Collins’ Crypt: The Hell With LAST SUMMER - Let’s Remake URBAN LEGEND

BC plays a round of don't make that; make this instead!

Recently, it was announced that I Know What You Did Last Summer would be re-something'd (I can't keep track anymore and half the time people say remake when the mean reboot and vice versa, so I'm just going with re-something'd. Feel free to use it yourself!), and for the life of me I can't see why. I assume it's just the brand name of the catchy title, but if you ask me they're updating the wrong franchise: it's Urban Legend that could benefit from a strong makeover.

It's interesting how similar the two franchises are: both are Sony series that had a hit original followed by a less successful theatrical sequel (though in Urban Legend 2's case, still profitable), resulting in a direct-to-video third film that adds supernatural elements (for Urban Legend 3, it was a ghost getting revenge; the hilariously titled I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer brought back the first two films' killer as a rotting zombie). And both owe a heavy debt to Scream - Last Summer is of course also written by Kevin Williamson (and was marketed around this fact), whereas Urban Legend is basically just Scream but with urban legends replacing horror movies as the thing its witty characters can't stop talking about.

But the difference is, there's lots of room to explore with the Urban Legend concept, something I don't quite see with Last Summer. The latter's hook is basically just "old secret comes back to haunt our heroes," which is the sort of premise you see in a dozen horror movies anyway, but Urban Legend has a built-in franchise maker with the killer using well known urban legends to commit his crimes, the same way that there can (and should!) always be more Final Destination movies as long as common household objects continue to exist so they can be used as weapons. The second film kind of lost track of this (have you heard the story of the guy in the fencing mask who kills a DP with his own camera lens? No?), but the third used a bunch of common untrue stories, like "the dog" licking the protagonist's hand only to discover the dog is actually dead and nowhere near the bed, and there are plenty left to utilize for creative death scenes.

The other thing that's in Urban Legend's favor is that each film had a different killer, so there's an opportunity to finally associate the Urban Legend killer with a recognizable image. Not that Last Summer's Ben Willis' guise is very exciting - it's basically a raincoat and a hook - but it's still better than Legend's parka and the second film's fencing mask. Scream's sequels all utilized the "Ghostface" costume, and so even though it was someone different every time, they still walked away with a recognizable villain that makes it easy to market, something Urban Legend lacked (which may have contributed to the sequel's underwhelming box office take). But they also have the license to keep mixing it up - after three films, any Last Summer film will be kind of expected to have Ben Willis as the killer, since he's been the villain in all three - shifting from a revenge driven human into a zombie that I guess will come after anyone who tries to cover up a deadly mistake, as the victims in the third film have no previous connection to him or the four friends at the center of the first movie.

(Random aside: Ben is really bad at vengeance - in the second film he returns with his son to finish the job he started in part 1, only to kill a bunch of other random people and STILL fail to take out Jennifer Love Hewitt or Freddie Prinze Jr. - the ones he actually had a beef with.)

This all came to mind as I rewatched both Urban Legend and its first sequel on Halloween night, as as they aired on the Chiller channel and I had never watched them back to back before. I am a fan of both films, and still consider the original to be the best of the post-Scream slasher movies, but I am also the first to admit that they are dated and could benefit from an upgrade. The first film has a pretty good whodunit mystery at its core (with a great misdirect at the halfway point where it seems as though Rebecca Gayheart is being stalked by the killer - it's a fakeout, but your brain might be tricked into canceling her out as a suspect), but the numerous in-jokes (Joshua Jackson's character hates the Dawson's Creek song, someone mentions an urban legend about the Noxzema girl being a killer, etc) and far too pretty cast make it hard to take seriously in retrospect, and down the road it'll be impossible for new audiences to embrace it the way a younger viewer will still appreciate Scream or even older fare like My Bloody Valentine. It'll be a nostalgia movie for folks like me, and that's about it.

As for its sequel, it was a respectable followup considering that only one minor character returned to tie them together*, and it tickled me because I was in film school at the time and thus had been going through some of the same things its characters were (fellow students not being team players when they had to take direction from another, pretentious film professors, etc), so I identified with it more than most slasher scenarios. I mean, there's a plot point revolving around someone making a hard splice to a negative, and a kill scene that utilizes a Nagra AND the need to record wild audio - that's way more up my alley than a summer camp or whatever. But it strayed too far from the "urban legend" concept and doesn't have any great set pieces like the original, and it's ridiculous even by slasher standards - the budgets on these student films appear to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, and the killer's motive is one for the ages (he's killing everyone who made a particularly good short film so he can pass it off as his own). Like the original, no one will "discover" this one down the line; its defenders will be people who saw it theatrically or on video in this twilight of the second slasher boom (which more or less ended with Valentine, directed by Urban Legend's Jamie Blanks - who had nothing to do with its sequels), or historians who want a legit sample of their respective year's in-demand artists (Cherry Poppin' Daddies! Live! Stabbing Westward!).

In other words, remaking I Know What You Did Last Summer is a fool's errand - some people still love that movie for whatever reason, and will have no interest in seeing anyone besides Jennifer Love Hewitt spin around in a white tank top, while everyone else will likely be as indifferent as they were toward Sorority Row and the like - there isn't enough morbid curiosity for the remake haters to bother like they would with, say, Rob Zombie's Halloween (I would bet money that half of its receipts were from people who uttered "Fuck Rob Zombie" at some point BEFORE buying a ticket). And again, it's just not a particularly interesting story at its core, nor is there any kind of gimmick to attract anyone beyond die hard slasher fans. Urban Legend, on the other hand, has an amazing hook, and sort of bungled its first go (it's funny that a movie about these timeless stories that have been passed down generations is so cripplingly dated), so there's room for improvement while still banking on a name brand AND on a easy to appreciate concept. The Last Summer update has yet to be cast or anything, as far as I know - there's still time to switch gears and give slasher fans an Urban Legend they don't have to defend. Maybe they can make one that's just plain good.

*Can't win here. If I say "one", some guy in the comments will say "Actually two!" referring to the twist ending. But if I said "two characters returned" someone would say "Well that second one doesn't count." To hell with both of you theoretical people.

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