Michelle (Natasha Gregson Wagner) is driving back one night in the pouring rain, listening to the college radio agony aunt Sasha (Tara Reid) when she nearly crashes into a car heading in the opposite direction, which shakes her up. She then puts on some music to sing along to so she can recover from her fright, but notices she’s nearly out of fuel and just manages to pull into a station to fill up the tank, but the attendant (Brad Dourif) is a bit of a stuttering weirdo who unnerves her. To make matters worse, after a minute he returns with the credit card she offered him and tells her the card company want her on the phone; reluctantly she follows him inside, then her worst fears are confirmed as he lunges at her…
Ah, but there’s a twist, as there always is with an urban legend, the subject of this effort which was yet another entry in the slasher cycle as revived by Wes Craven’s Scream in the mid-to-late nineteen-nineties. As the awareness of these little stories, ironic morality tales, chances for schadenfreude or simply dressed up jokes, began to spread, the script by Silvio Horta (who would go on to big success as the creator of TV show Ugly Betty) capitalised on the sort of book you could buy in a record store detailing the latest (or indeed oldest) yarns that the teller would inform you were all true, because it happened to a friend of a friend. The King of these volumes was Jan Harold Brunvand, who horror regular Robert Englund played a version of here.
Handily for the plot, and presumably where the killer was getting all their ideas from, Englund was a professor who teaches a sociology class about urban legends, to set the characters in a context that even the coda posits as a put-on, a conceit that though these things could never happen in real life, this film was the ideal vehicle for them, being a medium for telling tall tales themselves. Wagner wasn’t our final girl, however, you’d recognise straight away that she was in the Drew Barrymore role if you were aware of the UL she was acting out, that duty belonged to Alicia Witt as Natalie who is a student at the university Michelle studied at. Witt would have made the perfect Daphne from Scooby-Doo rather than Sarah Michelle Gellar, as she demonstrated here.
It was her sleuthing skills that were put into effect with a more serious dimension than the cartoon adaptation, though truth be told it wasn’t that much more serious, as the tone was if not outright comedic then it did give the impression of winking at the audience from start to finish, kidding on that any of this was remotely believable in much the same way a debunker would spin a yarn to illustrate how gullible some listeners could be. In that vein this could have been irritating, but while it wasn’t the finest shocker you’d ever see, it did have a solid gimmick and a sense of humour to make something entertaining of it, even if its idea of a scare was largely to have characters suddenly looming into the frame to make another character start, which happened on average every five minutes.
I don’t know about you, but the first urban legend I remember hearing was the one about the couple in the car at night, parked in an out of the way spot whereupon they hear something outside and the bloke goes to investigate. Then the lady hears a thumping on the roof of the car, and a policeman appears at the window to tell her to follow him and don’t look back; she does so, but can’t resist a peek whereupon she sees a maniac bouncing her boyfriend’s head off the roof of the vehicle. Pleasingly, one of the variations on that old myth was staged here, though in this case it’s the bloke’s feet dragging on the roof as he has been hung up from a tree, but at least it showed Horta had been doing a little research, though that might have been simply marking promising pages in a Brunvand tome. You did get “the call’s coming from inside the house!” and “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?” and so forth, and if the awareness of its own silliness did grate a little the more it progressed, you went with it regardless because it had a good idea. Music by Christopher Young.