The Lost Boys, Lookback/Review

Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Jamie Gertz, Dianne Wiest, BOTH Coreys, a gang of bloodthirsty vampires all firmly ensconced in the 80s. The Lost Boys is timeless.

Gyrating his Spandex-covered mega thighs while his oiled, muscular body spiritually defies the chains he dramatically sports, former Tina Turner band member Tim Cappello performs the sax-iest tenor sax solo ever captured on film in 1987’s The Lost Boys. With this nostalgically classic image, among many others, The Lost Boys is an Edward Cullen-esque glowing example that along with doorway invitations, night shifts and Atheism, a vampires’ tale often requires the celebration of cheesiness and/or a sense of humor to be told, an aspect that has been revered by many recent representations of American mainstream fanged night stalkers (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Hotel Transylvania).

The particular variety of cheesiness for The Lost Boys stems from its dated sense of style, which is so heavily 80s that the movie becomes emblematic of the entire decade. Images of bustling video stores, mullets, Echo and the Bunnymen posters and even the presence of Alex Winter demonstrate that this movie is a main product of the era’s gaudy fashion (sported by Haim, whose regrettable wardrobe blares like the neon Santa Clara boardwalk) and desire to defy the preceding cinematic sobriety of the 1970s.

In a slightly smaller context, the film has historic importance for capturing the freshness of a few of its actors, whose careers would take off following the movie. It is the first film that paired “The Two Coreys,” Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, a duo who would soon have a total of seven films together like License to Drive (starring a young Heather Graham) and Dream a Little Dream. The Lost Boys also marked only the second film for Jason Patric, who would later have reasonable 90s prowess with movies like Speed 2: Cruise Control and Sleepers. Though it is not the first performance for Kiefer Sutherland (he appeared in Stand By Me the year before), his work here is one hell of a contribution to a resume that would eventually see the show 24 added to it. And if one really wants to keep score, this 1987 teen horror movie is slightly historical as it inspired two sequels, both featuring Feldman, which would not come straight-to-DVD until 2008 and 2010: The Lost Boys: The Tribe and The Lost Boys: The Thirst, respectively.

Initially inspired by the idea of the “lost boys” from Peter Pan and a product of The Goonies’ box office success, this teen vampire story becomes a meditation on the topic of peer acceptance. Haim and Patric star as two brothers, Sam and Michael, who are living the nightmare of any teenager – moving far away from home to a scary new place, a social restart, the teen equivalent of death – a journey spearheaded by their mother (Dianne Wiest). In search of their next life chapters, the mother and her two sons take to the town’s bustling Californian boardwalk, where she gets a job at a hoppin’ video store and the geeky-but-apparently-cool Sam finds acceptance among two comic books kids, Edgar Frog (Feldman) and Alan Frog (Jamison Newlander), after he schools them on his knowledge of DC Comics (a nod to executive producer Richard Donner’s past film Superman: The Movie).

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Michael finds himself caught up with the wrong group, lured by a girl named Star (Jami Gertz) to her boyfriend David, who is the head of a goth’d out gang that hooligans video stores and Ferris wheels (hey, what are you gonna do, it’s the 80s).

The movie takes its severe message of peer pressure when it shows that David and his gang are not ordinary punks of the night, but are actually murderous vampires, who peer pressure Michael into doing dumb, destructive things, like eating random Chinese food that might actually be maggots, nearly driving his motorbike off a cliff and of course, turning himself into a half-vampire by ingesting a suspicious liquid (a substance advisory for the movie’s primary demographic).

This change of Michael’s character kicks off the movie’s main conflict, in which Sam must stop his brother going full vampire by killing the lead vamp, who may or may not be David (even his mother’s boss, played by Edward Herrmann, is suspect). Assisted by the all-knowing geek knowledge given to them by cheeky comic books, Haim and his two wannabe vampire hunter friends venture to the group’s cave, killing the wrong vampire, a mistake that leads the night creatures to Sam and Michael’s house for a final showdown. There’s also a whole subplot involving Michael’s desire to be with Star while also reversing the whole vampire thing, but it makes for the movie’s weakest chapters. 

The movie is directed by Joel Schumacher, who might ring a bell for those who have ever enjoyed mocking Batman Forever and/or Batman and Robin, or have memorized Woody Allen’s history of costume designers (Schumacher did Sleeper and Interiors). Coming early in a directorial filmography that would later include The Number 23 and The Phantom of the Opera, The Lost Boys is a rarity for him, a productive mix of winking camp with action that benefits from his obvious handling of characters and art design, satisfying his comic book imagination while empowering the art form as well. Just like the over-the-top urban architecture of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, his peacockish artistry is certainly evident here in the glowing 80s neon color palettes and reused helicopter establishing shots over the ocean. It is a surprise, then, to hear that Schumacher did not add the humorous storyline, but the other way around – when he was enlisted by Donner to make the film, he insisted on upgrading the script’s focus on children to teenagers, while also making the vampire elements darker than the script’s original Goonies influence.

Haim is the movie’s main source of goof, highlighting through physical and mental traits the art design’s flashy style. Bumbling through the movie with assumed “I’m just a kid!” innocence, he rounds out the film with its silly lightness, making odd jokes out of serious moments, like when he reacts to Michael’s vampire news as if Michael had broken a window and he was going to tell on him (“You wait till mom finds out, buddy!”) Even his haircut is flashy and of the period, a memory of the hip Wham! androgyny of the decade with a ‘do that could be classified as “Pre-Bieber.”

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Likely still standing as his proudest moment in an otherwise milquetoast acting career, Patric’s appearance is one that succeeds most for his luck in picking such a story than actual skill. In the movie’s heavily contrasting tones, Patric is neutralized as a drab gray, given neither the bright colors of Haim’s humor nor Sutherland’s semi-disturbing pitch blackness, but not able to provide anything himself. Though he is placed in the movie’s most urgent dilemma, Patric has a weak sense of emotional urgency and needs his surrounding elements (characters, story and yes, the nostalgia of his haircut) to prevent him from being completely forgettable – the livelier parts of a movie can only rub off on such a dead-eyed character so much.

Though the movie’s charm stems, in large part, from its dated characteristics, the concrete for The Lost Boys’ foundation as solid horror is evident solely in Sutherland’s performance; the other members of his villainous vampire gang are disposable goofballs at best and it’s a well-known fact that no amount of gore guarantees a serious dramatic reception. Thus, it is the slithering, physically domineering Sutherland as David, with his distinctive voice that makes every Bank of America ad sound all the more sinister, who provides this tale of peer pressure with its essential representation of bullying brutality. More intimidating than his vampiric bloodlust is his utilization of power through mind games, which here lure gullible Michael into a nearly fatal disaster. Decades from now, even if viewers return to The Lost Boys solely to giggle at the movie’s haircuts, it will still be understood that Sutherland’s villain is one to be disquieted by and one who could tear many vampires that came after him into paper shreds.

The Lost Boys isn’t a very smart movie; its only cleverness is evident in the broad winking of the movie’s goofier parts. Though its giddy tone hopping makes for a bumpy script, The Lost Boys is paced well enough, moving from campy scene to campy scene and it does work as an overall package. The script’s gabs for humor succeed at achieving geek empowerment (they’re the “smartest” ones in the movie), while the vampiric moments, with the help of sharp teeth, flaring contact lenses and Kiefer Sutherland, are reasonably ghoulish. These juxtaposing elements often feel too parallel (even when they are physically put together, such as when Edgar Alan and Sam visit the vampire cave), as if the two brain halves don’t need the other. However, they are nonetheless stirred well enough together in the third act, a deliciously campy showdown that mixes heavy amounts of blood with the dorky presence of garlic water pistols, successfully completing Schumacher’s mission to wed “horror and humor. 

While the zeitgeist dust might plainly settle on some vampire movies due to be entombed by their insignificant contribution to cinema, (unless they are uncovered by small cults, such as what will likely happen with Twilight when that whole thing passes) The Lost Boys is bound to be continually resurrected as a primary text for undead entertainment, whether or not its viewers will have first-hand witnessed the visuals from such a distinct era. The film has earned immortality by being a potent time capsule for a classic decade, one that desired neon color in its darkness, explored the bounds of teenage innocence, and will forever continue to proclaim its pride through cheesy saxaphone solos.