From the Archive – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Buffy

“Sometimes it takes more than just good looks to kill.”

Directed by Fran Rubel Kuzai
Starring Kristy Swason, Luke Perry and Rutger Hauer

High school cheerleader Buffy Summers (Swanson) discovers that she is The Slayer, the one girl in her generation gifted with the superhuman strength and agility to battle against the vampires. She is trained by Merrick (Donald Sutherland), the Watcher. Unfortunately, the Slayer has been pursued through the centuries by Lothos (Hauer), the most powerful vampire of all, and he has brought his vampire minions to her sleepy LA suburb in search of her.

As if that were not obstacle enough, Buffy herself would rather be getting ready to go to the prom than fighting the undead.

Merrick is killed trying to protect his charge from Lothos, leaving Buffy to face up to her responsibilities, with only the hapless biker-trash Pike (Perry) to help her. In a climactic showdown, Buffy is almost overcome by Lothos’s hypnotic powers, but finds her strength again because he can only do the mind-whammy when there’s music playing (huh?), and defeats him.

Five years later, writer Joss Whedon creates a TV series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that is superior in almost every respect.

What’s wrong with it?

Basically, it’s a travesty before its model. The TV series of Buffy has managed to maintain its momentum over 100 episodes, while the movie struggles to make 100 minutes. Joss Whedon’s witty, affectionately satirical script has somehow been reduced to a single joke (she’s a vampire Slayer, called Buffy), and populated with bizarrely ineffectual and deeply unintimidating villains. Oscar-nominee and Golden Globe-winner Rutger Hauer chews on the scenery, and Paul Reubens as his senior hench-vamp is a weasely clown, although they are both at least along for the ride. Actually, they’d both be great, if only the whole film was outrageously camp, but it isn’t.

And then there’s the great Donald Sutherland. According to an interview with Whedon, Donald Sutherland insisted on rewriting his lines to the point that the meaning was almost entirely lost. You barely notice, because he is a great actor, but as he is the source of all exposition, it leaves the rest of the plot hanging lost. It does leave one wondering if this, one of Whedon’s early efforts as a solo writer, was lacking something, but I suspect that we will never know. The comic book adaptation sparkled more, but who can say how much of that was down to post-series revision by the more mature Whedon?

What’s right with it?

Well, much of the film is pretty funny, and while much of it has just the one joke, it does do it rather well. It’s decently made, and – aside from a few rampant hams – decently acted, but it could have been so much more.

How bad is it really?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is really quite watchable, and in places promises to become something very sweet indeed. Of course, eventually it does: Five years later when the central concept got turned into a TV show. In fact, if not for the TV show, I might give the film a better write-up, but as it is, I can only look, and mourn for what might have been.

Best Bit

Tapping, a la Salem’s Lot, on Pike’s window, a newly turned vamp (David Arquette) tries to secure the all important invitation to enter. “I’m hungry,” he pleads. “You’re floating!” Pike points out, alarmed.

Or Paul Reubens’ line: “You ruined my jacket. Kill him a lot.”

What’s up with…?

  • The whole musical hypnosis thing? What would have happened if Lothos’s band had let him down one evening? Or if he’d brought a ghetto blaster to the showdown with Buffy, just in case?

Ratings

Production Values – Dated outfits notwithstanding, the production values aren’t too bad, although ‘flying Lothos’ is fairly visibly on strings. 8

Dialogue and Performances – The script veers between sharp one-liners, slick exchanges, and monumentally garbled exposition. No-one in the film actually acts badly, but the performances are all over the place. It is almost as if everyone is in a different movie, and were all cut together digitally. 5

Plot and Execution – Fairly solid, but it suffers from a mangled finale. In addition, it is neither as funny, nor as scary as it could be. However, the greatest failing in the direction is that the various actors are able to be at such dramatic odds in their performances without being reigned in. Luke Perry and Kristy Swanson are in a teen movie and playing it straight down the line, while Donald Sutherland is in something terribly portentous, and Rutger Hauer and Paul Ruebens are in the Rocky Horror Show. the film would have been so much better for just a little more directorial control. 12

Randomness – Aside from that music thing, pretty good, but as that’s the climax of the film, it’s a pretty big random spot, especially as Buffy only works it out when the music stops and Lothos loses control. She doesn’t puzzle out his weakness and use it to defeat him; she just gets lucky, and that’s a big let down in a final showdown of this sort. 10

Waste of Potential – We can but be glad that we have had a second chance to see the potential that this film squandered. 15

Overall – 50%

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