A review by Nalini Haynes
Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui
Writer: Joss Whedon
Stars: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry
Watch this if you liked: Buffy and Angel (because this is where they began, not because this is as good as Buffy and Angel); cheesy horror flicks
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5 stars
Why am I watching such an old movie, you ask.
Because later this year I will receive a Joss Whedon book from New South Books; I thought I’d revisit some old faves to pave the way for reading the biography.
This morning I had an editing test, worth 25% of my overall grade. This afternoon I returned home, headachy, tired and cranky. I wanted something light to watch. I put on Buffy.
Buffy, a blonde senior at Hemley High School in sunny LA, terrorizes the not-so-wealthy with her inane chatter and Queen B— (definitely not ‘bee’) put downs. Her Royal Highness’s subjects circle around, vying for coolness and attention when they’re not being sycophants. (Or is that psychophants?)
There was the Incident of the Yellow Leather Jacket. Buffy thought she’d buy said jacket; one friend said it was ‘so yesterday’ then bought it claiming it was retro. Later the loss of the jacket was more a cause for grief than the loss of the person wearing said jacket.
Oh, yes. Did I mention that, after establishing that this is your typical high school movie (think Valley Girl, Breakfast Club, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion — I did say ‘typical high school movie’, right?) a wolf howls.
Some jock with a letter walks through a closed carnival after dark, spooked by noises in the night. Big strong boy is watched by very pale dude having a bad hair day (Paul Reubens — aka Pee-Wee Herman — playing Amilyn). Big strong boy is never seen alive again. News reports say he was found with a ‘big hickey’.
Other people disappear.
Teenagers continue living their lives, neither noticing nor caring that their friends have disappeared — until the loss of The Yellow Leather Jacket, which was more a cause for mourning than all the friends before.
Donald Sutherland shows up. He’s a strange old guy who could have crossed the line into becoming a creepy old guy — no, wait, he did that when he lurked in the girl’s locker room where Buffy was about to strip down to change into her cheerleading outfit.
We learn DS’s name is Merrick. Merrick lures Buffy into the graveyard to show her that period-like cramps are how she’ll be able to track down vampires, because being distracted by debilitating cramps are the only way the Vampire Slayer can track vampires.
Merrick wants to teach Buffy how to become the Slayer, giving her all the training she needs. Buffy’s switch from Queen B— to Slayer trainee was rather swift; NAY! it was a deus ex machina. One second she was like “Go away, I want to finish high school, travel to Europe and marry Christian Slater then die” and the next she was doing standing somersaults in the gym. At least, her body double was doing somersaults.
An incredibly young Luke Perry plays Pike, a bit of a rebel who sits behind Buffy and the Buffettes (Buffet?) at the cinema, mouthing off because the girls were disrupting the movie like THOSE people you loathe at the cinema. (Unless YOU are THOSE people, in which case, people like me tell you to STFU.)
The final most significant figure in Buffy is Lothos, the Slayer’s hereditary nemesis, played by Rutger Hauer (Bladerunner, The Tenth Kingdom). He seems to be wearing a terrible blonde wig while alternating between bloodless lips and bloody lipstick. Our first full-length view of Lothos is as he descends, floating, displaying his traditional vampire cape to full camp effect.
Seeing the difference between the movie and the TV series is fascinating: the vampires are completely reworked. Obviously the creative team — Joss Whedon, the Kuzuis and more worked on both the movie and the TV series — made significant changes in style. The vampires lose the strange ears, bloody lipstick and bad hair (well, a lot of them lose the bad hair) but gain ‘game face’ (an overhanging sculpted brow), keeping the teeth but varying their style. In the movie, vampires are played for comedy and comedy alone. In the TV series Buffy is less a comedy and more an action/drama with a strong comedic element.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Girls talk to one another about clothes and the senior dance and environmental issues like the ozone layer (gotta get rid of the ozone layer). There are also a surprising number of colored people in what could have been a ‘white’ movie. White people are a majority but colored people are everywhere: attending school; cheerleading; in the Buffettes; walking down the street; in the cinema. It’s great to see a 1992 movie leading the way, demonstrating that it can be done. 22 years later, I’m wondering when someone else is going to notice.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t overly successful at the cinemas when it was released but it’s became a cult classic. Joss Whedon, the writer, took a cinema flop and turned it into a 7-year TV classic with a spinoff series, Angel, a comic book franchise and more. Part of the reason for Buffy‘s sleeper success is that it’s a cheesy horror movie. These actors are capable of far greater performances; watching their stilted performances, their poses (they’re poseurs?), we know this affected style is deliberate, accentuated by the cheesy lines. Watch Buffy from an anthropological perspective, a historical perspective or just because you like cheesy horror.