Buffy the Vampire Slayer

July 31, 1992

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is an unusual cult movie because it’s largely remembered for the same reason it’s dismissed: it’s overshadowed by its long running TV show followup. In that sense it’s Gen-X’s answer to M*A*S*H.

Had that not happened, maybe there would be more passion for this likable if not entirely successful execution of a cute horror-comedy idea. The director is Fran Rubel Kuzui (TOKYO POP), the screenwriter is then-25-year-old Roseanne staff writer Joss Whedon, and its gimmick is almost there in the title: what if the popular, mall-loving, air-headed Valley Girl cheerleader was not just fodder in a vampire movie, but the chosen one destined to protect humanity? I can’t actually think of many Valley Girl cheerleaders in horror – it seems more like a twist on fake horror movies within other movies than on the actual genre – but it works as a tongue-in-cheek way to cross a high school comedy with horror, and at least superficially point to the serious place where their themes can overlap.

Buffy (Kristy Swanson, MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE) is a superficial L.A. high school senior with a dumb jock boyfriend named Jeffrey (Randall Batinkoff, THE PLAYER) and mean-girl friends like Jennifer (Michele Abrams, TROLL 2), Nicki (Paris Vaughan, PRETTY SMART) and Kimberly (Hilary Swank in her first movie). They’re the planning committee for an upcoming school dance with the socially conscious theme “the environment” and the slogan “Hug the World.” They like going to the mall, and to the movies. Buffy cares about THX and Dolby, and won’t go to the Galleria because they play foreign trailers (which at this time might’ve included DELICATESSEN and ZENTROPA).

They also talk during movies, much to the annoyance of overcoat-and-skull-t-shirt-wearing bad boy stoner kids Pike (Luke Perry a few seasons into Beverly Hills, 90210) and Benny (David Arquette, WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU). I think maybe these boys are supposed to be older – if not, I don’t think they go to the same school. But they all see each other at Café Blasé, which is basically a bar but without alcohol because this is a teen movie. (Pike always carries a flask anyway.)

One day when Buffy is alone in the gym practicing gymnastics she’s approached by a mysterious man named Merrick (Donald Sutherland not long after BACKDRAFT). She seems to assume he’s some pervert, but doesn’t tell him off quite assertively enough for that scenario. Since he not only knows her name but the content of her dreams (since they’re about the lives of previous Slayers he trained) she agrees to go with him to a cemetery, where they watch a guy rise out of his grave as a vampire, and she proves to be a natural at staking him.

Okay, yep, she’ll be the Slayer I guess. There are some good training montages – one has I believe a really well executed Texas switch so a double does a bunch of handsprings and then becomes the real Swanson doing a flying kick in the same shot. Plus a well timed gag that the bag swings back and hits her.

(Second unit director/stunt coordinator: Terry J. Leonard [COBRA, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO]. Martial arts trainers: Pat E. Johnson [choreographer/referee from the KARATE KID movies] and James Lew [BEST OF THE BEST].)

Sutherland (who Whedon hated for rewriting all his dialogue) has the seriousness and gravitas to ground the movie, while most of the other performances are pretty broad. But the story does shift from laughing at Buffy to treating her emotions seriously as she struggles to balance the fun teenager things she wants to do with her new supernatural responsibilities. It also treats her romance with Pike very sincerely, which I guess is what you gotta do when having a 90210 dreamboat in your cast got you your greenlight.

Buffy’s parents (Candy Clark [AMERICAN GRAFFITI] and James Paradise [SLEEPAWAY CAMP]) are inattentive party-goers who don’t notice that she’s going out to patrol at night. She starts missing cheerleading and dance practice and is also a little torn between her in-crowd school friends and her new possible love interest Pike, who finds out about vampires after Benny gets bit and appears at his apartment window with fangs, pointy ears and levitation powers.

When Buffy tries to have a serious talk with her friends about what’s going on in her life they don’t know what the fuck she’s talking about. The costume department signals her shift by dressing her in a plaid shirt, cut off jeans and Doc Marten-like boots – there’s that Lollapalooza influence for you. The soundtrack features alternative-radio-friendly acts Matthew Sweet, Toad the Wet Sprocket, diVINYLS, The Cult and Mary’s Danish. (But also Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera with Rob Halford, Susanna Hoffs covering Oingo Boingo, and the Canadian rappers Dream Warriors. And an opening C+C Music Factory jam during a cheerleader routine.)

Pike contrasts with Buffy and her rich kid friends because he works as a mechanic, drives a shitty van, plays (or at least carries around) a guitar (acoustic – Buffy uses a piece of it as a stake), and can barely afford one hot dog (no condiments) at the cafe. The meeting of Buffy and Pike’s sensibilities is visualized at the school dance when she wears his leather jacket over her gown (torn off for mobility during fights), an image Whedon liked enough to re-use for the first season finale of the TV show.

Even as it gets more serious there are some clever jokes. Buffy thinks vampires can’t enter the gym unless they’re invited, but it’s the senior dance, and they’re seniors, so they’re already invited. Also she holds a cross up to a vampire, he puts his hand on it, causing it to catch on fire, to show he’s unimpressed, but then she sprays hairspray on it to torch his face. As would become Whedon’s trademark, it has some funny lines and cutesy language quirks, like Buffy reacting to Merrick in the locker room by asking, “What are you doing here? This is a naked place” or Amilyn saying, “You ruined my new jacket. Kill him alot!” On the TV version Whedon further developed and popularized his distinct form of slangy, stylized dialogue, which got formulaic and especially annoying after others started imitating it, but he was very good at it and it was fun for a while.

I wonder if Buffy and Cher ever crossed paths while shopping?

Of course, we gotta credit Daniel Waters and HEATHERS as the godfather of this approach to teen dialogue – BUFFY even borrows the term “what’s your damage?” But re-watching this now I was surprised to make the connection that BUFFY must’ve itself been an inspiration for another teen classic, CLUELESS. You can chalk up a certain amount of it to satirizing the same California teen culture, but it’s striking how similar the colorful clothing (costume designer: Maria France, PURPLE RAIN, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON, BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY, ENCINO MAN), bubbly mall conversations and failed-grasp-of-social-issues jokes are between the two. They even shop at the same mall (Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks) and both want to marry Christian Slater (FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAIN FOREST).

Buffy’s arch-nemesis is the vampire master Lothos (Rutger Hauer, SPLIT SECOND), who knows they’re connected and enjoys toying with her, even letting her go to wait until she’s better prepared to challenge him. His most memorable stooge is Amilyn (Paul Reubens, BATMAN RETURNS), a character who’s played straight but made enjoyably camp by the casting of Reubens. It’s funny to see him fume at being outplayed by these dumb teens – he loses an arm after jumping on Pike’s van and there are a couple good lines taunting him about it. I’d say the most famous scene in the movie is when he dies and takes longer than expected to do it.

A nice visual idea is staging a fight at a storage facility for parade floats so that there’s lots of weird stuff in the background. (See also: HARD TARGET.) And setting the final battle at the school dance is the natural and perfect way to combine these genres. High pressure teen ritual crossed/compared with chaotic monster battle.

They must not have paid Candy Clark very much since she was able to negotiate this special credit.

Swanson is good in the role, and seems to have worked hard to learn kicks and stuff. I like seeing Perry get to be funny, since he was mostly known for a broody character. One novelty here is the number of later-familiar faces in small to tiny roles. Swank’s part is pretty big for a first timer, and a future two-time best actress winner as a jerky friend in a teen movie is always a fun time. Stephen Root (V.I. WARSHAWSKI) plays the principal a few years before NewsRadio brought him to my attention. Ricki Lake’s cameo as a waitress is casual enough to seem like a pre-fame bit part, but she’d already been in HAIRSPRAY and CRY-BABY, so it’s really just pre-talk-show-host. Natasha Gregson Wagner (in her third movie) has a small part as a vampire victim. Tom Jane (the same year he did NEMESIS) is credited as “Tom Janes” playing a character named Zeph, but I couldn’t spot him. I did notice Ben Affleck as a basketball player. Alexis Arquette plays a vampire who bumrushes the DJ at the school dance. IMDb and every trivia slideshow about the movie claim that Slash of Guns ’n’ Roses is the first DJ, but it sure doesn’t look like him to me. I’m also skeptical about claims that Seth Green (later on the TV show) is a vampire extra. It doesn’t look like him, and he’d been doing speaking roles for years by then.

BUFFY was featured alongside ENCINO MAN in a May 17th Los Angeles Times article about smaller youth oriented movies expected to take on the blockbusters during the summer. At that time it was said to have wrapped only two weeks earlier, but Fox was so impressed by the dailies that they moved the release date up and the domestic marketing president said, “We really have our summer kind of scheduled around BUFFY.” It ended up opening at #5 (#1 was DEATH BECOMES HER) but made $16 million on a $7 million budget. So, maybe not living up to the hype of the article, but not a disaster.

It does not seem to have gotten Kuzui any jobs. Her third and final directing credit on IMDb is for the 4-minute making-of featurette included on the blu-ray. But she and her husband Kaz produced a few things (TELLING LIES IN AMERICA, ORGAZMO) and started a company that imports American films to Japan and vice versa.

Whedon, on the other hand, quickly established himself as an in-demand script doctor, doing rewrites for THE GETAWAY, WATERWORLD and TWISTER and receiving lots of public (but not onscreen) credit for his work on SPEED. He did receive credit on TOY STORY, earning him an Oscar nomination, and got the prime gig of writing the next ALIEN movie, in which he used the power of cloning to undo one of Weird Summer’s biggest events (the death of Ellen Ripley in ALIEN 3). Like BUFFY, ALIEN RESURRECTION is a movie he publicly trashes as untrue to what he wrote.

The company behind BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was, believe it or not, Dolly Parton’s Sandollar Productions. They had produced the Academy Award winning documentary COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT, plus FATHER OF THE BRIDE and STRAIGHT TALK. Their television division’s president and CEO Gail Berman suggested the idea of turning BUFFY into a show, and though Whedon was now a Hollywood hotshot, he jumped at the chance to do Buffy the way he’d imagined it.

The show aired on the WB network five years after the movie, which it treated as backstory. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) moves to another town and gets back into slaying when she meets a new “watcher” and learns that the town is on a “Hellmouth” that attracts monsters and weirdness. There are changes, of course: the vampires can’t fly, and they turn to dust when they’re staked, and Buffy’s mom isn’t an idiot anymore. But the biggest switch up is tonal. There’s still plenty of character humor, but the show treats its horror mythology with absolute seriousness, and has the time to develop all kinds of soap opera style melodrama with crushes and relationships and broken hearts. For its time it was provocative in its willingness to kill beloved characters or turn them into evil demons. And it pioneered the then novel, now sorely missed format of a monster-of-the-week show that can be watched as mostly stand alone episodes but develops a larger story over the course of the season, building to a confrontation with a “Big Bad” – which in fact is a term coined and used frequently by the characters on the show.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer lasted for seven seasons, supplemented by five seasons of the spinoff Angel, plus a later comic book series representing a season 8, and another spinoff comic called Fray taking place in a distant future. It’s safe to say it made a bigger mark on pop culture than the movie. I think it pretty clearly inspired decades of soapy genre shows from Charmed to Roswell to Teen Wolf and those set the stage for all the Arrowverse DC Comics shows and many others. Whedon himself followed up with the quickly cancelled but culty popular sci-fi show Firefly (2002) and its movie followup SERENITY (2005). He wrote some X-Men comics, created an okay show called Dollhouse (2009), and wrote and produced THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

By this time Whedon was a brand name and well recognized voice, regardless of the financial success of the individual projects. He was treated as nerd culture royalty, but also everybody’s buddy. They called him “Joss.” He had been ahead of the curve as far as film and TV makers interacting with fans on the internet, first through an official Buffy bulletin board, later as a prolific early user of Twitter. Which is probly part of how he ended up writing and directing the third highest grossing movie of all time.

It’s easy to forget now after a decade plus of even more ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universing, but THE AVENGERS (2012) was something of a miracle. No one had tried a thing like that – making four separate movies and then crossing them over into one. Many comic book fans took it as a given that it would work, but I don’t think it was – we didn’t really know if semi-realistic-ish Iron Man, old timey cornball Captain America, fantasy viking Thor and the Incredible Hulk (now played by a different actor because the first guy didn’t work out) would really mesh on screen. Whedon pulled it off and, at least at the time, his trademark quippy dialogue was a big part of what pulled audiences in. I think Marvel’s tendency to follow its super heroics with self-deprecating jokes comes straight from him, and though I quickly became wary of it, it was a new approach to comic book movies at that time.

What a twenty journey that was, from frustrated writer of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER to director of the most successful movie ever made that was not directed by James Cameron. And yet in the ten years since then Whedon has become persona non grata.

It was kind of a camel’s back situation. First AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) didn’t go over that well. Then he took over JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017), and that was widely hated. That same year his ex-wife published an essay about him cheating on her with young actresses from his shows for 15 years, abusing his power and being a fake feminist. Though it didn’t seem to slow his career, it shattered the image that his dedicated fans had of him as a cool guy they could be friends with. So there weren’t many left to give him the benefit of the doubt when, in 2020, he was reported to have been a total fucking asshole to the cast of JUSTICE LEAGUE, and then multiple actresses and writers from Buffy and Angel came out with endless stories of him being “casually cruel” and demeaning to them throughout the making of those beloved shows.

Whedon denied some of it, half-assedly apologized for some of it, left his HBO show The Nevers, claimed to be in therapy. I make no claims about whether he should make movies or TV shows again or how I would feel about watching them. But I wanted to bring all of this up because I think the seeds of his alleged toxic attitudes are visible right here in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

Vulture did a really in-depth and fascinating profile of Whedon that thoroughly detailed the situation. Watching BUFFY this time, I remembered this passage:

“On our second day of interviews, I asked Whedon about his affairs on the set of Buffy. He looked worse than he had the day before. His eyes were faintly bloodshot. He hadn’t slept well. ‘I feel fucking terrible about them,’ he said. When I pressed him on why, he noted ‘it messes up the power dynamic,’ but he didn’t expand on that thought. Instead, he quickly added that he had felt he ‘had’ to sleep with them, that he was ‘powerless’ to resist. I laughed. ‘I’m not actually joking,’ he said. He had been surrounded by beautiful young women — the sort of women who had ignored him when he was younger — and he feared if he didn’t have sex with them, he would ‘always regret it.’”

I thought of that during Pike and Benny’s conversation after clashing with Buffy and friends at the cafe.

“Those rich bitches, they’re a plague,” Benny says. “They gotta be stopped.”

“What, you didn’t like ‘em?” Pike asks.

“I mean they’re all the same. They’re just so stuck up. It’s like they’re not even human. I hate ‘em.”

“Yeah, but would you bone ‘em?”

“Yes, definitely. Definitely. Please, God. Especially the blonde. Ooh, I’d give my right eye for a piece of that.”

Pike laughs at that, but to be fair he doesn’t agree, and says, “You don’t even like her, and you’d sleep with her. What is that?” Still, I think it’s a reflection of that “the sort of women who had ignored him when he was younger” stuff. Benny wants to have sex with “the blonde” as revenge against the “stuck up rich bitches.” Pike has the non-hostile version of the fantasy, but it comes from the same place: I say I don’t like the beautiful blonde normal girl, but I would give anything to be with her. That would show ‘em.

So this brings us back to that now-familiar arc – the rise of the weirdos, the outsiders and the nerds, the underdogs who I relate to and root for, but some of them turn out to be just as bad as the other guys. Just because you’re born a circus freak doesn’t mean it’s okay to be The Penguin. You should still be a nice person. Being different is the reward, not the motive for revenge on society (and women).

Ironically, Whedon’s last movie to date is sort of a reverse of the 1992 BUFFY situation when he felt the director and studio had failed his vision. On 2017’s JUSTICE LEAGUE he was the guy hired by the studio to rewrite, reshoot and re-edit another director’s unfinished movie. Original director Zack Snyder was at odds with Warner Brothers when he left to deal with a family tragedy. Under the theory that the movie wasn’t working, it made sense to bring in veteran script doctor/AVENGERS director Whedon to try to salvage it. But just as Whedon’s TV Buffy proved that his more serious vision of the story was better, the later streaming release of ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE proved that most of Whedon’s changes derailed and watered down what was at the very least a singular super hero epic. Whedon had taken out much of the drama and grandeur and made a joke out of it. Pullin’ a Kuzui on it, he might say.

So, who knows. There may be no more films by Joss Whedon, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer adventures. In 2018 it was reported that the Kazuis were working on a remake of the BUFFY movie, unrelated to Whedon or the TV show, which inspired more confusion than excitement. The same year there was an announcement of a sequel TV series with a new, more diverse cast and a “Slayer of color.” It was to be run by Monica Owusu-Breen, whose producing credits include the Buffy-inspired Charmed and Whedon-created Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with Whedon executive producing or something. It was never said if they would bring back any of the original characters/cast, but it seems like a no-brainer – it’s a show that’s absolutely ripe for one of these legacy-sequel type followups they do now. The only problem is, how could you do it without Whedon, and more than that, how could you do it with him? I don’t know.

In 1992, there probly wasn’t one person on earth who would’ve predicted that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER would have all this legacy and complicated history in 30 years, if it was remembered at all. But here we are. Anyway, it’s not a bad movie. I kinda like it.

time capsule/dated stuff:

Jeffrey eats “Doritos Light”! Principal with hippie past, mentions Doobie Brothers. Joke about believing Elvis is alive. Shabba Ranks record displayed on DJ stand.

Note: The name “Buffy” was not one you ever heard in real life back then – it was hacky comedy shorthand for a dumb lady; now when you hear it it always means the TV show based on this movie (or once in a blue moon Buffy the Human Beat Box from the Fat Boys).

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 15th, 2022 at 5:24 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

30 Responses to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

  1. This movie is kinda remarkable in a “Times have changed” way, in terms of the way movies are rated in Germany. When it came out as a VHS premiere over here, it got an 18 rating (which admittedly felt even by 1992 standards a bit too much, but I guess the involvement of teenagers made them rate it stricter). When they re-rated around 10 years later for a DVD re-release in the wake of the TV show, it passed uncut with a 12 rating.

    And I really miss Luke Perry. He had the “bad luck” of starting his career as a teen heartthrob, but when I saw him in later roles, he turned out to be a damn fine actor. Maybe he was one all along. Don’t know. Wasn’t into teen soap shit back then.

  2. re: the proposed reboot…

    1. I’m finding it a little hard to picture a black woman named Buffy. Hell, even a white woman. You’d have to call her something like Kayleigh The Vampire Slayer to keep up with dumb name trends.

    2. I think the central hook of the premise–that a silly cheerleader is actually a monster-killing badass–is entirely outdated. I’m sure you could find a few blonde bimbos that got skewered in the various Halloween and Friday the 13th sequels (wasn’t there a Muffy in Jason Takes Manhattan?), but I don’t think it’s much of a character trope anymore. You’re way more likely to see a female badass played totally straight than to see a ‘dumb blonde’. “Unassuming everywoman is really the Chosen One” has filtered so thoroughly into the mainstream, in so many YA novels and such, that there’s nothing fresh about it anymore. You’d have to change it to something like “the hot girl’s douchey boyfriend is really the Chosen One” or “the wacky teacher is really the Chosen One” to at all do the same subversion.

  3. I don’t know. While the “dumb cheerleader” trope still has pretty much died out in popculture, you could still make a character a cheesy social media influencer or Kardashian idolizer, who reluctantly becomes a true badass.

  4. Kaplan: That’s funny, because for a good chunk of my tenure as a booty magazine editor, one of the biggest names in the business was a black model/stripper with a bovine gaze and elephantine posterior named Buffie the Body. She probably made more money than Sarah Michelle Gellar playing the role.

  5. Maybe, but I’m speaking more in a meta sense. I find it hard to think of an influencer character in horror movies, beyond the characters in the last Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As Vern pointed out, cheerleaders weren’t ever an omnipresent character trope, but there was at least a public perception that slashers were about blondes with big tits running away from killers–both Scream and Scary Movie riffed on the idea. And there isn’t that same perception that influencers always get killed in horror movies.

    Although, to be fair, it was never *that* subversive an idea, when in most of the slashers Whedon was parodying, the cheerleader *might* die, but another female character would end up being the Final Girl and defeating the killer. And he himself had a more vapid, sexualized cheerleader to contrast with Buffy in Cordelia; though she did get more development than your average Mean Girl might.

  6. “the rise of the weirdos, the outsiders and the nerds, the underdogs who I relate to and root for, but some of them turn out to be just as bad as the other guys”

    Sad to say, but a whole lot of the oppressed are just waiting around hoping to get a chance to be the oppressors.

  7. It’s funny you mention M*A*S*H, Vern. Buffy and M*A*S*H are my two favorite TV series of all time– yet I’ve seen the Buffy movie once and didn’t take to it, and I’ve never gotten around to watching the M*A*S*H movie. I agree they were both overshadowed by their successor series.

    Buffy (the show) was a defining thing for me. I was already predisposed to the life, but it really deepened my obsession with TV, movies, film production, writing, etc. And Joss was a hero. He was a nerd but he was funny and charming and everyone around him seemed to also present him as a genius. You knew if his name showed up in the writing or directing credits of an episode that it would be great. His DVD commentaries were excellent– I remember watching a Firefly episode with commentary, and then immediately watching it again because it seemed so profound. I even loved Dollhouse, for crying out loud. So the revelation that he was secretly a huge asshole the whole time was a (sorry) stake to the heart. There’s a line in Angel season two (in an episode credited to Tim Minear, but go with me here) where Angel says “if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.” It’s basically the mission statement of the series– don’t look for a victory, or a reward, just be kind and do the right thing. That one scene shaped my morality way more than years of Catholic school ever did. And yet Whedon’s behavior betrays that philosophy.

    I haven’t gone back and revisited Buffy (the series) in many years. I used to be afraid it wouldn’t hold up, and now I’m afraid, knowing that Whedon was the Big Bad all along, that the dark underbelly was plain to see and that I’ve wasted years of my life because I’m a terrible judge of character, and that I hurt people by proxy because I supported this for so long. It’s the same as Louis C.K., for example. When you go back and watch their previous stuff, it’s like a confession. Vern, you bring up that scene with Pike and Benny. And now I wonder if Angel, the character from the series who is a sensitive good guy dreamboat and Buffy’s love interest, but who is also the most notorious vampire killer in history and becomes a monster as soon as he has sex with her– isn’t Whedon telling on himself. Or Spike, a badass vampire antagonist who is revealed to have been a milksop poet as a human, and who does terrible things to Buffy even though he claims to love her. It may definitely explain my least-favorite episode, the one where cool and sardonic Oz goes all werewolf and cheats on Willow because his animal nature compels him to. And don’t even get me started on the entire premise and not-very-sub subtext of Dollhouse, a series where hot young people are mindwiped and implanted with various personalities– a metaphor for acting and Hollywood, sure, but also the factory farm of young women Whedon apparently preyed on.

    Anyway, the Buffy movie. I don’t remember it very well. Maybe I should rewatch it. I think I didn’t like it when I saw it because it wasn’t the show. But I’d probably have a different perspective now. Maybe not a more forgiving one, though.

  8. Sorry for being that guy, but while I of course never expected Whedon to be THAT kind of an awful human being, I always had the suspicion that the man, who always blamed other people for the shortcomings of his work (“The actor said the line wrong! The director directed it wrong!”), might not be a fun person to be around and at the very least incapable of running a happy workplace.

    Also since the topic of M*A*S*H rarely comes around here: I like the series. It’s on TV all the time and whenever I catch an episode, it’s usually a good one (I still have seen maybe less than 1/8 of the whole show though), but I couldn’t warm up to the movie. I guess it was an “You had to be there” situation, but I failed to see what was supposed to be funny about it. It was basically a compilation of serious assholes doing serious asshole shit without getting the throatpunch they deserved for the things they said and did.

    That said: The segment with John Schuck’s fake funeral actually made me choke up a little.

  9. Bill: Totally with you, man. Joss revealing himself as a cruel bully was like a stake to the heart. I used to watch BUFFY all the way through every few years but I haven’t gone back for a single episode since the news came out. I had hoped to watch new Whedon joints for the rest of my/his life but now I hope he never gets put into a position of power ever again. He can go back to rewriting scripts and talking shit about it, but holding anyone’s livelihood in his hands is clearly too much for his fragile ego to handle. Fuck him.

    I also loved MASH the show as a kid but never took to the movie. It’s just mumbling. It makes me feel like I’m too high at a party and all I can do is sit in the corner and let the conversation wash over me until I sober up enough to leave.

  10. I mean, he was obviously a bit catty and in love with the sound of his own voice, but that was also the secret of his success. I didn’t think any of that equated to being cruel. He seemed to have great relationships with so many of his cast members. It was hard to imagine that these were merely his favorites and everyone else was treated like shit. But when the news came out, it all clicked. I had no trouble believing it.

  11. Even before the behind the scenes bully stuff came out, when his ex wife wrote that letter about how he cheated on her with actresses from the show, it certainly made me look differently at the main character of CABIN IN THE WOODS, a young woman who’d had an affair with an older man in a position of authority over her as her professor.

  12. I’m also team I-Like-M*A*S*H*-the-TV-Show-Didn’t-“Get”-M*A*S*H-the-original-movie-based-on-the-novel-M*A*S*H. And I like many of Altman’s later movies. And not just POPEYE. Although obviously especially POPEYE.

    I saw BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: THE MOVIE THAT WAS THEN MADE IN TO A TV SHOW AND NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND OR BASED ON ANYTHING EXCEPT A SCRIPT around 2004 and didn’t really get into it at all. It’s possible a lot of the late 20th Century Americanaisms would have flown (like a bat!) over my head at the time. I wanted to like it, because I wanted to be someone who said “I’m not really into the BUFFY TV show, but I did like the original movie” to blow people away with my iconoclastic tastes. The sound of those monocles hitting the floor would have been so sweet!

    I actually didn’t have any strong opinions on the TV show. I enjoyed catching it (and ANGEL) occasionally when I got home late (or what seemed late to a previous pretty coddled adolescent) on Friday nights, but that was about as far as it ever went. I gave FIREFLY a more sincere go a couple of times (including a SERENITY watch) and couldn’t get into it. I started to get a bit of anti-Whedon bent after I saw a video of him trying to rile his fanbase up to support SERENITY in a way that was probably necessary to juice a struggling film like that, but struck me as creepy and somewhat reminiscent of a cult leader. Add to that the constant “so-and-so-ruined-my-deathless-prose” interviews and by THE AVENGERS I was not a fan. I never suspected anything more sinister than that though, and when you hear about how much BUFFY meant to people in the early days and how cool a fan community it seemingly was (Alison Hanigan posting her phone number on the message boards for them to talk to her while her internet was down!) it is sad to think how much that’s been tainted (at the least) for many people.

  13. What I think will be interesting when I finally work up the cojones to watch BUFFY again is to pay closer attention to its central theme: power, who has it, what it means, and how to use it. Clearly this is a man incapable of wielding powe without abusing it, but do we always want our moral lessons given to us by those who’ve never strayed from the straight and narrow? So much of BUFFY is about the good things bad people do and vice versa. Now that Whedon’s nice guy mask is gone, all these insights might be more interesting.

    Or maybe I’ll just realize they should have killed off Xander in episode 6. Only time will tell.

  14. I first found out that they were making a Buffy show when a teacher brought in a bunch of textbook covers that were given to the school, and they all had advertisements for various shows on them, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I thought the idea of making that movie into a series was perhaps the dumbest thing imaginable, so I naturally used it for my bio textbook. And then I randomly saw an episode and got sucked into the damn thing. My family would occasionally make fun of my for watching a show about vampires, until they eventually sat down and watched a few episodes and also got hooked.

    I haven’t seen the show in a long time, but I absolutely loved it and have watched it through multiple times. So when Whedon was revealed to be a creep and an abusive boss, it hit me more than any other of these recent revelations. Like a lot of people, I’ve been afraid to even revisit his stuff.

    With that being said, I do find it kind of funny that the internet keeps on mocking Whedon’s dialogue by repeating the phrase “So that happened!,” which isn’t something he ever wrote and doesn’t even sound like his writing. You could absolutely criticize him for how cutesy he got with the English language, so there’s plenty to pick apart. But the internet, in their desire to take apart not just the guy but also his style, somehow misses, even when they have a sizeable target.

    Anyway, some day I’d like to revisit Buffy. It meant a lot to me when it aired. Also, count me among those who hates M*A*S*H: The Movie. I like a lot of Altman’s stuff, but that film is a huge whiff. And it’s not so subtly misogynist.

  15. You synthesized so many things about Whedon here, things that have been on my mind: the time when his style was genuinely refreshing and well-received, how it soured, and how his great big downfall feels like him becoming the villain of his own story (in which he becomes the powerful guy who steamrolls someone else’s vision, whether or not I enjoy that vision) . A month or so ago, I participated in a comedy event where I got to talk about/roast a lot of these aspects of him and the Buffy TV series, places where it feels like he’s showing glimpses of his worst tendencies as a person that’ll come up later in Act 3. Reading my favorite critic boil this down so elegantly (and shout out that the Buffy movie is a fun time in its way) was really cathartic. Great piece.

  16. Another weird one I just remembered: I read an article once where he talked about pitching for James Bond. He wanted to make the “different guys using the same codename” thing canon and also wanted to bring back Solitaire from LIVE AND LET die, because he was personally pissed off that she never showed up again after that movie because according to him “Bond actually loved her”. This is the character who Bond used a rigged Tarot deck to trick into giving up her virginity to him, btw.

  17. The movie is terrible. everything is off, the directing is flat. Pee-Wee was really funny and Hauer could have been a good villain if they gave him anything interesting to do. Was shocked a good tv show was made out of it but then just shows it’s all a matter of intent.

    I liked Whedon’s stuff but the guy was always really high on himself, and he’d throw in some fake self-deprecating humor in from time to time. His dialogue got annoying and way too cute, and man do I know a lot of filmmakers who grew up on that who made Whedon wannabes with shitty campy dialogue and it was always a bunch if friends who get together to save the world from whatever threat, then they’d make that same basic movie over and over.

    Whedon always talked a lot of shit BUT the thing was, he was generally right. I always thought the worst writing I’ve ever seen is the infamous X-Men bit about what happens to Toads as said by Storm, but when you hear Whedon explain how it should have been done, i’s like yeah…that would have worked. It still wasn’t GREAT, but it would have worked, and seeing the stuff he was able to control generally showed that.

  18. Thanks everybody, I’m enjoying the discussion. And check out the video linked on the comment just below. PJ humorously weighs current knowledge of Whedon and things about the show that are more obvious in retrospect against the inspiration many of us got from the show at the time. Good stuff. Looking up your podcast now, PJ.

  19. RBatty204, the mocking of Whedon’s dialogue gets to me too. Very occasionally someone will accurately mock his style, but 95 percent of the “____ as written by Joss Whedon” jokes are terrible. “So that happened” is actually a Mamet line!

  20. I will parrot something I saw a youtube video about the problem of MCU Bathos being that they took Whedon’s philosophy of ‘Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.’ and then just boiled it down to ‘for the love of God, tell a joke’. Whedon’s willingness to (typically) have actual stakes and consequences fulfilled in his stuff does set him apart from a lot of his emulators. Thor’s premonition of Ragnarok in AGE OF ULTRON was certainly much more intriguing than what we eventually got.

  21. Yeah Whedon knew how to turn the screws. I was a fan of Firefly and I remember watching the movie and during the climax I was like holy fuck are ANY of them going to make it out of there alive? Like, I actually thought they were gonna get mostly massacred, even though realistically that ain’t gonna happen.

  22. It’s kinda dispiriting to watch the internet flatten the discourse around Joss Whedon until it’s devoid of nuance. “Joss Whedon is a shitty human being” > “I don’t like modern Hollywood writing, particularly in the MCU” > “Joss Whedon is a bad writer and we will blame him for the bad writing in a lot of movies he wasn’t even involved in.”

    I can appreciate wanting to be aware of what an asshole a creative was or wanting to avoid their work, but turning the guy into a scapegoat for an entire megacorporation I think takes things past the point of helpfulness and into genuinely weird territory. And it’s not that I feel his work is unimpeachable, by any means–it’s just that he doesn’t get a nickel every time a screenplay inserts an inappropriate joke into a dramatic moment, y’know?

  23. I see Kaplan’s point.

    I’ll side step the whole “Whedon=Shitty Human Being” discourse since I completely accept that’s probably true while being able to separate The Art from The Artist.

    I too find it difficult to draw that through line from Whedon’s witty zingers in THE AVENGERS that’s organically incorporated into an overarching plot line about Super Powered Alphas with wildly disparate personalities needing to form a team to the current state of writing in the MCU where whole scenes play out as mere set ups for a punchline, damn the utter lack of logic when viewed against the larger narrative.

    Like…I have massive difficulty trying to picture that exchanges like “Stark, we need a plan of attack. I have a plan. Attack” is somehow a precursor to the moronic imbecility that largely power installments like RAGNAROK and LOVE & THUNDER and the few episodes of SHE-HULK I managed to endure (my wife calls it “Ally McBeal in the MCU”. I call it “Life’s Too Short For Shit Like This”).

    These are products of a different group of writers with an entirely different agenda most likely working off a different set of Management Memos.

  24. I feel kinda embarrassed by how much I liked Buffy and Angel back then considering I haven’t enjoyed anything Whedon has made since. I was tired of the guy’s quirks before it was popular to be tired of them. In light of how awful both Whedon and Swanson seem to be like as people I didn’t know how I’d feel about revisiting this one for the first time since childhood but it still slaps. Something endearing about Rutger Hauer as Head Vampire In Charge with Pee-Wee Herman as his Renfield. Plus Luke Perry was always the most likeable pretty boy of the 90s.

  25. I do think–again, shitholeness aside–Whedon failed to develop his style as his career went on. It made sense for the characters in Buffy to talk the way they did because they were teenagers. Then in Angel, okay, everyone’s an adult, but it’s the same universe–if you want an entirely different thing, why watch a spin-off? Firefly did more of a Western vibe and even the Avengers tried for a… almost Zach Snyder thing where the characters were as broken and terrifying as they were awe-inspiring and heroic (I have a hard time seeing Whedon’s Hulk stop to take selfies with fans).

    But MAN, he recycled a lot of his favorite tropes and archetypes (and dialogue style) without considering how fresh they were. And yeah, on the one hand, you don’t go to a Michael Bay movie to see things *not* blow up. But on the other hand, there’s being an auteur and then there’s being a one-trick pony.

    Though I recall his run on X-Men being good. Overhyped, but good.

  26. Is Dollhouse any good? It’s on Disney+ here in Asia.

  27. It starts very shakily and a little slight but gets a lot bigger and more interesting as it goes along. It definitely goes places you are not expecting and does not take its time getting there. It’s no BUFFY but it’s worth watching once.

  28. JTS–It’s unfortunately too easy to just dismiss everything someone created when they turn out to be shitty people. (And Whedon didn’t do himself any favors with that Vulture interview.) But, the world is more complicated than that. Could Whedon be too quippy at times? Sure. But his shows also had real stakes, and there were seasons of Buffy that were pretty damn bleak.

    Still, it is hilarious that the internet hive mind keeps on aiming for Whedon, but somehow hit David Mamet by mistake.

  29. Currently got this on in the background (it, unlike BONKERS, is on Disney+ in the UK, which I got this month for cheap). It seems pleasant enough now. That DJ looks more like Steve Wright than Slash.

  30. In the mid or late 90s I recall coming across Buffy (the movie) on TV a couple of times, but never actually sat down and watched it.

    Then the TV series came along. I gave it a shot but didn’t expect to like it, and until mid-S2 wasn’t even all that much into it tbh.

    BtVS ended up being one of the most iconic, and now nostalgic, TV series for me. It helped how relatable so many aspects were on a personal level, like I had boy drama going on and Buffy had boy drama going on, I was graduating secondary school and Buffy was graduating secondary school, I was starting uni and Buffy was starting uni.

    Though it saddened me to recently read about all the BTS drama, that oesn’t truly tarnish the series for me, which I’ll always have very fond memories of.

    About the movie, I actually caught it on TV a few years ago and decided to give it a proper watch. It’s not as good as the series, but still worth a watch. I felt it was just very representative of its time.

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