Okay, so this title is a misnomer. In 1992 a small film about a Californian high school girl fighting vampires was released. I remember my mum renting it from the local video store. She told me the synopsis, but wouldn’t let me watch it on account of the ’15’ certificate (thanks, mum!). And I sooo wanted to watch it, because it had Kristy Swanson as the titular character, and she was in the Mannequin sequel which I had rented out an embarrassing amount of times, along with the Splash sequel and Mac and Me (as you can see, I had a high-brow taste in films back then). So it’s ironic that instead of loving the poor man’s version of a box office success, I ended up loving the cult hit.
I grew up devouring shiny Hollywood portrayals of high school, probably because I lived in Scotland, and the amount of rain there makes Forks from Twilight seem like the Costa del Sol in comparison. I watched Saved by the Bell, California Dreamin’ and yes, Baywatch. I got excited every time a new Sweet Valley High book came out. But I also absolutely loved the supernatural. Ghost stories were my jam, Halloween was more exciting than Christmas and I would’ve given my left arm to go to Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. So to marry the two; glossy California high school and paranormal intrigue was so perfect.
This concept wasn’t new. In the 80s, the teen film really came into its own. Slasher films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street featured teens been murdered in an array of creative ways, while comedy horrors such as Teen Wolf and Teen Witch showed in cheesy fashion how being different can make you the most popular kid in school (if only). It’s a clever concept because as a teenager, everything feels like a horror film, especially your body. Spots, blood, and raging hormones, oh my! (This is illustrated beautifully in the film Ginger Snaps, if you haven’t already, watch it).
Unfortunately, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was nothing really more than fluff. Fluff with fangs, but nothing groundbreaking. Creator Joss Whedon was so frustrated with how the Hollywood bigwigs changed his vision, that he walked off the set and never returned.
Now fast forward to 1997. Or more accurately, 1998, because back then in the UK, we had to wait for an age for anything good from the States and it was so frustrating! I was 16 years old and had gone over to the dark side. Perfect 30-year-old looking teens from Beverly Hills 90210, I love you, but I’d chosen darkness. Several years earlier, I had discovered Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire in the book cupboard at school. Her books, together with Stephen King’s, had replaced my earlier passion for Point Horror novels. Scream had come out in the UK the year before, The Craft was my obsession and I was still probably growing out the red dye I’d put in my hair after Angela Chase had gone ‘crimson glow’ (I know My So-Called Life wasn’t supernatural – well apart from the ghost and angel episodes – but the angst and awkwardness was scary real).
I remember seeing the advert for Buffy on BBC2 while I was eating my dinner. I don’t remember what I was eating – my memory isn’t that spectacular – but I’d probably just been geeking out watching Quantum Leap or Star Trek: The Next Generation. There was Buffy kicking ass and wielding a wooden stake like nobody’s business. I wanted to be her. The guys fancied her, she had cool clothes (ahem – check out twitter.com/badbuffyoutfits), she had the Scooby Gang and fought the forces of evil. What more could you want? I wasn’t to know that I’d become more of a Willow later in life. Books, research, and witchery are my passions.
The series was a phenomenal success, and fans still obsess over it. It inspired countless other supernatural shows but could not be surpassed in its greatness (sorry, Angel). The actors are wonderful, but the real magic lies in Whedon’s savvy writing, whether he is being innovative (‘Once More with Feeling’, ‘Hush’), funny or heartbreaking. He creates characters that you genuinely care about (even, dare I say it, Dawn – or is that going too far?). He makes likable villains (Drusilla and Spike forever). He makes female characters that feminists can cheer on. Okay, so the fashions have definitely dated, but the enduring appeal in Buffy lies in its heart, in using horror tropes as an allegory for adolescence, whip-smart dialogue, being meta before it was a thing, and for using varied and loveable characters who significantly progressed and expanded in the show’s seven-season duration. It really was the perfect show. Except for Dawn. And Riley.
P.S. when I originally watched the show, I was all about Angel. So much so, that my first trip to London sans parents was to meet David Boreanaz in person at a Forbidden Planet signing. It was awful because I was dreadfully shy and naturally had a quiet voice. Couple that with my British accent and the poor guy had no idea what I said to him. I wanted to be sucked down into the Hellmouth. Anyway, last time I watched Buffy, I realised I now prefer Giles. At least he would understand my accent, and being quiet is (silently) applauded in a library, my hang-out place of choice (because sadly, The Bronze isn’t real).
If you liked Buffy watch Hex. It was never as clever as Buffy but it’s still fun.