An undead scourge has emerged from the dark alleyways and moonlit cemeteries. An evil lurking in the shadows of a Los Angeles suburb, ready to terrorize its unassuming inhabitants. Only Buffy, head cheerleader at Hemery High School, has the power to stop them. But in order to do this, she must make the ultimate sacrifice and give up her carefree valley girl lifestyle. Boys, the mall, dreams of moving to Europe and marrying Christian Slater, these are the cares of ordinary socialite teens but Buffy is no ordinary teen. She is a Slayer, chosen to do battle with the rising vampire threat.
The year was 1992. A tumultuous time for a budding young decade desperately struggling to form an identity of its own. The 80’s had played host to a new era of horror but all of that was drastically changing. Like hair metal and synthesizers, the horror genre was now passe. A relic of the past. We were trading in our leather jackets for flannel and our cheesy slashers for socially aware youth character studies. Backstage at that years MTV Video Music Awards Nirvana and Guns n’ Roses came to near blows, perfectly exemplifying the cultural shift. Meanwhile Doug Bradley appeared as Pinhead alongside Dana Carvey in a comedic send-up of the hell priest.
A Slayer Rises
It was during this confused moment in history that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was born. A film whose flash-in-the-pan, trend of the week status would soon be elevated and then out-shined by its own legacy. The vampire hunting heroine received her somewhat unceremonious introduction to future fans on July 31st, 1992. The film was directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui and starred Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry. Despite a well written script and competent cast, the film lacked a clear identity. It wouldn’t be until four years later when the film’s titular character found her way to the small screen that the story would find its footing. Unhappy with the 1992 film, writer Joss Whedon had essentially given up on his wooden stake wielding heroin. It wasn’t until network executive Gail Berman contacted the fledgling writer that the character found new life. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series was picked up by The WB network and the rest is history.
While the film is often criticised by fans of the tv series for not accurately representing Whedon’s vision, it is still beloved by many a genre film fanatic. To celebrate the anniversary of the film’s release, we’re going to take a look at all the ways the film is better than the series. Here are five ways that the Buffy the Vampire Slayer film out-slays the series. Let’s kick off this controversial listicle with the film and television series’ titular character, Buffy.
Short for Elizabeth, the name Buffy was popular among socialite classes during the 1960’s and 70’s. By the 1980’s, with its encoded meaning of privilege, it had essentially become a parody of itself. Today you’re more likely to meet a Shih Tzu named Buffy than an actual human being.
In the film, Buffy fits her namesakes stereotype perfectly. Like in any good story, the protagonist must face challenges, conquer obstacles, and ultimately change as a person. The vacuous SoCal cheerleader presents a clear, possibly cliche, starting point for Buffy’s character arc. Her only goals in life are to graduate high school, move to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die. She spends her free time at the mall and has little concern for anyone but herself. Her socialite parents are distant and have little interest in their daughter’s life. After meeting Merrick, a Watcher tasked with preparing the new Slayer for vampiric combat, Buffy is forced to re-evaluate her life. Confronted by her fate, she must leave behind her world of privilege to become a Slayer, selflessly risking everything for the greater good.
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Set after the events of the film, Buffy of the television series has already completed her character arc. She’s gone from cheerleader to Slayer but has left surprisingly little evidence of this internal conflict. Raised by a caring single mother in a modest suburban home, Buffy seems far removed from her entitled past. Early on in the series she maintained some of her valley girl verbiage but it wasn’t long before writers began to slowly phase it out. This ignores the character’s beginnings, flattening her arc, and it eliminates the story’s over arching theme.
2. THE METAPHOR
Uncle Ben once said to Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility”. I don’t think he knew Peter was Spider-Man so what he probably meant was, “quit dicking around and get a job!” Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a horror-comedy that operates on a similar superhero origin theme…growing up is hard. There’s even a scene where vampire-king Lothos says to Buffy, “It’s time to put away childish things”! In another ham-fisted scene Buffy says “everything you thought was crucial seems so stupid.” Well, for you younger readers out there, I’m afraid this is what growing up is all about. While few of us become vampire hunters, many of us get jobs, pay bills, buy groceries, raise cats and sometimes something even more terrifying than vampires…children! There are elements of this metaphor present in the TV series but without Buffy’s full character arc, it doesn’t have the same weight.
One might argue that the metaphor in the film is too heavy-handed and the series works on a more subtle level but is there really anything subtle about the title Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Not really, and this brings us to our next point.
Imagine you just snagged a copy of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama on VHS from your local thrift store. Let’s also pretend you’ve never seen it. Based on the title, you’ll probably have certain expectations as you pop the cassette into your VCR, as you should. You’re probably not expecting Schindler’s List or Sophie’s Choice. Nor would you expect dark drama from a film titled Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While the TV series has its moments of humor, it lacks the lightheartedness of the film.
The film is a time capsule of quotable, laugh-out-loud, over the top cheesiness. It’s essentially Saved By The Bell if Kelly Kapowski finally gave in to the voices and stabbed Screech through his heart.
Sandollar, Dolly Parton’s production studio, recognized this as a problem. Having bought the screenplay from Joss Whedon, changes were made to make the film less dark. This included having Merrick meet his fate at the hands of Lothos, rather than commit suicide. The original screenplay also called for Buffy to burn down her high school gym in a scene that, while referenced in the television series, was deemed too dark for the film. These changes seem reasonable given the target demographic but they were a step too far for Whedon. In addition to being upset with changes to his screenplay, Whedon also developed a strong hatred for one of the film’s stars which lead him to walk off set, never to return.
4. THE CAST
From respected thespians and cult icons to teen heartthrobs and rising stars, the film’s cast is nothing to wag a wooden stake at. While Whedon would likely disagree, it wasn’t Kristy Swanson’s less than memorable portrayal of Buffy that had the writer up in arms, it was actually respected thespian Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers). He felt that Sutherland’s interpretation of Merrick and his ad-libbed dialogue completely destroyed the movie. The film’s “big bad” also fell prey to Whedon’s spiteful criticism. Cult favorite Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, The Hitcher) plays Lothos in a performance that Whedon has described as having not destroyed the movie as much as Sutherland.
Hot off the set of Beverly Hills 90210, the film features middle-aged teen sensation Luke Perry as the damsel in distress. Perry plays Pike, a deadbeat who spends his free time getting loaded with his wasteoid buddy Benny, played by David Arquette (Scream). Their friendship hits a snag after a run-in with a vampire named Amilyn, played by the always entertaining Paul Reubens (AKA PeeWee Herman). A young Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) makes an appearance as part of Buffy’s airheaded crew as well as the Wood Tales Girl from Troll 2.
In addition to the film’s stars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer boasts some impressive background artists. Watch carefully and you might catch a glimpse of Ben Affleck, Seth Green, Ricki Lake, and Alexis Arquette.
ADS ARE SCARY
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As we arrive at #5 on our list, you may have already noticed a theme. That theme is nostalgia. Whether you saw the film in the theater, had an older sister with a crush on Luke Perry (my experience), or just love the fashion and trends of the era, you will likely agree that the nostalgia factor is strong with this film. Stonewashed jeans, brightly colored tops, Docs, Mary Janes, C&C Music Factory, The Divinyls, does the word “Duh” mean anything to you? For many children of the 80’s, this film takes us back to a special time. Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy was on the radio, we were chasing Pop Rocks with Crystal Pepsi and the most controversial topic on our minds was the console war between Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.
Back in the summer of 1992, I don’t think any of us could have predicted that 26 years later we’d still be talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If it weren’t for the popularity of the television series the film would have likely burst into a cloud of dust long ago. So as we reach the end of this controversial listicle, I think we can all agree that whether we like the film or not, we’re glad it exists. Without it we may never have gotten 7 seasons of Buffy, 5 seasons of Angel, and a comic book series.