himself being cool and nice and you think hmmmm, but he could’ve been a red herring. Just turns out he wasn’t in this case. The joke is that if you can’t make it in Hollywood you become a teacher and then you frame one of your students and steal another one’s film to try to win the $15,000 stipend I guess? Or something.

In an epilogue, Solomon is a heavily sedated patient at a mental hospital, and who should be pushing his wheelchair but part 1 killer Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart, SANTA’S SLAY). It’s actually pretty exciting because by this point you definitely don’t expect any more part 1 cast members to have been available. It would’ve been funny if they’d actually followed up on this team-up, like the way SPLIT was followed by GLASS.

I think in the futuristic year 2000 the world judged URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT to be a little behind the times. Only two years had passed since URBAN LEGEND, but by that point there had been a whole trilogy of SCREAM movies with a prime time soap opera level attachment to their protagonists. Now here’s the old horror sequel thing where it’s all new main characters, new location, not even the same killer costume. And maybe horror fans were ready to move on to the next thing anyway. FINAL DESTINATION came out that year. And JU-ON: THE CURSE. Ghosty shit was on the horizon. FINAL CUT had a low enough budget to be profitable, but it made about half as much as the first one, so part three would not be spared from going straight to video.

Watching it now though FINAL CUT does seem ahead of its time in a certain way. In 2000 there were far fewer women directing movies*, and I don’t think there was nearly as much discussion of gender disparity in the industry, or in the horror genre. They don’t say anything about it here either, but they make their underdog aspiring director protagonist a woman. They never specifically call it out as sexism, but she deals with some very believable shitty behavior from dudes. Toby even tells her “You stole my fuckin genre!” for making a horror movie, and quits as her d.p. Nowadays they call that “gatekeeping.”

An even worse tantrum comes from Graham. Amy politely tells him she doesn’t want him bringing people she doesn’t know onto the set (a valid request even if she wasn’t worried about a murderer) and he gets all offended, says she’s “in over her head” and “You had to go pull a power trip on me in front of everybody else?” and storms off, apoplectic. It’s a very accurate depiction of how a certain type of fragile dude can’t handle having a woman in charge.

One of the producers of the series is a woman: Gina Matthews had created the show Popular, got into movies producing the first URBAN LEGEND, most recently (you guessed it) wrote and produced a Hallmark Christmas movie. But director John Ottman is a dude, as are writers Paul Harris Boardman & Scott Derrickson (who also had HELLRAISER: INFERNO that year).

Whatever its failings, FINAL CUT scores high in the “cast members going on to larger success” department, between Mendes, Anderson and Mount. It’s kinda weird seeing such familiar faces supporting a lead I didn’t recognize from anything, but that’s on me. Turns out I’ve seen Jennifer Morrison play Kirk’s mother in STAR TREK (2009), Joel Edgerton’s wife in WARRIOR, and a detective in the SUPERFLY remake. I guess she’s known for House M.D. and Once Upon a Time, and actually she became a director herself. While acting in the movie GRIND (2001) she directed the video for a The Donnas song from the soundtrack. Her first feature as a director was SUN DOGS (2017), followed by episodes of Euphoria and other TV shows.

Michael Bacall, who played Dirk, later wrote SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD with Edgar Wright and then 21 JUMP STREET and its sequel, plus had small parts in Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and DJANGO UNCHAINED. And of course co-writer Derrickson went on to write and direct THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, SINISTER, DELIVER US FROM EVIL, DOCTOR STRANGE and THE BLACK PHONE.

At the time Ottman was already well known to film fans as composer/editor of THE USUAL SUSPECTS and to me as composer of H20: HALLOWEEN 20 YEARS LATER. He does a pretty solid job here, and it’s cool that he’s director, editor and composer. Unfortunately the directing didn’t stick – he’s never done another movie, just one episode of Star Trek: Discovery. He’s had that and some composing credits in the five years since somehow winning an Oscar for editing BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. That was the end of a 25 year stint as the main editor and composer for his USC Film School buddy Bryan Singer, starting with PUBLIC ACCESS. So… hopefully he’ll find new collaborators without having to go back to school and scheme for that Hitchcock Award.

*For what it’s worth, Wikipedia has a list of movies directed by women, and they document eight in the year 2000:

GIRLFIGHT (Karyn Kusama)
LOSER (Amy Heckerling)
THE MAN WHO CRIED (Sally Potter)
SUSPICIOUS RIVER (Lynne Stopkewich)
THE WEIGHT OF WATER (Kathryn Bigelow)
WHAT WOMEN WANT (Nancy Meyers)

Most of the years in the aughts had similar numbers, but then they started to go up, and for this year they list thirty. (Ones I’ve reviewed: BARBIE, COCAINE BEAR, PRISCILLA.) That’s not a fluke – for 2021 they also have 30, and for 2022 they have 38! So maybe there is some progress in that area.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 12th, 2023 at 7:17 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Responses to “Urban Legends: Final Cut (second review)”

  1. Never saw it and didn’t know that Marco Hofschneider was in it. He is doing lots of German TV these days, but his debut was the award winning HITLERJUNGE SALOMON. Too bad that his Hollywood career only consisted of a legendary box office bomb, a Richard Elfman flick and a teen slasher sequel. An interesting career detour though.

  2. Sadly, I couldn’t hold my horses and shared most of my URBAN LEGENDS thoughts on the URBAN LEGEND review, but one thing I will repeat and hopefully express better here is the Kevin Bacon Game-y observation that, (1) same guy directs URBAN LEGEND 1 and VALENTINE, and (2) Jessica Cauffiel plays a ditzy blonde who gets murdered in both VALENTINE and URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT. No word yet on JAMIE BLANKS PRESENTS JOHN OTTMAN’S NEW URBAN LEGEND with Jessica Cauffiel playing herself and Bryan Singer as the Valentine killer and Hart Bochner as himself (and also secretly the fencing mask killer), but we can dream.

  3. I don’t remember if I commented on the first review but as a film school grad (less than two years out in late 2000) I thought it was a hoot to see all the film school types in this. I’d call it accurate. Ellis as the pretentious professor takes the cake.

    The prop gun gag was good too.

  4. grimgrinningchris

    December 13th, 2023 at 5:59 am

    And YAY!

    I remember yeeeeeeears ago (like before comments were possible) on Vern’s original review of this… emailing Vern to point out that Ellis was the bad guy.

    Now we need Vern to do a new review of PCU… the biggest (or most infamous) movie that Ellis directed.

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