Do you have any gum?
Before Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku (mmm…) kicked vampire ass on the WB Network — five years before, to be precise — there was the theatrical movie. I’ve never been a fan of the TV show, because the movie captured my heart. I love it in ways that cannot be rationalized, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its DVD release. But, is this what I’ve really been waiting for?
Buffy (Kristy Swanson, Dude, Where’s My Car?) is everything a SoCal girl aspires to be — rich, a cheerleader, nicely accessorized, dating the captain of the basketball team. She’s also the Chosen One, the latest incarnation in a line of female vampire slayers. Of course, she doesn’t know this until Merrick (Donald Sutherland, Space Cowboys), the trainer of the Chosen Ones, informs her of her birthright. His appearance coincides with a rash of killings by vampires in Los Angeles, spearheaded by the master vampire Lothos (Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner) and his assistant Amilyn (Paul Reubens, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). Can this Valley Girl defeat the vampire legions without breaking a nail?
You’re probably reading this review because either you want the DVD, or you’re really bored. For the latter group, I’m going to tell you why this movie rocks the Casbah. For the former group…this won’t take long. Since both groups likely have limited attention spans, I’ll give you the Top Ten Things I Think Are Great About Buffy.
10. Since I know nothing of Buffy the TV show, I’m not going to pretend to compare the two. What I can tell you is that Buffy the movie is the best blend of horror and comedy since Army of Darkness, even though technically Buffy came first, and it’s balanced more toward humor than horror — there’s barely a drop of blood to be seen.
9. Kristy Swanson is a babe. There’s no denying it. Sarah Michelle Gellar, eat your heart out.
8. It features a song from one of my favorite ’90s bands, Toad the Wet Sprocket. Also, one of the other songs was written by Danny Elfman, former Oingo Boingo front man and film composer extraordinaire.
7. It’s a bit part watcher’s paradise. Look for Natasha Gregson Wagner (from High Fidelity; she’s also Natalie Wood’s daughter) as the first of Buffy’s friends to be bitten, Sasha Jenson (I recognized him from Dazed and Confused) as a vampiric basketball player, Thomas Jane (of Deep Blue Sea) as a mechanic, Stephen Root (of News Radio and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) as the school’s principal, and Candy Clark (American Grafitti) as Buffy’s mom. Most importantly, there’s an uncredited Ben Affleck as a basketball player.
6. At least a couple members of the supporting cast went on to bigger and better things. David Arquette scored sequels for life when he landed a role in Scream four years later. Hilary Swank showed little acting promise in Buffy, but followed it up two years later with The Next Karate Kid. After that, she was replaced by a replicant, and the HilaryBot went on to win an Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry.
5. Whatever happened to Dylan…err, I mean, Luke Perry?
4. Did I mention that Kristy Swanson is a babe?
3. The old guys — Rutger Hauer and Donald Sutherland. Hauer camps it up, though he doesn’t go over the top in a way that, say, Tim Curry would. In the featurette included on the disc, Sutherland admits that he felt embarrassed telling people he was in a movie called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He plays Merrick with detached bemusement, which is exactly the tone that the movie needs.
2. I like cheerleader movies. If you’re a hetero male, I’ll bet you do too. I like vampire movies. I’ll bet you do too, no matter what your gender affiliation is. Put the genres together, and you have something special.
And, the number one reason…
1. Paul Reubens. You can forget everything else I’ve said about this movie. Everything else in the movie could be cut out, and the scenes with Paul Reubens would be the purest entertainment Hollywood could muster. Buffy was released about a year after his arrest in a Sarasota, Florida adult theater. I don’t know if it was filmed before or after that event, but in either case, it was an attempt to branch out from the Pee-Wee Herman character he had been identified with for so long. Unfortunately, the arrest and public disgrace caused him to retreat from the public eye for several years, and it’s only just recently that he’s found steady work again. Amilyn the vampire is far removed from Pee-Wee. He’s very funny, but almost in an unintentional way. He has some of the best lines in the movie (“You ruined my jacket! Kill him a lot!”), as well as the movie’s singular best scene: his thrashing, drama queen death throes. It never fails to have me rolling on the floor in laughter, often with milk coming out of my nose.
For such a sublime movie, it saddens me deeply to inform you that the disc is quite possibly one of the worst Fox has produced in quite a while. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, preserving its theatrical aspect ratio, but that’s about the best thing I can say about it. Much of the film takes place at night in the dark (duh, it’s about vampires!), but the marginally trained chimpanzee responsible for the transfer balanced it in favor of the shiny happy scenes. Thus, the brightly lit scenes have nice color balance and accurate tones, while those that are dimly lit appear washed out. The print is quite grainy, though is strangely free of dust blemishes. I didn’t notice much in the way of digital artifacts or edge enhancement (it has a nice high average bitrate of about 7.82 Mb/sec; in comparison, the recently rereleased Die Hard was about 7.79 Mb/sec), likely because the image lacks sharpness. For shame, Fox.
Audio is available in 4.0 Surround, as well as Pro-Logic 2-channel surround. I assumed that 4.0 Surround transfers simply split the encoded channels of a Pro-Logic track into discrete channels, but this one apparently was remixed by the cousin of the marginally trained chimp who did the video transfer. It has a 448 kbit/sec bitrate, so overall it sounds better than the 2-channel track with the lower bitrate, but there are sound issues that are heard in the 4.0 track that cannot be heard in the 2.0 track. Audible hiss can be heard in many of the ADRed scenes (that’s Additional Dialogue Replacement, where they re-dub lines in post-production). It even fades in and out as different characters talk — listen during Buffy and Merrick’s conversation in the gym in chapter 9. Buffy talks, you hear hiss. Merrick talks, no hiss. Some scenes were “enhanced” by adding reverb to the dialogue to give it a sense of space. That’s fine and dandy when it belongs, but someone fell asleep on their keyboard when they added it to the discussion in Merrick’s car in chapter 12…they’re not in a Pinto, they’re in the Batcave! Switching back and forth between the tracks, this echoing effect is not present in the 2.0 track. Like I said, overall the 4.0 track has better sound quality, but I’m very tempted to give it the overused label “defective.”
For extras, the selection is limited. There’s the theatrical trailer; a little poor quality but at least it’s anamorphic (and curiously, with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio). There’s a four-minute promotional featurette puff piece, which I’ll bet played on HBO around the time of its theatrical release. There’s two 30-second TV spots that feature Paul Reubens and Luke Perry prominently. Lastly, there’s a cornucopia of “Fox Flix” trailers, which for once come close to matching the tone of the film: Batman: The Movie, Big Trouble In Little China, The Legend of Hell House, and Young Frankenstein.
Okay, I’ll admit it. Buffy The Vampire Slayer is pretty dumb, but it’s the sort of movie where normal rules of movie intelligence don’t apply. It’s the kind of thing you watch to laugh at, that you don’t have to think about, that you watch to have fun. That’s why I love it. Besides, it has Paul Reubens, and with the possible exception of Dunston Checks In, any movie with Paul Reubens at least has that redeeming quality going for it.
I only wish Fox had gone to a little more trouble to ensure that the audio and video transfer were acceptable if not exceptional. Unfortunately, both are rather poor. The review copy we received arrived about two weeks ahead of the street date and had “For Screening Purposes Only” emblazoned on the disc, so it’s possible that it was an early check version, and the audio problems have been corrected for the retail release. Or, to paraphrase another of my favorite comedies, maybe monkeys will fly out of my ass.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer as a movie I heartily recommend to anyone with a sense of humor. Buffy The Vampire Slayer as a DVD I’m giving a reluctant pass due to its poor audio and video, and its dearth of meaningful extras. Wait, did I just imply that I expected something meaningful out of a movie named Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Scratch that from the record. I meant “dearth of cool features.” Still, if you’re like me and just want this in your collection for when you’re in the mood, it’s unlikely that another DVD release is forthcoming, so you might have to grit your teeth and pick it up.
I can’t help but mention that with my latest viewing of Buffy, I was reminded strongly of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot,” which I read a month or two ago. It’s quite interesting to see vampire myth brought to contemporary America. Yeah, that’s pretty much where the parallels end, but it still reminded me of “Salem’s Lot” for some reason, probably because they’re both the only vampire fiction where I’ve seen the notion that vampires must be invited into a building to be able to attack the inhabitants.
Nicely accessorized. Wink, wink.