“I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe I’m in a graveyard with a strange man hunting for vampires on a school night.”
Fran Rubel Kuzui seems like an odd choice to end up helming a vampire comedy. Her only other film was Tokyo Pop, a drama about a young American woman trying to make it in Tokyo. But she and her husband, producer Kaz Kuzui, had found the script for Buffy the Vampire Slayer written by a then unknown writer named Joss Whedon, put the financing together with Dolly Parton’s production company, and got it made. Apparently, it was off-the-wall enough that the studio didn’t request a known commodity for the director’s chair. So Rubel Kuzui directed it, and made what feels like a bit of a mess. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we kick off the last series in our 11th season – 90s Comedies. For this first episode of the series, we’re looking at Rubel Kuzui’s 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
We need to talk about Joss.
Unfortunately, Joss Whedon (or Tig Notaro as we like to call him) is a key part of this property, and we have to discuss a bit about who he is and why he’s a problem. But a lot of other people worked on this film as well as the spinoff shows that it’s still valuable to talk about these properties. We do, though, have to acknowledge him. And we definitely complain about signs of his issues as they come out in his writing and treatment of the protagonist.
The Film Vs. the TV Series
The TV series obviously was huge and had its own spinoff, comics, video games, etc. The Buffyverse is massive and still popular. So how does this film feel as the origin of all of that? That’s a tough place to start because, well, this film’s a mess. The film never can settle on a tone so ends up feeling disjointed and rushed. The world-building, while it has a strong foundation, doesn’t get enough focus so far too many elements feel disconnected and nonsensical.
The actors deliver fine performances for the most part. The challenge is that so many of the characters feel underwritten. Is that on Notaro? On rewrites dictated by the studio? Improv done on set at the behest of Rubel Kuzui? It’s hard to say, but it makes it feel like some of the actors are giving fairly flat performances. Only Paul Reubens really shines in his role, as he seemed to figure out what was going on. That leaves Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, David Arquette, Hilary Swank, and many others flailing.
In the end, this ends up disappointing us. We had remembered enjoying it back in the day. But now, it just doesn’t stand up well on its own and, for any fans of the show, feels like a rough first draft. But it does allow for a fantastic conversation, so check it out if you’d like then tune in. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!
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