Escorted by a security guard the width of a mobile home, Luke Perry ventures onto Hollywood Boulevard. In his thrift-shop overcoat, dog tags, and clunky boots, he slips unnoticed through the crowd watching the filming of high school horror-comedy Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Tonight's scene is a clash between the town's nasty boys, played by Perry and David Arquette (Rosanna's brother and an off-screen pal of Perry's), and some squeaky-clean football players. When Perry and Arquette take their places in front of a glitzy movie theater, a BMW full of jock pulls up to the curb. The misfits swagger past and sneer. Though the camera can't capture it, there's a scent war as well as class war: Arquette's clove cigarettes, Perry's Marlboros, the jocks' bubble gum, and the eucalyptus throat lozenges being passed around by the flu-ridden crew all battle for supremacy.
Director Fran Rubel Kuzui (Tokyo Pop) grabs a cappuccino from a passing tray; after 29 nights of shooting until dawn, she, like everybody else, is struggling with fatigue. ''It's the pits,'' says Kuzui. ''We're all becoming vampires.''
The story of a cheerleader who learns to loathe shopping and love vanquishing blood-sucking creatures, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which opened on July 31) is ''a comedy, but also a satire about values in America,'' says Kristy Swanson, who plays the title character. Perry appears as Pike, a penniless dropout with a heart of gold who joins Buffy's quest when she literally saves his neck from the vampires (led by Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens, the former Pee-Wee Herman) who have invaded Southern California.
Perry, who appeared a few years before Beverly Hills 90210 in a drugstyles of the rich and heinous feature called Terminal Bliss, picked Buffy because he wanted to experiment with comedy at an early stage in his film career. ''I'd rather try and fail now than make four or five good movies and build up a reputation and then f--- it up,'' he says. ''Buffy shows I'm not afraid to take a chance. This is not going to be a critically acclaimed movie, but I still like it.'' If you're looking to find the meaning of life, don't watch our movie. If you're looking to have a good time, this is the best place to be.''
The set buzzes with the air of a fabulous high school party, the kind you wish you'd been invited to: Everybody's great-looking, and they're all talking to one another. Perry, slouching around in his overcoat and chain-smoking, seems to fit right in. But he had some trepidations because of his 90210 notoriety. ''I wanted people to see that I'm a team player. This isn't The Luke Perry Show.''
And these are by no means average kids playing average kids. Both Perry and Swanson are acting out high school experience they never had. Swanson, an Orange County Calif., native who became an actress when she was 9, didn't attend high school at all. And at Perry's school in Fredericktown, Ohio, nobody drove a BMW. ''They taught us how to drive tractors and help cows give birth,'' he says.
Still, Perry had immediate sense of who Pike was. ''I wanted him to have bad hair,'' he says with a laugh. ''Because I get a lot of attention because of my hair and sideburns.'' For tonight's scene, Perry pays homage to his favorite actor: In Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman wore a bottle opener around his neck. But they wouldn't let me wear a bottle opener, so I wore these dog tags,'' he says. ''The big clunky boots are my motorcross boots. They don't make me slouch; I'm a natural sloucher. I'm not one of those big, stand-up-and-stick-out-your-chest kind of dudes.''
Swanson, too, had specific ideas about how Buffy's clothes might separate her from the crowd. ''I made her shoes cool. She wears stupid miniskirts and these guys' Doc Martens, with socks. That's how you can tell she's kind of off.''
Asked if it's hard to play vapid, she answers, ''What's vapid?'' She stands next to the BMW, holding a red licorice vine like a Lolita lollipop. Perry lights another Marlboro. Kuzui takes a sip of cappuccino. It's 2 a.m. on a school night in the seediest part of Hollywood, and tomorrow evening in another location, the vampires will rise again.