Fran Rubel Kuzui
Kristy Swanson - Buffy Summers
Luke Perry - Oliver Pike
Donald Sutherland - Merrick Jamison-Smythe
Paul Reubens - Amilyn
Rutger Hauer - Lothos
Hilary Swank - Kimberly Hannah
David Arquette - Benny Jacks
Genre - Horror/Comedy/Vampires
Running Time - 85 Minutes
Don't listen to the media: vampires have been "in" since Bram Stoker wrote about them in "Dracula" back in 1897. From Count Orlok in NOSFERATU (1922), to multiple incarnations of DRACULA, and to more recent fare such as The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Being Human, and the sparkling creatures of TWILIGHT, vampires have always been one of the more common monsters in horror entertainment. And while everyone loves these fanged creatures, we have also come to love those who oppose them. Who can forget VAN HELSING? What about CAPTAIN KRONOS - VAMPIRE HUNTER? How about The Frog Brothers from THE LOST BOYS or Peter Vincent from FRIGHT NIGHT? And I have to mention my personal favorite vampire slayer - Buffy Summers.
God, I miss Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I still consider it my favorite television series of all time, ever since I was once of the few who actually watched the show right from its pilot episode during 1997's mid-season schedule on the WB Network, up until its finale on the now-dead UPN in 2003. Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a great show - not because it was about a girl kicking vampire ass - but because it was charming, funny, witty, exciting, suspenseful, and dramatic in every way. It was a vampire soap opera that never insulted your intelligence. Was it perfect? No. But it was certainly memorable from beginning to end. Hell, I even love the spin-off, Angel, as well [while Buffy is my favorite, I think Angel was the better show in many ways].
I remember when I first read about Buffy in the TV Guide before its premiere. I couldn't believe that someone actually had the balls to make a show based on a horrible film of the same name. I thought it was joke. I'm thankful it wasn't because I was addicted from the start, but the idea of it was just bizarre to me at the time. To be quite honest, I hadn't watched BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER since the early 1990s until this past weekend, knowing it could never compare to the television show that improved on it in every way. But I've matured since my last watch and gave BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER another shot. I'm still not the biggest fan of it, but at least it's better than what I had remembered it to be.
Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) is like your typical Valley Girl. She's the head cheerleader of her high school. She's dating the captain of the football basketball team. She enjoys shopping and saving the environment [just to create a cool theme for the school dance]. And she's also been chosen to save the world from vampires. Uh, say what?
Yes, Buffy is this generation's vampire slayer. A man named Merrick (Donald Sutherland) claims to be her Watcher, or the one who is assigned to train her in slaying vampires. Buffy dismisses it at first, but when Merrick mentions the strange dreams she's been having, she takes the idea more seriously. When Merrick puts Buffy through her first test and she slays two vampires easily, she realizes she's the chosen one.
As Merrick trains her, Buffy learns that she has to get rid of a vampire master named Lothos (Rutger Hauer) and his idiotic sidekick Amilyn (Paul Reubens), who want to kill her. With this, the school dance coming up, and falling for a rebellious dude named Pike (Luke Perry) who lost his best friend Benny (David Arquette) to vampires, Buffy realizes that getting into a good college isn't the hardest thing she'll have to deal with in her young life.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is one of those films you either like or you don't. I used to really dislike this film, and the fact that the television show surpasses it in every single way possible makes it harder to like. And while it's still hard to take seriously, the film does have its moments and isn't all that bad. It's just a lost opportunity that thankfully was fixed years later.
The history of why this film turned out the way it did starts with Joss Whedon's involvement with the project. Before he became famous as Buffy's creator, Whedon was very successful as a writer on the sitcom, Roseanne. Being a comic book, science fiction, and horror geek, Whedon created a character he believed could carry a franchise. He wrote a serious script for the film, that was pretty dark and brooding - close to what the television had become when he was allowed, creatively, to form his vision of the character. However, Hollywood felt that audiences weren't interested in the original script's tone. So studio executives, who seem to know better than everyone else, demanded rewrites to the script in order to give the film a lighter, more upbeat tone. Instead of a mysterious, dark, and suspenseful film Whedon had envisioned, the film became a comedy with the horror as an afterthought.
And that's the major issue with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. It's supposed to be funny, yet most of the jokes miss and a lot of the timing is off. Also, what exactly is the film making fun of? Is it making fun of vampires? No, because the vampires don't really portray themselves as clowns. Yeah, they're humorous but you never laugh at them. Is it making fun of high school? The characters we follow are stereotypical, sure, but they're somewhat believable at times. It's obvious that Whedon, in his original script, was trying to build a world where this cheerleader just happens to be the biggest threat to the vampire race. As we've seen with the television show, it works. However, once the rewrites settled in, the film wants to be more VALLEY GIRL than THE LOST BOYS. It doesn't really work.
Also, the vampires never seem or feel like a threat. After all, the fight between Buffy and Lothos lasts about five minutes at most. The love story between Buffy and Pike feels forced as hell. Luke Perry has more chemistry with Jason Preistley than he does with Kristy Swanson. The emotional connection when Buffy loses someone dear to her never feels real. And the characters all act like idiots, making the more serious second half of the film feel out of place. There's no focus here, just ideas trying to come together for the sake of telling a story that no one will remember a year from now.
I would have also appreciated to see Buffy struggle with the fact that her life was now changed as the Slayer. There should have been moments of conflict and confusion about her new role to the point where she eventually learns to embrace it once she realizes she's doing a world of good by accepting her destiny. Instead, she just buys quickly into it for the most part besides small reservations. I don't think Buffy really changes as a character from the start of the film to the end besides the fact that she knows she can kick vampire ass.
Is the film all that bad? No. Some of the jokes do work and will make you chuckle. Amilyn's death, in particular, is probably the highlight of the film for me since he takes forever to croak. The scene where Buffy and her friends discuss using the environment as the theme for their dance, claiming that insects are the worst thing about the topic, is pretty funny. In fact, a lot of the scenes with the girls interacting with each other is pretty clever. But it doesn't really take the story anywhere and gets old pretty quick, even if it is the only real form of entertainment in the film. I also enjoy the clueless principal handing detention slips to the slain vampires for crashing the dance. The thing is that there is a good story in here somewhere and while not everything works, at least you know where the film is heading and that there's an effort here by most of the people involved.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER doesn't really have special effects to mention. It's quite funny that the television show really went all out when it came to the vampires turning into dust after being killed or other supernatural events that required a lot of CGI or awesome make up. Here, the only real special effect is the elf-like makeup given to the vampires. They look more funny than terrifying really, but it fits the tone of the film I guess. The vampires also don't dissolve after death, which is kind of a bummer as well. Maybe there was no real budget to work with, so that's understandable. But I still think the makeup could have been better.
The direction by Fran Rubel Kuzui is probably the worst part about BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. The way things are shot just make the unfunny stuff even more unfunny. For example, when someone is delivering a joke, Kuzui actually has the actor overact it as if that will make people laugh. And when the joke bombs, there's like a pause after the delivery, making it possible to hear crickets as no one will be laughing. Also, the fight sequences are not well shot. I should be excited to watch Buffy battle these vampires. But the way they're visualized and presented just leaves me cold. When the most fun action sequence is the training montage, there's a problem. I will say that the film is short and well paced for the most part. And the film looks nice. Kuzui would later become a producer for the television show and its spin-off, Angel. She made the right move, I think.
The acting is a mixed bag. Kristy Swanson is pretty good as Buffy. It's not really fair to compare her to Sarah Michelle Gellar due to Gellar having more time evolving into the role. But Swanson is likeable, hot, and seems more likely to kick someone's ass than Gellar probably would. She has decent chemistry with her co-stars, even if some of it is forced [see: Luke Perry]. But I always thought Swanson was a decent actress and I'm surprised she didn't become bigger. Donald Sutherland brings a bit of class as Merrick, giving the character a semblance of weariness after he's seen so many of his Slayers die. The man definitely has a presence when he's onscreen. Rutger Hauer doesn't really get much to do as main villain, Lothos. But he seems to be having fun with the role and he's a natural bad guy. Paul Reubens is probably the funniest character as Amilyn. His death scene is still funny after all these years. Luke Perry plays a goofier Dylan McKay as Pike. He wasn't horrible or anything, but he didn't do anything impressive either. David Arquette is pretty annoying as Benny, though that was probably the point. And we have Hilary Swank [as Buffy's ditsy best friend], Ben Affleck, and Ricki Lake all making appearances before they really became famous. Also Seth Green makes an appearance as a vampire, which is funny since he would play a werewolf on the television show. Not a horrible cast. I just wish they had better material to work with.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE DOING TARGET PRACTICE WITH MY WOOD
- Buffy got a C+ in history for thinking El Salvador was in Spain. The fact that she even got a C+ shows that her school's grading system is a lot of bull.
- Buffy insinuated that Pike's name isn't a name, but a fish. Since she doesn't come across as intelligent, I think this epiphany came to her once she finally opened her legs.
- Benny got bitten easily by Amilyn. For someone READY TO RUMBLE, he didn't put up much of a fight.
- Buffy shot a thumb tack out of her mouth to kill an annoying fly. Looks like Mr. Miyagi made Buffy use his personal chopstick from time to time if she has spitting skills like that!
- Pike can't believe he has to deal with vampires. I don't know why he's complaining. They're easier to deal with then Shannen Doherty for four seasons!
- Lothos let Amilyn get killed by Buffy as a sacrifice. I guess "stake" really was the secret word.
THE FINAL HOWL
If you're going to watch any version of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, watch the television show. It's incredible television that definitely deserves its cult status. Also, it presents Joss Whedon's true vision for the character and her arc. As for the film, it's an okay time-waster. It has some good moments, but most of it just leaves you wanting more or looking elsewhere for something more stimulating. If the horror and the comedy were blended together in a believable way, this review would be a lot different. Maybe the television show ruined me, I dunno. But it's not a horrible film and it's worth a watch for historical cult value alone. At least I don't hate BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER like I used to, but I still don't particularly love it either.
2 Howls Outta 4