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So Bad It’s Good #22 : Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Guilty Pleasures that we enjoyed – even though we don’t quite know why.

Movie Title : Buffy, the Vampire Slayer
Released 1992
Starring Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, Paul Reubens, Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Randall Batinkoff
Directed By Fran Zukui

What is it? : The film Joss Whedon longs to forget. Before it was a TV series – a fabbo TV series! – “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” was an economically-budgeted camp-first character-second big-screen comedy from director Fran Rubel Kuzui (“Tokyo Pop”) which Whedon penned the screenplay for. Kristy Swanson (replacing Allysa Milano at the 11th hour) played the ditzy blonde Slayer-in-training, Donald Sutherland was her accommodating ‘Watcher’ Merrick, Rutger Hauer was Buffy’s arch-rival lothos, Paul Reuben’s was Lobos’s gothic rocker-looking sidekick, and “90210” heartthrob Luke Perry was the love interest, Pike – a shoddily-dressed damsel-in-distress for Buffy to save every time someone with a pair of plastic fangs approaches. The film was an enormous failure upon release – for numerous reasons – but has developed sort of a ‘cult’ following over the years, and not necessarily from those who adore the TV series.

What’s wrong with it? Should we ask Joss Whedon that question? Nah, IGN have already done that – why bother wasting the phone call. The famed fantasy favourite told the site that Fran Kuzui, the film’s director, just didn’t share the same vision he had (which was clearly something a little darker –something more akin to what we saw in the series) but she’s not entirely to blame either. ‘’She was into the comedy of it – she didn’t want to make a B horror movie, that’s not her style. That’s her decision. That’s her right.”

Whedon also thinks Donald Sutherland, playing Buffy’s Slayer-trainer Merrick, contributed to the mess. “I believe that part of the problem was that the director was unable to control the big, fat, wannabe movie star who came – you know, the old guy… They were changing their lines and running roughshod over her and everybody else, and I’m sorry. You can’t have that. You have to have faith in the leader, and in that situation the leader has to be the director”

On the other hand, Whedon’s gone on record to say Kristy Swanson was an absolute trooper and would always ask him how she should play the character, or deliver a line (not that he felt it was his place to offer suggestions – so he didn’t) – even if she wasn’t his first choice for the role.

Personally, I think mainly the film suffers from having a terribly low budget – FOX just didn’t seem to give two shits about this film. The vampires don’t look at all vampy, when they’re staked they don’t turn to dust like in the series – they simply drop out of frame, and the big dance sequence at the end – for example – seems to have been shot with whatever money was left in the kitty after everyone chipped in for that night’s pizza; there’s like 10 extras in that scene! Isn’t it supposed to be a highschool dance!? As for the stunts and wire-work? Laughable! So bad… they’re good. Oh, but the most noticeable gaffe arising from the low-to-no budget? They couldn’t even afford to buy Kristy Swanson a bra! Her cherries are poking out from her top in near every single scene! No wonder Donald Sutherland had a smile in his face throughout most of the movie.

What’s right about it? It’s fun. It’s a great concept. And it’s terrifically cast (I actually really like Swanson in the part of Buffy, bra or no bra, and Reubens is actually very funny at times! – his death scene is priceless, and reportedly totally improvised). It’s also got a great soundtrack –featuring 90s numbers by the likes of CC Music Factory and The Divinyls.

Mostly, its ‘cheap’ look is part of its charm – it’s almost like one of Ed Wood’s movies, you can’t but laugh at what’s on screen because it’s so tacky… and cheap.

And even though Whedon’s general execution of the story has been tweaked, his lines are still there – and they’re priceless. Remember “What’s your sitch? You’re acting like the thing from another tax bracket”. Or, “Does Elvis talk to you? Does he tell you to do things? Do you see spots?” and “Merrick, you made a Joke. Are you okay? Do You want to lie down? I know it hurts the first time”.

It might also be of interest to star-spotters : Ben Affleck appears in one scene as a basketball player, Hilary Swank has a sizeable role as one of Buffy’s girl buds, and Seth Green appears on, er, the video sleeve (his scene was cut).

Bottom line : The “Buffy” movie is crap – but it’s amusing crap… and it’s crap that led the way for one of the best TV series’ of the last ten years. It deserves a little more cred.

Why is it so bad it’s good? : Because if you look at it as a cheesy C-grade ‘Ed Wood’-esque vampire movie it’s hard not to enjoy. If you look at it is a star-driven blockbuster – the intention originally – with killer effects and gripping storytelling, then you’ll be gravely disappointed. A shocking 80s movie for a 90s audience – and we, mostly, love it.


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