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Feature: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Buffy spread

Buffy The Vampire Slayer has its less than glamorous origins in an early Nineties teen movie that bombed at the box office. How did such a film failure give birth to perhaps the greatest TV show ever made?

In 1992 the rather appropriately-named film Buffy the Vampire Slayer failed to impress and, making less than $20 million, should have been consigned to the vaults of forgotten films. Instead, it become extremely important for genre fans, as it spawned an incredibly successful television series that has grown from niche favourite to Cult classic during its seven-year run. But how exactly did something so completely uninspiring on the big screen go on to change the face of small-screen Fantasy shows forever?

Buffy the movie was an extremely different beast on paper to how it finally appeared on screen. Writer Joss Whedon had envisioned a dark, adult comedy rather than the fluffy Buffy-lite version that emerged thanks to endless screenplay rewrites. His original central character was a strong female heroine – an antidote to the screaming, hopeless blonde victims of his favourite Horror movies. Yes, his Buffy was beautiful and popular, but she was also tough and streetwise with a massive mean streak where vampires were concerned. By casting bubbly Kristy Swanson, star of Pretty in Pink and Mannequin on the Move, in the lead role, it was immediately clear that the film-makers were simply aiming for fun and frolics rather than any serious entertainment. By surrounding her with vacuous, bimbette friends whose only concerns were shopping and boys, there are no characters to really care about apart from the Slayer herself. And, to be honest, although some of us may share in her desire to marry Christian Slater, she spends so much time whinging and moaning about her destiny that it is very hard to cheer her on.

Thankfully, when the television show was launched in 1997, Joss Whedon retained all creative control. Most importantly, this meant he was able to present his characters without having to watch them being rewritten into blandness by others. The casting of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy ensured the character’s popularity – although she can certainly turn a few heads, she has got the humour and attitude to keep viewers of both sexes interested. She is an everyday girl, with more than just superficial worries to occupy her time – jobs, family and the like are all important to her and she comes across as a well-rounded character. She is surrounded by a group of multi-talented friends who are more than just her support staff. Xander, Willow, Giles and the rest all have their fair share of screen time and storylines, and although it may be Buffy’s show, she’s not an egotistical star. This is the real secret behind the film’s failure and the show’s longevity – an ensemble piece is always far more interesting than a one-man band. Buffy the show’s success was undoubtedly thanks to its diverse, talented group of characters, who have grown together and who provide more than one focal point for the show.

by Nikki Baughan

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Cult Times Special #27

Buffy © 20th Century Fox, image © Visual Imagination
Feature © Visual Imagination 2003. Not for reproduction

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