Noteworthy Heroines of Horror is a recurring segment on Wicked Horror where we shine the spotlight on a female character from the annals of horror history that has made a significant contribution to the genre. The characters we select may not be the obvious final girls that regularly grace top ten lists, but their contributions to the genre are meaningful and worthy of note.
Though it may seem like an obvious choice, the heroine from 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer often seems to get left out when people talk about their favorite females in genre film. Maybe it’s because Buffy the Vampire Slayer relies more heavily on the teen comedy side than the horror side. Maybe it’s because it didn’t exactly turn out the way that writer Joss Whedon wanted it to. But he got his chance to correct that later on with the hugely popular and amazing television show. Regardless, there are still plenty of fans out there who love the original film, and this first portrayal of The Chosen One. So I’m taking the chance to spotlight a very deserving Noteworthy Heroine of Horror: The original Buffy Summers, as portrayed by Kristy Swanson.
Buffy lives a seemingly perfect high school life in Los Angeles: She’s popular; she’s the head cheerleader; she’s dating a basketball player; and she runs her close clique of friends. On the outside, her character is incredibly shallow and bland, one who only cares about shopping and keeping up appearances with the in-crowd. However, she is a young woman with great confidence in herself and her opinions, and is not afraid to express herself. Although it is perhaps due to a lack of respect, she isn’t afraid to stand up for herself to total strangers who cross her, like with Pike and Benny at the movie theater and her first encounter with Merrick at the elevator. Her only real character flaw to me is that she talks during movies. This is usually unforgivable, but we’ll let it slide for now. At first, Buffy comes off as very ditzy (thinking El Salvador is in Spain, for instance) but this actually endears her to the audience because it makes her incredibly funny, with every line of dialogue out of her mouth being something quotable.
Looking a little deeper into Buffy’s circumstances, the audience can see that there is more to her than meets the eye. Buffy’s parents are completely uninvolved with her life. They seem so focused on keeping up appearances within their own social scene that they leave her home alone a lot, as one of Buffy’s friends points out, while they go out. They don’t even care at all when she comes home late one night, obviously disheveled from her night in the graveyard with Merrick. Buffy is probably left to her own devices often, and she seems to be looking for a real connection, familial or otherwise, with another person. She’s not really getting that from her parents or from her boyfriend, Jeffrey, whose only interest seems to be physical. This is why she becomes so close so fast with her Watcher, Merrick, who eventually starts to see something special in her despite initially calling her “frivolous” and “vacuous.”
Though there is obvious and understandable hesitancy on Buffy’s part when Merrick tells her about her sacred birthright as the Slayer. But she eventually takes it seriously when presented with the reality of the situation. She knows something bad is coming based on the dreams she has been having of past Slayers and of Lothos, the master vampire that she will eventually have to fight. Buffy works hard training with Merrick to fulfill her birthright, and through her experiences and being exposed to things she never thought about before, Buffy changes as a person. She becomes a far stronger and more admirable woman–yes, woman–who is finally doing something important in her life. Even her wardrobe changes from brightly colored dresses and well put together outfits, to the more practical flannel shirt, jeans, and boots. She’s a truly new person with new priorities.
As Buffy emerges as the Slayer, she defies the labeling she gets of all the typical female horror stereotypes from the other characters in the film. When Pike is attacked by Amilyn and other vampires, it is Buffy who swoops in to save the day, fighting them much more efficiently and with more skill. The next day at school, Andy playfully grabs Buffy’s butt and she immediately reacts by flipping him to the ground and then slamming him up against the lockers. Jeffrey is standing right there and asks what is wrong with her. It is only when Buffy snaps at Andy not to grab her that Jeffrey thinks, “Oh, he touched my girlfriend. I’m supposed to do something about this!” But by the time that obvious fact registers with him, it is way too late and his chastising of his friend just seems silly and rather insincere. Even something as innocuous as a character off-screen yelling, “Hey, there’s a girl on the court!” when Buffy goes after Grueller at the basketball game is a bit infuriating because they are acting as if she shouldn’t be allowed there. Pike fancies himself a vampire hunter by making his own stakes and whatnot, but he must continually defer the credit for the real slaying work to Buffy, because she is a much better fighter than he.
Let’s not forget that Buffy Summers was the first female vampire hunter in history. After all the Van Helsings and Captain Kronoses, Joss Whedon gave us the archetype we didn’t know we were waiting for, a truly strong woman who could do the job just as good as, if not better than, any man. Of course, the Slayer in general is imbued with special skills because it is her birthright, but Buffy Summers stands out from all those that came before her because of who she is. She has an air of confidence and a witty personality to match, but she’s also very soulful. She’s more aware of her surroundings than her vapid friends are; she is more adaptable to change; and is more than willing to put herself in danger to save others, especially when she knows that she is the only one that can. It absolutely crushes her when Merrick is killed on her watch and it makes her want to quit. But at the climax of the film when the vampires come to the school dance, Buffy doesn’t hesitate and jumps right into action and eventually does what none of the other Slayers could–finally defeat Lothos.
Though Buffy’s world is turned upside down when she finds out that she is the Slayer, she accepts her fate and kicks ass at it, while still retaining the qualities that make her special and unique. She starts out the film as an annoying Valley girl and ends it as a character that all females can learn from and look up to. Killing vampires isn’t an easy or glamorous task, but Buffy Summers does it with personality and strength, and that makes her a Noteworthy Heroine of Horror.