29 April 2009

Retro Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)


Buffy the Vampire Slayer
1992, 81mins, PG-13
Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui
Writer: Joss Whedon
Cast includes: Kirsty Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, Stephen Root
Release Date: 31st July 1992

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is a truly abhorrent feature film; looking back on its wretched state, fans of the groundbreaking TV show would probably be vigorously sick. Joss Whedon conceived the idea and would later translate it into wonderfully witty and exciting vehicle for Sarah Michelle Gellar on the boob tube, but his harsh and relentlessly awful screenplay for this earlier movie is astonishing in that it came from the same man. After all not only did Whedon compose the fabulous TV incarnation of “Buffy” but also penned “Toy Story” and underrated Sci-Fi effort “Serenity”, making us wonder just how hard he hit the liquor in writing up this atrocious slice of cinematic excrement.

Buffy (Kirsty Swanson) is a popular and rather irksome high school cheerleader who according to the mysterious Merrick (Donald Sutherland) was born for greater things. She is “the slayer” an individual unique to each generation that is endowed with special abilities, and is thus expected to annihilate the supernatural evils of the world. Initially sceptical of her abilities Buffy finally comes to accept them, just in time for the rising of Lothos (Rutger Hauer) a mighty vampire with a penchant for destruction. Together with cynical bad boy Pike (Luke Perry) Buffy is faced with the task of finishing the mighty bloodsucker once and for all.

The most endearing aspects of the TV show were its outstanding teen performances and relentlessly entertaining scripts. On the smaller screen “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” oozed wit and ferocious energy and the casting was simply impeccable. Here the plot is lame, the characters underdeveloped and bar one or two mildly intelligent one liners the humour flaccid. In the lead Kirsty Swanson is everything that Sarah Michelle Gellar wasn’t, namely irritating, selfish and shamelessly self promoting. How Whedon expected audiences to care about such a bitchy prototype for the character is beyond me, because in this version I was willing the vamps on. Support is debatably worse, Donald Sutherland looks embarrassed to be involved whilst as the principal villains Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens ham it up to a degree that not once do they intimidate. Granted one would expect little else from frickin Pee-Wee, but Hauer was Roy Batty and John Ryder for Christ’s sake, two of the most imposing screen characters of the 20th Century. Maybe it can be charted back to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to show where his career went wrong. Finally Luke Perry is actually ok in comparison to those around him....but that truly is faint praise.

The writing is crappy and the story ghastly, two adjectives few would usually attribute to the work of Joss Whedon. However I’ve been awfully harsh on the man and now it’s time to pinpoint the biggest offender, director Kuzui. Directing with zero panache or grasp of how to compliment comedy with action, Kuzui is the epitome of directorial incompetence. It’s shocking how cheap the movie looks, and the action scenes (if you could really call them that) are scrabbled together so poorly one begins to wonder if Kuzui wouldn’t be better suited to directing budget infomercials. Of course the film doesn’t bother to build up character or provide an interesting narrative, but at least it could have been enjoyable in a really bad way. Kuzui’s inept and lazy direction is simply to dispiriting for that to ever be the case.

The only real worth this has as a piece of celluloid is a display that just because a promising idea has been fucked up once it doesn’t have to be again, and in giving us a glimpse at a young Hilary Swank, displaying little of the acting ability that has now built her a career. Still I believe she was also prominent in the “Karate Kid: 4” a film with an equally dubious reputation, but in truth it couldn’t be any more disappointing or insulting to watch than “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. This is 90’s cinema at its very worst. You have been warned.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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