The Lost Boys (1987) Review

For a film that prides itself on a promise that you’ll ‘never grow old’, “The Lost Boys” has betrayed us all and turns 30 this year, released on this date all the way back in 1987. I watched it recently for the first time in maybe ten years and it still holds up pretty well although my overriding impression of it this time around was that Director Joel Schumacher paid for helicopter hire and by God, he was going to get his money’s worth.  I’m marking this event by, somewhat appropriately, giving blood (if you’re not a donor already, why not use this as an excuse to get started?) so I thought it only appropriate to hand the task of celebrating the film’s tricennial to WTCS occasional columnist and “Lost Boys” super fan, Sweetie G [for whom a deadline is apparently as effective as garlic and crucifixes are to vampires].  – The Craggus

Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire. Thirty? How the fuck did this happen??  I did not approve this! Much as I did not approve of either sequel (neither of which exist or shall be mentioned again from this point on).

It was something of a rude awakening when I was told that “The Lost Boys” would turn thirty this year.  The film that I watched pretty much every half term and school holiday for most of my school life.  My honest answer to the question ‘What’s your favourite film?’. Okay, it was never going to win any Oscars® but to an eleven-year-old emerging horror film fan, it was perfection.  With its sexy young cast, exciting action, soft-core horror/ gore, and slick, hip script, coupled with a killer (ahem) rock & roll soundtrack, it was always going to be a winner.  A hit at the time of release, its reputation has grown into cult status since.

It was the film that introduced me to both Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Haim, the loves of my life for a large portion of my formative years, and of course Nanook (played by a beautiful Alaskan Malamute called Cody), although that was less of a crush and more genuine puppy love.  From “The Lost Boys”, I followed Sutherland to the terrible “Renegades”, the awesome “Young Guns” and the eerie and jumpy “Flatliners” (the remake of which is out this year).  Haim I stalked to “License To Drive”, “Watchers”, “Dream Machine” and “Prayer Of The Rollerboys” before going back to discover “Lucas” and “Silver Bullet”. You know, when you list them out like that it’s pretty easy to see whose career went better.

But enough about my first crushes and back to the film in question.  Now, I should point out that this is not a high brow film, brains are NOT required to enjoy this film and it fails the Bechdel Test badly since the only two female characters are only there to provide context or motivation for the male leads. They’re firmly pigeonholed as the archetype ‘mother’ and ‘maiden’ and rarely get to discuss anything but Michael (Jason Patric) and/ or David (Sutherland), so you can forget any feminist subtext in the film whatsoever. Perhaps that would have come to the fore in the oft-touted but never produced sequel “The Lost Girls” which would have seen David’s vampire survive the events of this film (remember: he doesn’t explode or dissolve like all the other) but despite the film’s popularity, Joel Schumacher just couldn’t make it happen in the 1990s. What you can expect is comedic daytime capers with Corey Haim’s Sam as he teams up with local comic book nerds and would-be vampire hunters Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander), the Po(e)-faced Frog brothers and sexy night time vampire action as Michael mixes with David and his gang of eponymous lost boys. And helicopter shots. Lots and lots of helicopter tracking shots.

Set in the fictional borough of Santa Carla, California (the murder capital of the world), Lucy (Dianne Wiest) and her two boys Michael and Sam move back in with her eccentric father (Barnard Hughes) following a divorce. It’s established early on that this isn’t the boys’ first choice and probably not Lucy’s either but she’s determined to make the best of it and make a fresh start. Wiest may be used more as a plot device than a character but she wrings every bit of pathos and personality out of her underwritten role and provides a deceptively important bedrock for the film’s main plot to build on.

The already- and soon-to-be- lost boys ‘meet’ for the first time at the boardwalk, as Michael’s attention is captured by the bait that is Star (Jami Gertz), while Sam is seduced by the nerd-friendly ambience of the comic book store. When the brothers meet up again, Star climbs onto the back of David’s bike as Sam laughs at Michael commenting that “she stiffed ya”.  David’s gang are all beautiful young men in leather jackets, with long, expertly coiffured hair and riding motorbikes; basically bad boy heaven for girls of the ‘80s. The bait is part of an elaborate plan to draw Michael into the gang and the motorbike chase – to the pulsing rock of Lou Gramm’s “Lost In The Shadows (The Lost Boys)” – brings us to the lighthouse overlooking the bluff where we discover the gang’s ‘home’ and Michael’s imitation begins.

Because they have become so iconic, it’s easy to dismiss some of the vampire scenes in “The Lost Boys” as cliché; the red wine/ blood switcheroo, the hypnotic tricks which made an entire generation wary of Chinese food but “The Lost Boys” actually reset and redefined popular vampire lore quite significantly, paving the way for everything from “Interview With A Vampire” to “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. Given it’s riffing on the theme of peer pressure, there’s a devilish satirical touch as Michael literally lives out the well-worn parental axiom, ‘If your friends all jumped off a bridge, does that mean you have to as well?’

As an older sibling, I can attest to Sam is very much a normal annoying younger sibling, but it’s in his interactions with Michael that the film slowly reveals the weird shit he’s been getting into.  As a character in his own right, Sam primarily provides the comic relief, leaving the brooding heroism to Jason Patric’s Michael. He gets the bulk of the scenes with Grandpa and the banter between them regarding the Widow Johnson is well worth a giggle. It’s also through Grandpa’s reluctance to go near town that further fuels Sam’s belief that there’s something very weird going on in Santa Carla.  Sam’s comedy is used to emphasise rather than undermine the horror elements, as shown in the bath scene where, as he’s rocking out to “Ain’t Got No Home” by Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry (conspicuously missing from the too-cool-for-school soundtrack) and Michael is beginning to succumb to the first stirrings of bloodlust. Thankfully Nanook is there to save the day, a quick bite – although not the kind Michael was planning on – snapping Michael out of his trance. From this point on, both Sam and Michael know there are Vampires in Santa Carla.

While all this action is going on Lucy is quietly getting on with trying to rebuild her life and is working in town.  Like most mums of teenagers, she’s picking up after them, and it’s in this act of everydayness when she picks up the milk that Michael had dropped on the floor that we see the youngest member of the lost boys, Laddie, is listed as missing, calling back to  the opening montage of missing person posters around town when they first arrived, underlining that the vampires have been active for a long time.

The film’s exposition comes mainly from the Frog brothers, whose dedication to vampire hunting tends towards the sociopathic, like when Sam calls them for help and their response to his protests about not being able to kill his brother, is “You’d better get yourself a garlic vest or it’s your funeral”, consolidating their inability to empathise. I dread to think what the Frog brothers would make of “Twilight”.

Most of the horror in “The Lost Boys” is suggestive rather than directly shown although the scene of David and his gang tearing through the rival ‘Surf Nazis’ biker gang is pretty violent and gory as heads get ripped open and bodies get tossed on the bonfire.

There’s a frenetic pace to the finale as Sam, Michael and the Frog Brothers take the fight to the vampires, rescuing Star and Laddie and killing one of the vamps (Marco, played by Alex Winter of “Bill And Ted” fame). Abruptly, David’s motivation changes from drawing Michael into Lost Boys’ family to killing him and his. The final battle and the prep beforehand is classic eighties action with pithy one-liners and clever twists on vampire lore such as garlic baths, holy water pistols and, of course, ‘death by stereo’. Even then, the film isn’t done delivering the final twist when we discover that despite him passing the ‘tests’, Lucy has been dating the head vampire the all along in a bid to build a “bloodsucking Brady Bunch”. Thankfully Grandpa arrives to save the day for them all with his hobby coming in very handy indeed. He also gets the film’s killer closing line about “…all the damn vampires”.

A successful blend of horror, comedy and cool, perhaps “The Lost Boys” actually does manage to keep its promise. After all, even thirty years on, it holds up really well.

10/10  

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