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Like if Jenny Holzer wrote film reviews. The Parallax Review is a website dedicated to dissecting movies in terms of cultural context, ideology, aesthetics, and more. From Stalker to Hackers and beyond! Run by your girl, @okaythanksmaria

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

 


This review is part of a series: 31 Days of Horror Directed by Women

No matter how hard the film's director and actors seem to be attempting to prove otherwise, Buffy's a badass, and that's that on that. I think we're all familiar with Buffy, right? Given how popular the Sarah Michelle Gellar-led TV show is, I was actually shocked to find out this movie even existed. I mean, this is what spawned seven seasons of iconic 90s television plus a beloved spin-off series! Watching the film, however, you see why it's not really...worth mentioning. Buffy the movie is kitschy, early-90s bubblegum nothingness. It's not bad at allit's just...not right. The film's characterization of Buffy feels almost like director Fran Rubel Kuzui hates Buffy and all of her friends and everyone they know. And vampires, too, for that matter.

If you've seen the pilot episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer the TV show, then you'll recognize the plot of this movie. That's pretty much where the similarities end, however. Instead of feeling like a lived-in vision of your average California high schooler, this Buffy feels like a loathsome caricature of a vapid valley girl. The ditzes that make up her high school student body are really acting to the back of the theater, like they're in a particularly un-funny "The Californians" sketch on SNL. Take Cher Horowitz, strip her of any personality or motivation, and make her fight vampires. You get the idea. Buffy, her girlfriends, and the boys whose laps they sit on are as unlikeable as can be. It's clearly on purpose, but it doesn't feel purposeful. 
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer


I'm not the only one who thinks this. Buffy the popular series and Buffy the forgotten horror movie are both creations of writer Joss Whedon. Whedon signed off to oversee the direction of the film and had so many issues with how it was being handled that he eventually just removed himself from the project altogether. So, yeah, the film has major issues, and it's middling reception reflects this. However, I'm going to reiterate that I don't think this movie is bad. It's not! But the good qualities that manage to shine through are due to the fact that conceptually, Buffy is a great character. No matter how much the film tries to belittle that character throughout its runtime, there's an undeniable charm to the tumbling, spike-weilding heroine. There's barely anything about her that's genuinely relatable or likeable, since her "personality" consists of a series of stupid one-liners delivered between cheerleading practice and flirtatious interactions with boys. Still, I found myself really excited to watch her kick some ass. Because navigating life as a young woman can sort of feel as absurd (and relentless) as fighting ancient, undead beings hellbent on ruining your life.

This nugget of authenticity would see its full potential realized just half a decade later, when Whedon eventually brings Buffy the beloved TV show to life. Movie Buffy has mostly been forgotten (and for good reason) but there are still a few things that make this version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer worth checking out. The film is categorized as a black comedy, but I think, nearly 30 years later, it functions more effectively as a pastiche of 90s nostalgia. There's nothing memorable about any of the film's scenes, but watching it with 2020 vision (hah!) gives it a stylish sheen that lends itself to a certain amount of appreciation. Someone more dedicated than me has surely populated their 90s-themed instagram account with the colorful outfits Buffy and her friends wear. There are also interesting (or strange, depending on your taste) performances from Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer, and Pee-Wee motherfucking Herman. I cannot stress enough that these are not memorable performances. They simply exist as interesting artifacts of a time we can't return to. 
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
 
https://www3.pictures.zimbio.com/mp/gMk6LnJavx5l.jpg
Same guy, clearly


Actually, that's exactly what I've been struggling to articulate for the duration of this review. The thing this movie has going for it. Watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer feels similar to watching the movie Hackers. They both simultaneously fail and succeed at representing the time period during which they were created. The uber-stylized "hacking" that takes place in Hackers looks nothing like what actual hackers were doing at the time. Watching it today, though, feels like a perfect encapsulation of the way we've fetishized early 90s internet culture. Similarly, watching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie in 2020 feels like walking into the The FRIENDS Experience. It's a totally sanitized, beatific essence of 90s teen energy. It's neither accurate nor authentic to that experience, but it effectively makes us feel the way we like to feel when we think about 90s teens. I don't think this phenomenonI'll call it manufactured nostalgianeeds to be qualified. It simply is, and that's fine. And you know what? That's also what I'll say about the Buffy movie as well: it's not good and it's not bad, it simply is. And that's fine.
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

 

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