Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
WRITER: Joss Whedon
DIRECTOR: Fran Rubel Kuzui
STARRING: Kristy Swanson as Buffy
Donald Sutherland as Merrick
Paul Reubens as Amilyn
Rutger Hauer as Lothos
Luke Perry as Pike
David Arquette as Benny
QUICK CUT: Seriously? I gotta tell you what this is about? Fine. A totally typical California girl discovers she is the chosen one, destined to slay the vampires, and look good doing it.
Buffy - Like I said, your typical California girl. Take all the blonde bimbo stereotypes, and call them Buffy. But then give her a destiny, a reason for being, and a good writer, and you get something more.
Pike - Buffy's love interest, once she wanders away from her boyfriend. He defines bad boy. He's unmotivated, uneducated, works in a garage, and spends all his time making fun of the local rich people.
Merrick - Buffy's Watcher, the mentor who will teach her how to fight, how to survive, and actually give her a personality along the way. But otherwise, your typical mentor role, complete with all that comes with.
Lothos - The big bad vampire. Alive for hundreds, if not thousands of years, he has killed many Slayers before Buffy. He has no real motivation beyond chaos and killing slayers. He's a bit of a fop, and way over the top, but then, they did hire Rutger Hauer. Hopefully they insured the scenery.
THE GUTS: Well, this is going to be a tough movie to do. But it fits, in so many ways. It is a horror movie, all the tropes are there. It's pretty bad, when all is sad and done. It's cheesy. And yet, the movie comes pre-snarked. Do you know how hard it is to poke fun at a movie that doesn't take itself seriously? So I've decided to ignore the humour, because even beyond that, a lot of this movie just does not work.
Anyways, Buffy opens up SO VERY SERIOUS, with some background on the Slayer lines, and looking like the set and costumes were supplied by my old high school drama club. Which do not help the seriousness. When the set looks as wobbly as Doctor Who, it is hard to take these dire words to heart. The tone is broken when the sacred stake of the proto-Buffy smash-cuts into a pom pom, and we're suddenly in a modern day high school gym with some cheerleaders.
After the gratuitous cheer routine over the credits, we slide along to, where else? A mall. And we quickly establish that Buffy is your typical valley girl, with typical airheaded concerns. Looks, boys, clothes, not caring a bit about classes... Yep, she is completely ordinary and normal.
It looks like Kristy Swanson may have lost a few brain cells when they removed BB's chip from our previous review, as she's playing the titular heroine, and very much your typical cheerleader.
The girls get interrupted by Keifer's dad, probably wanting the Slayer to take care of his own son's vampiric ways. They stare at the overly serious guy who overdressed for California, and make fun of him, as high school girls can tend to do. He just kinda stands and stares blankly at these children and their bizarre ways.
Next, they head over to the theatre to be annoying there as well, and they inconvenience Dylan, who wandered over from his own zip code to play in this movie.
After that, Buffy runs into her jock boyfriend, and friends. One of the basketball players heads off to walk home from there, for no other reason than he needs to die at the hands of Pee-Wee Vampire.
Back in the overly serious Dark Ages, where they have yet to discover humour, cell phones, or combs, we see the proto-Slayer fighting a vampire. And the movie takes a tick upwards as Rutger Hauer finally shows up as the vampire lord, Lothos. Just a small tick though, since this is a brief flashback, and he wears a terribly dodgy fake beard. And when he's not chewing necks, he's chewing scenery.
Fortunately, Buffy awakens from her Rutger-fueled nightmare before her dad can come in and spurt blood out of a flower vase jammed into his chest.
I think the biggest problem with movie Buffy, is that they surrounded her with people who were EXACTLY like her. There's no variety, they're all airhead cheerleaders. At least on tv, they had a wide array of characters that formed the Scoobies. We eventually get around to different character types, but too much of the time we spend with the Clueless Crew.
Later, the girls head out to a local hangout, where Dylan and Duey show up again, and the witty banter begins. Oh, if only. Joss had still to yet perfect his banter, or it was butchered in rewrites. Either way, this is difficult to listen to. I am so very amused at Buffy making fun of Pike's name, saying it's *not* a name. But a fish. Yeah, because Joss *never* names people after objects.
We at least start to get a sense of Buffy's hidden abilities when Benny comes over with a sexually suggestive hot dog that she slices up with a knife in short order.
The two drunken losers wander off into the hills to drink some more. Dylan passes out, and Duey gets vamped by Pee Wee. And let's take a moment to marvel at Paul Ruebens, who went from an entertaingly weird kids show host, to being just a little bit scary here. A good use of an underrated actor. He keeps it fairly restrained. At least during this part of the film. We'll come back to this later.
Finally, things start to bubble along as Sutherland decides to properly enter the plot and introduce himself to Buffy as her Watcher. Of course, he does this by trying to kill her, but there's worse ways to meet a new friend.
This is one of the rare moments in the movie where the clashing of tones absolutely works. Merrick is dead serious. He is straight out of a Hammer horror movie. Over the top in just how serious he is, expositiory, all that good stuff. Buffy is...well, c'mon. The name alone. This works because of the jarring shift. It is Buffy's world beginning to show signs of crumbling around the edges. It works as a metaphor for the real world starting to creep into a senior's life as high school draws to an end.
Moments like this are where the movie absolutely works. This tone and metaphor is what Whedon brought to the tv show. And is why that worked so well. Again, I don't know if it was Joss still finding his feet, or just the process of making a movie that steamrolled the idea, but at least a few times, the intent came through.
But back to the actual plot, naturally Buffy wants nothing to do with her birthright, doing her best to ignore it and walk away, like any good teenager does. Push the real world away as long as possible.
Anyways, Merrick asks Buffy about her dreams, and he tells her things about the past Slayer lives she has dreamed about that no one should know, IF they're only dreams. She starts to believe him, at least long enough to learn a little more. And go to a graveyard.
They wait and watch as a dead student rises from the grave. Merrick tries to stop him, but gets caught off guard. Buffy tries to help, but gets grabbed by another vampire, until she kicks her in the face, and quickly stakes the two of them.
Meanwhile at Pike's, Benny shows up to try and get an invite in now that he's been vamped. It takes the half-asleep Pike some time to notice Benny's trying to come in through a second story window, though. This scene is fun, but is hurt by Arquette's over the topness. It's funny how many actors go so over the top in this movie, and telling which ones can get away with it, or know how far to go. But with everyone being that way makes it so no one is special.
For a while, from this point, the humour is mostly relegated to Buffy's normal life, and the darkness to her new superhero-like existence. It helps to flesh out the differences between the two worlds she's a part of. There's still some bleed over, because she's Buffy, and they eventually clash, but giving some clearly defined styles to her two worlds also helps.
Later, Buffy's finishing up cheer practice, when Merrick shows up to find out why she didn't show up to slay practice. They have it out, and both list many reasons why Buffy can't be The Chosen One. Merrick agrees, and tests her by throwing a knife at her head.
The knife embeds itself in her face, and Merrick goes in search of the real slayer. Wait wait wait, I apologise, that's not right.
Seriously let's think this through. Um, what if he had been wrong? What if she wasn't the slayer? What if the often mentioned fact that she has received zero training actually dulled her slayer instincts to the point that she did NOT catch the knife, as I posit above? This could have gone wrong in a million different ways.
Sure, you could say he was sure it wouldn't kill her, but you can never be COMPLETELY sure. Geeze, Merrick.
Fortunately, Buffy reacts in much the same why as I am, granting Merrick the WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?! award. Once she gets everything out of her system, and punches Merrick in the face, the plot continues forward with a training montage.
There's another nice scene, after Pike tries to get the hell out of Dodge. Merrick and Buffy are just relaxing, and talking. There aren't enough scenes like these in movies. This is good character work, and you get a chance to see some of Buffy's depths. And Merrick makes a joke. The pair of them actually bond here, despite one having tried to kill the other.
Pike tries to make good his escape, but his van doesn't want to cooperate. And neither do the vampires that show up to stop him. Pee Wee jumps on the van as it drives off, and Pike drives around some woods trying to shake him. Finally, the van crashes into the trees, and Pike has to confront the bloodsuckers face to fang, and poor Pee Wee loses an arm in the crash.
Fortunately, Buffy shows up, and fortunately Pike's guitar broke and she can use the splinters as improvised stakes. But unfortunately, Pee Wee disappeared somewhere in the editing.
Later, Buffy is cheering at a basketball game, when the jock who got bit oh so long ago shows up to play, and no one notices anything awry. Not even Buffy. Not even with funky ears, face, and fangs. Not until he starts slam dunking and floating to the floor. There's a great moment where Buffy looks to Merrick for what to do, and he just glances back with this great expression that totally sums up, "Fuck if I know."
Vampboy runs away, and Buffy gives chase on a motorcycle, since he knows who she is, and can lead Lothos to the slayer for killing and stuff. They pass Pike and he joins in the chase, like he has a clue what to do.
They all end up in an old amusement park, and some friends show up to hold Buffy down. Fortunately, it's Pike's turn to save the day and stakes the jock, making the others run and hide somewhere.
Lothos appears and draws Buffy in with his gaze. Merrick finally shows up but is stopped before he can do anything. Pike tries to confront Pee Wee, but just gets tossed onto a pile of garbage. Yeah, not doing too well here, guys.
The head vamp tries to take Buffy, and Merrick again tries to stake him. But instead, Lothos turns Mr. Pointy onto its holder, and shoves it into the very human heart of the Watcher. He dies there, as the vampires leave, saying Buffy is not ready yet. I guess Lothos likes a challenge with his underage girls. Unlike certain vampires who will remain nameless, and sparkly...
Buffy tries to explain what's going on, and her weird behaviour to her friends at school, but that's like trying to explain the scoio-political ramifactions of a coup in Somalia to...well, to her friends. With Merrick gone, and Buffy's life in shambles, she decides to go to the big dance, despite everything going to hell.
Pike and Buffy yell it out, but Benny was hiding nearby and overhears them, so now he knows Slayer equals Buffy. He runs home to Daddy Vampbucks and squeals. Pee Wee wants to end things now, but Lothos would rather wait and be all theatrical, killing her at the dance.
Buffy heads to the dance, finds her boyfriend is an ex-boyfriend and came with someone else, but fortunately Dylan shows up, and shows that he cleans up pretty well when he wants. Yay, they can resolve their sexual tension now.
Things start to take a mushy turn, but thankfully the vampires show up to crash the party. Whew. Buffy does the typical thing about them being invited, but it turns out since many of them are seniors, they ARE invited...which all is a moot point, being a public building? But since they just stand at the door and don't come in...I don't know. Ahh, vague rules.
Buffy runs outside to take care of some vamps, but just punches and kicks a lot of them, until she runs into Pee Wee. Back in the gym, vamps are running all over, getting staked as best the kids can, and...wait, could they come in or not? Come on, movie.
Meanwhile, away from the cannon fodder, Buffy is still fighting Pee Wee until Lothos arrives to play him off stage. Buffy plunges a stake into the right hand man's chest. He dies. Slowly. And hilariously. The fact that his death takes so long is just...we've all seen the scene. You either love the camp, or you don't. I'd like to think Buffy's confrontation and attempts to kill Dracula in the tv show were a bit of a nod to this moment.
Pike accidentally takes out the power, making the music stop, and somehow this all ties back into something Merrick said, that may or may not be prophetic? This isn't THAT clear, and the writing and acting don't really carry off whatever they're trying to sell here. Either way, Buffy starts to fight back after briefly being enthralled by Lothos.
There's some more fun bits here. Lothos mocking Buffy's speech patterns, hilarious by Rutger Hauer. Buffy being creative and being herself in how she fights. Good stuff, and typical of Whedon.
Buffy rushes to the gym and sees the uh school um...pretty much took care of itself, as Lothos, with a not very charred head, shows up with a sword and threats. The slayer sees a flagpole, does some backflips over to it, and uses it to keep the vampire king at bay.
The fight goes along at a nice pace, Pike jumps in to do his part, but that doesn't amount to much more than holding onto the bucking Hauer ride for a whole five seconds.
Buffy tries to grab every wodden object she can see, and eventually uses a broken chair leg to finish off Lothos once and for all.
With the bad guy dead, Buffy wakes up Pike, and the movie ends as the couple dance into the sunset, and a little more snarky Whedony dialogue.
Video: Hollywood production with a budget and studio behind it, so it looks decent enough for the time, for something that wasn't really looked over too much before going to DVD. A few quality issues, but understandable ones.
Audio: A decent enough stereo mix for the movie, it doesn't need full surround, but it might've been nice.
Sound Bite: "I've never hit anyone before!" "Really? Well you did it perfectly." Classic Whedon, from Buffy and Merrick.
Body Count: 1 - 7:50, off camera, a jock gets vamped.
2 - Benny dies from a Pee Wee bite.
3 - A vamp gets dusted when he rises from the grave for a few minutes.
4 - Another vampire that joined him in rebirth, and in death.
5 & 6 - Two more vampires get staked saving Pike.
7 - Jock dies again at the hands of Pike.
8 - Merrick by his own stake thanks to Lothos.
9 - Benny get eletrocutionaled.
10 - Pee Wee, eventually.
??? - Lots of vamps die in the gym. YOU count them, damnit.
Best Corpse: Reubens gets points for humour, but I'll give the award to Merrick, for going out with class.
Blood Type - F+: There is barely a drop in this movie, and the effects are pretty lame on top of that.
Sex Appeal: Not much to write home about.
Movie Review: Oh, so hard. So bad. There are, as I pointed out, moments of brilliance. You see what they wanted to do. But there's nothing much here worth noting. Anything that the movie tried to do, about female empowerment, the tv show does ten times better. The directing isn't particularly noteworthy, the writing is subpar, especially for Whedon, the acting is cheesy, although that's partly deliberate. This was a good idea that misfired on almost all cylinders, for so many possible reasons. Two out of five stakes.
Entertainment Value: But the camp value saves it. This movie is almost worth watching for the historical context alone. Watching Hauer and Ruebens is also worth the price of admission. It fails as a good movie, but is decent enough for a bad one. Sure, it's not as goofy as some other things reviewed, but the good and bad balance out to something more or less watchable, if it will make you wince often. The influence of the movie, and Buffy in general is all over the world, this site, and even this review. If you haven't seen it...well, probably best not to, and jump towards the television show instead for all the good stuff that this movie tries, and it does better. But if you're curious to see how things were tried first, well...have fun, and you've been warned. The movie is a lot worse than I remember it, but it does have those saving graces, and it has a few cool scenes. Three out of five slow agonising death moans.