Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 21, 2021)
Usually when a movie gets adapted into a TV series, the former remains the more famous. Even in instances where the television show earned major popularity – such as with Alice or M*A*S*H - the films remained noteworthy.
Then there’s 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A box office dud, the movie would translate into a popular TV shows five years later, one that left the film borderline forgotten.
Southern California teen Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) loves her life. A cheerleader, she dates hunky basketball star Jeffrey (Randall Batinkoff) and she gets to enjoy multiple shopping trips to the mall.
However, when a mysterious figure named Merrick (Donald Sutherland) pops up, Buffy learns she must follow a different path as the preordained “chosen one” intended to fight vampires. Against her will and aided by mechanic Pike (Luke Perry), Buffy goes from flighty high schooler to the potential savior of humanity.
Despite its popularity, I don’t think I ever watched the Slayer TV series, and nearly 30 years after its release, I can’t recall if I saw the movie either. Who can remember all the way back to 1992?
If I did check out Slayer in 1992, I can now say why I don’t remember: it’s an eminently forgettable film. Though it shows the bones of a fun ride, the end result seems spotty and lackluster.
At its core, Slayer offers real promise. As a mashup of comedy, horror and action, we find a project with a lot of positives at the outset.
Slayer also involves a lot of talent. Granted, Fran Rubel Kuzui never directed another movie, but the film came with the debut script from Joss Whedon, a screenwriter who would hit it big three years later with Toy Story and then solidify his career with the Slayer TV series and later hits like 2012’s Avengers.
Whedon never can figure out where he wants to go with Slayer, so the script feels all over the place. Whedon doesn’t commit in any direction, so the movie leans toward half-hearted stabs at horror, comedy and action.
Whedon seems afraid to push too hard down one particular path, so each of these genres comes across as lackluster. The comedy only sporadically seems funny, the horror fails to deliver scares, and the action doesn’t pack much punch.
As our lead, Swanson looks gorgeous – she really was hot back in her prime – but she demonstrates iffy acting chops and not much charisma. Then high on his 90210 fame, Perry demonstrates that his skills fell into the “brooding bad boy” vein and not much else, so he brings little charm or substance to his role.
Slayer does boast a supporting cast packed with actors who would later gain fame, though. We find Hilary Swank in her film debut along with David Arquette, Stephen Root, Thomas Jane and a “blink and you’ll miss him” turn from Ben Affleck. Other than Root, none do a lot with their parts, but it’s still fun to see them,
Of the entire cast, only Paul Reubens scores points. Cast as the second in command under vampire leader Lothos (Rutger Hauer), Slayer found Reubens in career salvage mode, as he still needed to work his way back after his porn theater scandal of 1991.
Reubens seems to be the only actor who comprehends the mix of camp and terror Slayer should offer. Okay, he leans toward comedy, but Reubens makes Amilyn creepy enough to add some scares to the proceedings, and he livens up the screen whenever he appears.
Unfortunately, Reubens doesn’t show up enough to redeem Slayer. At a brisk 85 minutes, the movie rushes by quickly enough that it remains watchable, but it never quite clicks.
Footnote: stick around for a tag in the middle of the end credits.