This is the first of series of blogs I'm planning to do on vampires in recent literature and films.
It wasn't the first movie I saw about vampires, or even the best, but it's been one of my favorite films of all time since the moment I saw it. Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys is a seminal piece of vampire literature, revolutionary in its own way, while also towing the party line and spitting out a great deal of trite trash in its wake. The movie is campy, witty, beautifully shot, haunting at moments, and even, on occasion, a little creepy. It's truly a puzzle of a film. While The Lost Boys doesn't have much going for it in the way of an original plot, its phenomenal look, sound, and feel catapults it to the status of classic.
The Lost Boys calls to mind immediate images. Kiefer Sutherland in his leather getup, his face slightly sinister, but boyish and charming at the same time. The vampire lair, with its Jim Morrison poster, trash can fires, and tapestry curtains. It also has a distinctive sound. There's nothing that compares to its haunting theme song, "Cry Little Sister," with its enigmatic (and vaguely incestuous) lyrics and that chilling children's chorus crooning, "Thou shalt not die."
But The Lost Boys is also a movie that features lines like, "You're a vampire? Wait till Mom finds out." The movie features a splatter-gross ending, complete with, yes, "death by stereo." Furthermore, the big reveal at the end of the movie is "the blood-sucking Brady Bunch" and a crazy Grandpa vampire hunter.
These things hardly seem to fit together. And yet, somehow, they do. The Lost Boys is more than the sum of its parts. It's a hodgepodge little movie that seems to transcend itself at almost every turn.
There's nothing new about its premise or plot. It encapsulates the eighties teen vampire film, borrowing the basic premise of First Bite and My Best Friend Is a Vampire. This is the essential trope of vampire and werewolf movies dating all the way back to the 1950s—the vampire as a metaphor for teenage sexuality. Being a teenager is rough, what with puberty and attempting to interact with the opposite sex. Who of us doesn't feel monstrous at some point during adolescence? It's not a new idea or a new metaphor, but The Lost Boys does manage to put its own spin on it.
Sure the plot elements come at their usual plodding pace. Michael, a new kid in town, goes to hang out with a motorcycle gang of bad boys who are in trouble with the law. Typically, he does this to impress a girl. While hanging with them, he is tricked into drinking blood and throwing himself off a train bridge. Cue the after-school-special-type message. "Drugs, motorcycle gangs, and loose girls are bad news, kids. Just say no."
And indeed Michael is punished for his rebellious teenage ways. The penalty is a craving for blood, floating in his bedroom, perpetually wearing sunglasses, and being attacked by the family dog.
The second plot line of the movie follows Michael's little brother Sam. Apparently, the original script was meant to be a Goonies-type vampire send up, with all the characters as eight-year-olds. It's obvious that Sam and the Frog Brothers have their basis in the original script. Though the boys are clearly meant to be thirteen or fourteen in the movie, they really behave like they are much younger, with Sam crawling into bed with mother at one point because he's scared, and with their decision to kill the vampires with super soakers filled with holy water. For my money, the whole last half of the film, after the love scene, is pretty forgettable.
The one cool thing that the movie did have going for it was a bit of a mystery. Who was the head vampire? (Never mind that this business of there being half-vampires who go back to normal when you kill the head vampire is the silliest thing I ever heard in my life.) Max was the main suspect. Well, hell, he was the only suspect. But when he was cleared after eating garlic, seeing his reflection, and not being affected by holy water, it simply made his reveal in the end all that more surprising. It fooled me, anyway. What the heck? I was sixteen.
Joel Schumacher apparently got hold of the script and said he wouldn't film it unless it was about teenagers. It was his idea for the whole of the teenage cast to walk around in ragged gypsy glam, and certainly, as the director, we must credit him for the look and feel of the film, which are absolutely magnificent.
If The Lost Boys reaches for greatness, it can only be in its attempt (probably unconsciously) to comment on male roles in the post-feminist society of the 1980s. The movie features a single mother, whose sons are extremely protective of her. Max, the force of evil in the film, is insistent that "boys need a mother." He has been searching for a woman to complete his family.
Michael's descent into darkness happens because he is attracted to Star. It is his attempt to impress her that destroys him, and ultimately his attempt to protect her that redeems him. Michael may not be the best teenage son ever, refusing to have heart-to-hearts with his mom about his new problem of turning into a vampire. ("I'm dealing with things, Mom. Things you wouldn't understand.") But just try to attack his mother. There's no way Michael will let that happen.
The Lost Boys dives into the gender morass and comes out confused. Pursuing women, it seems to say, is either evil or dangerous. Protecting women, however, is the path to greatness.
In the end, The Lost Boys is a fantastic film, almost in spite of itself. Maybe it's just moments here and there. Maybe the moment when Michael screams, "What's happening to me, Star?" and the moment when David whispers, "Be one of us" are simply acted so well and filmed so well that their inherent cheesiness is absorbed into something really believable. I think we can thank Schumacher for this film. His direction brings something stunning to the material, elevates it higher than itself.