Buffy the Vampire Slayer combines teen angst and the supernatural to offer a different kind of scary

Emily Garbutt
·4-min read
 Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There’s a reason you’ll find Buffy the Vampire Slayer on almost every ‘best TV shows of all time’ list going. After six years and seven seasons on air, Buffy managed to change television forever by blending the supernatural with themes of growing up in a truly unique way. As a result, the show – which first aired in 1997 – offers a different kind of scary that’s as relatable now as it was then, and remains a perfect Halloween watch.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer follows the titular Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a Slayer who’s trying to balance saving the world with getting through high school. However, she’s not alone and has some help from her friends Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon), as well as school librarian Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) who leads a double as a Watcher – a kind of Slayer trainer.

For the first season, high school is hell – literally. Buffy moves to the Californian town of Sunnydale after being expelled from her last school for burning down the gym (while killing a vampire, of course). Throughout the series, Buffy strives to keep up a facade of normality, but that proves to be easier said than done, especially when it turns out her new school is built on top of a Hellmouth (a portal to demon dimensions). 

Part of the problem for Buffy and the gang are the adults around them. There’s a generation gap that leads to the parents and teachers, including the dictator-like Principal Snyder, not taking the issues presented to them seriously. They’re either unwilling or unable to accept the matters brought up by the teens, whether they’re adolescent or supernatural problems. And is there anything more frustrating and terrifying than being let down by the elders in your life?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Like all teens and twenty-somethings, the characters in Buffy have their fair share of relationship angst. Granted, Buffy’s relationship with the vampire Angel (David Boreanaz) isn’t a straightforward teen fling – partly because Angel is around 200 years old; partly because he loses his soul after they have sex for the first time. "That's the ultimate metaphor. You sleep with a guy and he turns bad on you," Gellar told Entertainment Weekly during a cast reunion in 2017. Their relationship ends in tears (and a sword fight) – another scary scenario that’s (kind of) relatable to everyone.

Then there’s Willow: her journey to accept her sexuality and come out, along with her relationship with Tara (Amber Benson), were defining moments of television – in fact, Willow and Tara had the first lesbian sex scene in broadcast TV history. Before all of that, we have Willow’s unrequited crush on Xander, which perfectly captures the pain of fancying someone  who will never see you as more than a friend (even if the friend in question is as irritating as Xander).

Preventing the apocalypse doesn’t get you out of family drama, either – in fact, it tends to make it worse. Buffy’s relationship with her mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) has its ups and downs as she tries to keep her life as the Slayer a secret. At the end of season 2, she’s forced to tell Joyce the truth and her mother gives her an ultimatum – give up slaying, or leave. After they reconcile in season 3, however, their relationship becomes much richer and more interesting. 

Buffy
Buffy

Then there’s Buffy’s younger sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg). Introduced in season 5, she poses her own issues for Buffy – namely thanks to actually being The Key, a mystical object given a human form to hide her from a villain. To us, she’s a brand new character, but for the residents of Sunnydale, Dawn’s always been there. Her relationship with Buffy is complex, especially as Dawn struggles to gain the respect of her older sister as Buffy sees her simply as an object that needs protecting. It’s the perfect blend of supernatural with real-world complications, and one that perfectly sums up this show. 

Buffy, after all, is essentially one extended metaphor, depicting teenage growing pains against a backdrop of vampire slaying and general ass-kicking. However, it’s an effective metaphor, and one that makes this show truly special – and terrifying in its relatability – even today. Turns out there are scarier things than vampires in our everyday lives, and there are certainly worse things you could do this Halloween weekend than settle down for a Buffy binge-watch.