We are almost in the Halloween spooky season. How about a throwback vampire movie?
Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui
Writer: Joss Whedon
Stars: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer
Run time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Since the dawn of man, the vampires have walked among us, killing and feeding. The only one with the skill or strength to stop their heinous evil is the slayer, she who bears the birthmark, the mark of the coven. Trained by the watcher, one slayer dies and the next is chosen.
After the opening sequence of the movie, giving us the short history lesson about vampires and the Slayer, we meet Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson). She is a high school basketball cheerleader. The basketball team is horrendous with a coach that knows nothing about basketball.
After letting the audience see her cheer-dance routine, the movie skips forward to an outing to the mall with Buffy and her friends. Buffy is a stereotypical “valley girl” if her opening monologue about her history class is any indication.
Excuse me for not knowing about El Salvador. Like I’m ever going to Spain anyway. Oh, wow, look at that jacket. This is so lush!
Her friend Kimberly (Hilary Swank) tells her that the jacket is “so five minutes ago.” The girls do end up buying things, as we see them in entirely new outfits, but as they get on the mall elevator, an older man (Donald Sutherland) tries to stop their elevator.
Buffy: Excuse, much, rude or anything?
As the elevator doors close, without the older man joining the girls on the elevator, he and Buffy meaningfully lock eyes. Later, the girls attend a movie. They talk through the movie. A couple of guys their age (played by Luke Perry and Davie Arquette, respectively) ask them to be quiet and Buffy throws popcorn at them. After the movie, the girls meet up with a group of guys from the basketball team. Buffy is dating one of the guys from the team – Jeffrey (Randall Batinkoff).
We see one of the guys from the basketball team, Grueller (Sasha Jenson) walking alone outside at night under a full moon. He realizes he is being followed and calls saying that whoever is behind him better bet gone when he turns around. When he turns around, someone who looks very much like a vampire is there (played by Paul Reubens.)
We cut to a newscaster giving an update on someone’s apparent cause of death. It was a neck wound that looked like:
…in the words of one bystander, a really gross hickey.
The newscaster goes on and lets us know that there are three slasher victims and that one of the bodies of the victims has disappeared from the morgue. The newscaster is apparently on a TV at Buffy’s house. Her parents are leaving and she is home alone with Jeffrey.
We flashback to the past. Kristy Swanson, in a brunette wig, is holding a stake. After she stabs a vampire with said stake, she runs into a larger group of their kind. The group leader is named Lothos (Rutger Hauer.) He overpowers her quickly. Before he bites her neck, Buffy wakes up. It was just a dream.
The Paul Reubens vampire approaches a casket. He tells “his master” to sleep and that he has begun building him a new family. “Soon, we will be legion. When you rise we will claim this place as our own.”
The next day, at school, Buffy and her friends are trying to decide on a “socially conscious” theme. Buffy suggests that their theme be the environment and they agree. They try to decide what the most immediate threats to the environment are and they list litter, forest fires, and bugs.
Cassandra: Okay, guys, what do you think about the ozone layer?
Buffy: Yeah, we gotta get rid of that.
The girls meet up again that night at Cafe Blasé. Nicki (Paris Vaughn) says that she does not know why they have to invite every Senior. “Like, why do we have to invite Nadia? She’s such a blemish.” Kimberly walks in wearing the “lush” yellow jacket that Buffy liked at the mall, earlier. Kimberly says that the jacket is now retro.
Just then, very inebriated, Pike (Luke Perry) and Benny (David Arquette) enter the Cafe. Buffy tells them that they are thrashed. They give introductions.
B: Pike isn’t a name. It’s a fish.
The two newcomers suddenly recognize the girls from the movie and state that they hate them. Benny puts a hot dog through the fly of his pants and approaches their table. Buffy chops it off with a knife.
After Pike and Benny leave the cafe, they walk through a park. They pass out. Paul Reubens’ vampire character bites Benny and carries him off. The older man we saw earlier at the mall pulls up in a car and gets Pike up off the ground.
This is not a safe place for you to fall asleep.
The next day after cheer practice, the old man from the mall approaches Buffy again. He tells her that he has found her years late and that he has been searching everywhere to bring to her, her birth right.
B: Birth right? Is that like a trust fund or something?
He tells her that he wants her to come with him to the graveyard so that he can show her the birthright.
My name is Merrick. And you have been chosen, Buffy.
He informs her that she is the Chosen One, that she is destined to kill vampires, and that it is his duty to guide and train her. She rejects his claim. However, he changes her mind when he describes to her one of her birthmarks (“what, that big ole hairy mole?”) and her recurring nightmares in detail. He even knows the name Lothos despite Buffy having never told anyone about her dreams.
Buffy goes with Merrick to the graveyard. She feels pelvic pain. At the cemetery, the two of them wait for one of the recent slasher victims to wake up. Suddenly a hand reaches through the dirt of a freshly dug grave. Then another person, this time a woman, climbs through the dirt of her grave. To Buffy’s surprise, she finds herself adept at driving wooden stakes into the hearts of the two new vampires.
Pike is awakened from sleep by his now vampiric friend Benny. It takes a few moments for Pike to notice but Benny is floating in front of his second story window. Benny pleads with Pike to invite him in, because he is hungry but Pike does not take him up on the request.
After the events at the cemetery, Merrick warns Buffy to keep her name a secret from the vampires. He wants to begin training her right away. He tells her that they need to meet the following day after school and she says that she has cheerleading practice. He tells her that she will have to skip practice. Buffy asks Merrick about vampires.
B: They can’t come in unless you invite them in. Is that true?
M: That’s true.
That night, in front of a mirror, Buffy ties a red ribbon in her hair. She goes to lie down on her bed and seems not to notice that Lothos is there. She lays down on him. Suddenly she bolts upright, awake, but with a red ribbon in her hair. It is not clear how much of what we just saw is a dream.
Cassandra (Natasha Gregson Wagner) is kidnapped by Amilyn (Paul Reubens) and murdered.
After cheer practice, Merrick appears in Buffy’s lockerroom. He tells her that she was supposed to skip the practice. She tells him that all of this is a mistake. When she wishes him good luck on his mission, and it appears he is leaving, he suddenly throws a knife at Buffy’s head.
B: You threw a knife at my head!
M: Yes, I had to show you.
B: But, you threw a knife… at my head.
M: And you caught it.
She still does not want to be the Chosen One, though.
All I want to do is graduate high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die. That may not sound too exciting to a scone head like you but I think it’s swell.
She asks Merrick if he knew that she was on a fresh grave the night before. He says, yes. She surprises herself by punching him hard in the face.
I’ve never hit anyone before. I didn’t even break a nail.
This exchange seems to have sold Buffy on the idea of being a vampire slayer. She begins training with Merrick. [Montage training scene follows.]
After the montage, Buffy has a conversation with a man at her school, Gary Murray (Stephen Root.) He says that he is a school administrator while talking to her. He assumes that she is on drugs and he shares that did lots of acid in the 1960s. While they are talking, Buffy hears an insect buzzing around the room. With a look of concentration, while Murray is talking about his friend looking like a party balloon, Buffy puts a thumb tack into her own mouth and blows it at the bug – pinning it to the wall.
Pike is at work repairing cars. He tells his co-worker that he is leaving town.
P: You seen Benny, lately?
CoW: What, no, you want me to give him a message?
P: You should think about leaving, too, man. Sell this place. There’s something going on around here, I don’t know, real weird.
Co-W: Hey, want do you want me to do if I see Benny?
Buffy walks around town after dark by herself. She suddenly feels cramps – the tell-tale sign of a vampire close-by. A vampire appears and she takes him out with ease. Merrick does not approve of her plan of attack (making herself bait.) He is concerned that if she had found more than one vampire she would be dead.
M: You must never forget the cardinal rule, Buffy. One vampire is a lot easier to kill than ten.
B: Does the word “duh” mean anything to you?
He asks her if she felt cramps while she was out. Buffy is not keen on talking about this but she says yes. He tells her that this is The Slayer’s physiological reaction to their unnaturalness.
B: Great. My secret weapon is PMS.
Their conversation shifts in focus to Merrick’s role. Buffy complains that he is not out there killing any vampires. He tells her that his purpose, every time he is born, is to shre his knowledge with The Slayer. He cannot interfere even if he believes that this time the girl is truly exceptional.
B: Uh, I mean, what do you do, you just keep on living the same old life over and over?
M: Yes, yes, until…
B: What, until there aren’t any more vampires? Then what?
M: Well, then maybe I’ll go to heaven. Ha!
B: Or maybe you’ll just get a job?
M: Oh, a job! I would have been a wonderful boot maker.
They decide to set out for “work” but Buffy assures Merrick that she is not going to die easily.
B: I have something that the other girls didn’t have?
M: Oh, and what might that be, pray?
B: My keen fashion sense.
M: Vampires of the world beware!
We see Pike in his van. He appears to have made good on plans to move away – at least insofar as his stuff is in the van – but the van will not start. Suddenly he sees a vampire approaching his van from the back. When he turns around to start the van again, Amilyn is standing in front of the van. The van finally starts and Pike puts it in reverse. He runs over the first vampire behind him. Amilyn jumps onto his hood. Pike speeds forward trying to shake him from the van but he fails to do so. Amilyn jumps onto the top of the van. He reaches through the top and grabs for Pike.
Pike drives the fan under a low hanging branch and manages to scrape him off. However, Amilyn’s arm remains inside the van grabbing for him. As he is dealing with the arm, Pike accidentally crashes into a tree.
Pike gets out of the van. Three vampires – including a one-armed Amilyn – are waiting for him outside the van.
A: You ruined my new jacket! [to the other two vampires] Kill him a lot!
Buffy arrives and stakes one of the two vampires. She breaks Pike’s guitar to create a stake for the second one and takes it out easily as well. She, Merrick, and Pike all leave together. Buffy takes Pike to her house. He asks her if killing vampires is a hobby for her or something and she explains that she started about three weeks ago. [Mostly this scene is the two of them noticing “hey, you look like Luke Perry” and “hey, you look like Kristy Swanson.”] She offers to let him stay in the guest room and he says he will stay in the living room, looking out the window, to make sure the sun comes up.
Lothos talks with Amilyn. Lothos is angry that Amilyn left the other two behind, during their first kill, over a little thing like a missing arm. Lothos tells Amilyn that he is 1,200 years old but still behaving like a child.
L: Honestly, I don’t know how you made it through the Crusades.
As Lothos leaves, Amilyn kind of… bares his fangs and hisses at him?
At Buffy’s school, the students find out that Cassandra is dead. Kimberly – Buffy’s friend – is most upset that Cassandra still had her jacket when she died. In the hallway, Jeffrey’s friend Andy grabs Buffy. She flips him on his back and tosses him into some lockers.
Buffy tells Merrick, after, that she needs to cheer at the game tomorrow or people will start talking.
At the game, Grueller is there to play and he is clearly now also a vampire. Buffy and the cheer squad rev up the crowd with the “How Funky Is Your Chicken?” cheer.
Eventually, the coach puts vampire Grueller into the game. Buffy notices that he is a vampire (The movie did not show us her tell-tale cramps. So… maybe it was the 1 on 5 slam dunk? Or the pointed vampire ears?)
When the other team steals the ball from Grueller Buffy leaps out onto the floor to knock him down. He looked like he wanted to kill them so that move, though unorthodox, probably saved lives. He flees the gym and she chases after him. She shouts to Merrick, in the stands.
He knows who I am!
In her cheer outfit, she chases Grueller. He is getting away so she steals a motorcycle. Pike sees Buffy fly by on a motorcycle and he gets onto his own motorcycle and pursues. Grueller runs into the local “Parade Floats Storage Yard.” Buffy abandons her motorcycle and follows him on foot. She now feels her vampire-detecting cramps.
He knocks her down. She tries to talk to him and reminds him of times in the past wherein the hung out.
B: You were my friend. [Two other vampires grab her.]
G: Now… I’m a god!
Pike: [stabs him from behind with a stake] And now you’re a coat rack.
Buffy takes out the first of the other two vampires easily while the second one chases Pike. She does some acrobatic flips, takes out the second vampire, and after landing on to pof him, face to face, she asks him why he is there.
P: What am I doing here? I’m saving your butt. Well, there was an exchange of butts, at least.
Buffy tells Pike that they need to go find Merrick. As they turn a corner, they find Lothos. Lothos puts Buffy into a trance. Despite Pike’s confusion, she walks toward Lothos. When it appears that Buffy is going to walk right into his arms, and presumably die, Merrick arrives and stops this from happening. However, Lothos takes a stake from Merrick and stabs him with it. Lothos leaves and says that Buffy is not ready. As Merrick dies, he tells Buffy to do things her own way. He also tells her, as he dies, to “remember about the music.”
Buffy’s friends are discussing the incident of her running onto the court. “It was way mental.” She arrives. They tell her she was supposed to have been there at three.
Kimberly: Buffy, what is your sitch? You’re acting like a thing from another tax bracket.
She tells them that she wants to talk about what’s going on. She tells them that she met a guy a couple of weeks ago.
B: It’s not like that. He’s old. He’s like, fifty.
She asks them if they’ve noticed all the strange things happening in their town, like people disappearing and dying. They equate that weirdness with her new friendship with Pike. The conversation devolves from there. Buffy says she has important things to do. They are offended that she does not view “the dance” as important.
Nicki: What, now, we’re like, stupid?
Kimberly tells her that she needs to evaluate her priorities.
B: What language are you speaking?
K: Get out of my facial.
That night, Pike finds Buffy walking down the street alone. He asks what she is doing. She says she is going shopping. She tells Pike that she wants to attend the dance. He chides her for not focusing on killing vampires. She says she does not want to kill anyone and does not want to talk about this anymore.
P: Buffy, you’re the guy. You are the chosen guy.
B: I’m the Chosen One. And I choose to be shopping.
As they part, Pike shouts at her.
You know Benny was right? You’re all the same. I’m not disappointed, just angry.
Speaking of Benny, as Pike and Buffy end their conversation, he emerges from inside a photo booth curtain. “Buffy?” [Well, I guess the secret it out.] Benny had been taking pictures of himself so that he would not show up on the film. I guess that makes sense if you’re a teenage vampire entertained by your new status.
Benny reports up the chain of command. Amilyn reports Buffy’s name to Lothos. Lothos informs his henchman that they will be attending the dance.
As music plays in the background, we see pick sharpening broom handles into stakes and Buffy looking at her new dress.
Buffy shows up at the dance. She asks her friends if they’ve seen Jeffrey. When she finds him, she learns that he is breaking up with her and that he is at the dance with her friend Jenny (Michele Abrams.) He tells her that he explained of this on her answering machine. At the dance, Pike finds Buffy friendless and by herself. He asks her to dance. While they dance, they kiss.
Vampires arrive. They break through the windows and the dance erupts in chaos. Buffy yells that they cannot come inside unless they’re invited.
K: I already invited them. [long pause] They’re seniors!
The vampires at the door say that they want Buffy to come out. Pike hands her a bag full of stakes. She advises him to stay inside. After she tears off the fluffy part of her dress, Pike tosses her his leather jacket.
Outside the dance, Buffy starts killing vampires. Buffy sees Jenny and Jeffery, in the backseat of his car, and notes “that was quick.” Amilyn tells the vampires outside the dance not to follow her. As a result, some of the vampires attack the dance and the rest attack Buffy. She fights Amilyn one-on-one.
A: [Knocks Buffy to the ground] Hi [waving his one arm] how’s it going?
B: I’m fine, but you’re obviously having a bad hair day.
There is pandemonium inside the dance. Pike fights with Benny, who is still trying to convince Pike to willingly become a vampire.
Amilyn fights with Buffy.
A: We’re Immortal Buffy. We can do anything.
B: Oh yeah? Clap!
Just then, Lothos begins playing a violin and Buffy seems to fall into a trance. However, Lothos pauses the music for long enough to share a glance with Amilyn. During the pause, Lothos shakes his head indicating “no” and Buffy uses the break to stab him with a stake through the heart.
He takes a long time to die.
Lothos resumes the violin and Buffy seems drawn to him again. Lothos pulls her close and tells her that Amilyn was a gift.
At the dance, Pike fights with Benny. He shoves Benny into an exposed electrical line and shorts out the power.
Lothos has Buffy’s neck inches from his fangs. Buffy notices the music from the dance has stopped. She pulls away from him. Lothos grabs her again and tries to bend her neck.
L: You and I are one!
B: One what? Cute couple? I don’t think so.
They fight. She holds up a cross and he asks if her puny faith is how she plans to defend herself? He grabs the cross and it catches on fire. She pulls out hairspray. She says, “no, my keen fashion sense.” She sprays at him and Lothos’ head catches on fire.
Back at the dance, Murray is walking around tossing detention slips at vampires lying dead on the ground.
Buffy returns to the dance. A few moments later, Lothos bursts through a wall and unsheathes a sword. Murray notes that he is definitely not a student. Lothos grabs Buffy by the neck and tosses her to the ground. While he laughs, Buffy sees a flag from the Color Guard and does some acrobatic flips to retrieve it. She fends off his sword attacks with the flag pole. After Lothos knocks Buffy to the ground, Pike jumps on his back. Lothos flings Pike roughly across the room. Buffy sees a stake but Lothos kicks it away from her before she can grab it. She then grabs a wooden chair. Lothos splits it with his sword. She stabs him with a split piece of wood and kicks it in deeper for good measure.
Lothos falls down and dies.
As people leave the dance, Buffy picks up Pike from the floor. He tells her that he saved her a dance.
As the movie ends, they leave on a motorcycle. The news crew, featuring Liz Smith, interviews the students and the principal during the credits.
Despite Joss Whedon’s participation in both projects, the Buffy movie does not feel much like the Buffy TV series that followed after a few years later. Perhaps that is because Whedon did not direct his movie screenplay.
Was the movie… well… good? It’s okay. In my opinion, there are some good elements, but those elements did not really fit together well. The movie had two primary faults.
- It was rushed. With an 86 minute runtime, the movie tried to introduce a mythology, introduce a mentor/mentee relationship, create a coming of age story arc for Buffy, and the movie tried to create a love story for her, too. With all of that in play, some of those elements felt rushed. The mythology felt rushed. I am still not sure if I understand what Lothos’ objectives were. If the prior Slayers were failures, why is the world not overrun with vampires? Etc. The movie also did not develop Buffy’s relationship with her Watcher, Merrick, very well. By the movie’s own internal logic, she only spent a couple of weeks with him and for most of that time she ignores him and his advice. When he dies she reacts as though she lost a great friend and teacher. Point A (their relationship) to Point B (her reaction to his death) did not connect for me. A little more time together would have helped.
- The movie leaned too much into its comedy elements – and that ironically took away from the comedy of the movie. The comedy of a horror-comedy works best when it breaks some actual tension. Actual tension requires a real threat (i.e. horror.) The movie never really treats the vampires seriously so there is never real tension for the comedy elements to break. Students die. They come back. They are not missed while they are gone. Even after returning as vampires, they still act like teenagers (up to and including participating in basketball.) Nobody seems to care about any of it.
The movie might have worked better as a straight comedy. Parts of it felt like a Mel Brooks take on a teenage vampire movie. Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens felt like a vampire duo from a Mel Brooks comedy. However, the movie did not go that direction, either.
- A lot of the dialogue is memorable and quotable. I saw this movie in the early 90s and I was surprised by how much of it I actually remember.
- Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry had really good on-camera chemistry. She looked right as Buffy. Some of the tumbling in the midst of the fight scenes were weirdly placed, but that was more of a choreography/direction choice than an issue with the lead actress. Kristy also did a great job with the comedy of the role. She walked the Valley Girl – turned – Vampire Slayer transformation in a way where the “valley girl” is not abandoned in the process. I liked that.
- The late, great, Luke Perry was / is / always will be immensely cool.
- It was fun to see Hilary Swank as a “valley girl” side character. She obviously went on to much bigger and better things. However, this movie was her first movie role.
- This movie was also one of the first roles for David Arquette.
- If anyone follows along with my re-watch of Newsradio, you know that I noticed Stephen Root playing the school administrator.
- The music in this movie is great. 1992 was a fantastic year for music.
- Speaking of 1992, a lot of the movie is visually dated. Kristy Swanson walks around for a lot of the movie in a plaid shirt, jean shorts, and combat boots. I do not remember Valley Girl Grunge, but apparently it was a thing.
- The DJ at the school dance had a very Slash-from-Guns N’ Roses Abe Lincoln hat. Someone needs to bring that look back.
- Allegedly, Joss Whedon’s choice for Buffy in this movie was… Alyssa Milano. Obviously, he did not win out on that choice. To be honest, I cannot even imagine her in the role.
In summary: If you’re up for some early 90s nostalgia, and popcorn flick about teenage vampires, I recommend a re-watch. If you’re an old fan of the Buffy TV series, you might want to sit this one out.