Joss Whedon, who in 1992 dreamed up the original feature film about the antics of a Valley Girl slayer, has now adapted the scream-and-squeal concept into a series whose two hour premiere in March earned the WB it's best Monday night ratings ever. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" airs at 9 p.m. Monday on channel 20.
Whedon's impressive writing credits include some of Hollywood's recent major movie hits, the animated "Toy Story" the action packed "Speed" and the natural disaster thriller "Twister." He has also scripted the upcoming sci-fi sequel "Aliens 4: The Resurrection."
The 32 yr. old writer and producer, who has what could be termed a jolly macabre sense of humor, admits that finding the right comedy/horror balance in Buffy is tricky, but fun.
"What's fun about the show is, we never know from scene to scene which way its going to go. A scene that out very dramatically could end up quite funny, or something truly horrible could happen in it. it's not sort of, 'oh, here's the funny part, here's the scary part.' We really never know what's going to be highlighted."
However he suggests that the show, which combines elements of the supernatural with the angst of teen life, will incline more towards the horror than the humor, noting that "it owes more to the x-files than it does to Sabrina."
Twelve episodes have been shot, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, a typical high schooler by day, at night a martial arts expert who takes on legions of evil foes. Because her school happens to be situated over "a hell mouth," her nemeses include not only traditional vampires, but all manner of hell spawn.
Consequently this high school is even scarier than most. Whedon says that the reality of high school provides much of the foundation for the show's tension, but "when we deal with teen stuff it is really more emotional stuff, not so much issue oriented."
"I think the best stuff happens when we remember the sort of human relationships that people have that are really twisted and scary and sort of extend those in to horror stories, rather than just have a monster show up.
That's where the stuff really disturbs me, when it's somebody's parent, or somebody's friend who is turning into something horrible, and it brings up issues that are real and therefore actually very scary. Then there's also death and maiming and all that good stuff...and high school, generally," teases Whedon.
Though he attended school from pre kindergarten to 12th grade in New York, Whedon actually spent a portion of his teens at a traditional boys boarding school in England, which perhaps brings an extra twist to his view of school days and ways.
"Everything is so turgid when you're in high school, everything is so powerful, so dramatic. I don't think there is a time in life when you really feel that way except in high school," Whedon reflects.
On the other hand, Gellar, who is now twenty, spent most of her teenage yeas acting. She won an Emmy in 1994 for her role as Kendall Hart on the ABC Daytime drama "All My Children." and also managed to complete her classes at the High School for Performing Arts in New York , often referred to as the "Fame" school, because it was the setting for the musical film and subsequent TV series.
"I think high school scares everyone," says Gellar. "I think that no matter how popular you are, or how unpopular you are, high school is a scary place and we touch on that alot."
While attending school, Gellar took time to earn a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do, a credential which is now an obvious asset in playing Buffy, though stunt doubles are used when it gets to the really rough stuff.
But not all of Buffy's foes are ugly monsters, also has a rival in the glamorous school vamp, played by Charisma Carpenter. Neither is she alone in her fight against evil; she has emotional support and expert advice provided by the school librarian, who is "The Watcher" to her "Slayer." English actor Anthony Head, who is probably best known for the coyly romantic Taster's Choice coffee commercials, plays this role, which Whedon says pays mild homage to traditional British horror heroes like Peter Cushing.
Whedon says he has always liked "monsters," "demons," "things with horns jumping out of closets," but he didn't find vampires until he read Anne Rice's "Interview With a Vampire."
The idea for Buffy came from watching traditional horror movies and seeing "all the bubble headed blondes going down dark alleys and getting killed. I felt sorry for them, so I thought, 'Why not create a blond who instead mops up all the evil creatures.'"
"I think people need horror stories. They need the big bad wolf, and they need something to latch on to, something to project their fears on to," says Whedon, who thinks that comedy and horror are more compatible than action and horror, because both are about, "not being in control of your environment."
Only time will tell if "Buffy" is in control.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer,