Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is a bloodless comic resurrection of the undead that goes serious just when it should get wild and woolly. The marginal buoyancy of the opening reels quickly disappears from this threadbare (reportedly only $ 7 million) production, which is more effective as a sendup of Valley girls than as a clever take on bloodsuckers. Still, attractive young cast with plenty of teen appeal and a smart, vigorous campaign look to rouse some perky numbers before the next full moon hits in a couple of weeks.
Vampire hunting is not exactly the sport of choice at Hemery High in the San Fernando Valley, where blonde, bouncy Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is lead cheerleader and Miss Popular in the senior class. Early scenes of Buffy and her vacuous girlfriends making the shopping rounds at the mall and issuing putdowns in Valleyspeak possess a certain amusement value and will stand as points of identification for much of the intended audience.
But just as vampires live through the ages, so, apparently, do female vampire slayers. A dirty old man in a long overcoat, Merrick (Donald Sutherland), turns up to inform Buffy that she is one of this breed and requests that she accompany him to a graveyard, where she passes her trial by fire when she subdues two marauding cretins.
For a while, dates with her slay trainer have to compete for her time with cheerleading practice, but when it becomes apparent that L.A. is under threat of a serious vampire invasion led by King Rutger Hauer and cackling henchman Paul Reubens, Buffy dives into an Olympian workout regimen to sharpen her skills with a stake.
Unfortunately, what meager humorous elements can be found in first-timer Joss Whedon’s screenplay vanish at this point.
After biting a few teens and menacing Buffy and her would-be b.f. Pike (Luke Perry), the vampires crash a high school dance in a limp rehash of the big setpiece in Brian DePalma’s “Carrie.” Vampires are vanquished, but will surely return to molest Buffy in college if grosses warrant a sequel.
Swanson has a robust, athletic sexiness that will keep boy viewers happy, while the amiable Perry will make this a must-see for many adolescent girls. The convoluted language of Buffy’s airhead clique constitutes the main source of laughs regardless of gender or age.
Hired to replace Joan Chen in the role of the No. 2 vampire, a manic, bearded , shaggy Reubens mainly gets to bare his fangs and snarl a lot, but does enact some amusingly protracted death throes. Sutherland walks through this one, while the usually reliable Hauer is colorless beyond the call of duty.
Technically, this is bargain-basement stuff for a major studio feature. Director Fran Rubel Kuzui, whose previous credit was the so-so indie “Tokyo Pop, ” keeps her camera subjects very close to the lens and aims to accomplish no more than one piece of action per shot. Pic’s style is very rudimentary, while tone goes flat when it should expand into greater dementia and comedic terror.