Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Five years before Sarah Michelle Gellar staked her claim to the cheerleading, undead-demolishing Sunnydale chosen one who would make Joss Whedon a geek megastar, there was another slayer in town. It was Kristy Swanson with whom the saga began, and her adventure, though now largely forgotten, is well worth checking out for its own sake.

First up, a warning for fans of the series - this Buffy is a little different from the one you're used to. Heavier on the comedy and without the social drama of the Gellar days, the film presents a heroine who is girly, ditzy, stubbornly lighthearted - at least to begin with. She's everything a popular girl should be, capable of holding her own with her school's Heathers equivalents, and she intends to stay that way. It's just bad luck for her that Donald Sutherland - yes, the Donald Sutherland - turns up in grizzled mentor mode talking prophecies and portents and the need for some serious mrtial arts traning. Buffy isn't keen on saving the world from the undead. She might break a nail.

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Though yet to develop the assurance of his later work, Whedon produces a script that successfully balances this aspect of the character with an innate toughness and courage that emerge as events require them to. It's no small feat, and arguably tougher than the approach he took later on - not simply creating a heroine who mans up when danger calls, but creating one who retains some of her frivolity and is strong anyway. Swanson fits nicely into the role and keeps viewers on side not just when she's fighting vampires but also when she's upset at the thought of missing junior prom. She reminds us of the ordinary desires that must be sacrificed to make way for heroism.

If it is Buffy's ordinariness that makes her extraordinary, the same cannot be said for her foe. Rutger Hauer's ancient vampire aristocrat is over the top in all the best ways, stealing every scene he's in. Primped and powdered and gloriously camp, he's no less sinister for it, with a hypnotic gaze that recalls Christopher Lee's Dracula. His easy eloquence cuts through the pantomime dynamics of his entourage and marks him out as a force to be reckoned with.

Also along for the ride is a leather-jacketed young rebel who might know more than he's letting on, and a trio of teenage girls whose approval Buffy longs to retain. The unfolding saga isn't packed with surprises but spoofs the high school genre nicely without ever seeming as shallow as its cliques. There are some killer one-liners to enjoy here and lots of great one-off gags interjected in what is, to be fair, a very silly story. Production values are low and everything looks cheap, but the film punches above its weight and has a lot of heart. It also contains the most ridiculous drawn-out death scene in cinematic history, alongside one that you could miss if you blink at the wrong time.

If you're not too precious about your icons, this early Buffy has plenty to keep you entertained. It's trashy, tacky and full of ham, but vampire slaying was rarely this much fun.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2013
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The original stake-wielding cheerleader.
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Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui

Writer: Joss Whedon

Starring: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, Hilary Swank

Year: 1992

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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