The story of Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is about as classic a tale and about as old a tale as most other movies in development. Whedon had a vision for a new take on a horror story and Hollywood didn’t get it and kind of fucked it up. Everyone by now knows the tale of 1992’s “Buffy,” and how Joss Whedon initially wanted to make something of a darker more stern take on the vampire hunter that minced a coming of age tale with a story of a young woman coming to maturity. When Whedon was given the chance to finally bring his film in to development he kind of lost control of his creation.
“Buffy” was then turned into a horror comedy with heavy emphases on comedy, even somewhat mocking the horror tropes it embraced about vampire lore and whatnot. To say the 1992 cinematic iteration of “Buffy” was considered a dud is something of an understatement. When Whedon was given a rare second shot in five years later, he was able to fully realize what he planned in his cult television series.
That, in and of itself, is something of a miracle as not many creators get a second chance. Years later, the creators of “Zombieland” still haven’t been able to conceive the TV series they originally planned, as the sequel has been long in development limbo. This despite their film being a pretty well appreciated zombie film all around.
For a while it was in vogue to completely loathe the 1992 version of “Buffy,” but thankfully the fan base has been built for what is a damn good comedy horror film. “Buffy” is a raucous and very funny horror comedy in its own right, and it manages to hold up against the television series quite often.
It’s cheaper in production quality granted, but Whedon’s wit is still present, and I will argue until I’m blue in the face that Kristy Swanson is a better Buffy than Sarah Michelle Gellar. Even at her wittiest, Gellar never quite knows how to turn Buffy in to an empathetic heroine, while Swanson is able to deliver on the concept of the character as a vapid Valley Girl who manages to mature by the end of the movie full circle.
By the end of “Buffy” she’s still a valley girl, but she’s also an ass kicking, independent warrior who jumps head first in to a mosh pit of hungry vampires. Swanson’s valley girl Buffy is steeped in the mid to late eighties while Gellar’s iteration is based more around the princesses and divas we often saw in the late nineties.
Swanson is just so much more charming and wittier, and she even recovers from flatter one-liners and gimmicks. She even draws solid chuckles from fighting Paul Reubens’ vampire minion Amilyn with a flame thrower she makes out of a lighter and a can of hairspray. Buffy doesn’t just develop in to a heroine, but she realizes that her world was nothing but artifice and hypocrisy. Much of her social structure crumbles all around her the more she has to confront Lothos and her fear of being slain by him as her past slayer reincarnations have in the past.
“Buffy” feels a lot like Whedon is lying down the template for what works and what doesn’t. Whedon is very smart to include a strong base of supporting characters in the television series later on, rather than making the journey of Buffy Summers something she has to endure alone. Part of what makes Buffy’s own mission to fight and slay the vampire lord Lothos engaging is her realization of a warrior thanks to her watcher and mentor Merrick, as played Donald Sutherland. As well there’s the charming romance that she forms with bad boy Pike, as played by nineties teen heartthrob Luke Perry.
1992’s version of “Buffy” is lighter on the misogyny in regards to Buffy’s legacy, depicting as Buffy as a reincarnation of past female vampire slayers, rather than one in a long line of various female vampire slayers for every generation. Buffy is a self obsessed young girl who bases her life on school dances and her boyfriend, and is confused as to why she keeps having dreams about battling a vicious vampire and his minions. Every dreams ends with her losing the battle to the vicious Lothos, as played with wry self awareness by Rutger Hauer.
“Buffy” is a pretty great vampire film, but also a great coming of age film, and a very funny comedy. It manages to inspire inspire a hearty laugh or two, and evokes some very solid menace here and there. Take the scene when Pike becomes aware of the vampire infestation and his best friend also being turned by Amilyn Pike’s boss Zeph asks “What do you want me to do if I see Benny?” Pike sternly warns, “Run.”
Paul Reubens is a highlight and a great balance to the teen antics, portraying a memorable vampire minion who is both very creepy but hilarious. As Amilyn, he works overtime on building Lothos’ new vampire army, concocted ironically of vapid teens from around Buffy’s hometown. Reubens can look both creepy and be funny, which is quite a feat, especially when the movie doesn’t dodge how deadly the vampires here can be. One of my favorite lines is when Amilyn loses his arm and proclaims “You ruined my favorite jacket. Kill him a lot.”
When he accidentally loses his arm while fighting Pike, the characters have no shortage of hysterical insults and comebacks for him. Reubens also gets some banner comedy moments including his long drawn out death scene when he’s staked by Buffy in the finale. “Buffy” initially drew a lot of criticism for being such a hackneyed production, and not entirely embracing the flipping of horror genre tropes that Whedon enthusiastically encouraged with his premise of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
A lot of the improv works (I love Stephen Root as the principal handing out detention slips to the dead vampires), as the film features memorable walk on roles from noted comedic actors. All the while the primary narrative eventually circles around to a pretty excellent showdown in climax as the vampires raid the homecoming dance, forcing Buffy to take on Lothos’ entire army single handedly.
Like most things, pop culture is cyclical and many movies, TV shows, et al. by virtue of time are either tossed away for good, or appreciated in a new dimension, and with a new generation. Thankfully “Buffy” has become a minor cult classic, and for good reason. Despite the sags and flaws here and there, I love it. It’s a great horror comedy with a slew of great performances by Luke Perry, Paul Reubens, David Arquette, Donald Sutherland, and of course Kristy Swanson, respectively.
She’s not only curvaceous, and sexy, but she’s also a scene stealer and carries the film when she has to. If you’re a hardcore fan of the TV series, accept it as an alternate reality tale of Buffy Summers and just enjoy it. If you’re just a respective horror geek with no attachment to the TV series, give it a shot, and revel in the fun nineties aesthetic and clever meshing of various sub-genres and horror elements.