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‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 31, 1992


Fran Rubel Kuzui
Kristy Swanson;
Donald Sutherland;
Rutger Hauer;
Luke Perry;
Paul Reubens
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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You'd think that a picture about an air-headed high school cheerleader who discovers that she, of all people, has been chosen by history to defend her schoolmates from the deadly threat of blood-sucking vampires would at least rate high marks for originality, but "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has only the appearance of novelty. In reality it's just a new, high-concept bottle for the old wine of vacuous valley-girl jokes.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that the jokes are pretty good, the premise is just off-the-wall enough to keep you tittering, and its star, Kristy Swanson, is perhaps the first movie personality ever to master a comic style that can only be described as pertly deadpan. Plus, she's a fox.

The movie is a mess from start to finish. Fran Rubel Kuzui, the film's director -- she also made "Tokyo Pop" -- begins scenes that dribble off to no real purpose or are broken off abruptly without resolution. But then again, this jerky, haphazard approach is part of the movie's goofy charm. Kuzui doesn't attempt to disguise the fact that the picture is a junk food item; instead, she simply lets the jokes fly in a spirit of disheveled camp.

The plot, such as it is, is barely worth mentioning. Buffy, it seems, is only one in a centuries-long line of vampire slayers. Of course, she knows nothing about her calling until Merrick (Donald Sutherland), the slayer trainer, shows up to inform her that she'll have to skip her cheerleading practice to drive stakes through the hearts of the undead and prepare for her ultimate showdown with the vampire leader, Lothos (Rutger Hauer).

Yeah, like, include me out, she says.

Grudgingly, Buffy comes to accept her vampire slayer destiny, even if it does cut down on her mall time and make her mucho unpopular with her girlfriends. They can't figure out why all of a sudden she's not interested in the senior dance (this year's theme: Give the Earth a Hug); or why she's started hanging out with a boho loser named Pike (Luke Perry). They're so dense, in fact, that they don't figure out what's going on until the vampires, led by Lothos's lieutenant, Amilyn (Paul Reubens, a k a Pee-wee Herman), crashes the senior dance, setting the stage for Buffy's final showdown with Lothos.

All this nonsense, including Sutherland's hilariously mystified performance -- he seems geniunely surprised to find himself in this picture -- and Reubens's death-scene equivalent of his never-ending kiss in "Big Top Pee-wee," washes painlessly over us. The movie's real problem is that, after you've seen it, you're not sure if you've really seen anything. Even before it's over, it's as if it never really happened. Like a vampire, it turns into mist and vanishes.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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