Since Buffy the Vampire Slayer bummed out even its diehard loyalists worse than a pair of teeth marks to the neck last season, series creator Joss Whedon knows that this year there's a lot, uh, at stake. Luckily, he has a master plan to keep the UPN sleeper out of the TV-show graveyard and in the Sunnydale Cemetery where it belongs: In upcoming episodes, he reveals, "there will be vampires. And we're going to give [the Scoobies] cute catch phrases like 'Eat this' and 'You're dust.'" All kidding aside, the auteur does have a few tricks up his sleeve to turn around the bloody mess that the cult fave became — and no, none of them involve hiring Luke Perry to reprise his role from the anemic 1992 film. Phew! He's off to a good start already. Here are some of his other ideas to keep creatures of the night glued to the tube on Tuesdays.

Buffy will cheer up. Whedon concedes that last season, Buffy "got very dark, and not everybody responded to that." So from here on, the Chosen One won't be playing the victim anymore. "We're going to see Buffy empowered again," he says, "instead of seeing her at the mercy of life."

Sunnydale High School will be rebuilt. "Buffy's going to get involved in the school and Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) will be attending," he says. "It's about getting back to the mission statement of the show, which was, 'Here's a little girl with a lot of power and a lot of people who underestimate it.'"

A lot of familiar faces will be returning. Not only is Amber Benson coming back as a character other than Tara, so might be Eliza Dushku (Faith), Clare Kramer (Glory), Juliet Landau (Drusilla) and George Hertzberg (Adam). "[They're all returning] for a very particular reason that I will not explain to you," Whedon teases.

Anthony Stewart Head will be around more. At least Whedon hopes so. To date, the actor — who's currently appearing on the BBC America series Manchild — is only committed to doing 10 episodes of Buffy. "But we want more," Whedon says. "We missed him [last year]." Meanwhile, Ripper, the in-the-works spinoff revolving around Head's counterpart Giles, has been put on hold.

Willow (Alyson Hannigan) will get a new girlfriend.. Well, maybe. "That's something I'm not going to comment on," Whedon says. "But it's definitely a possibility."

Spike will not turn into a little Angel. Although the blonde blood-sucker got back his soul, Whedon has no intention of turning him into a clone of Buffy's first love. "If you think [that], you don't know me," he asserts. "The trick is to do it differently and have it mean something new."

Buffy will go on — with or without Sarah Michelle Gellar. A decision about an eighth season has yet to be made. However, Whedon certainly isn't eager to dust the franchise. "The show is about growing up, and that process never stops," he says. "I really do feel like it could go on forever" — even if Gellar hangs up Mr. Pointy when her contract expires in May? "I'm game for almost anything," Whedon says. "It's a huge universe we've created and an incredible cast of actors."