Mr. Blanks also had a good cast here – Joshua Jackson as a great red herring, Michael Rosenbaum as a frat douche, Alicia Witt in her prime… hell even Tara Reid put in some good work as the host of the most popular college radio broadcast in history (in that people seemed to actually be listening to it). And genre fans were treated to Danielle Harris (nearly unrecognizable as a gothed out bitch roommate of Witt’s character) in her first horror flick role in nearly a decade. There are also a few “elder statesman” ringers on hand; in addition to Dourif, Robert Englund plays the professor who introduces the urban legend angle into the story, and Robert “Well Manicured Man” Neville pops up as the college Dean.
Oh, and Jared Leto, pre-douche. He went from this to working with Terrence Malick. Respect.
The kill scenes are also a lot of fun. Based around popular urban legends (the killer popping up in the back seat, pop rocks and coke, even the boyfriend who is hanging above a car making scraping sounds), it’s fun seeing how they are pulled off (with requisite ironic touches), and Blanks walks the fine line between making it suspenseful without taking things too seriously. The sequel is a borderline parody of such films, but here the tone is pitch perfect; fun without MAKING fun.
The film was also fairly successful; not exactly up to Scream money but more than Bride of Chucky, Vampires, and other horror fare that came out that fall (and just barely got out-performed by the woeful – but highly promoted and bigger budgeted – I Still Know What You Did Last Summer). But sadly, it would be a while before Blanks made another film. In fact, Urban Legend’s sequel, directed by John Ottman, was released before Blanks’ sophomore effort, the aforementioned Valentine, which hit just in time for its namesake holiday in 2001. Boasting an attractive cast (Marley Shelton was the “plain” one, in slasher movie stereotype terms), it was also the first real “holiday horror” slasher to come along post-Scream, as all of the others (save for a requisite Halloween sequel) took on more generic settings and concepts. And you know I love holiday horror! In fact, I’d even argue it plays more into the Valentine holiday than My Bloody Valentine did; once they were all in the mine it was just another (albeit quite great) slasher movie, but here they really relish in the ridiculous and competitive nature of the holiday.
It’s also aged well, because what was once a sore spot for me is now one of the film’s best assets – a quick and brutal death of Katherine Heigl! See, back in 2001, she was just the pretty girl from Roswell and Under Siege 2, and I had no problems with her. And given her star turn in Bride of Chucky, I was actually pretty shocked that she died so quickly, compared to some of her lesser known co-stars (I would have much rather that they dispatched Denise Richards first). So she’s sort of the Drew Barrymore of the movie, but since it happened a few scenes in instead of in the first 5 minutes, it threw me off a bit. And now I just cheer for it, because she’s become such a stuck up annoyance over the past few years.
Most importantly, it has one of the better slasher getups in recent memory. So many modern slashers have lame costumes that no one would ever dress as (hell even Urban Legend, an otherwise superior film, just offers a friggin snowcoat for its killer). The Cherub mask was simple and creepy, borrowing a page from the “less is more” Michael Myers handbook instead of something extravagant. And behind that mask (spoiler) was none other than David Boreanaz, in his first big role since Buffy/Angel came along (and it remains his only major theatrical film). I haven’t watched Bones, so for all I know this is nothing new for fans of that show, but his role here is a marked difference than that of Angelus; it was nice to see him playing something besides a moody jerk prone to turning evil.
Sadly the film was not a big success; while it opened at #2 (less than a million behind the #1 film, The Wedding Planner), it sunk like a stone after that, ultimately ranking as one of the lowest grossing films of the slasher revival. Blanks then took a hiatus from directing, and seemingly abandoned Hollywood all together; his only credit in between Valentine and his next feature was for composing an indie comedy called Say I Do (Blanks had composed several short films prior to helming Urban Legend).
His next feature was 2007’s Storm Warning, a survival horror lensed in his native Australia. While offering nothing particularly new in the storytelling department (couple on vacation gets lost and runs afoul of some terrible locals, lots of injuries and death ensue), it was a refreshingly bullshit-free take on the genre - no twists, no villain grandstanding, no social commentary… just the basics, but done right. It’s also surprisingly tame when it comes to attacks on our protagonists; they aren’t tortured for hours before finally striking back, so we’re not numb to violence by the time their attackers get their comeuppance.
Also, if you’ve seen the film, then you know what this little object does, and how it manages to be something male viewers will both wince at AND applaud when used:
Blanks also edited and composed the film, but the script was actually penned by Everett De Roche, who was responsible for a number of Aussie gems, including the Hitchcockian thriller Road Games (directed by Psycho II’s Richard Franklin), Russell Mulcahy’s killer pig opus Razorback, and the creepy Patrick (also by Franklin), which concerns an invalid with telekinesis who is obsessed with one of his nurses and thus kills everyone that might interfere with his plans to get a hand job from her. Awesome.
De Roche also wrote Long Weekend, the 1978 “Nature strikes back” film, and became one of the few writers to remake his own screenplay, when he and Blanks reteamed to update the film (renamed Nature’s Grave for DVD) in 2008. The script didn’t change much, but Blanks added his usual style (the original film was a bit flat) and worked in a few good scares. Plus, the shrill persona of the wife (Claudia Karvan from Daybreakers here) was toned down considerably, so you’re not begging for her to die this time around. Also, they modernized the film, making it a bit easier for a modern audience to identify with (and in turn, be scared by). To me, it’s much creepier to see a GPS screen unable to “draw” the road that they’re on than someone looking at a map and saying that they can’t find the road. It could have used some deviation (De Roche seemingly just took his original script and updated a few references), but it’s not a bad film at all. Plus, the husband is played by Jim Caviezel, an underrated actor who is used quite well here; the character is a bit of a douche but Caviezel is likable enough for you to sympathize with the guy when things go downhill.
Since then Blanks has returned to composing for features, most recently the Aussie film Needle, which features Wolf Creek’s John Jarratt and sounds like an Urban Legend style slasher. Hopefully he will continue to direct; while none of his films are slam dunk classics, his output has been consistently solid, not to mention underrated, and I think he deserves a little more love in the horror world. Anyone that ends a film on a reference to Alone in the Dark (1982) deserves accolades, dammit.
Brian Collins watches a horror movie every single goddamned day of the year - even Valentine’s Day. You can read his reviews of ALL of them at Horror Movie A Day, the original and still the best daily horror movie site.