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Entries in Lost Boys/The [1987] (1)

Wednesday
Mar172010

The Lost Boys (1987)

Everyone Remembers Your Name

From the opening bars of Echo and the Bunnymen’s cover of “People are Strange” by The Doors, it’s obvious that The Lost Boys is not going to be a standard vampire movie. The song plays over a montage of the bizarre characters and sights that surround the California boardwalk town of Santa Carla, as seen by Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), two teen boys who’ve just moved to town with their mom, played by Diane Wiest. The music’s spooky carnival vibe is both playful and kind of threatening, just like the run-down attractions and Missing Child flyers posted all over town. Had this scene not been preceded by a more conventional monster movie prologue, it would have set the tone for the Lost Boys perfectly.

Sam and Michael find their new home to be absolutely dead during the daytime, but at night, the nearby pier livens up with music, dancing, and hordes of other kids looking for something to do. Sam finds comfort in a comics shop run by the Frog brothers, Edgar and Allen (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), while Michael takes an interest in a beautiful party girl named Star (Jami Gertz). Unfortunately, Star has a pack of bike-riding, leather-duster-wearing friends led by David (Kiefer Sutherland), who tease and entice Michael into following them around.

David and his gang are not just boardwalk hooligans, they’re also vampires, and The Lost Boys centers mostly on Michael’s induction into their ranks as an unwitting creature of the night. Sam and the Frog brothers catch on, and try clumsily to help Michael and stop the bikers before they can kill again. This means, according to the horror comics they hold as sacred survival guides, tracking down and killing the head vampire—thus lifting the curse of the undead from all half-vampires (of which Michael, Star, and Star’s younger brother are three). All of this goes on under Michael and Sam’s mother’s nose, who is wrapped up in dating Max (Edward Hermann), the owner of a local video store.

Twenty-three years after its release, The Lost Boys defies categorization. Is it a horror movie? A supernatural action comedy? An edgy teenybopper love story? All of these elements swirl around the picture like the Santa Carla Ferris Wheel, but none of them are prominent enough to lay claim to the movie’s genre. The Lost Boys is a movie about vampires, but it’s also about comic books and rock and roll; if you look past the punk mullets, it’s a metaphor for teenage physiological changes and the desire to fit in. And, of course, it’s a statement about families, nuclear and otherwise. So, what’s the key to the movie’s enduring success?

I give director Joel Schumacher as much credit as the wonderful cast he assembled. Stylistically, this film is a marvel of lighting and set design. All of the sets look like the decaying remnants of the world’s greatest rock clubs, full of junk and graffiti—or simple, general clutter. Schumacher loves blending shadows with neon lighting to create a kind of faulty light bulb look; it’s put to great effect here, but would later go on to destroy the Batman franchise. Also, I don’t know if he invented the vamp-POV camera, but he certainly perfected it, with great swooping shots of unseen creatures descending on their prey. The Lost Boys is a blast to watch, strictly from a kinetic energy standpoint.

The film works, too, because the screenplay, by Janice Fischer and James Jeremias, takes vampire lore into new and unexpected places. Sam and the Frog brothers fill up Super Soaker squirt guns with Holy Water in preparation for the epic showdown with David’s gang. Michael’s transformation involves a thrilling learning-to-fly scene (more accurately, a not-learning-to-fly scene). And, with a perfectly played twist, we finally learn the significance of not inviting a vampire into one’s home. Yes, The Lost Boys seems dated today, not just because of the fashions, but also because of some of the over-the-top acting that services some corny dialogue; but as a story, it’s a solid piece of work.

Schumacher and the screenwriters balanced terror with levity, and never failed to make both exciting (the coffin cave scene comes to mind), and it’s this quality that helps the film stand out from two other studio vampire pictures that were released the year before, Fright Night and Near Dark; both of those movies ranged from traditionally scary to just plain bleak. All three presented new takes on the myth, but The Lost Boys, in its casting and production values, was the most commercial. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and in the hands of a visionary director, it can be quite special: your average teen horror movie doesn’t feature a weighty moment in the climax where a mother offers to sacrifice her life in order to keep her sons from being murdered; they wouldn’t follow such a moment with a pickup truck ramming through a living room, blaring “La Cucaracha” on its horn.

Having re-watched this film recently, I can say that it doesn’t age that well. Aesthetically it’s fine, but some of the acting—particularly by the younger members of the cast—comes off as too earnest (i.e. cheesy). But the reason I think the movie has remained a classic that’s beloved by millions is that it’s packed with heart, ideas, and characters that one can root firmly for and against. Some see The Lost Boys as a camp classic, others as a vamp classic, and neither perspective is wrong.

Note: You should avoid, at all costs, the direct-to-video sequel, Lost Boys: The Tribe. It’s a beat-for-beat rehash of the first film, save for two things: A) the cast is not nearly as engaging (Kiefer’s step-brother Angus Sutherland pops up as the bad-boy vampire here, and he’s a poor, poor substitute), and B) the writers assumed that changing the Michael character from a boy to a girl would make the audience believe that they were watching something new. It’s a pathetic movie and, all things considered, it’s probably best for Corey Haim’s legacy that his cameo was left on the cutting-room floor.