Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Movie) - Halloween Review Part II
Even though, I’ll admit, I haven’t seen a single episode of the show, I have definitely acknowledged the reputation that Buffy the Vampire Slayer left behind. The story of a high school girl who went through the struggles of teenage life while also going through the struggles of keeping the world safe from vampires struck a chord with its viewers during its airtime on The WB in the late 90’s, early 2000’s and left behind a cult following since then.
For that reason, it sort of cracks me up to see it start off on such a rocky grounds in the form of this movie.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the movie, pretty much has the same ingredients as the show, minus the engagement and the commitment. Written by Joss Whedon before he did the show (I’ll dive more into that soon), it opted for a more comedic approach, and more often than not, it missed more than it struck.
Here’s what the story is, for those of you who are more familiar with the show than this movie. A high school girl named Buffy went through the necessities of high school and Los Angeles with her Chatty Cathy girlfriends when she was approached by a Watcher named Merrick. He tells her that she was born to become the next Vampire Slayer and she, at first, dismissed it as crazy talk. However, around town and even school, several people started disappearing out of nowhere and some have returned more hideous and with more fangs than ever before. Once Buffy caught on to this chaos, she agreed to undergo training under Merrick‘s guidance while also trying to balance it out with her high school activities, which included cheerleading practice and staging a relevant theme for the senior prom dance. Meanwhile, a horde of vampires, who were led by Lothos, lived for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, and were responsible for the disappearances and murders in town, swarmed over it as they prepared to feast on the human flesh and blood they sought from this location.
The first problem I have with the movie was that the characters were not conveyed, nor the acting pulled off, with as much dedication as would have been needed, even for this kind of movie.
The villain, Lothos, despite benefiting from an intimidating appearance and eerie impressions here and there, felt very flat and never felt like that big a threat. All he did was drink the blood of his victims, coincidentally appear in Buffy’s dreams as her worthy opponent, and that’s it. Even the acting felt off, and it didn’t do justice to the character.
His henchman, Amilyn, played by Paul Reubens, was a little better, but even then, he was still a mixed bag. Half the time, he was more reckless than Lothos in his pursuit to feast on the poor people of LA, and whenever he launched out and attacked, it definitely made him leave behind a more intimidating impression. But in the other half, whenever he attempted to be funny, he was either too dull or too hammy. Even in the ending, *SPOILER ALERT* when he was stabbed by Buffy, he didn’t even look like he was in pain. In fact, he looked like he pretended to be in pain as he succumbed to his wounds and died, and it went on for way too long. Paul Rubens’ acting there felt so empty, I was as perplexed by all of this as Buffy herself must’ve been in this scenario.
Merrick, the Watcher, wasn’t that interesting a character or as a mentor. He simply presented himself as being unlike other people, that he knew Buffy was the Chosen One, and just showed her the ropes. It didn’t help that actor Donald Sutherland portrayed him with a low-toned voice that emphasized his more unnatural aspects, and kept it like that throughout the entire movie. That turned me off a little because Merrick said, if I'm not mistaken, that as a Watcher, he would’ve had to relive his life several times over every time a Slayer was born and needed. So, if that’s the case, wouldn’t that have made him magical? And, if that was also the case, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Merrick to express some of his magic to Buffy outside of being prophetic every now and then? But because none of that occurred here, Merrick was instead portrayed as a creepy old man who happened to have some knowledge about the invading vampires and how to prepare the next Slayer for his or her duties.
Pike felt too standard as a character, but he did have some nice bits throughout the movie. He allegedly was a social outcast because he — I don’t know, lacked all the groovy tactics or the radical attitudes that the other boys had or something. But before the vampire outbreak became common knowledge in town, he was one of the first people to have caught onto the paranormal phenomena, starting with meeting his undead friend, who, after he went missing for quite some time, came back to him as a vampire. He also caught on to Buffy’s steadily increasing role as the Vampire Slayer, which made him a decent partner/love interest for someone like Buffy. I also have to give props to the late Luke Perry here; he took his otherwise standard character and gave him elements of mellowness and even empathy. While it didn’t save his character, it still made him a skosh more interesting that way.
And finally, you have Buffy. The first time you see her, she felt like as much of a stereotypical, slang-talking valley girl as her high school peers. However, once she got set to live up to her duties as a Vampire Slayer while also trying to balance it out with her high school duties, she suddenly started to grow more confident in her abilities. Frankly, made for some nice character development on her part, and it helped that Buffy as a character was strong-willed, witty, and resilient at every turn. The movie also at least showed how she could be indifferent, yet also very different, from the other people in her social circle, as demonstrated when she tried to make amends with her friends after undergoing her Slayer practices. Out of all the actors in the movie, Kristy Swanson, while her performance was still not among the best that I’ve seen, at least gave the most committed of them. She allowed her character to be as groovy, alert, and agile as she can be, and it gave her a sense of respectability. In turn, it made Buffy, the main character, the closest thing to a saving grace this movie needed.
The premise, as you can tell so far in the review, was really not that bad. It showed promise as an engaging coming-of-age story with paranormal fun and action. But there was one thing that really dampened it, and that was the directing. This was Fran Rubel Kuzui in charge of this movie, and it seemed like he didn’t show any more commitment to his craft than the actors did with theirs. As a result, it led to some uncertain decisions being made among the actors, who clearly looked like they were trying to give it their all, and it was this lack of focus that really hurt the film.
What was more interesting than that was the behind-the-scenes drama concerning Joss Whedon, who conceptualized Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the first place. Originally, he wanted to have the movie be much darker and more dramatic, but the Fox executives requested that it become a horror comedy instead. Even Whedon’s script underwent a few changes without his approval in order to ensure it stays to that formula, and that evidently ended up hurting the film as much as the directing did. From there, the project was slowly being pulled out of Whedon’s hands, and halfway throughout the film’s production, due to the direction the film was going, he bailed out on the project in disappointment. Fortunately, he got a second chance to make Buffy the Vampre Slayer in his own way when it was made as a TV show years later, and we all know how well that paid off.
Until I finally check out the show for myself, I can say without a doubt that Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the movie, was a prime example of a missed opportunity. What would’ve been established as a good coming-of-age movie and even a solid origin movie instead was crafted as a cheesy and campy horror flick, and even then, that execution wasn’t thought through as thoroughly as it should have. As it is, of course, it’s still a harmless campy horror comedy movie that had some understanding of the engaging premise as well as some decent performances to boot. It just suffered from unfocused directing and unneeded changes to the script. If you’re seeking some nice kick-butt girl power for Halloween, this should at least pass the time. But if you’re seeking a full-fledged horror comedy that indulged in genuine frights, laughs, dedication, and passion...for me, that’s what films like Little Shop of Horrors is there for. Leave your expectations at home and sink your teeth into this with caution.
My Rating: C