Saturday, March 1, 2008

Underrated, Underappreciated Movies, Day 3: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Today's Pick:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the movie predecessor to Joss Whedon's smash hit television series, was also his first major writing credit (aside from a few episodes of Roseanne, but who cares about that show). It got critically reviled and publicly ignored, holding a 30% on Rottentomatoes and a 5.3 overall rating on IMDB, and pulled down a 16 million dollar theatrical run.

What Turned Them Away?

- Uh...the whole thing. Honestly, this movie is kind of a mess, and it would be a challenge for me to convince you otherwise. It's basically Heathers with vampires, and though it doesn't speak much for its originality, just try and tell me that that isn't a winning formula in and of itself. The movie never quite lives up to its premise, though, What it ends up being is a sanitized, theater-friendly packaging of healthy girl power and unselfish altruism coming from people you'd never expect it from. These very serious themes end up clashing with the first hour of the movie, which is a bizarre mixture of fluffy Valley Girl comedy and bizarre satire.

What Should Have Kept Them?

+ It may be a mess, but it's a very watchable one. I seriously can't imagine anyone sitting through this movie without cracking a smile or laughing, whether it's from the humiliating way the movie has aged or one of the movie's legitimately amusing moments. Donald Sutherland is taking himself entirely too seriously (of course), but it's all comically dispelled when Buffy asks him if he has any gum during a long huffy monologue about evil powers. And watching Buffy surreptitiously look for her first vampire to kill while walking through a dark alley and singing "Feelings" is one of the most surreal, amusing moments I've had in a while.

And even if you don't find these kinds of things funny, the movie is simply bad enough to enjoy in the MST3K style. Where most bad movies generally take themselves too seriously to torment, and most "camp" movies do it to themselves to the point where it actually gets tiresome, Buffy strikes the perfect balance. I really think there's something in this movie to please everyone, if they're willing to buck up and give it a shot.

+ The evolution of Joss Whedon. For those who are fans of any of Joss Whedon's other efforts, it's interesting to see where the master got his start - from some twisted rendition of anti-undead feminism to writing ratings gold (or in the case of Firefly, quickly-canceled but well-loved gold). And though I'm sure the studio nerfed it all to hell, there are glimmers of Whedon's trademark cleverness scattered throughout the movie. In the hands of anyone else, this would have been unwatchable on any level.

I classify Buffy the Vampire Slayer as underappreciated because I think people took it way too seriously, as they still seem to. Maybe it had been billed as a legitimate action/comedy flick 15 years ago - I wouldn't know - but in this day and age, it best serves its purpose as a laughable/laughably bad excursion into...vampire comedy? Yeah. I make no promises with this one but I'm sure some of you could find it in your heart to give it a shot.

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