Fran Rubel Kuzui
Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 27 October 2013
Source 20th Century Fox DVD
Categories 31 Days of Horror X
It’s little wonder that high school proms have frequently become the settings for horror films. Sure, proms are more cinematic than your average high school day: just think of how much time and energy is spent on the costuming, set design, and soundtrack. But beyond that, the prom is an event so rife with hope, fear, lust, and frustration that it all but begs for the horror treatment. Brian De Palma’s Carrie is prom horror’s primary touchstone, but there have been echoes of, and answers to, his film ever since its release, offering a fascinating array of heroes and villains clad in taffeta and heels. Every Saturday for the next four weeks, look for a new review of a film that mixes slow dances and corsages with terror.
While the third act of the 1992 feature Buffy the Vampire Slayer, directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, technically takes place at a “Senior Dance” rather than a prom, and the film aims for laughs more than scares, Buffy still feels like it should be part of the conversation when it comes to prom-themed horror films. It does, after all, have a climax involving teenagers in formal wear fending off the undead in their carefully decorated high school gymnasium, and the hero of the piece is wearing a billowy white gown when battle commences. Heck, the big dance is even referred to as the “prom” in the original screenplay as well as one of the old TV spots. Besides, it’s perhaps less controversial to class Buffy as a “prom horror” than it is to bring it up in the first place. Many fans of the other Buffy the Vampire Slayer — the cult TV series that ran from 1997 to 2003 — would rather that the 1992 film went unremarked upon altogether.
Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s swell that people love the Buffy TV series and identify with its characters, and write academic essays about it, and participate in public sing-a-longs to the show’s musical episode, and shyly ask its cast and crew members for autographs. I’ve actually done all of those things. But I nevertheless grow weary of the conversation surrounding the Buffy film because it always seems to run the same way: people compare the film to the series, and determine that the series is better. I mean, duh: the series had more characters, more nuance, more time. I’m aware that as a director, Rubel Kuzui had a different, distinctly lighter vision for Buffy than her screenwriter Joss Whedon did — under her direction, the film feels something like a sunny, PG-13 take on The Lost Boys — and I agree that Whedon’s unique, genre bending and convention-tweaking style was best served by the TV series where he was fully in charge. I just want to talk about something else.
TV series aside, I’ll always have a soft spot for the film, which does make for solid late-night cable comfort viewing, particularly for monster movie fans that have a tough time turning down the likes of The Monster Squad, Vamp, or the original Teen Wolf. The plot, familiar to most of us by now, concerns a blonde cheerleader named Buffy, who would be dead in the first reel of most teen horror flicks. But instead of getting her throat unceremoniously slit, she discovers that she’s the “Chosen One,” a powerful warrior fated to battle the undead. Kristy Swanson gamely plays Buffy, managing her change from ordinary Valley Girl to superhero quite well. The rest of the cast is cult-movie strange; with Luke Perry (at the peak of his 90210 popularity) as Buffy’s love interest Pike, Donald Sutherland as Buffy’s mentor Merrick, Rutger Hauer as the head vampire Lothos, and a funny Paul Reubens chowing down on the scenery as Lothos’ henchman Amilyn. The weird mix, in itself, contributes to Buffy’s watchability, and Reubens in particular has a good feel for Whedon’s trademark wry dialogue, finding just the right deadpan tone. (“Kill him a lot,” he instructs his fellow vampires at one point.)
Though Rubel Kuzui takes the sting out of much of the film’s violence by making it fairly bloodless (especially for a vampire picture) and seems most attracted to the script’s gentler bits of humor (such as Buffy getting whacked with her own punching bag during a training montage), there’s no way to keep this story from being macabre and appealingly odd. Its feminist undercurrents are also tough to miss, or dismiss. It’s important to remember that gender-bent stories like Buffy were not at all the norm in 1992, and the film is unmistakably the origin of a powerful meme.
Near the conclusion, when Buffy’s battle with Lothos is through and she and Pike are facing one another on the dance floor of their now-wrecked high school soiree, they share a short exchange in which Pike assumes that if the two of them start dancing, Buffy will want to lead. She says she doesn’t. He says he doesn’t either, and Buffy decides, “This is a good thing.” It’s just a little moment in a decidedly lighthearted film, but I like it all the same. I mean, how often does Hollywood tell us that gender relations don’t have to be about one-upmanship? It’s something. Even if the TV series had never happened, the Buffy movie would have been something. A good thing, even.
There’s a pattern in prom-themed horror movies wherein the prom queen never gets, or never gets to enjoy, her crown. Think of Carrie getting doused in blood, or Prom Night’s Kim fighting off an axe murderer instead of basking in her new title, or Prom Night II’s Mary Lou going up in flames just before seizing her crown. But while no one is actually crowned at Buffy’s senior dance, it’s pretty clear that Buffy’s the queen. In a genre that’s short on iconic heroes, we’ve maybe always needed her—a girl that can crack wise and face the Big Bad and turn her hairspray into a weapon. A girl who fights for the good of herself and others. A girl who wins.
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In a Child’s Name1991
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Men Behind the Sun1986
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A Bucket of Blood1959
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