Buffy the Vampire Slayer
directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui
(20th Century Fox, 1992)

Before Sunnydale, there was L.A. Before Angel, there was Pike. Before Giles, Merrick.

And before Sarah Michelle Gellar redefined the role of Southern California's answer to Van Helsing, Kristy Swanson gave us a Buffy the Vampire Slayer we could adore.

The movie Buffy, which preceded the television series by five years, is pure cheesy fun, without the darkness and angst that sometimes made the series so serious and, let's face it, depressing. Of course, the film never varies from light comedy, while the series veered sharply into the burgeoning arena of teen drama. Comparing them is difficult because, while the concept is the same, the execution is in a whole 'nother ballpark.

Swanson, in the film's title role, provides a perfectly vacuous high school cheerleader, more concerned about the mall, her star athlete boyfriend and the upcoming senior dance than she is about, well, anything else. Then she meets Merrick (Donald Sutherland), the eternal watcher and trainer of special young girls who, ultimately, fail to defeat the growing tide of vampires. Reluctantly converted to the cause, Buffy never loses her So-Cal charm or disdain for people who don't carry gum -- although she does change her mind about aimless rebel Pike (Luke Perry), who becomes her sole ally in the fight.

The vamps are led by the ageless Lothos (a polished Rutger Hauer who has some trouble talking around his pointed teeth) and his animated, often hilarious sidekick Amilyn (Paul Reubens). As their power and influence grow in the modern City of Angels, their ranks expand to include an army of basketball players, valley girls and stoners who take to their new unlives with glee. (Chief among them is a young David Arquette, who is great fun as the manic Benny.)

Swanson has the fresh good looks that are perfect for the role and an incredibly convincing physical presence; she tumbles, twirls and stabs with the best of them. Sutherland's watcher carries a careful balance of ageless fatigue and reluctant optimism, and the dry delivery of his lines provides some of the film's best dialogue. Reubens supplies a more slapstick variety of humor, and the scenes where he tears his new jacket and has a run-in with a ruler are hard to forget.

The two incarnations of Buffy have very loyal camps, and for many it seems hard to like one without hating the other. Well, allow me to provide a bridge between them: I appreciate the intelligent writing, highly developed characters and unique concepts that were a hallmark of the series, but I likewise enjoy the highly original idea and general good, clean fun that makes the movie a treat to this day. I have room for both Buffys in my world.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 3 July 2004

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