Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 9: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992)
Consider the greatest films of the twentieth century, and you’ll notice a pattern: Ten Things I Hate About You, Clueless, The Breakfast Club—all of these films tell the stories of teen girls in various situations, dealing with the woes of high school. It’s a winning formula, and one that Joss Whedon absolutely perfected with his cult-classic 1997 television series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer: a show about a teenage girl who must balance the weight of her high school social circles with the never-ending responsibilities of kicking vampire ass and saving the world.
But achieving perfection takes trial and error, and no one gets it right the first time. Much like Radiohead had to stumble through Pablo Honey before striking gold with Kid A, Whedon predicated the success of his television series with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the 1992 film of the same name. Starring Kristy Swanson in the title role that Sarah Michelle Gellar would later build a career on, the ’92 Buffy film is a fascinating look at Whedon’s creative process, the considerable differences between film and television as mediums, and the satisfaction in finally getting it right.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer follows the story of Buffy Summers, a stuck-up cheerleader at Hemery High School in Los Angeles, who learns via vampire historian and slayer-trainer Merrick (Donald Sutherland) that she’s been chosen to fight off the forces of the undead and their vampire king, Lothos (Rutger Hauer). They spend their nights together in the graveyard, fighting off recently-turned vampires until Lothos’ sidekick Amilyn (Paul Reubens) abducts one of Buffy’s friends and sacrifices her to Lothos. While struggling to balance her duties as the Slayer with the troubles of her high school drama, Lothos begins assembling his army of vampires in a strike against Hemery High on the night of the senior dance. In this final conflict, it’s up to Buffy to save her school.
The fight scenes are laughable, the characters are faceless and unmemorable in comparison to their television counterparts, and the Whedon-penned script is painfully quippy, but there are still strokes of genius throughout that make it worth the watch. Buffy ’92 gives us the first draft of Whedon’s subversive look at the heroine, an inversion of the horror movie stereotype of the blonde girl in a dark alley who the monster kills first. At the time, the premise was original and fresh, and while perhaps not the intention, the over-the-top high school clique stereotypes filled by Buffy and her friends are a riot. It’s undoubtedly a premise that works better in the television format, which allows viewers to watch the long-term effects of slaying and how the job shapes Buffy’s life and mental health. But the film version revels in its campiness and Ben Affleck also appears briefly as an unnamed basketball player, so how ’bout them apples?
It’s no secret that Buffy ’92 pales in comparison to the television series. Swanson’s performance as Buffy lacks all of the depth and nuance of Gellar’s years-long romp through schooling and slaying, fan-favorite characters like Giles and Spike are entirely absent, and it lacks the dark humor and creative passion that drives episodes like the silent “Hush” and the musical “Once More, With Feeling”—both of which stand up to some of today’s best comedy series. But for what it’s worth, it’s worth a watch.
If you don’t already own it, Buffy is relatively hard to track down these days, but there are a couple options on Amazon, including a Blu-ray two-pack with the far inferior Jennifer’s Body.