I finally watched Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula beyond the epic opening scene, and discovered that the film ceases to lessen its epicness. Blood from the heart of Christ flooding out into a church like water from a fire hose? Talk about rage.
So, it cannot be a coincidence that Dracula and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were both released in the same year. In 1992, Hollywood gave us two films about vampires; one, a heavily dramatisation of the original cliché, and the other, a sarcastic parody of this cliché. As Coppola’s Dracula was greeted with some favourable and less favourable reviews, the difficulties with conveying such a legend were once again confronted.
Thankfully, Joss Whedon is at this point way ahead of things. “I love invoking those old horror movies…[but] whatever horror is out there is not as black and terrible as what is already within and between us.” What Joss does is remove this mythical horror canon from its foreign historical paradigm, and shifts it into our world, the present. In Buffy, the most important element of the show revolves around the characters lives, and not the monsters and demons that populate them. This differentiates it from other horror stories, and even from Coppola’s Dracula, which focuses foremost on demons having human qualities. In Buffy, it is humans that possess demonic qualities, who are part evil, can be wholly cruel, and lack humane understanding. This is the difference that Whedon brings to the supernatural canon: there is monster in all of us, there is horror in everything.
Buffy, with its sharp with and tongue-in-cheek observations, came around just at the time that things in visual culture were getting far too serious again. After an incredibly shlocky though enjoyable few decades (of which Coppola himself was a part, as with The Terror and Dementia 13), Coppola revisited the horror mythology as grand narrative. In his film, extending slightly over 2 hours, Coppola takes all the fun out of the Dracula story. Steve Wilson writes that ‘the earnestness and hokiness of works like The Lord of the Rings and franchises like Stark Trek often get in the way of the important messages and themes they contain,’ and he is spot on. Coppola left Dracula in a historical period to which we are tangibly unconnected. Whedon, with Buffy‘s humour and levity which allows the spectator a way in to the story, steers the vampire mythology in a whole new, and fun, direction.
It must be acknowledged that there is a small hole in this argument if the 1992 film version is looked at in isolation. It fairly well fails to impress above Dracula. But given that it clearly did not fulfil Whedon’s vision, and he has openly stated as such at any possible opportunity, my reference to the entire Buffy canon is both valid and necessary. And it is in the television show that the canon’s comedic sensibility really becomes something amazing. Whedon and the show’s other writers (but mostly Whedon, as he would probably claim) make wit, wordplay, and tongue-in-cheek astuteness appear quotidian, which is necessary when monsters are everyday as well. Buffy mocks itself continuously, to audience pleasure, whereas Dracula takes itself far too seriously.
Here, I will just peg one of the greatest books ever written about television, regarding some of the best, cleverest, and most innovative writing even to come alive on the television. Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon, written by Michael Adams, is so on cue with the show that it scored an introduction by Buffy writer and fan-favourite Jane Espenson. Love.