List of must-see films for the Urban Legend section of my taxonomy of horror sub-genres.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976). Dir. Charles B. Pierce. US.

Like many US slasher films in the 1970s and 80s, The Town That Dreaded Sundown revolves around the themes of police incompetence and intra-community isolation. The film also, though, presents an opportunity to analyze types of screen violence specifically with regard to gender and sensationalism, given the vastly different degrees of gore and brutality inflicted on women as opposed to men in the film.

When a Stranger Calls (1979). Dir. Fred Walton. US.

Much like The Town That Dreaded Sundown, this film is considered a classic in the slasher cannon. In terms of critical analysis, When a Stranger Calls plays on fear in the late 1970s about young women being (financially) independent which existed primarily as a reaction to the rise of second-wave feminism beginning in the 1960s.

Candyman (1992). Dir. Bernard Rose. US.

Candyman, like the next two films on this list, begins to deviate from the convention of teen victims in urban legend films because it is almost entirely concerned with adults (Helen Lyle, the film’s protagonist, is a graduate student doing research on urban legends). Additionally, this film opens the discussion of urban legend films up to a critical consideration of ethnography and racism/classism, gentrification, gender and power, and the importance of communal oral history.

Urban Legend (1998). Dir. Jamie Blanks. US.

This film may not be the first in the urban legend sub-genre, but it is perhaps the most definitive. Urban Legend is structured around the recreation of various urban legends (most if not all of which originated in the 1980s or later) with the plot moving, more or less, from one to the next. Urban Legend is also an interesting film to consider in terms of gender and violence, especially alongside later films like Scream 4, American Psycho 2, and American Mary.

One Missed Call (2003). Dir. Eric Valette. US, Japan, and Germany.

This remake of Takashi Miike’s 2003 film of the same name is based on a novel by Yasushi Akimote titled Chakushin Ari. While this film doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of innovating or challenging the sub-genre in terms of race and gender, it does open up a conversation about abuse and trauma, and allow for some discussion of how technology impacts the shape that societal anxieties take in public consciousness.

Author: Geneveive Newman