Paul Reubens’ Legacy Includes the Best Scene In Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the Movie)

In the 1992 film, Reubens made his character's staking immortal with the power of improv

paul reubens buffy death scene
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (20th Century Fox)

    Paul Reubens, who passed away at the age of 70 on Sunday, July 30th, will be remembered largely as Pee-wee Herman. However, his filmography encompasses a wild variety of roles, including an Emmy-nominated turn on Murphy Brown, a memorable guest spot on 30 Rock, and a giddily gross supporting role in the 1999 comedy Mystery Men. It’s one of his more obscure performances, though, that lingers at least in my memory — playing Amilyn, the lead henchman of master vampire Lothos (Rutger Hauer) in 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    The 1992 Buffy film was writer Joss Whedon’s first effort to reverse classic horror movie tropes with a feminist edge, and by most people’s standards, an unsuccessful one. Directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, the film starred Kristy Swanson as the titular vampire slayer, with Luke Perry serving as her damsel-in-distress; due to a rushed production, not to mention no one being on the same page about the tone, the result was a hot mess of a film.

    However, the film’s solid premise shines out (it would be much better served by Whedon’s 1997 TV adaptation, which was at least a critical favorite during its seven-season run) and it’s packed with bright spots of comedy. Backstory: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a 2002 AMC Networks special about the making of the film, confirms that much of that comedy came from improv — especially from Reubens.


    While a vampire himself, Amilyn is very much a second banana to Hauer’s Lothos, snarling at the sidelines while his master menaces Buffy; his death towards the film’s end is hardly unexpected. However, when Buffy does stake him (in front of Lothos, indifferent to his stooge’s fate), oh boy does Reubens run with it.

    In Backstory, Kuzui confirms that Reubens improv’ed the entire death sequence, after she told him “Paul, you just die, figure it out.” It’s a bold thing to say to a former Groundlings cast member who has had literal years of professional improv training, and what results is a symphony of over-acting, as Reubens ducks in and out of the frame, milking every moment of his passing for what it’s worth.

    As the YouTube clip below reveals, Amilyn’s death scene in the film only lasts about 30 seconds, but it feels longer in the best way, as the camera keeps finding him in different positions, moaning and groaning at new frequencies, before finally easing to the ground, wiggling in pain and giving the wall opposite him a few little kicks, all while Lothos plays the violin. (The little kicks are probably my favorite part.)


    On a nerd level, it’s worth noting that it’s a scene the TV series could never fully recreate, as the show’s internal vampire mythology states that when staked properly, vampires die instantly, exploding in a cloud of dust. It’s also goofy as hell, so goofy in fact that you don’t actually believe he’s really dead. (An idea the film even leans into with a post-credits sequence featuring his last few gasps, in an era where post-credits sequences were pretty rare.)

    Because of this, it’s a scene that probably should have been cut or trimmed back, in order to maintain something resembling a consistent tone — this, as mentioned, is one of the film’s fatal flaws, as its director wanted to make a comedy, while Whedon’s script and other forces kept pushing towards a more spooky vibe, leading to a wildly inconsistent final product.

    Yet while Amilyn’s death scene is legitimately one of the silliest, most cartoonish moments of the movie (of any movie, it could be argued), I’m glad it was seen by audiences, as it really captures the depth of Reubens’ talent, his ability to take something as rote as a vampire getting staked and turn it into a symphony of comedy. It’s a flawed film, but this is easily its high point.


    It maybe seems a bit grim to eulogize an actor’s death by celebrating a scene in which he dies, but it feels appropriate in this case… because he never really dies. Just like how Reubens’ work will live on in our memories, and on the screen.

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the film) is streaming now on Max.

Latest Stories