Following the success of Scream in 1996, the slasher movie experienced a revival, spearheaded by films like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend – the latter directed by Melbourne filmmaker Jamie Blanks.
“I’ve always thought that the films that came post-Scream are certainly better than the films that came out in the wake of Halloween (1978),” Blanks tells STACK. “In terms of the film experience, they’re kind of lavish. We didn’t have lavish budgets, but we certainly tried to treat them as though we had.”
The path to landing the directing gig on Urban Legend began with Blanks receiving the screenplay for Scream – called ‘Scary Movie’ at the time – from a manager who had seen his student film.
“I didn’t get the job, obviously, because I was well outgunned by Wes Craven – deservedly so because he is the master,” says Blanks. “Then I got the screenplay for I Know What You Did Last Summer, also by Kevin Williamson, and I thought the only way I could convince producers in Hollywood that I’m capable of making a film is to take the screenplay and try to direct a couple of scenes. Then I had a better idea, which was to make a trailer – shoot all the money shots, all the things that would sell this movie. And that’s what I did with $3,000 and a whole bunch of friends.
“We shot it on 35mm and it turned out really well. I sent it over to the producer, who was ready to hire me on the film, but the ink had already dried on the director’s contract – they hired Jim Gillespie to direct that movie. But they said ‘don’t worry, we’ll find a film for you to direct’ and true to their word, nine months later I was offered Urban Legend based on the strength of that one trailer and student film.”
Blanks credits Phoenix Pictures, producer Neal Moritz and his team for taking a chance and providing him with the opportunity, despite his limited experience. “I think they responded to the fact that I loved the genre.”
A diehard horror fan who lives and breathes the genre, Blanks didn’t disappoint, delivering a slick slasher film that has since become a cult favourite. He also got to work with a couple of horror legends – Robert Englund and Brad Dourif – as well as a young Jared Leto.
“I requested Brad Dourif to play the role of the stuttering gas station attendant,” he recalls. “I immediately thought of Brad because of all his wonderful work, and that iconic role he played in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We got [Danielle Harris] from the Halloween movies to play a Goth chick and Robert Englund as the red herring.”
Blanks adds he wanted the casting of Urban Legend to be fun. “I wanted wonderful actors who were in on the joke. I think that’s one of the reasons the film has acquired a bit of cult status over the years. And even though it’s kind of self-aware, as it had to be in the wake of Scream, it’s not cynical – it’s fun. It’s way before the ‘torture porn’ thing came along; there’s no real overt violence or gore, it’s just everyone having a bit of fun with the genre, and that’s what I wanted to bring to it.”
“There’s no real overt violence or gore, it’s just everyone having a bit of fun with the genre, and that’s what I wanted to bring to it.”
Urban Legend celebrates its 20th anniversary next year – a fact that Blanks finds hard to believe, too – but the film returns to DVD and Blu-ray this week, together with sequels Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) in a trilogy collection.
Blanks had no involvement with the franchise beyond the first film, although he was approached to helm the second but chose to direct the giallo-inspired Valentine (2001) instead. He did, however, have his own idea for an Urban Legend sequel.
“A much more interesting idea is to bring back the exact same cast, but you cast them in different roles,” he offers. “I thought that would be a more meta way of doing it, but they didn’t agree and went off in a different direction.”