Urban Legends: Bloody Mary gets a bit defensive about the originality of its title character, a malevolent spirit summoned whenever her name is uttered three times in front of a mirror. In an early scene, four teenagers discuss the popular myth: “Just so you guys get it right, Candyman ripped off ‘Bloody Mary’ in the first place, not the other way around.” While it’s true that Clive Barker’s creation borrowed from “Bloody Mary” and other urban legends (that was the point), I find it amusing the movie would bring up plagiarism when it’s so shamelessly derivative of just about every other horror flick out there.
The film begins with essentially the same prologue as in Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987) with the prom setting replaced by a homecoming dance. When three jocks try to pull a particularly vicious prank on their dates, things go terribly wrong, and a girl named Mary (Lillith Fields) is killed. Thirty-five years later, her spirit is awakened during a slumber party after Samantha (Kate Mara) chants “Bloody Mary” while staring into a mirror. Actually, she does it lying on the living room floor far away from any reflective surface, but never mind. The point is the ghost of homecoming past is out for revenge.
Like Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Mary chooses to exact her vengeance on her murderers’ children instead of the actual culprits. This doesn’t make enormous sense on her part, but I suppose the movie needed to provide some kind of rationale for knocking off all these teenagers. Besides, in a subplot that leads absolutely nowhere, this next generation of brats turns out to have played the same practical joke on a new group of girls, so we can at least appreciate a certain degree of poetic justice as the jerks meet their gruesome fates.
Now, in the first two Urban Legends, the teens died at the hands of masked psychopaths implausibly reproducing modern folklore. How do you get someone to swallow Pop Rocks laced with explosives and drink soda just before detonation anyway? Bloody Mary doesn’t feature such contrivances because its killer has magical ghost powers. As in Final Destination (2000), the hand of fate is twisted just enough to turn mundane actions into suicidal endeavours, and we’re invited to cringe as characters reach into vending machines, pee on metallic fences, and, yes, eat delicious Pop Rocks.
However, not every death scene is linked to an urban legend. Mary handles a few kills in person, presumably so we can get a good look at her character design, which seems straight out of a Japanese ghost story. Like the ghouls in Ringu (1998) and Ju-On (2000), the pale young woman crawls languorously from under the furniture, her long black hair swinging back and forth over her tattered clothes. She even has the same habit of popping out of nowhere to stare at the heroine, in this case the Nancy-Drew-like Samantha, with a ghastly expression.
The thing of it, though, is that director Mary Lambert combines these derivative elements with both skill and charm. Sure, the ending is a bit clunky with cheap special effects and the survivors forgetting to show concern for their loved ones, but I like the two leads, Samantha and her smooth-talking twin David (Robert Vito), and there’s genuine suspense whenever they split up. Besides, the Urban Legends franchise has never been known for its originality. The previous instalments were obvious knock-offs of Scream (1996), so this unrelated sequel actually makes for a nice change of pace.
Like so many B-level horror flicks, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary is moviemaking by the numbers. Still, the film is undeniably competent at what it does: the lines are smooth and continuous; they go over every little dot without crossing each other; and I had no trouble recognizing the familiar image in the end. Maybe next time, Lambert and her team can try making a picture of their own.