The premise in 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer is simple: Ditzy high school cheerleader, Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson), is always preoccupied with spending time with her rich, shallow friends and her jock boyfriend, but she’s eventually approached by an older gentleman, Merrick (Donald Sutherland), who informs her that she’s prophesied to fight off vampires.
Some of the lore is never quite fleshed out, but the concept is unique and should give us some humorous results. Unfortunately, the jokes are almost always on-the-nose and never really that funny. An exception is Paul Reubens character, Amilyn, a vampire servant who is creepy, but also sometimes incompetent. Reubens gives us some truly amazing moments (“Kill him a LOT.”), and pairs well with Rutger Hauer’s overly-serious and well-acted Lothos, the vampire king.
Swanson often lacks conviction in her valley girl persona. After watching Alicia Silverstone brilliantly play a much similar archetype in Clueless, the standard has been raised to astronomical levels. Buffy’s ditziness tends to be forgotten about, and she soon realizes she’s actually smart and wise. If there’s some sort of deep implication to be taken from that, it’s never realized.
Without being pandering or preachy, the film depicts progressively healthy gender roles, while also boasting the appeal of more traditional ones too, showing that it’s nice and okay to fall back on them from time to time.
But the film can never quite escape its low budget feel. Where it feels the most cheap is in the underwhelming and silly Power Rangers-type action sequences, which fail to evoke any real sense of thrill at all. A weakness that’s only emphasized more by a lack of a really good musical score and a director’s inability to utilize the one he has to build suspense.
Luckily director Fran Rubel Kuzui provides us with a brisk narrative and even pacing–other than the below-par action, which causes the film to drag as it approaches the climax.
Another highlight is Sutherland’s performance, which is perfect for juxtaposing the film’s low-brow brand with his classically trained delivery, as though he’s in a movie twice as good. Him doing so makes it twice as good.
But Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t a bad movie. It just often operates in a very medial area where it’s neither bad nor necessarily great. The film holds up well and has a surprisingly modern feel for one that’s nearly 30 years old. Despite feeling lukewarm at times, it gets by on the charming world inside and affable characters. An easy watch, even if it has some issues.