“Urban Legends: Bloody Mary” is the third installment in the once popular “Urban Legends” horror series, which began with “Urban Legend” in 1998 during the sudden resurgence in genre popularity thanks to Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson via their “Scream” trilogy. “Urban Legend” spawned a sequel in 2000, which did so poorly that it took another 5 years for “Bloody Mary” to get made and dumped on video shelves. Without a doubt, the look and feel of “Bloody Mary”, especially its first half and change, owes a large debt to yet another horror trend currently sweeping American multiplexes — the Asian horror movies, ala “Ring” and “The Grudge”.
By now any self-respecting fan of genre horror knows who Bloody Mary is, or has an inkling of the legend surrounding her. Basically, she’s the female version of Candyman, minus that whole hook for a hand deal. Our tale of murder, intrigue, and clich’d High School teens open with three lovely lass having a slumber party where they tell ghost stories. One such tale is that of Bloody Mary, a 1960s schoolgirl killed in a prank (committed by jocks, of course) gone wrong. After our modern girls fall asleep, they are discovered missing in the morning, and it’s believed foul play is involved. This turns out not to be the case, and the girls return home, unharmed, apparently the victims of retaliation by members of the football team, who have a grudge against cub reporter Samantha (Kate Mara).
Samantha is steamed at what’s happened to her, but paternal twin David seems especially perturbed. (Although it could just be that actor Robert Vito has a bit of a “rebel without a clue” complex, judging by his one-note performance.) After a member of the football team ends up cooked in a tanning booth, and the girlfriend of another one has a bloody run-in with an army of spiders, Samantha, being the hardnosed reporter that she is, suspect supernatural forces are at play. In particular, the ghost of a young woman with long dark hair, whose face is covered in blood, and goes by the name — Anyone? Anyone? — Bloody Mary.
Directed by genre vet Mary Lambert (“Pet Sematary”), “Bloody Mary” has the makings of a decent horror entry. Alas, a good first act is quickly ruined as soon as the first jock gets cooked in his tanning bed. Lambert’s direction has its moments, such as whenever Bloody Mary makes an appearance, which is unfortunately too few and far in-between. In fact, I suspect the film’s editing is the real star behind Mary’s visits, as everytime the film conjures up some decent sense of dread, Lambert invariably sinks the whole thing by moving onto another by-the-numbers sequence involving the impossibly boring twins Samantha and David as they skulk about town like junior Scooby Doo detectives, only less interesting.
The script by Dougherty and Harris tries so hard to be “hip” that it ends up being unintentionally funny. There’s a brief bit about the paternal twins decrying their home’s dial up Internet connection and running to use the school’s high-speed instead. There are also a lot of references to the previous two films that feel as natural as two screenwriters trying very hard to connect the three films because it was a decree from the studio that they do so. The characters are predictably clich’d, with the Fair Hair Lead barely registering a pulse throughout the film. If actress Kate Mara was actually alive during the making of “Bloody Mary”, I was fooled. As for the villains, they’re so clich’d that it’s not even fun to watch them die. And the less said about the marijuana smoking hippie lady the better. What should have been a colorful character is instead painfully forced.
Unlike the previous two, there’s a very noticeable supernatural bent to “Bloody Mary”. Whenever someone is about to die, Bloody Mary’s ghost (white dress, bloody face, and long hair) shows up to haunt them for a while. In one scene, she even climbs out from underneath a bed just to beat the crap out of a victim. Seriously. A ghost. Beating a victim. With her fists. No, really. I’m not kidding here. You’d never catch Sadako doing that. Really, folks. Spirits of dead, pissed off females shouldn’t go around beating up victims. It’s just so…tactless.
One wonders why the filmmakers didn’t just go the supernatural route, and nevermind the explanations because supernatural happenings don’t require logical explanations. (See any Japanese or Korean horror film.) Or why didn’t they just make a Slasher film like the previous two and forget about all this ghost bit. Of course it’s easy to understand why “Bloody Mary” oftentimes veers toward “Ringu”-like behavior — it’s precisely because films like “Ringu” and its ilk are cleaning up at the box office. If Hollywood producers are anything, they are creatures of little talent but big appetites for instant success.
It’s probably no surprise “Bloody Mary” feels like such a Johnny Come Lately. The original was never all that original (save for its urban legends hook), and this latest sequel is yet another reminder why the 1998 original existed in the first place — because “Scream” made a lot of money. And now, “Bloody Mary” exists for the same reason — to capitalize on a currently popular trend. Even so, there are moments in the early beginnings when you actually anticipate that “Bloody Mary” could be good. It had that much potential. Then again, I suppose that’s the perilous nature of being a copycat franchise from the very beginning.
Mary Lambert (director) / Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris (screenplay)
CAST: Kate Mara …. Samantha Owens
Robert Vito …. David Owens
Tina Lifford …. Grace Taylor
Ed Marinaro …. Bill Owens
Michael Coe …. Buck Jacoby
Lillith Fields …. Mary Banner/Bloody Mary