Thursday, August 11, 2011

All The Damn Vampires

For most adolescent boys in 1987, especially those who considered themselves to be hardened horror fans, The Lost Boys wasn't a cool movie to rally around. Even though I didn't hate it, I still felt it was my duty to refer to it condescendingly as an "MTV vampire movie." That brand of high-handed scorn hardly made an impact on The Lost Boys' reception, though, as it became a hit in the summer of '87 and remains a cult favorite to this day.

Whether it was viewed as a positive or a negative, The Lost Boys absolutely was an "MTV vampire movie," aimed squarely at the hip youth culture of the late '80s (if Hot Topic had existed then, this movie would've been a goldmine for them). At the time it was easy to dismiss The Lost Boys as slick nonsense, more of a fashion show than a horror show, but today with neither vampires or MTV being what they used to be, it's a ripe time to develop a new appreciation for director Joel Schumacher's film. Whenever the most emblematic teen films of the '80s are brought up, titles like The Breakfast Club and Say Anything always hit the top of the list but The Lost Boys is so, so '80s. I would say that all it's missing is a Tangerine Dream score but the soundtrack is pretty perfect as is - and unmistakably '80s with tracks by Echo and the Bunnyman and INXS.

Before The Lost Boys, Schumacher made one of the classic "Brat Pack" movies, St. Elmo's Fire, and like that Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, and Emilo Estevez-starring film, The Lost Boys boasted a hot young ensemble of actors. Unlike St. Elmo's, though, The Lost Boys' cast were all virtual unknowns. I can't imagine anything like that happening today - the success of a big movie being allowed to rest on a cast of no names. Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland may have had famous fathers (Jason Miller and Donald Sutherland) but neither were anywhere near being stars themselves at the time.

Back then, a movie - especially a youth-orientated one - didn't need stars. In fact, the movies were supposed to turn their neophyte casts into stars but now studios are too cautious not to stock even teen pics with already proven draws.

If studios had the mentality then that they do now, who knows what kind of misguided cast would've made their way into The Lost Boys. Instead of Sutherland as vampire ring leader David, it probably would've been '80s pop star/actor Rick Springfield (who actually did play a vampire in the 1989 TV movie Nick Knight). What a loss that would've been as Sutherland makes for one of the great cinematic vampires. I seldom notice the character appearing in fan discussions of classic vampires, maybe because it's still not fashionable to champion The Lost Boys, but Sutherland really is outstanding here.

Interestingly, while it's no mystery what David and his crew are (even the posters proclaimed "It's fun to be a vampire"), the reveal of their bloodsucking nature doesn't come until late in the movie. It's not until the one hour mark that any fangs are bared. Making the wait seem negligible, Schumacher and screenwriter Jeffrey Boam, along with the cast, do a fine job of making brothers Michael and Sam Emerson's introduction to their new home in the coastal town of Santa Carla ("the Murder Capital of the World" as some graffiti on the back of a billboard ominously dubs it) engaging without having to lean on much in the way of thriller elements.

Most movies would've portrayed the character of younger brother Sam (Corey Haim) as either a Mark Petrie-esque horror fan who's immediately sensitive to what's what in Santa Carla or else as a snooping type who happens across the existence of vampires thanks to his voyeuristic habits but instead, Sam is a happy-go-lucky comic book aficionado (but not a horror fan) who finds the assertions of the young vampire hunting duo of Edgar and Alan Frog (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) - that Santa Carla is a haven for bloodsuckers - to be risible. It's a refreshing change of pace that Sam is not the typical lonely, introverted teen lead as seen in horror movies like Phantasm.

Also flying in the face of convention is the fact that Michael (Patric) is seduced into vampirism by another male vampire. Typically (especially today in our Twilight world), either Michael or David would've been written as a girl but in The Lost Boys you've got a male bringing another male into the fold. There is a female love interest for David in the form of Jami Gertz's character of Star but she's such a wanly handled element as neither Michael or David seem particularly interested in her.

Schumacher clearly knew what he was doing and I appreciate now more than I did then how subversive it was in '87 for him to make a teen film that was so gay-themed (few would blink at it now - hell, Glee 3-D is out this weekend - but in the '80s it wasn't so readily accepted). Even without the homo-erotic tension between Michael and David, Haim's Sam would have had the gay front covered all by himself. You've got his wardrobe choices, which are, um, far more colorful than most straight teen boys would ever be comfortable with; he sings " Ain't Got No Home" by Clarence (Frogman) Henry (with what sounds like the line "I ain't got a man!" which isn't found in the original lyrics) while in the bathtub; and he has a beefcake poster of what looks like Rob Lowe in a half shirt pinned to his closet door rather than a poster of, say, The Fall Guy's Heather Thomas.

All of which is admittedly only circumstantial evidence but I don't think Schumacher is trying to be ambiguous about Sam's sexuality. Putting him in a "Born To Shop" T-shirt (rather, than, say a rock or heavy metal T-shirt) just can't be an accident and by the same token, neither is the fact that Sam is shown to be such an upbeat, angst-free kid.

As a horror film, The Lost Boys still isn't much to write home about but in the wake of Twilight, it looks almost bad-assed and its charismatic cast still charms (and not just its younger players - Barnard Hughes as Grandpa delivers one of moviedom's best last lines). The Lost Boys wasn't the movie I was looking for back in the summer of '87 but now it seems like exactly the kind of movie that summers were made for.

On a final note, no discussion of The Lost Boys would be complete without a shout-out to Jacked Up Sax Player. Seldom has such an impression been made with so little screen time.


Amanda By Night said...

Oh man, I adore this film. I just saw it on the big screen last year for the first time since the film came out (where I saw it 8 times in its original release)... This movie means the world to me, and as 80s as it is, it's also a little timeless. I think the humor still works really well, and I agree that David was some kind of vampire. All in all, I know it's glossy and superficial, but it's also endlessly entertaining.

The hardest part was watching Haim. Knowning what we all know now, it's a bittersweet viewing.

Hallospaceboy said...

Great write up!

I was about 18 when this movie came out in 1987. I really liked it then even knowing that is was very 'MTV' and considering what MTV means now I think it holds up better than most from the era tho it is wildly dated.

And for the homo erotic subtext, I laughed when I finally caught on to the posters Sam had in his bedroom and thought "wtf boy has a beefcake poster of Rob Lowe on his wall??" But yeah i realized that Schumacher (who is gay himself, I think, NTTAWT!) was playing with the subtext that the Vampires were metaphors once again for being gay.

Even knowing that reading of the movie I still enjoy it on the surface as a fun movie. And considering what vampires today have become these lost boys at least had some bite to them.

Unknown said...

Hadn't Kiefer Sutherland done STAND BY ME before THE LOST BOYS? I think he got some heat and recognition off of that one but you're right in the sense that he still wasn't a box office draw.

I remember feeling the same way you did back in the day - that it was MTV vampires but man, the film has aged surprisingly well and, as you so rightly point out, compared to the TWILIGHT films, it is practically Shakespeare.

I also thought it interesting all the subtext that Schumacher planted just under the radar that most of us completely missed back in the day. The man has had a wildly uneven career to say the least with FLATLINERS still being my fave film of his. Back then, his commercial/music video sensibility was all the rage but now it looks dated, but in a good way, I think.

I also remember absolutely idolizing the Frog bros. back in the day. They were living a kid's dream - runnin their own comic book store?!! Awesome.

Jeff Allard said...

Amanda, don't you miss the days when movies were affordable enough where it wasn't impossible to return to the theater eight times to see the same movie? And yes, it is poignant to see Haim and be reminded of what a talented actor he was.

Doug, any subtext to The Lost Boys was lost on me during its theatrical run but it seems so overt looking at the film now! The movie definitely holds up well and I can say that I like it more now than I did then.

J.D., Kiefer had done STAND BY ME but that was a very small role as I recall. As for Schumacher, he's made some solid movies. It's a shame that his career has faltered so badly. And I'm with you on the Frog Bros.' comic book store. Every time I see this movie, I'm always blown away by what a kick-ass store that is!

Mummbles said...

I think the difference was in 1987 MTV actually showed videos and was more about music, so I do not see it as a bad thing. If it was compared to today's MTV then the movie was not like that at all, it was for a young teen demographic so yes in a sense it was for those who would also watch MTV. I often wonder why no one has stepped up with a channel dedicated to actual music videos instead of the pregnant mom shit MTV turns out now.

I think Lost Boys is a cult movie now, people love seeing vampires and this movie has the right mix of young stars and humor that keep it a fan favorite. I live close to Santa Cruz (the town Santa Carla was based on) and they recently showed the movie on the actual beach that some scenes were filmed, it still has interest of the fans.

And yes the Frog Brothers were the dream of me any many comic book loving fans of the 80's. I guess that is why the movie has spawned two sequels based of Corey Fieldman's character alone! What are you thoughts on the sequels?

Jeff Allard said...

I haven't watched either of the sequels so I can't comment on them except to say that I find it puzzling that one of the more beloved and widely recognized cult films of the '80s has had to settle for a couple of cheap, direct-to-video sequels while far less known '80s genre titles have gotten the big budget remake treatment. It doesn't make much sense to me.