Buffy the Vampire Slayer Owes a Huge Debt to Paul Reubens

The late, great comedian gave a baffling yet genius performance in this forgotten movie.

Paul Reubens vampire
20th Century Fox

Pee-Wee Herman is a pop culture icon, but Paul Reubens was so much more than just that gray suit. The actor and comedian, who passed away on July 31 after privately living with cancer for six years, also delivered a number of memorable comedic performances that instantly elevated whatever he appeared in — including one mediocre movie that would go on to become a beloved TV franchise.

Before Twilight, there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and before Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the 1992 movie). Directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui and written by Joss Whedon in his feature screenwriting debut, the film may seem odd for anyone expecting Sarah Michelle Gellar and her Scooby Gang. Instead, it’s essentially Teen Wolf meets Valley Girl. Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is a girl obsessed with “graduating, going to Europe, and marrying Christian Slater,” a life plan that’s interrupted when Merrick (Donald Sutherland) reveals that she’s the fated Slayer, one in a long line of young women born to defend the world from vampires.

Don’t expect the quippy Joss Whedon dialogue that’s formed the blueprint for basically every modern superhero movie ever. The jokes are on Buffy and her friends here. When one of them is murdered by a vampire, they aren’t sad about losing their friend but the fact she was wearing a new yellow leather jacket she borrowed.

But underneath the middling dialogue, one character brings the movie from forgettable to classic: Paul Reubens. The actor plays Amilyn, a long-haired, goth, overly dramatic vampire who serves as the right-hand man (until he loses his right hand) to vampire overlord Lothos.

The best word to explain Reubens’ performance is decadent. He chews up the scenery with his fanged teeth, treating each line as an opportunity to deliver a new tone or choice that’s as fascinating as it is unsettling. It’s essentially Nicolas Cage with the volume turned up to 12, and that’s something only Paul Reubens could do. Who knows, without him, we may not have seen the success of Buffy, the tie between vampires and teen drama, and the cultural tidal wave we would see years later.

This wasn’t the last time Reubens would don the fangs, either. In 2019, he appeared as a member of the Vampire Council in What We Do in the Shadows, looking an awful lot like Amilyn. His performance is brief but memorable — especially now that we know he was living with cancer at the time.

Paul Reubens will always be remembered as the nasally-voiced Pee-wee, but he was one of the greatest comedic actors of our time. Whether he was playing Old Man Cobblepot in Batman Returns, the FBI agent in Matilda, or even Spleen in Mystery Men, he brought a magic to each performance that can’t be overstated.

It’s hard to imagine a world without him, but we were lucky we even got to see him make us laugh the way he did. There’s a reason why the most memorable part of 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t Buffy doing flips or using her hairspray as a flamethrower, but Amilyn’s overly long final scene, depicting Paul Reubens doing what he does best: hamming it up, having fun, and making the most of his screen time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is now streaming on Max.

Related Tags