Back in the bad old days of the '50s and '60s, schlockmeisters made movies with titles like Teenage Caveman and Frankenstein vs. The Space Monsters - for which the video title is Mars Invades Puerto Rico.
The producers knew what they were making: camp.
Now, here comes the 20th Century Fox's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," shot with an ample budget and first-class actors. Trouble is: The filmmakers haven't the foggiest notion of what they're aiming for.
A Dracula spoof? (The laughs are sparse.)
A thriller? (It's not very scary.)
A teen attraction? (Perhaps, since Luke Perry's in the cast.)
Buffy (Kristy Swanson) leads cheers at Emery High School, somewhere in the affluent wasteland of Los Angeles. She obviously pays more attention to boys than books, since she believes El Salvador is in Spain and offers this solution to the ozone layer problem: "Get rid of it."
Along with three other mall dolls, Buffy speaks a Valley Girl dialect ("Will you get out of my facial!").
Buffy's life changes when she's accosted by a bearded stranger (Donald Sutherland) in an overcoat. No flasher, he's simply someone designated over the centuries to seek out maidens with unique skills for disposing of vampires.
He escorts the unbelieving Buffy to the local graveyard to observe the unearthing of vampires. After a fierce battle, Buffy becomes a believer. She trains like a Jean-Claude Van Damme and soon is able to zap her attackers with her feet and the obligatory stake to the heart.
Lothos, the charismatic vampire king (Rutger Hauer), is aided by the vicious but inept Amilyn (Paul Reubens). They manage to infect many of Buffy's classmates, adding confusion to her mission. Buffy finds an ally in Pike, a social outcast (Perry).
At 85 minutes, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" betrays evidence of severe editing, often a sign of studio panic. The plot seems to fast forward, prompting the viewer to ask, "Did I miss something?"
Joss Whedon's screenplay, with it's emphasis on teenspeak and double entendre, offers little help.
Under Fran Rubel Kuzui's direction, the action is clumsily staged, and the terror is stifled by swift cutaways.
Sutherland strives valiantly to bring credence to the impossible plot, and his presence is comforting. The reliable Hauer has too little screen time to develop Lothos beyond a cardboard villain, and Reuben's role is mostly cackle and hiss.
Perry brings a smooth sincerity to Pike, but the character is too sketchy to predict a life beyond "Beverly Hills 90210."
Miss Swanson is a definite find in the title role, easy on the eyes and convincing as both an airhead and a killing machine.
If Jessica Lang can survive King Kong, maybe
Miss Swanson will be able to live down "Buffy the Vampire
Funny business, these vampire flicks. How fortunate
the filmmaker who can say that his leading man is Count
Dracula; yet how unfortunate that the script itself sucks. The
screenplay for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - the cinematic
debut of "Beverly Hills, 90210" heartthrob Luke Perry
- manages to be both simple and hard to fathom. You quickly get
the concept (high-school student discovers she's been chosen by
fate to battle blood-lusting ghouls). But why vampires have become
a plague and why Buffy (Kristy Swanson) harbors mixed emotions
about their leader, Lothos (Rutger Hauer) go unexplained. "Buffy"
wastes the talent of Swanson, who resembles a young Cybill Shepherd.
The romantic angle doesn't pan out, either - how can it be when
the principals are a Valley Girlish cheerleader and a leading
man who's strictly James Dean Lite? Yet the film's basic problem
is that it fails to create what might be called the vanilla fudge
effect, the delicious swirling of the scary and the funny that
marked, say, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. As
a comedy, "Buffy" is a horror show, and vice versa.