25 Years of The Lost Boys: “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die.”
by Stephanie Scaife
Caution: spoilers ahead…
1987. Regan is President, the Cold War continues, Thatcher is re-elected Prime Minister, the first ever episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation airs on television… and on 31st July Joel Schumacher’s teen vampire flick The Lost Boys was unleashed on US audiences. 25 years later and it has found mass cult appeal, thanks in part to being one of Warners’ best selling VHS tapes ever released and that for my generation it offered something new – vampires as young, beautiful, immortal rock stars, not pasty old loners holed up in castles or creeping around foggy cemeteries.
I’m almost certain that I’ve told this story before, but way back in the late 80’s when my mum bought a VHS player the first two videos she bought were Blade Runner and The Lost Boys, and for the longest while they were the only videos that we had, resulting in them being watched ad nauseam, and for me as an adolescent The Lost Boys had a profound effect. As we’re seeing today, the allure of the teenage vampire can be very popular with young girls; I’m just glad that for my generation this included sex, violence, rock ‘n’ roll and some pretty fucking awesome 80’s hairstyles. Not sparkly, chaste, vegetarian vampires…
I really wish that I could say it was the rather awesome Kiefer Sutherland as David, the leader of the vamp gang, that piqued my interest, but sadly no; I was 8 years old and I was in love with the two Coreys. This was in the days before the internet, and it’s not like I could start an appreciation Tumblr or write slash fiction; instead I had scrap books, and I’d spend hours cutting out pictures from teen heart-throb magazines and hand-writing fan letters whilst listening to the soundtrack on vinyl. Not to mention sitting though such gems as License to Drive and Dream a Little Dream as a consequence of my obsession, in-between repeat viewings of The Lost Boys, which I think I must’ve seen over 50 times in my life and could probably recite the entire script backwards. To me this almost seems rather quaint now in a world where you can gather every piece of information about your idol online and millions can be made from publishing your poorly written fan fiction.
As it happens The Lost Boys wasn’t intended to resemble anything like the finished product. Instead it was originally about 8-9 year old vampires in a more literal rift on the Peter Pan reference of the title. What Schumacher did was envision the film with teenagers with the aim of making it cool and sexy, and certainly not the kids film that the studio had wanted. He took a massive risk making such an of-the-moment-film, full of unknown actors that blended the near impossible to pull off combination of horror and comedy. But against all odds he managed to succeed, not least because of the fantastic cast, a great soundtrack and cinematography by the legendary Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull). The Lost Boys is knowingly kitsch and it almost takes itself too seriously, but I think it pulls it off by being scary enough, sexy enough and cool enough to appeal to a vast audience, and I think that it still stands up today, although that may just be my nostalgia talking. It may also be my poor taste that thinks although it’s very certainly the 80’s it still looks great and any hipster on the streets of Williamsburg would probably kill for Sam’s wardrobe.
Following on from The Hunger (1983) and Fright Night (1985), The Lost Boys continued to up the ante in making vampires contemporary. Vampires have never been the stereotypical movie monster, although they are traditionally male they are often times handsome and alluring, not like Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy or The Wolfman. But whereas Dracula or other similar gothic incantations saw themselves holed up in faraway castles, these contemporary vampires were far more sociable, not to mention oozing in sex. In The Lost Boys, David (Kiefer Sutherland) and the rest of his family are portrayed as mysterious, a thing apart from normal life and so hip and cool that everyone around them yearns to be like them; including Michael (Jason Patric) who is immediately taken with the only female member, Star (Jami Gertz).
Michael is part of another, altogether more typical dysfunctional family consisting of his teenage brother Sam (Corey Feldman), his recently divorced mom (Dianne Wiest) and his eccentric taxidermist Grandpa (Barnard Hughes). They have recently relocated to Santa Carla, CA – or “the murder capital of the world” as it’s known in the film – from Phoenix, AZ. Santa Carla is a Boardwalk town full of misfits, transients and punk rockers – a world away from the landlocked Phoenix, enabling for classic fish-out-of-water narrative devices, especially in regards to Sam who is portrayed as a sort of fashion victim more comfortable hanging out at the mall than on the beach, and Michael who tries desperately to impress Star by saying he wants to get his ear pierced. However, each brother goes in a distinctly different direction in their bid to become accepted in their new surroundings.
Sam meets up with the Frog brothers, Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander), two kids who run a comic store on the Boardwalk, that are self-proclaimed vampire hunters. Schumacher had asked Feldman and Newlander to study Stallone and Chuck Norris movies and to become that kind of 80’s action commando-type character and to also take themselves very seriously indeed, which effectively adds a great amount of humour to their roles. The Frog brothers give Sam horror comics to read, which they seem to take as gospel and use as self defence manuals, and although initially humouring them Sam quickly gets sucked in, especially as he starts to see vampiric traits from the comics appear in his brother Michael.
Michael on the other hand is quick to ingratiate himself with David and the others, initially due to his attraction to Star, and later as he is seduced by the danger and mystery of this gang of teenagers seemingly unhindered by responsibility and any sort of adult supervision. In one of the most infamous scenes in the film David tricks Michael into believing that he’s eating maggots and worms instead of Chinese take-out so as to easily coax him into drinking blood, hence turning Michael into a half-vampire, only to become a fully fledged vampire upon committing his first kill.
During the 1980’s with the increased press coverage and growing fear surrounding the official recognition of HIV and AIDS, the vampire story started to take on a whole new meaning. Vampires after all are all about sex and blood and the popularity of certain film genres, horror in particular, has a tendency over the years to reflect the socio-economic climate of the time – from the cold war politics and racism of the 1960’s in Night of the Living Dead, to the 1970’s backlash against the Vietnam war in Last House on the Left, to the vampire films of the 1980’s like The Lost Boys and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark where we see young, sexually active people being afflicted with vampirism transmitted through penetration both sexual and as a means to consume blood. So after being tricked into consuming David’s blood and consummating his relationship with Star, things start to go all sorts of weird for Michael. He sleeps all day, wears sunglasses indoors, he smells bad, so wait… is he a creature of the night or is he just a teenage boy?
Meanwhile, oblivious to all of this, their mom Lucy has found herself a job at a local video store and is dating the manager Max, who just so happens to be the mild mannered middle-aged head vampire! In another of my favourite scenes (that also offers somewhat of a plot hole) Max comes over for dinner and Sam along with the Frog brothers try and catch him out by spiking his food with garlic and seeing if he glows in the dark, however we learn that by inviting a vampire into your home it renders you powerless against them. Although, as we’d seen earlier in the film Michael fails to cast a reflection in his own home but Max on the other hand clearly has a reflection in the mirror Sam plants in front of him. Perhaps being the head vampire gives you extra inexplicable powers, or perhaps by now I should’ve learned to stop questioning horror films.
Once the cat is out of the bag the final third of the film turns to fairly standard genre fare as our protagonists battle against the vampires, and although the events that transpire are more than a little predictable there are a few memorable death scenes that remain unparalleled even today – my little 8 year-old mind was pretty much blown as we see “death by stereo,” toilets exploding with blood and Kiefer Sutherland impaled on a mound of taxidermy deer antlers. Even today you’d struggle to find such imaginative ways of vampire disposal and I think that is one of the many reasons why The Lost Boys still stands up today. Yes it’s cheesy and yes it’s very clearly set in the 80’s but it’s still a funny, scary, sexy movie that will continue to inspire both fascination and nostalgia, depending on your age, for years to come. Something that not many recent vampire films could lay claims to. Let’s just not mention the 2 straight to video sequels.
It takes a certain kind of film to inspire the sort of following that The Lost Boys has, and even now all of its primary cast are associated with this above anything else that they’ve done in their careers. Perhaps that’s not too much of a stretch with Jami Gertz, but when you look at actors like Kiefer Sutherland it definitely says something about the power of the film; that this is the one he continuously gets quoted back to him and is constantly flagged as a favourite amongst his fans. I think ultimately The Lost Boys was a combination of being in the right place at the right time to capture the imaginations of a disenfranchised generation looking for some escapism and its longevity is proof that although it’s hardly Citizen Kane (and in fact it’s not even as good as the lesser known Near Dark which came out later that year), there is something very special about The Lost Boys. In another 25 years time I’m sure I’ll still be watching it at least once a year and quoting lines back with my friends, so just remember: “They’re only noodles, Michael.”