We lost the great Luke Perry this month and in his honor, I had the team watch Buffy… the original film that prominently features young Mr. Perry, not the mediocre television show that folks somehow seem to often consider the more refined product. Perry is fantastic in this gem of my youth and recently I’d been able to fall in love with one of his great characters again, as he’s Archie’s awesome father in the sleazy teen soap Riverdale.
I, for one, will really miss Perry as an actor. Thankfully, I’ll always have the original Buffy to remember him by. The staffers and guests who joined in have mixed opinions on the this one and several of our younger writers hadn’t even experienced this 90s classic until now. So, I’ll leave you with their thoughts and simply wish Luke Perry’s family and friends our deepest condolences.
Without further ado… let’s start with our guests this go around:
Welcome back this week a special guest! Brendan Foley has become a pretty regular fixture on this column, it seems. We’re glad to have him! He organizes a weekly film club on Cinapse called Two Cents that Justin also regularly contributes to (as a member of the Cinapse staff, himself). He hosts a kickass creepy story podcast called Black Sun Dispatches and he has significantly better taste in movies than Justin
Buffy the Vampire Slayer can’t help but feel like a rough draft for what Joss Whedon would perfect (sporadically) on the justly-acclaimed spin-off TV show. And ‘rough’ is a good word for it. You can hear the Whedon-speak within the dialogue, but no one in the cast seems to know exactly how to juggle that jargon (a problem that would flare up on the TV show as well, especially during the early days before the cast really started gelling). Buffy can’t seem to decide if it’s a contemporary horror movie with a healthy dose of modern snark (ala Fright Night) or a cheeky parody with a few dashes of sincerity.
But honestly, it’s not a terrible movie. Kristy Swanson makes an appealing Slayer, and Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens are clearly having a ball playing to the back-rafters and camping the hell out of every line. And the tragic reason we’re all here today may actually be the best part: Luke Perry as Pike, Buffy’s banter-rival, eventual sidekick, and romantic interest. If the Buffy show had one critical failing, it was its inability to give Buffy a romantic partner who wasn’t some manner of tortured or dangerous. The few attempts to give Buffy a stable, decent partner fell flat (sorry Riley), while the other resident Nice Guy, Xander, was by far the worst member of the main ensemble (fucking fight me). But Perry is genuinely charming, decent without being boring, and believable as a man totally at ease being second fiddle to a kick-ass lady.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is clearly not the movie Whedon wanted, and the subsequent minor media empire the property became suggests he was right in his complaints. But I don’t mind having this weird little alt-universe take on the character and mythology. And honestly, now I’m kind of bummed the show never found a place for their own Pike.
Salim Garami is back with us. He’s not a real “guest” anymore, he’s one of us… but since we haven’t been able to truly induct him into our secret society as of yet, he’ll be our guest for now. We appreciate his willingness to join us from time to time and think you’ll appreciate his thoughts a lot.
Salim’s work can be read at Movie Motorbreath.
I absolutely do not come to bury the 1992 feature Buffy the Vampire Slayer but I also don’t really come to praise it. I did not leave that film thinking I had necessarily watched something I could call good: it is regrettably cheap looking, even if we acknowledge the fact that it’s literally as old as I am (I was born the summer of its release), and the cast is not a complete loss (a matter I will acknowledge in a bit) but the biggest stake to its heart is the laziest performance I have seen out of Rutger Hauer to date. And given that Hauer plays the primary antagonist, that means there’s not real sense of tension or stakes. This is enough to make me not the most passionate defendant of Fran Rubel Kuzui’s sophomore (and as of this writing, last) directed movie.
But a defendant of the movie I still come as. There has been an unfair dismissal of it, a lot more vicious round the late 90s and early 2000s when writer Joss Whedon was at the critical peak of his television career – having famously turned his concept into one of the most definitive television series of the era by the same name – and never spared a possible breath to condemn Kuzui’s product as not his script (which I kind of don’t believe… a lot of the dialogue sounds like proto-Whedon*). It rubs me wrong for a couple of reasons: first, it feels like kind of a bad image for a self-proclaimed feminist fanbase to totally bag on the then-barely experienced female filmmaker as the source of all its problems and rush to acquit the barely-experienced man writing it.
Second, and this one is going to get me fucking shot by somebody (probably somebody close to me), but I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie is better than Buffy the Vampire Slayer the TV series.
I mean, certainly not on the merit of craft, I must admit. I did just point out how the film’s budget affords it little visual personality and it makes the tv show – no Golden Age series itself but certainly having a punk-ish flair that appealed to me (especially with the demon makeup on the vampires) – look as polished as The Sopranos. Shocking that I would lean towards the movie as a noted formalist when the form in the film is so lacking, but I did say I’m not too fond of it to begin with.
It makes up for this with its lead and director being of two minds: I don’t know what was going in Kuzui’s mind during production but the movie she made feels a little bit more interested in the valley girl side of Buffy’s life (which matches a mood similar to Kuzui’s directorial debut Tokyo Pop!, a bubbly turn-of-the-80s exhuberance with whatever’s poppy) than the actual vampire movie aspect while Donald Sutherland’s performance as a literal stick-in-the-mud of Buffy’s life doubles down on the sincerity of his plea in an environment that rejects it and the nuisance he supplies to Buffy’s life by popping up randomly in high schools and malls to make his declarations. And Kristy Swanson grabs hold of the stereotypical blonde cheerleader elements of Buffy that the character is meant to act as a refutation of and instead leans into it as the source of all her own inner commentary and anxieties about her destiny as the slayer, making the character’s despair about having her simple life derailed by higher responsibilities feel like more than just a huge drag (it also helps that Swanson is the only real person on-screen who knows how to treat the material as comic besides Paul Reubens, who thinks this whole thing is just a goddamn cartoon and exits the film with a gloriously famous scene that lets us know just how much he does). She suddenly is expected to upend her entire personality and accommodate the expectations of this old dude in a trenchcoat.
The thesis of the film feels clear by Kuzui and Swanson’s hands: while the tv series Buffy is focused on explaining that there can be strength in these sort of girls DESPITE their apparent fitting into this super bubbly cheerleader mold (something that the series pulled away from as Buffy grew out of high school and went to college), the movie feels like an argument that there is a strength BECAUSE their fitting into this mold and there’s nothing wrong or necessary to change. It’s the parting words of Sutherland’s watcher character, it’s the basis of the final prom gym fight, and it’s honestly just a lot more interesting and direct a commentary on the horror genre’s stereotypes by taking this path. It even feels extremely generous to its central character for this reason and I can’t help being happy that a movie with a script that might want to treat its heroine as a bimbo joke avoids that.
So yeah, Buffy the Vampire Slayer… not really a good movie but deserves more credit than it gets and this is possibly the only time you will hear me argue for a film solely on its content rather than its form.
NB: Given that this Friday Fight is in memoriam of the late Luke Perry, I don’t really have many remarks to make about his performance itself sadly but I must say that my poor-boy attire aesthetic of flannels and leather jackets and (whenever my hair can manage) combed-back may have been subconsciously informed by Pike’s look.
*For the record, this petulant desire to trash the movies he wrote that got a poor reception as though he is wholly without fault has made me never really warm to Whedon as a personality, even as a rabid Firefly/Serenity fanatic and even as somebody who hates Alien: Resurrection. What a baby!
KENNY FASOLO: Today, I will be offering a few words about Buffy The Vampire Slayer… not the TV show, but the 1992 film that served as inspiration for the TV series of the same name. I will also be focusing on one of its stars being Luke 90120 Perry who recently was struck down at the age of 52 by stroke. He plays the school outcast Pike who helps Buffy battle the undead with style and some dated but funny lines about her and the situation. Granted, I had to re watch the 1992 film again because I hadn’t watched since it first came out.
Luke’s portrayal of Pike offers balance to Buffy as they get to know each other as she trains to be the Slayer of her generation. He is also knows the destruction that these vampires can bring if they aren’t dealt with. He shines most when he is one encouraging and helping Buffy.
If you like the TV show, then checkout the movie.
RACHAEL HAUSCHILD: I must admit, I had not seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie until now. I rarely watched the show when I was younger, but I do know the basic background of the story. What it boils down to is that Buffy is a fun 90’s flick, but nothing too much more than that. Viewer beware, this is not a serious movie if that is what you’re looking for. Joss Whedon’s script is comprised of valley girl meets grunge. The term that comes to mind after seeing this was ‘bubble gum’. Buffy feels like a rough draft and that we’re still waiting for the creme de la creme, but instead we see the campiness of this coming of age and how the director just rolls with it.
I kept hearing about the Buffy movie and after finally getting to see it, I’m glad I did despite the qualms I have with it. I will go and say that I love the cast involved. Kristy Swanson plays a great bubbly Buffy working next to the names of Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, Hilary Swank, David Arquette and a youthful Ben Affleck. I’ve heard it before that Luke Perry is one of the better parts of the movie and people aren’t wrong. Perry as Pike adds the smolder that melts hearts and is the perfect bad boy companion. Buffy is fully capable of sticking up for herself, but it’s nice to see someone have her back when needed. Buffy the Vampire Slayer may not be some award winning Oscar movie, but it is representable of 90’s culture and makes this an enjoyable nostalgic viewing experience.