31 Nights of Dractober: Buffy vs. Dracula (2000)

Buffy vs. Dracula (2000)


Director: David Solomon

Dracula: Rudolf Martin

Television being a writer’s medium, it’s probably best if writer Marti Noxon takes the credit and the blame for this, the premiere episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s fifth season. Following series creator Joss Whedon’s idea to use the actual Dracula instead of “some cool vampire on a horse” (Langella alert!) Noxon had to cram the entire Dracula plot, plus jokes, plus Giles’ (Anthony Stewart Head, alternating Van Helsing and Harker moments) return-to-Watcher arc, plus the debut of Dawn, into 42 minutes. Something had to give, and it’s essentially the story balance; the episode see-saws tonally even more than the normal Buffy run. That said, it winds up pretty economical, if not elegant: Dracula is worked into the Buffyverse mythology and she is worked into his via a celebrity crush that slowly becomes scary mesmerism … and an insight into Buffy’s darkness that would pay off for the rest of the season and series. How the cast all react to Dracula allows moments of personality to emerge and crystallize (spy shows usually do this in the usually tiresome polygraph episode) even if, like Xander (Nicholas Brendon, giggly Renfield butt-monkey), they reject what they find. Consider this revelatory “clarity through stress” story beat when Dracula guest-stars (or suddenly appears for the first time …) in your campaign.

This episode is another strong confirmation that the casting of Dracula makes or breaks the piece, be it movie or TV episode. German actor Rudolf Martin had played a romantic lead (and later enemy) opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar on All My Children, and played Vlad the Impaler in a cable movie, so he would seem to be the perfect choice. Let the record show that I did not find him so, although plenty of Buffy fans, like Anya and Willow, considered him dreamy. He’s too lanky (Dracula should be tall, but not skinny), and his pale makeup looks like something Buffy would normally mock. As goofy as his cape looks in modern Sunnydale, his “waistcoat and shirtsleeves” look is even worse. His final fight scene is more ferally effective than most Buffyboxing, and Gellar acts genuinely tempted by his offer of knowledge — but all ends with quips and dust and in the final analysis, he’s just a “Eurotrashed” monster of the week who “wafts in here with his music video wind.” Buffy’s words, not mine.

The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Molded into mythology (and gazing into your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order the excellent spookiness that is hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!

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