Can't even shout, can't even cry,
The Gentlemen are coming by
Looking in windows, knocking on doors
They need to take seven and they might take yours
Can't call to mom, can't say a word,
You're gonna die screaming but you won't be heard
Oh, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I could dedicate an entire blog to just discussing and analyzing this show at length (no, seriously, that definitely might probably could totally happen). It jumpstarted Joss Whedon's career, gave many talented writers, directors, and actors their beginning, and paved the way for modern horror television, as well as the quality of television in general. Buffy began as the tongue-in-cheek adventures of a high school girl who also happens to slay vampires nightly, but it soon became one of the greatest television shows of all time: a brilliantly written coming-of-age character study, a finely crafted satire of the generic teen horror film and all its tropes, and an unending source of innovation and ingenuity with regards to storytelling, character development, and humor. It's seriously hard for me to stop talking about Buffy, particularly on a literary and philosophical level, so I will strive to keep this entry focused on why the episode makes for such good Halloween viewing, as that is what we are here for, after all! For all you Buffy fans, though (and interested newbies), keep an ear out for future Buffy entries, they're on the horizon.
Tonight we look at "Hush", the 10th episode of the 4th season of Buffy. The Scooby Gang has left high school, as Buffy is now away at college, facing new monsters, a new curriculum, and a whole host of new problems with both. She likes her T.A., Riley, but is frustrated at their limited interactions so far, filled with meaningless and evasive small talk- she can't reveal her Slayer double life, nor can Riley mention the underground military Initiative he and his fraternity are covertly part of (well...just watch the season, it makes sense, kind of). Willow is growing as a witch and joins a Wicca group, eager for more, but comes to find they're all talk, no action. Xander and Anya are at the awkward stage of having to put the terms of their casual relationship into words, much to the amusement of Spike, who as a neutered vampire is capable of little more than verbal threats and insults anymore, and the annoyance of Giles, who just wants a break from all the noise. (Noticing a theme, here?) Then mysterious demons called the Gentlemen roll (er...float) into town, and steal the voices of everyone in Sunnydale. As communication breaks down and the town descends into chaos, the Gentlemen take advantage of the panic- and the sweet silence- to steal the hearts of seven unlucky citizens, unless Buffy can find some way to stop them.
"Hush" began as something of a personal challenge for Joss Whedon, who had been praised for Buffy's sharp, witty dialogue, but wanted to push himself as a director, and thus devised an episode largely without speech. Whedon wrote and directed "Hush" himself, and for over half the episode, there is no spoken dialogue of any kind, and the characters are forced to find new ways to communicate with each other and work together. This not only works beautifully, it actually deepens some of the understandings we have of the characters; without their coping mechanism, all their sarcastic funnies, we can see real emotion and expression. It's notable that Buffy and Riley's first kiss occurs during this period of silence, as the two convey their feelings genuinely, and the words aren't there to get in the way. The silence also makes for some hilarity in its own right. A highlight of the episode is Giles' research presentation, complete with overhead slides and an accompanying soundtrack (a diegetic soundtrack- Giles brings a little boombox with him). The slides, with their amateur illustrations and macabre content, are amusing enough, but the Scoobies' suggestions and reactions to Giles and each other are simply priceless- let's just say Xander has too much sex on the brain and leave it at that. Beyond allegory and humor, though, the silence serves a simple, awful purpose- to heighten the fear.
That brings us to the Gentlemen. They are, without a doubt, the most frightening villains in the entire series. Their appearance alone is terrifying - bald heads, gray zombie-like skin, wide, unblinking eyes and creepy eternal smiles. The two lead Gentlemen are portrayed by Doug Jones and Camden Troy, and their skillful performance is a large part of why they are so succesfully creepy. Troy previously (and since) worked on Buffy as other ceatures, and Doug Jones is renowned for his masterful acting work while under prosthetics, mostly as the Faun from Pan's Labyrinth, and Abe Sapien from Hellboy. The Gentleman are also creepy in their mime-like motions, as well as the eerie way they float above the ground as they move. They are flanked by "footmen"- flailing creatures in straightjackets, that do the Gentlemen's dirty work, and they are disturbing in their own right. Finally, the way the Gentlemen work is where the real chills set in; they come to a town, render it speechless, and proceed to harvest hearts from seven victims, seemingly removing them while the victims are still alive. All without uttering a sound, all without dropping their ghoulish grins. When these things come to your door, what can you do? Yell for help? Listen to that awful nursery rhyme again- no one is coming to help you. You will die screaming, but silently. Truly this is the stuff of nightmares.
"Hush" is one of the finest hours of Buffy, and believe me, that is saying an awful lot. It is just as effective as a stand-alone as it is in context with the series, which is great for watching it with a group of friends, regardless of who is familiar with Buffy. It is fun and entertaining, but also intensely frightening, in true Joss Whedon fashion. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video ($2 per episode or free with Prime), and "Hush" is episode 4x10. Gather your friends and watch some good ol' Buffy this Halloween. And remember, while it's playing- hush!