A killer puppet is a standard horror image, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spin—off series “Angel” managed to turn this image upside down. Both Buffy and Angel contained a one-off episode dedicated to fighting evil puppets inspired by the likes of Chucky from the Children’s Games series. However, the two episodes differed dramatically in tone and plot, which raises the question: which series had the best puppet episode, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel?
Most of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is based on horror imagery. Joss Whedon decided instead to turn the image of the blonde victim who suffered in every horror movie into a superhero. Thanks to this idea, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was released in 1992, which was later adapted for a television series in 1997. The show was about Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a high school student battling the forces of darkness. Buffy eventually fell in love with Angel (David Boreanaz), a vampire cursed with a soul. After three seasons on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel left to star in his own spin—off series, in which he ran a detective agency that helped the helpless.
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Both in the 1st season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the 9th episode of Puppet Show, and in the 5th season of Angel, the 14th episode of Smile Time, the plots were centered around killer puppets. This image continued, as can be seen from the puppet episode “Fatal Patrol”. While “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” covered the evil puppet image prior to its spin—off, the Angel episode “Smile Time” ended up being the best exploration of the concept. In 2004, the creators of the Angel episode “Smile Time” had experience and a solid budget, which the creators of the first season of Buffy did not have in 1997.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 9, “The Doll Show” follows Buffy as she tracks down a demon who extracts organs from the participants of a student talent show. At first Buffy believed that a reasonable mannequin Sid (Tom Wiener) was behind the murders. Buffy eventually discovered that Sid was a demon hunter trapped in a puppet’s body. While this episode subverted the image of the evil puppet, making the possessed puppet an ally rather than an enemy (as is usually seen in films such as The Puppet Master franchise), the “Puppet Show” had several drawbacks. Firstly, Buffy’s budget was limited at the time, as its first season was a mid-season replacement for the Savannah show, and it wasn’t expected to last long. Thus, the battle scenes were staged so that the audience could not see most of the fights in which the Sid dummy participated, because the creators could not afford to create a more complex battle scene. Aside from the low budget, Sid was a shallow character who constantly made sexual innuendos to his underage allies.
In the 14th episode of the 5th season of “Angel”, “Smile Time”, Angel and his team investigate a mysterious illness of children who watched the program “Smile Time”. Angel infiltrated the show and found himself transformed into a felt puppet. In response, Angel rallied his team and faced the producers of “Smile Time”, who themselves were a flock of demonic puppets. In the fifth season of “Angel” there was an experience that was not in the first season of “Buffy”, and a bigger budget. By turning the Angel himself into a puppet and forcing him to fight on screen with other puppets, the show could fully reveal the stupidity of the concept without sacrificing entertaining battle scenes. In addition, the characters of the 5th season of “Angel” were much more developed than the characters of the 1st season of “Buffy”, so Angel was able to enjoy the genre images that came with the puppet media, while simultaneously contributing to the development of the characters of Angel, Wesley (Alexis Denisoff) and Fred (Amy Acker).
While Buffy and Angel approached the killer puppet from different angles, Angel ultimately had more success because they were able to do more with this concept thanks to experience and budget. Although there were no such terrible puppets in any performance as in “Billy the Puppet” from “Saw”, “Smile Time” was full of exciting moments, while “The budget of the puppet show” was limited. The contrast between the “Puppet Show” and “The Time of Smiles” really showed how far the Buffy the Vampire Slayer team had come in entertaining the embodiment and destruction of horror concepts by the time of “Angel”.