March 10, 1997. Has it really been that long? Acknowledging the failed movie of the same name, but quickly carving out a name for itself, Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought new life the the horror genre by casting Sarah Michelle Gellar as the chosen Vampire Slayer Buffy Summers. With its non-traditional heroine and unique dialogue, peppered with pop-culture references and dubbed Buffy Slang by fans, the show immediately became a cult hit lasting seven years and spawning a spin-off and multiple comic book series.
Set in the California town of Sunnydale, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” begins with Buffy’s fresh start where her hopes to put her vampire slaying days are dashed on her first day of high school where she meets her new Watcher Rupert Giles (Anthony Head) and a dead vampire victim is found in the girls’ locker room. Meeting Giles, best buds Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), and Angel (David Boreanaz) all within the first-half of the first episode, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” lays the groundwork not only for the show’s First Season but well beyond.
The two-part series opener presents the idea that Sunnydale, California is built on top of a Hellmouth as well as introducing audiences to the season’s big bad in the Master (Mark Metcalf) and his fan-favorite disciple Darla (Julie Benz). Other than setting up the world, the crux of the two-parter concerns the Master’s plan to use his disciple Luke (Brian Thompson) to create a sacrifice large enough to free the ancient vampire trapped in-between this world and the next.
There are certainly flaws. The production values of the show’s early episodes are a little weak compared to later seasons. Knowing who Angel is, Boreanz’s performance here feels a little… off. And although the Jesse storyline helps Buffy gel with her new friends it’s quickly forgotten as our heroes move on to new challenges every week. And finally, while Darla and the Master are intriguing villains who will continue to be developed long after their “deaths,” Luke is one of the show’s most forgettable threats. Even with these issues, Buffy the Vampire Slayer gets off to a strong start.