THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992)
Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui
Ask a group of geeks to name a writer whose work they appreciate, and a good number of them will probably say Joss Whedon. His unique style has earned him a lot of respect over the years, but his greatest claim to faim has to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show debuted in 1997 on the WB Network, and over the course of seven seasons, it turned Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar into stars while becoming a pop culture powerhouse by inspiring novels, comic books, action figures, video games, and its own spinoff TV show. But once upon a time, there was a version of Buffy was not the television juggernaut that it was at the end of the '90s. In the summer of 1992, 20th Century Fox introduced the world to the title character via her own motion picture, the existence of which I'm sure Whedon would love the world to forget. Instead of the dark yet ultra-witty Buffy that was popularized through the show, the movie is instead a goofy comedy that really bears no resemblance at all to the now-classic TV show that followed it.
Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) is your stereotypical early-90s Valley Girl. She's a dimwitted, self-centered cheerleader whose primary concerns are shopping, boys, and hanging out with her dimwitted, self-centered cheerleader friends. Her only goals in life are to "graduate from high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die." All that is brought to a screeching halt when she's confronted by Merrick (Donald Sutherland), who informs her that she is the next in a long line of young women chosen by destiny to kill vampires.
Naturally, she's skeptical. If some weird British guy came up to you and told you that you were destined to kill bloodsucking hell-spawn from beyond the grave, you'd probably think he was crazy too. Anyway, Merrick convinces Buffy that he's not some loony old man, and at his request, she accompanies him to the graveyard so he can explain this whole vampire slaying thing to her. Some vampires appear and get killed, and after some initial reluctance, Buffy begins to accept her role as a vampire slayer while Merrick assumes the role of her mentor.
Buffy eventually crosses paths with Pike (Luke Perry), a mechanic who looks like he's the reincarnation of James Dean circa Rebel Without A Cause. The two form a partnership after she rescues him from a gang of vampires, and when they chase a vampire into a stockyard full of parade floats, they encounter the vampire king Lothos (Rutger Hauer) and his one-armed sidekick Amilyn (Paul Reubens). Merrick shows up and tries to prevent a Buffy/Lothos showdown, claiming that Buffy isn't ready to fight him yet. Lothos doesn't want to leave without fighting somebody, so he snatches Merrick's stake and stabs him in the heart with it. A vampire killing a guy with a tool intended to kill vampires, that's so poetic. Buffy starts to back out of the slaying business after Merrick's death, but just when she thinks she's out, they pull her back in. Buffy and Pike share a moment at a high school dance when a posse of vampires crash the party. While Pike deals with the vamps wreaking havoc on the dance, Buffy heads for the school boiler room to duel with Lothos and Amilyn, a duel that leads to a final showdown between Buffy and Lothos on the dance floor.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer is an 86-minute joke that just isn't funny. The humor isn't funny, the horror isn't scary, and the acting is awful. Joss Whedon's original script was heavily rewritten, and if I were him, I'd have asked for an "Alan Smithee" credit. The jokes are mediocre at best (though I got a good laugh out of Amilyn's never-ending death throes at the end of the movie), and its attempts at horror fall flat. I figure I might as well just break my complaint down into more specific categories. First up, the acting. The only real performances I actually enjoyed were Paul Reubens (who you may recognize as Pee Wee Herman) and David Arquette as Pike's vampire friend Benny. I wanted to get into Luke Perry's character, but he just kept giving off this weird "hey, remember me? I'm on 90210 and I'm so darn cool" vibe. If the movie was made now, it'd be a "hey, remember me? I was on 90210 and I'm a washed-up nobody now" vibe, but that's beside the point. Meanwhile, Kristy Swanson's ditzy Valley Girl routine was absolutely annoying, to the point where it was rough to watch the movie. The only good thing I can say about her is that after a while, Movie Buffy didn't seem as distant and self-important as Television Buffy. And I think that Rutger Hauer and Donald Sutherland realized the potential the movie had to be awful, but had different stances on what to do. Sutherland downplays everything to the point where it seems like he's saying "this sucks, just give me my paycheck so I can leave." On the other hand, Hauer hams it up like crazy, hitting almost every possible villain cliché he can, right down to having a conversation with the hero when he has the chance for victory. I almost expected Reubens to pull a "Seth Green in Austin Powers" and say, "Look, let me get a gun and shoot her, and save us some time." Usually I comment on film scores, but Carter Burwell's score was nearly nonexistent. Not once do I remember hearing anything but dumb early-90s dance and pop/rock numbers. Outside of songs by Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest singer Rob Halford, there really isn't any good music in the movie. Besides, who puts a Divinyls song in a movie and expects to be taken seriously? The Divinyls suck!
If you're looking to get into the "Buffyverse," you'd be well-advised to just avoid the movie and start with the first season of the TV show because it follows different rules than the movie (in the movie, vampires can fly and don't turn to dust when killed). However, the movie does have the novelty of featuring a Buffy that isn't Sarah Michelle Gellar. Overall, I'll give Buffy The Vampire Slayer two stars. Some cool moments, but other than that, it's just empty.
Final Rating: **