It seemed like just your ordinary, sweet, little, satirical, high school vampire horror comedy. Certainly when it was released 25 years ago this week, on July 31, 1992, no one could have imagined that the movie "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" would launch an empire.
The cult film resulted not only in one of the most fiercely cherished TV series that ever aired, but it also helped launch the career of Joss Whedon, the pop culture auteur whose two "Avengers" films are among the biggest blockbusters ever made. Oh, and it jump-started the careers of several A-list actors, too.
A quarter-century later, we may all live in Whedon's world, yet we scarcely have a clue how it all started, an origin story that involves country music icon Dolly Parton, a ridiculously rushed production schedule, and some massive ego clashes among the filmmakers and stars. Here's how it happened.
1. "Buffy" was born when Whedon, then a 25-year-old second-generation TV writer with some "Roseanne" credits to his name, wrote his first screenplay. He sold it to Sandollar, Parton's film production company.
2.Fran Rubel Kuzui won the directing gig on the strength of her first film, "Tokyo Pop," a fizzy sensation at the Cannes Film Festival.
3. At the time the "Buffy" film was cast, its most famous name chose to play Buffy's male love interest, Pike. That was Luke Perry, at the height of "Beverly Hills, 90210"-mania. Trying to break into movies, the sideburned heartthrob wisely chose not to take a traditional leading-man role, but rather, to fill a supporting part, so that he wouldn't be responsible for carrying the movie and its box office prospects on his shoulders.
4. With Perry cast, the movie had to be rushed into production, as he had only a brief hiatus between "90210" seasons. And the studio wanted the film in theaters before the end of the summer. So the cameras had to start rolling in five weeks and wrap just six weeks after that. "It's a kids' movie that Fox wanted made quickly," Kuzui told Movieline magazine during the production.
5. Perry and star Kristy Swanson (of "Mannequin 2: On the Move" fame) weren't going to attract ticket buyers in overseas markets, so the filmmakers sought some internationally-known names for supporting roles. That's how Rutger Hauer became nemesis Lothos and Donald Sutherland became mentor Merrick.
6. The rushed schedule meant that, instead of dismissing the writer, as Hollywood directors usually do, Kuzui kept Whedon on hand for rewrites. One of her first requests was that Whedon give Lothos a female sidekick, to be played by "Twin Peaks" co-star Joan Chen.
7. Chen, however, turned out to be unavailable, so Kuzui had Whedon radically revise the part, for Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens.
8. Other big stars whom Kuzui sought in vain to cameo as vampires included David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and Cary Elwes.
9. A 17-year-old Hilary Swank got her first big break in Hollywood playing one of Buffy's airhead friends. A 19-year-old Ben Affleck (above) also got an early career break, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role as a high school jock.
10. Future "Buffy" series regular Seth Green was in the film, but his role was cut. You can still see the back of his head for a few seconds.
11. Whedon has famously disavowed the "Buffy" movie as a dilution of the dark, haunted parable of adolescence he perfected later in the TV version. He ultimately walked off the set after disagreements with Kuzui, whom he felt made his vision too sunny and cheery, and with Sutherland, whose penchant for changing his dialogue or important character details (he didn't want Merrick to die) drove Whedon crazy.
12. Over the years, Whedon fans made fun of Hauer's broad performance, but Whedon found his work less damaging to the movie than Sutherland's. "I have to give him credit because he was there. He was into it," Whedon said of Hauer in a 2001 AV Club interview. Of Sutherland, Whedon said, "He's a great actor. He can read the phone book, and I'm interested. But the thing is, he acts well enough that you didn't notice, with his little rewrites, and his little ideas about what his character should do, that he was actually destroying the movie more than Rutger was. So I got out of there. I had to run away."
13. Kuzui also clashed with Sutherland over his creative choices. "He was an enormous pain in the ass," she told Movieline, adding, "and so am I. I don't think I'll ever learn from any actor as much as he taught me."
14. Future "Avengers" star Robert Downey Jr. visited the "Buffy" set. "So you're the man in town now, the new guy," Downey said to newly-minted It Boy Perry. "Get over it." Of the ego-deflating incident, Perry told Movieline, "That was so funny, so cool."
15. The movie cost a reported $9 million to make. It earned back $16.6 million in North America, making it a cult success at best.
16. Five years later, of course, Whedon got a second crack at the idea, and his teen heroine suddenly became the center of a successful franchise, with the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series, spinoff series "Angel," and a line of comic books. Still, in 2009, five years after "Buffy" ended its seven-season run, history nearly repeated itself. A big-screen "Buffy" reboot was announced, one that would involve neither Whedon nor the stars of the show. Whedon fans, including TV Buffy Sarah Michelle Gellar, loudly denounced the idea of a Whedon-free "Buffy" movie. By 2011, the stalled project lay dormant. But as "Buffy" fans know, the dead often spring back to life.