Before Sarah Michele Gellar, Kristy Swanson brought Joss Whedon's iconic vampire slaying heroine to the silver screen. Does this 90s relic hold up to scrutiny sans nostalgia? listen to our latest episode to find out.
Artwork by Dusting Goebel (@dgoebel00 on Instagram)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, before she was an iconic television heroine was first found on the silver screen starring Kristy Swanson. Considering this movie is 30 years old, I’m not sure many people remember it, let alone the WB television show. However, Joss Whedon, it’s writer is well known, having written and directed some of the highest grossing films of all time in the last decade.
Buffy in this film is the stereotypical Valley Girl of the 90s. The type that opened Sir Mix a Lot’s hit single of the same year “I Like Big Butts”. She is vapid, dumb, and flaky. When an infestation of vampires begin to invade LA and her high schools Hawthorne High, a mysterious man in a trench coat named Merrick shows up. Merrick informs Buffy that she has been chosen to be the latest in a long line of vampire hunters throughout history. Buffy has no interest, but she finds she has a natural knack for Slaying. She decides to team up with Merrick and train so that she can defeat Lothos, the ancient vampire that is the leader of the cause of the recent uptick in vampire activity.
Review of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
I have a lot of nostalgia for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watched it several times in the 90s as a prepubescent little fat kid. I remember it having some iconic performances and moments, but upon checking the Rotten Tomatoes critics score, it sits at 36%. Was I so out of touch? No, it’s the critics who are wrong.
Watching it yesterday, I tried to put off nostalgia and be unbiased. It has some good bones. There are some great performances and Joss Whedon’s writing does shine through, but it is bogged down by poor direction.
Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Rubens, Rutger Hauer, and Luke Perry all bring the appropriate amount of gravitas and goofiness that the high concept screenplay demands.
The dialogue is top notch, creating compelling characters while placing it squarely in 90s LA. Where it has problems is when it comes to establishing stakes (no pun intended) and establishing the lore in a compelling way. This is often blamed on changes made to Joss Whedon’s original script, which resulted in him walking away from the set halfway through production. In a comic book series called Buffy the Vampire Slayer The Origin, you can read the original vision Joss Whedon had for the film. It really is nearly identical except for a few key scenes.
Where the film starts to fall apart is the choppy and sometimes confusing editing and direction. It’s clear that the studio and/or director wanted to de-emphasize the darker elements of the story and focus more on the light hearted comedic aspects. What they didn’t understand is that those dark moments help to sell the comedy and make it a much more compelling film if executed right.
The stakes are never truly established, because we’re never shown that Buffy particularly cares about her school or any of her other similarly vapid friends. We are given scant details of the main villain, and when the main confrontations occur, they seem arbitrary and rushed.
In the end, while it still holds a special place in my heart, I can see the flaws in the movie, and it’s just aight.