Monday, March 28, 2011


Crap makes good fertilizer sometimes. There probably couldn't have been a Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series with all its virtues, for instance, without Fran Rubel Kuzui's craptastic film of Joss Whedon's screenplay, with all its faults. It won't surprise constant readers to learn that the Buffy TV show is one of my friend Wendigo's all-time favorites, but that doesn't make him forgiving toward the movie in any way. Once upon a time, he'd given a second-run film a chance because he thought the title sounded funny. Later, he'd had to overcome his revulsion at the movie to give the show a chance, and it was quite a struggle. Given what Whedon had in him, what went wrong the first time? Wendigo thinks the film is too much an Eighties-style teen comedy, and a Valley Girl comedy at that, on top of being a vampire comedy at the end of a long streak of especially lame vampire comedies. Whedon later figured out how to keep things funny and scary, but that balance is missing in the movie. The direction is unambitious, as are the cinematography, effects and makeup, and the end result is pretty much inept, and hopelessly dated the moment it appeared.

Buffy (Kristy Swanson) must master many weapons for the struggle against the undead, no matter how long it takes.

It may be unfair to judge Kristy Swanson against Sarah Michelle Gellar, but it can't be helped either. Swanson is vapidly pretty, but that seems like all the shooting script demanded. Donald Sutherland pretty much phones it in, while Rutger Hauer is clueless as the master vampire. That's a shame when you recall that Anne Rice once described the young Hauer as her ideal movie Lestat. For David Arquette and Hilary Swank, this film is just a skeleton in the closet. It says something about a movie if you can say, as Wendigo does, that Luke Perry actually gave the best performance.

With a cast of quirky actors including (from top) David Arquette, Paul Ruebens and Rutger Hauer, why do Buffy's vampires come across as simply stupid?

Whedon reportedly pleads innocent due to directorial and studio interference, but it's not as if he had the core of the later series anywhere in his original screenplay. You have to do a lot of worldbuilding for a genre TV show that wouldn't have seemed necessary in a movie. Nor does a movie need to introduce the ensemble cast that made the TV Buffy a trend setter. So there's no hellmouth, no "scooby gang," no Angel and only the implicit hint of the Watchers in the form of the Sutherland character. There's so little conceptualization going on that Buffy doesn't even have a last name. Were all of these left on the cutting room floor? Unlikely. Apart from the concept of a lineage of physically gifted "slayers" (rather than "hunters" armed primarily with knowledge) the Buffy movie makes no real contribution to modern vampire lore. But Whedon's screenplay probably did have a different tone that was lost, if he had any individuality at the time. He may have needed time to distance the concept from its Valley Girl roots. Had the movie been made in 1996, it may have been more like the show, all else being equal -- or equally bad.

Kuzui occasionally aims for a sensual, dreamlike effect (above) but most often goes straight for the cheese (below).

What irritates Wendigo the most about the Buffy movie is the sense that nobody really cared about making a good or really funny movie. In its lack of ambition Kazui's movie reminds him more of a Saturday night SyFy movie than the series that rose from its ashes. The word is that the movie's being remade without Whedon's participation, Wendigo's advice for the remakers is: don't bother even looking at this movie.

While you contemplate the future of the lineage, let's look back with neo93612 at this Perry-narrated, Ruebens-centric trailer from 1992.


liuk said...

Most ridiculous and unforgetable character for me is Merrick. How Donald Sutherland keeps lurking after Buffy and is secretly with her even in locker room is just perfectly disturbing.
Movie is horrible and there is three-part comics which is based on original script and is basically the same as the movie. I think Whedon shares the blame as well. It just feels out of place, when movie Buffy changes her behavior and attitudes basically in five minutes.
And yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite series of all time.

hobbyfan said...

"Wendigo thinks the film is too much an Eighties-style teen comedy, and a Valley Girl comedy at that, on top of being a vampire comedy at the end of a long streak of especially lame vampire comedies."

And Wendigo is correct. The intention was that this was a comedy to begin with. That it became something more is the result of the film developing a cult following, and Whedon, listening to those fans, rebooted and made the series more serious, though there were campier elements toward the end of the run, like the all-musical episode.

It was a pretty good comeback year for Paul Reubens, of course. He also made a brief appearance in "Batman Returns", but his role here is a little more substantial, and demonstrative of his range as an actor, proving he could do other characters not named Pee-Wee.

I don't think they should do the remake of the movie based on this. No, it should rather be in the spirit of the more popular TV series that followed. Whedon not being involved spells trouble, though.