Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)
Directed by Mary Lambert
Written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
Starring Kate Mara, Robert Vito, Tina Lifford, Ed Marinaro, Michael Coe, and Rooney Mara
Urban legends were all the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in no small part due to the exhaustive series of books about them by Jan Harold Brunvand. These took the stories out of the realm of academic journals and presented them for enjoyment to a larger audience. It was inevitable that we’d get a slasher film using these modern folk tales as a gimmick. It was also probable that the sequels would wind up being released direct to video, as was the case with the third installment Urban Legends: Bloody Mary.
Like a lot of prom-based horror films, this has a back story. Back in 1969, three girls were drugged at prom by their dates as part of an ill-thought revenge. One, Mary, managed to escape to a storeroom, but her date caught up to her and killed her in a struggle. At least he thought he had. What actually killed her was being locked in a trunk. The survivors turn up later in the basement of an old mill. Flash forward to 2005, and three girls with no dates for homecoming swap scary stories at a sleepover. Samantha (Kate Mara) takes the Bloody Mary challenge, and by morning all three have disappeared, only to wake up in the basement of the mill with Rohypnol in their systems.
The incidents are connected in motive as well as technique. In both cases, the girls had brought attention to the shenanigans of high school athletes. Outraged at being caught, the boys had decided that bodily autonomy does not apply to girls. They wanted their victims to be aware that something could have been done to them, might still be done if they continued to spoil the boys’ fun. In a movie featuring a vengeful spirit, this gross entitlement is the most frightening thing — especially when when it’s explicitly being passed down generations.
The kill scenes, which are the entire reason we’re here, play out like a cross between Final Destination and a Brunvand book. Mary often behaves like a poltergeist, triggering the Rube Goldberg chain of events that recreate friend-of-a-friend stories. A guy goes into a tanning bed, the settings are adjusted to dangerous levels, the sole employee is absorbed by a phone conversation, the guy becomes a burned hotdog. Except that’s not how the story goes, and Mary would have had to somehow make the lights more powerful than they really are. There’s also the great unanswered question of why Mary happened upon urban myths as her theme. She is one herself, but does she even know that?
I suppose it’s asking too much of the movie to make any sort of sense about the killings when so little else is logical. Why is Mary tormenting her surviving friend with visions, while only indirectly striking at the ones who attacked them all? Why aren’t I watching Prom Night II: Hello, Mary Lou, which had a similar premise but at least delivered on over-the-top action? Writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris are better known for big budget, hugely collaborative, super hero efforts like Superman Returns and X-Men 2, where it’s difficult to say what any particular writer contributed. Only two years after this, though, Dougherty wrote and directed the impressive horror anthology Trick ‘r Treat, so I’m inclined to credit him with what does work about the script here.
The movie isn’t all bad. Mary Lambert had shown promise with some surprisingly effective scenes in the otherwise silly Pet Sematary and delivered with the deliciously nasty Pet Sematary II, and her touch here largely helps fend off the questions until after the movie’s over. There’s genuine tension as the pieces of the backstory fall into place, and if the set-pieces are ridiculous they’re also executed sharply.
All in all, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary is an enjoyable enough film to sit through if you’re looking for mindless fun. I’m sure it has its fans, and I do have a bit of a soft spot for it myself, but there’s a reason it wasn’t released theatrically. It’s disposable and probably won’t make a lasting impression, but it would hold up positively against the low-end nonsense that makes up the bulk of the Netflix horror section these days. Sometimes that’s good enough.