In the Dark: Urban Legends
Eric D. Snider
Since the genre of horror movies has been done to death, so to speak, you have to be creative if you want to make a good one. Fortunately, no one seems to be interested in making good ones, so go ahead and keeping making the crap about guys in masks who kill people.
(What is it with the masks? Why do they care if their victims know who they are? Are they afraid of getting ratted out at the Final Judgment?)
The idea of serial killers who follow a particular pattern is a cute one, exemplified in the extraordinarily cheerful 1995 film "Seven" (or "Se7en," as it's officially known). In this movie, someone finds people who are guilty of one of the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, lust, gluttony, and four others I can't remember) and kills them in a manner befitting their sin. The glutton, for example, is forced to eat until his stomach 'splodes. (Discussion question: What kind of noise would that make?)
The best thing about "Se7en" is that it did not spawn any sequels, even though it would have been very easy. For example, it's not hard to imagine "Se7en, Part T2o," in which a maniac kills people according to the seven dwarfs. One person has a bunch of pepper shoved up his nose until he sneezes himself to death; someone else is murdered in a gruesome game of playing doctor; someone else is denied sleep until he finally dies of exhaustion; and then there are four more deaths that relate to the four dwarfs whose names I can't remember.
And it only took me a few minutes to think up "Se7en, Part Thr33," where the killer finds people guilty of using the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and kills them in a manner befitting their habits. ("Looks like this guy was synergized," says the gruff homicide detective. "And a guy down the street sought first to understand, then to be understood, and then he got killed.")
In 1998, someone had another good idea for a horror movie. It was about a serial killer who murdered people based on common urban legends, and it was called "Caddyshack."
I kid. It was called "Urban Legend." The problem was that this seemingly good idea turned out to be a bad one, as halfway through, they ran out of urban legends to use, and they had to start making them up. The movie would say something like, "Remember the story about the college professor who gets impaled on the 'Do not back up; severe tire damage' spikes?" And we would say, "Um, no, because you just MADE IT UP, you STUPID MOVIE!" And then the manager would ask us to stop yelling in the theater, and we would cause a scene.
So since "Urban Legend" failed, you'd think that would prevent a sequel. But no. A few weeks ago, "Urban Legends: Final Cut" (note that "legend" is now plural) opened in theaters, and while the first movie started out OK and then went bad, the sequel does no such thing. Instead, it starts out bad, is bad in the middle, has some more badness near the end, and then erupts into a grand finale of badness so bad it makes other bad things, such as World War I, look good by comparison.
Remember the characters from the first movie? Of course you don't, and don't pretend you do. It doesn't matter anyway, because the only one returning in the sequel is the sassy black campus security officer, Reese, who got fired from the college where all the murders happened in the first movie (which is reasonable, since she's apparently not very good at her job), and now works at a different college.
At this college, there are a lot of film students who wouldn't know a good movie if one abducted them and force-fed them to death. They're working on their final projects, all of which are horror films. Reese meets up with Amy Mayfield, who is looking for a good final-project idea, and Reese tells her to make a movie about a serial killer who kills people based on urban legends, apparently thinking that an amateur filmmaker re-creating the horror she lived through at her last job will somehow be therapeutic.
So Amy goes ahead with the movie, and wouldn't you know it, her cast and crew start getting bumped off. Sometimes (OK, one time) the murder has to do with an urban legend, but most of them are just ordinary murders, done with little panache or creativity. I mean, they're the sort of killings I could do with very little effort in my own spare time.
The question, of course, is: Who's the murderer? There's no shortage of stupid, one-dimensional characters to choose from, including a lesbian, a spoiled kid, a weird foreigner with a non-human accent, a guy who is the twin brother of a student who was killed (I wish I were making that up, but I'm not), and about four others that I have forgotten.
The answer to the question is: Who cares? Revealing who the murderer is only serves the purpose of allowing the movie to end, which it had previously threatened to never do. And when it's all over, you realize that the only scary moment in the whole thing is when it occurs to you that in the near future, someone will probably make a movie even worse than this one.