Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys is one of the “modern classics” and is listed in probably every “Top Ten” vampire film list you can find. But for some reason or other, I had never seen the film, even though I had the DVD on my shelf for a number of years. Now that posts keep popping up on the internet celebrating the 30th anniversary of the film’s release, I felt it was an appropriate occasion to watch it.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting this. All I knew of The Lost Boys was the style, look and tone of the vampires, especially Kiefer Sutherland’s character. And I was expecting – dreading – that this nihilistic, anarchist tone would extend to the film as a whole. And so, as I was expecting a bleak, nihilistic punk film, I was pleasantly surprised that I got something much more along the lines of Gremlins and similar teenage horror films of the decade.
In general, it feels to me like the 1980s are everywhere in this film. I am sure there must be a number of 1980s films that are heavily “tinged” by their own decade, but this one would probably rank high on such a list. The music, the clothes, the BMX bicycles – if this film were made today, critics would accuse the filmmakers of overdoing it.
I am sure almost everyone except me knows this film already, but I will give you a short look at the premise, just in case:
After a divorce that left her destitute, Lucy (Diane Wiest) takes her sons Sam (Corey Haim) and Michael (Jason Patrick) and moves back into her father’s house near the seaside resort town of Santa Carla. Lucy’s father (Barnard Hughes) is a rather eccentric old widower who spends his time with taxidermy (which, we can assume, also offers him a bit of income). Michael and Sam (roughly 18 and 13 years old, respectively), are less than enthused about the strange old man and his stuffy old house. There is not even a TV. They also don’t immediately take to Santa Clara, but Michael soon sets his sights on a mysterious girl and Sam discovers the local comic book store. Lucy finds work at a local video store, and all would be well with the world, if there wasn’t a surprising number of missing persons cases….
As far as the characters and the acting are concerned, the film is a bit of a mixed bag. Lucy is a great character, and Wiest (best known for The Associate) is doing an excellent job in the role. The grandfather character, on the other hand, is too quirky and exaggerated. Not the fault of Hughes, but a fault in the script and possibly in the directing. As for the two young family members: Patrick does his best, but he never manages to recover from the 2-dimensional way in which his character is written. By comparison, Haim is faring better, as far as the script is concerned, and he does a very decent job here for a kid actor. In general, I was surprised to see that this is basically Sam’s story, not Michael’s. And the way the characters are written reflects this.
Sam befriends two local weirdo kids, the Frog brothers, played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander. The three of them share a love for comic-books, and the brothers supply Sam with vampire-related comics which they say might save his life one day. Later on, the three of them team up to battle Santa Carla’s vampires.
Their comic-book discussions, the way these kids are trying to size each other up, and the way in which the Frog brothers talk (emulating 1980s action heroes) – all this very much emphasises that this is indeed a kid’s film.
There is generally a lot of humour in this film, especially in the dialogue, but some of these “funny lines” feel forced or shoe-horned in. Additional humour is derived from the grandfather’s eccentricity (although, as I said, exaggerated), and even from his stuffed animals.
In fact, the stuffed animals are also used to create a spooky atmosphere. And creating atmosphere is something this film really excels in. The vampire’s lair is very nice, and throughout the film there is a great use of light and shadows. The film also has a number of remarkable practical effects.
One of the chief elements for creating atmosphere is Santa Carla’s seafront arcade and fairground area. In this film, the fairground is only shown at night. It is part of the nocturnal realm and as such it is an eerily unreal place. The film manages to display the many facets of the fairground. It is a place without rules, a place without adults, a place away from everyday life and outside of normal society. And as such it is also a place where unruliness can quickly becomes menacing. The title The Lost Boys, a reference to Peter Pan, also mirrors this world without adults which drifts between liberty and danger. In a wider sense the American Dream and the allure of the Californian coast also play into this, as a resort town like Santa Carla is marketed as a place of dreams, while we can see the human driftwood (in form of dumpster-diving children) that is left behind by broken dreams. This contributes to the feeling that The Lost Boys is also highlighting the death of the 1970s. Santa Carla has a certain consumerist vibe; and Lucy as the quintessential ageing flower-power girl has to pick up the pieces of her life.
The look of the vampires is OK, they look sufficiently menacing in a punk sort-of way. The fact that their fangs are part of their front teeth, and not their canines, is quirky, but not too distracting. In general, the vampire make-up is rather good. It is a shame that the vampires in this story are written so pale. Sutherland’s character barely reaches the level of a 3-dimensional character. Much more could and should have been done with him. His followers are so underdeveloped that “1-dimensional” is the only way to describe them. They are basically walking set decorations, fulfilling three main functions: provide extra players for the final showdown; illustrate that Sutherland’s character fancies himself to be a “leader”; wear all those fancy leather jackets, because Sutherland cannot wear all those silly punk outfits all by himself.
The vampires’ underground lair, a former resort club, is sufficiently atmospheric, although I wish we could have seen more of its former glory and have it look less like a cave. The club was swallowed in the earthquake of 1906, we are told, and it seems possible that the swallowed church from season 1 of Buffy is an homage to The Lost Boys.
Speaking of which, there is a whole mind-tricks routine about spaghetti made to look like worms, etc., which is referenced in What We Do in the Shadows.
The film has two tonally different plots – one following Michael, and one following Sam. As I said, it feels to me like Sam’s plot is the main one, at least narratively. The film culminates in a very decent final showdown.
While all the Michael stuff may seem a bit dated today, the Sam story-line still holds up very well and so I assume that this film would work great today as a scary kids’ film for a roughly 12-year-old crowd. I can recommend this film to anyone looking for a vampire film with a strong ‘80s vibe and great practical effects. I rate The Lost Boys at 7.0 to 7.5 out of 10, in the firm believe that the film could have been much better if a bit more effort had gone into the writing of the vampire characters.