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Who's Who in Horror?

Copycat fright-night films can be a tough way for teen-TV stars to try to carve out a distinguished career.

September 28, 1998|ROBERT HOFLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As Hollywood trends go, the poster for the new teen horror movie "Urban Legend" says it all. There, under the much-needed protection of bus shelters everywhere, rest six young, exceedingly beautiful faces that belong to names well-known to their equally young, if not exceedingly beautiful, fan base. Why, there's Ryan Phillippe, shining blond star of the teen thriller "I Know What You Did Last Summer." No, on second glance the bleached hunk is not Phillippe. It's that star of the WB's hit teen series "Dawson's Creek," Joshua Jackson, who is appearing with Phillippe in the upcoming high school version of "Dangerous Liaisons" called "Cruel Intentions," which also headlines Sarah Michelle Gellar, who, of course, is the star of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and the WB's "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer."

Gellar is the blond babe on the "Urban Legend" poster. Except, looking a tad closer, it's not Gellar at all but rather the equally fair Michelle Williams from "Dawson's Creek." Or maybe it's the equally sunny Tara Reid, who also appears in "Cruel Intentions," but is quite notorious for never having acted in the two "Scream" movies or "I Know What You Did Last Summer" as have, respectively, Gellar, Jackson and "Party of Five's" Jennifer Love Hewitt, whose soulful face is kittycorner on the poster from Reid's. No, make that the equally morose Katie Holmes from "Dawson's Creek." Oh golly, never trust the vision of anyone over the age of 19. The brunet on the left is really Rebecca Gayheart, who did appear in "Scream 2."

And above her is Jared Leto from ABC's seminal teen series "My So-Called Life." Everyone who watched quality TV knows Leto, but then again, could it be Rob Lowe instead?

Uh-oh, wrong decade.

Teen movies and their attendant TV series have returned with the resilient force of acne on an adolescent's forehead. In the 1980s, it was the Brat Pack. Now there's the Tube Pubes: actors born and bred in teen TV series, for the most part, who cross over to movies in which they play roles that are often indecipherable from the ones they essay in the movies.?

Everyone knows the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. In the much smaller, more incestuous world of teen movies and TV series, there's never more than one degree of separation from everyone else and Neve Campbell, the 25-year-old actress who four years ago entered the national pubescent consciousness with her lead role in the Fox network's "Party of Five."

Following in Campbell's Footsteps

When Campbell segued to the movies with "Scream" and "Scream 2," it more than raised the heretofore lowly status of the teen-horror genre. The queen den mother of this group essentially drew a road map for every other young TV star's career trek into the movies. Soon, her ladies in waiting, Gellar and Hewitt, crossed over as well with leads in the super-successful "I Know What You Did Last Summer."

Unfortunately, almost no one knows--or at least paid to see--what TV's young stars did this past summer at local cineplexes everywhere. "Can't Hardly Wait" with Hewitt tanked, as did "Disturbing Behavior" with Holmes. Perhaps producers didn't pack enough young TV stars into each of these movies. Hence, the intense industry interest in "Urban Legend," which opened Friday and took in an estimated $11 million at the box office over the weekend. In addition to the four actors mentioned above, the teen-horror film (OK, it's set on a college campus) stars Alicia Witt, of the recently defunct "Cybill" sitcom, and Michael Rosenbaum, up next in the new WB teen series "Zoe Bean."

"It's great that these movies have come along," says Witt, who essentially fleshes out the Campbell archetype in "Urban Legend"--that of the spunky coed who is terrorized by a serial killer. "They've launched a lot of careers. These actors wouldn't have had the jobs available to them otherwise, without the success of 'Scream.' "

Nothing breeds excess like success, of course, and already the launching pad is undergoing a crisis of overpopulation as the second wave of teen movies now hits theaters.

"There's already a glut," says Paul Weitz, who, with his brother Chris, is directing Universal's upcoming "East Great Falls High." "The American people may be tired of anything to do with high school or teenagers by the time our movie comes out. 'East Great Falls High' is a movie that happens to be about people in their late teens and sex and peer pressure," he says. "We just hope that we don't get lumped in with everybody else."

Brother Paul confirms a distinction even though their film is set in high school. "No one is disemboweled or gutted," he says, in what may or may not be a joke.

Even "Urban Legend" producer Neal Moritz acknowledges a certain regurgitated quality to the phenom. "All these teen horror films were starting to feel the same," he says, commenting on why, as a producer, he's moved from teen scary ("Urban Legend," both "I Know What You Did Last Summer" films) to teen sexy ("Cruel Intentions").

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