Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) 3.14/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 69.7
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui
Stars: Kristy Swanson, Paul Reubens , Donald Sutherland

Original and hugely enjoyable tongue in cheek teen vampire flick which began a television phenomenon. Kristy Swanson stars as the ditsy high school cheerleader who discovers she’s destined to be a slayer of vampires while Donald Sutherland stars as the crusty old mentor sent to whip her into shape. Luke Perry is the layabout who falls in with the slayer while Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens form an unlikely but irresistibly funny double act as the slayer’s ancient vampire enemies.

First thing’s first. This film is not meant to be taken seriously in the slightest way as it is an experiment in movie fun from start to finish. A young Joss Whedon wrote the script and his quick jibing wit is all over the dialogue. However, it has been said, he was far from happy with general tone of the film and it’s not difficult to see why because outside of the dialogue, the writing (i.e., character and plot development) is missing his preferred blend of sombre tones and irreverent comedy. In its place is a wacky and uniquely skewed sense of improvisation. Controversial as it may be to claim in these days of Whedon-mania, that may not be the worst thing in the world. With the exception of his sublime foray into science fiction in the shape of the peerless Firefly, Whedon’s take on the horror genre can be decidedly precious and it can become bogged down by a very idiosyncratic, uninspired, and just plain stiff notion of evil. The television series of Buffy The Vampire Slayer which Whedon did maintain control over is a testament to this as many of the evil-doers whom Buffy ended up confronting season after season were all rather bland and really just became vehicles for the actor playing them to stick their personalities into 5th gear for 14 straight episodes. Worse still was the earnestness which he seemed to treat the conveyor belt of Buffy’s emotional dilemmas. An earnestness which just flat out did not gel with the comedic ambitions of the show. That director Fran Rubel Kuzui went a different way with the feature film is therefore quite refreshing and offers us a much more fun and imaginative take on what remains a fairly daft but engaging concept.

The key to the Kuzui’s success is the licence he gave the actors. There’s an overtly wide degree of freedom to improvise afforded the likes of Hauer and Reubens in particular and it results in a tantalising energy whenever they are on screen. Hauer’s delivery is particularly halting given its sheer eccentricity and the quality of the dialogue they were playing with. Paul Reubens as his hysterical henchman (whose death scene alone makes this worth the watching) runs his own little side-show that offers less improvisation but more outright comedic skill.

However, for all the uniqueness of the bad guys, it’s still the three good guys that give Buffy its charm. Perry is surprisingly enjoyable as the rebel without a clue and he seems to relish the opportunity to turn his then slightly noxious Beverly Hills 90210 character on its head. Moreover, he and Swanson share an easy chemistry which gives their romantic angle more substance than most. Swanson and Sutherland are even better together and given the age gap between the two, they play off each other extremely well. It’s great fun listening to your typical 1990′s LA teenager trying to make sense of the world which this strange man is introducing her to through her crass but charming rich girl mentality and it sets the scene for many a witty repartee as Sutherland’s beleaguered and world weary trainer gives as good as he gets.

With such loose directorial control, the film can come off a little clunky at times. The cuts can come too slow and the sound mixer seemed as confused by the film’s overall eccentricity as the audience was. However, the payoff is certainly worth it, because it resulted in a movie every bit as playful as the television series that followed it but with none of the overcooked earnestness. “You ruined my jacket! Kill him a lot.”

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