Friday, March 10, 2017

It Came From the '90s: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Just the idea of a blonde-bimbo-teenage-cheerleader as vampire hunter is so ludicrously over the top that you can't help but love it. However, when the Joss Whedon-penned Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit theaters in 1992, audiences were probably not prepared for this concept. It's bizarre, subversive, and just weird enough to turn off the masses.

Years later, Whedon massaged, expanded, and improved on the Buffy mythos in his long-running television series of the same name, relegating the movie that spawned the series to a footnote. Many fans of the series don't even acknowledge the film's existence. That seems harsh. While it doesn't compare in quality or lasting impact to the series, it's still worth revisiting.

When I first saw it I thought, "What the hell is this?" It's rare for Hollywood to create a truly original concepts, but Whedon did just that with the character of Buffy. Vampire slaying, like other macho work, have historically been relegated to the males of the species. With Buffy, Whedon gives us a vacuous heroine who learns of her slayer lineage, then steps up to the plate to kick copious amounts of undead ass. Imagine Kelly Bundy as an action star.

While Buffy's transition from Valley Girl airhead to major ass-kicker happens a bit too quickly, the result is still exciting. Buffy becomes Los Angeles' only defense against the legion of bloodsuckers rampaging around town. All the while, she's also navigating the treacherous landscape of an American high school, adding another layer of metaphor and symbolism. Again, Whedon would explore all of that in greater depth during the series.

Kristy Swanson will forever be overshadowed by Sarah Michelle Gellar's 144-episode run as the slayer, which allowed Gellar to grow with the character over time. In many ways though, Swanson seems more appropriately cast as the vapid teen queen who becomes fiercely adept at wielding a stake. Fairly or not, Swanson's career is most notable for her sex symbol status, which works to her advantage as Buffy. She also more than handles the physical demands of the role. Not only does Swanson look like she could be a cheerleader, she's also athletic enough to pull off Buffy's many dexterous fight scenes. You actually believe that she can kick this much ass.

It's also worth noting that the film is a wonderfully dated artifact of the early 1990s. From Paul Reubens hamming it up (he may be the one actor who truly commits to the gloriously camp of the film) to 90210's then-reigning teen-dream heartthrob Luke Perry as teen-dream heartthrob Pike to the obnoxiously loud fashion (see header image for visual evidence), the film is littered with plenty of so-'90s-it-hurts moments.

Buffy was famously not what Whedon envisioned in his initial script. He was disheartened, eventually walking off the set. He would make amends later by molding and shaping Buffy into something more personal. But the movie shouldn't be summarily dismissed. It's still a fun, salty-sweet popcorn flick, worth catching up with, even if only to be reminded of where it all began.


  1. Great post! Funny. I was a huge fan of the TV show, but I never saw the movie. Kristy who? Sarah Michelle Gellar is the only Buffy to me.

    1. The show is vastly better than the movie, no question. It's one of my favorite series of all time. The film is just a fun little curiosity piece that's also pretty entertaining. And SMG is definitely the one true Buffy!