We’re going to take our first shot at Project M, and to do so we take a trip through the Sarah movie collection, for two movies straight out of 1992. Twenty years ago was a pretty interesting transitional year for movies. Eastwood signed off on the Western with Unforgiven, Tarantino hit the scene with Reservoir Dogs, Altman skewered Hollywood with The Player, and Jordan gave us one of the all-time screen surprises with The Crying Game. Add in Glengarry Glen Ross, The Last of the Mohicans, and Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth and now you’re talking about a year that borders on classic status.
But we’ll leave the breakdown of that list to the people who really know what they’re doing. For Project M, we go down another road and take a look at Wayne’s World and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Full disclosure as we get started. Wayne’s World I’d seen a few times, but with Buffy I come in completely fresh. And because I’d seen Wayne’s World enough times, my reaction to it ended up being pretty muted compared to how I reacted to Buffy.
What Wayne’s World will always have going for it is just how much fun you can tell everybody had with making it. The movie ended up making straight cash in the long run, of course, but you could tell that Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey knew they were playing with house money being allowed to make an entire movie out of their Saturday Night Live characters. The gags weren’t really funny just because they were overly clever in and of themselves. They were funny because Meyers and Carvey told you with the wink of their eye that they were supposed to be funny. And Rob Lowe in one of his first roles sort of skewering his own persona was just as wink, wink in the relish he put into playing the ridiculous “bad guy”. Watching the movie again, it’s a little surprising how few laugh out loud moments there are. But despite that, the overall tone of the movie is just so feel good that you can’t help coming away with a smile. The now iconic car ride Bohemian Rhapsody lip synch is worth the price of admission alone.
It’s sort of hard to imagine a movie like Wayne’s World getting green lit these days, which is really too bad. Teenagers of today would likely laugh at it, but not so much with it. In the age of sarcasm and snark that we live in, it’s hard to see a movie with a cast just having fun for fun’s sake like in Wayne’s World getting over. But it’s worth another look, if for no other reason than to remind yourself of the comfort food that passed for entertainment 20 years ago.
As for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I come to the party 20 years late. But seeing Buffy for the first time two decades after it came out, this was a delicious watch on so many different levels. I really don’t know where to start with the breakdown, but let’s begin with the cast. There are a metric ton of “That guy was in this movie?” moments. Ben Affleck, Seth Green and even the great Ricki Lake appear uncredited in bit roles. Hillary Swank and Natasha Gregson Wagner are on the scene as a couple of Buffy’s friends. I’m sure everyone remembers the short lived but brilliant Fox dating show Studs? Come on, you know you watched it. Well, you’ll be happy to know that the show’s host, the affable Mark DeCarlo, plays the basketball coach in Buffy. By the way, check out DeCarlo’s true talents here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MebNrb5pLjA. Even The Punisher himself, Thomas Jane (the guy from Hung for the ladies) has a small role as Luke Perry’s mechanic boss. We haven’t even gotten to the main cast, but you can already see that Buffy was an early petri dish for the growth of many of Hollywood’s greatest thespians.
For my money, though, the best part about the cast comes at the top of the bill. Kristy Swanson. Luke Perry. Rutger Hauer. Donald Sutherland. Paul Reubens. David Arquette. Imagine with me for a moment that in the intervening 20 years since Buffy came out there was no Buffy TV show mania, no Angel as a sequel to Buffy. All we have to remember Buffy by is the classic film from 1992. Naturally, to mark the 20th anniversary of said film the SyFy Network would be putting together a made for TV remake to mark the occasion. It would air on a Saturday night right after one of their giant snake movies. Who do you get, though, to star in such a venture? Take a look at the names above one more time. Who better to get to reprise the work of Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens and David Arquette in a campy SyFy remake of Buffy The Vampire Slayer than Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens and David Arquette? Each and every one of their respective careers is positioned perfectly at this point for this stroke of genius to come to fruition. Somebody get them on the horn immediately. Conference call for a first script read through and we are ready to roll.
Buffy’s screenwriting credit went to hero to fan boys and girls everywhere, Joss Whedon. Whedon was not completely happy with the way the film went, apparently, and went on to do the Buffy TV series and Angel follow up, as well as Firefly and the Firefly movie Serenity. What I really would love to know is how much of Whedon’s original script appeared in the movie. Because Buffy, in many ways, is a straight knockoff of Teen Wolf. Before we go any further, let me make it clear that when it comes to light, late 80s to early 90s teen fare that lets you eat your popcorn in peace and uses being a paranormal being as a parallel for the difficulty of fitting in in high school, you couldn’t pick a better movie to copy than Teen Wolf. So, let’s take a look at the similarities.
A main character (one a female vampire slayer and one a male teen wolf) that isn’t completely comfortable with his or her powers at first but slowly learns to embrace them and use them for good? Check. The main character being involved in a love triangle where the person they think they want turns out to not be right for them, even though they are blind to it for a while and it takes a while for them to realize who really is true to them and accepts them for who they are? Check. Basketball as a central plot device, complete with those with the powers of the supernatural (wolf or vampire) in each film being spectacular at basketball? Check. A key scene taking place at a high school dance where the main character comes to ultimate terms with his or her true self? Check. The romance working out in the end? Check. Heck, even a van surfing scene in both movies? Check. I could go on, but I think you get the drift. Joss Whedon went on to an awesome career, but in the beginning with Buffy it appears he took not just a little from Teen Wolf.
But that’s not to say that Buffy doesn’t stand on its own as an individual entertainment, because it most certainly does. You’ve got the perfect mix of intentional camp with some of the actors trying a lot harder than the material really called for, resulting in more fun in the form of unintentional camp. Kristy Swanson as Buffy, I thought, was brilliant. She was camp in exactly the places she needed to be camp, straight when she needed to be straight, and even brought a pretty authentic physicality to the character. In the intentional camp camp (see what I did there?), you’ve got Rutger Hauer, Paul Reubens and Donald Sutherland, who are clearly having a ball with the one off roles they’re given. Rutger Hauer, in particular in the closing scenes, appears to be high on the material, or possibly something more. Sutherland has the best line of the movie when he says “I train girls” (slimy pause) “to be slayers.” Sutherland also channels his inner Mr. Miyagi and shows off his surprising athletic ability when he puts Buffy through her paces in an inspired Karate Kid like extended training sequence. Sutherland even sweeps Buffy’s leg at one point, teaching Buffy a valuable lesson in preparedness and self-defense. I’m sure this scene got under the skins of both Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, but Buffy is nothing if not shamelessly derivative.
In the comically taking things too seriously camp are Luke Perry and David Arquette. Arquette was basically harmless in his role, but his constant squinting and posing to try to mimic the Luke Perry method acting techniques made it appear that the former WCW world champion was always one step away from needing to use the facilities. Perry, though, holds the key to Buffy rising from harmless chuckle territory to high camp classic 20 years later. This guy was selling it hard every second of this movie. While Hauer, Reubens, Sutherland and, honestly, even Kristy Swanson seemed to recognize the light fare they were dealing with and were probably all getting high together out behind craft services, I am picturing Perry taking daily meetings with the writers and director in order to perfect his character, which he seemed to never come out of. It’s really hard to determine whether Perry just acted like that 24/7 during the entirety of his life during the 90s or was simply in some sort of perpetual character mode, but his squinting, whispering, soul patch sporting and posing throughout Buffy was iconic in its representation of his personal brand of 90s cool.
My favorite scene in Buffy (well, except for the scene where they had Kristy Swanson randomly holding a huge chunk of ice while wearing a paper thin t shirt for reasons that quickly became apparent) was all Luke Perry swagger. It takes place during the climactic fight scene when Buffy cleans house of all the remaining vampires in town, including Hauer as the mack daddy captain vampire. The scene takes place at a high school dance. Buffy has once and for all been dumped by her dimwitted jock boyfriend because the boyfriend has been waiting long enough for Buffy to put out but Buffy has her standards. And, on top of that, she is facing a pressure packed showdown with Hauer and his vampire cronies. Perry has been on the edge of landing Buffy for most of the movie, parlaying his rebellious, on the knife edge persona of mechanic by day, getting drunk by night and hanging out at under 18 clubs trying to score high school girls with a touching sensitivity to Buffy’s being “different” that belies his hard edged exterior and is completely endearing to Buffy. As the vampires overrun the dance and Buffy prepares for battle, Perry shows up to woo her and his look is one of the greatest in film history.
In order to uphold his biker cred, Perry naturally comes in wearing a biker jacket (but no helmet, because what kind of a pansy wears a helmet). Except this is no ordinary jacket. I’m not real good at describing men’s fashion, but this was pure couture, a combination leather biker jacket with a Members’ Only flair. It featured strategic quilting, assorted snaps and a gigantic collar. And it was kind of puffy, possibly even partially filled with down. A truly special wardrobe choice for what I’m sure Perry was planning to be a special evening. Anyway, it was cold outside and Perry had no real vampire fighting bona fides, so Perry’s contribution to the final vampire battle was to accidentally rip the bottom of Buffy’s skirt off and then offer her his jacket so she could stay warm when she went out to fight the vampires while Perry stayed inside, danced and fought a little. When Perry went to hand Buffy his jacket, though, we quickly realized that his fashion sense was not limited to outerwear. It’s still a little unclear to me why a tough guy biker from the wrong side of the tracks would be wearing what Perry was wearing underneath the jacket, but maybe he was being represented as such a bad boy that he could pull off anything. Regardless, he was rocking the poofy white shirt straight off the back of Jerry Seinfeld, overlaid by the most precious 90s polka dotted, quasi paisley-ish vest (complete with lapels) that I think I’ve ever seen. This was a man that came prepared to get the girl or, if that failed, to serve punch and hors d’oeuvres to the assembled teens.
And, in the end, after the girl single handedly vanquishes the vampires, Perry of course does get the girl. It all felt so good, and so right, as Buffy drove the stake through the heart of Rutger Hauer and then hopped onto the back of Luke Perry’s miniature motorbike and rode off into the sunrise. I can’t get across enough how much I enjoyed watching Buffy. I actually feel lucky that I never watched it up until now. It allowed me to enjoy it in full camp mode, without the perspective of seeing it when it first came out. It really felt like Buffy sort of represented the end of a fun, feel good era, sort of one of the last of the harmless popcorn comedies in the style of the mid to late 80s. But Buffy is also important as a bridge to the more serious minded, slightly more thoughtful (though not always less campy), better written vampire and paranormal material that emerged in the mid-90s and continues right up until today. Buffy is a forgotten classic and one that definitely deserves 85 minutes of your time on a rainy Saturday afternoon or evening, as well as its place as a forerunner to the slightly conflicted but still ass kicking, girl power heroines of the last 20 years.