We are approaching the 30th anniversary of Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys – the vampire horror/comedy that became a cult success on video following its sturdy box office numbers. Schumacher’s film has grown even more over the years – finding fans in most arenas who want to praise a film that visually and aurally embraced the stylistic flourishes of 80s new wave fashion. Every detail of the film, down to its more mundane sequences, feature a varied amount of the time’s specifics – whether that be a tropical shirt, a studded earring, or a full-on moisturized hunk blowing into a saxophone.
Has The Lost Boys held up over thirty years? Yes, and no. There’s no question the film is pure-1987; some scenes unashamedly embracing the crossfade transitions of the MTV platform. The time period is stamped on it visually, but also aurally – with new wave music blaring on the soundtrack, and both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman dishing out their eye-rolling one-liners (“death by stereo”; “burn rubber does not mean warp speed”). But what about the thematic density to the film? Is it all glam style and no substance? Actually, no.
Just a quick Google search will provide you with a plethora of retrospections on The Lost Boys – some praising it for being a stylized picture, while the same amount analyzing the film for its more substantial attributes; whether it be the allegorical context of “men never growing up” (thus, the Peter Pan reference in the title), to some even arguing its homoerotic elements, and how that applies for it to become canon in LGBT cinema (director Schumacher was openly gay at the time of directing the film). As comes to course, the latter argument is largely derided – similar to the arguments against any kind of homoeroticism in any “bro-centric” favorite (even though the filmmakers openly admitted to gay implications, fans of Superbad, Midnight Cowboy, and Chasing Amy still refuse to accept it). I, personally, defend it – and morph it with the previous assessment in “coming-of-age”.
The themes of The Lost Boys are pretty timeless – even when endowed with the glitter (sorry to fans of the film who rip on Twilight, but these vampires sparkle, too) and leather (in fact, it’s kind of gayer than Twilight ever wishes to be) – so the film continues on with its success. It doesn’t hurt that the film is strongly directed; every little production aspect, from cinematography to the make-up effects, is top-form, still working in today’s post-ILM landscape. With simple makeup, the bloodsuckers in The Lost Boys look just as scary as they probably did in 1987 – just a bit of cheekbone and contact lenses going a long way.
The comedy of The Lost Boys often clashes with the film’s darkness – but this comes more as a bummer than a complete destructor of quality. Schumacher is hell-bent on making this film grungy – and it shows. That very grunge, however, is what causes the film to feel a bit bipolar – because our hero, Michael (Jason Patric), is put in quite a dark predicament. His story, and character arc, is nearly absent of comedy – while the subplot of his brother, Sam (Haim), is played up for laughs. It gives a glimpse of promise into how the film could have been if it had taken itself completely serious – and it’s easy to jump to such when that possibility was so close – but a bit unfair to Schumacher and his target demographic.
The Lost Boys focuses on Michael and Sam, as they move with their mother (Dianne Wiest) to “Santa Carla”, a fictional California town known for its high volume of faces on milk cartons, and (even scarier) its citizens wandering the boardwalk with mohawks. Michael gets involved with a biker gang (headed by Kiefer Sutherland), who brings him into their lifestyle and, ultimately, into becoming a vampire just like themselves. Sam, on the other hand, learns of vampire mythology in Santa Carla, and begins to suspect Michael is one. The biker gang feels like a Kenneth Anger version of a then-contemporary movement; thoroughly sexualized by the camera and the colorful mise-en-scène, and constantly presented in very homoerotic light, and this causes Michael’s plight to feel like something more than just a casual bit of peer pressure.
Bringing the Peter Pan reference in, the film can be read as a deconstruction of young men and their refusal to “grow up”. That very well may have been J.M. Barrie’s point, and this seems to be part of Schumacher’s. In essence, being a vampire means being a delinquent in The Lost Boys, and that’s very much the peer pressure present in the plot. This refusal for adulthood also ties into the film’s visual and aural details: a mural of Jim Morrison (who Michael takes looks from) is ethereally within the clan’s cave hangout, while the film’s soundtrack is filled with new wave covers of classic rock songs (including The Doors’ “People Are Strange” done by Echo & the Bunnymen).
But David (Sutherland) tempts Michael in a seductive way – by whispering his name, smiling at him, making prolonged eye contact, touching him, and literally haunting his dreams. It gets to a point in the film that it seems to become less about Michael’s interest in the biker gang’s groupie (Jami Gertz), and more about their own dynamic. In the very scene before Michael first meets David, he gets his ears pierced on the boardwalk – an action that, in 1987, was still verging on taboo within gender normativity. Even Sam – with a half-naked Rob Lowe on his closet(!) door – has the same piercing. These piercings are only attributed to those specific characters that are painted with some form of minor – or major – homoeroticism. It’s just jewelry, but in the cultural zeitgeist of the film’s period, it’s a jolting and key representation of a silly stereotype. Sam, it should be noted, isn’t figured into being a “vampire” – most maturely being the only of the family to vocalize any issue. He also, by the end, becomes the film’s offbeat hero.
What can be gained from this interpretation, though? Mostly in The Lost Boys being a film by a queer director specifically about “outcasts”; men pushing for masculinity and, thus, overt machoism, blurring a line between what is platonic and sexualized, and treating the vampire mythos as an 80s-specific concept for allegory on the repressed, leather-bound, Scorpio Rising-esque variation of gay identity as a societally-pushed artform. Michael, in particular, finds himself in a state of conflict – both wanting and not wanting to embrace the “vampire” lifestyle. It’s a recurring motif in his character arc; encapsulated by a sex scene with the Gertz character, intercut with scenes of the biker boys flying through the clouds, and ending with a cut healed from the hand. (“Trust me,” Sam says at one point. “If my brother’s a vampire, he’s only half.”) The final battle between Michael and David involves a tussle, a bit of penetration, and then two orgasmic reactions from both.
Schumacher presents many vivid (and memorable) setpieces throughout the film. It opens up over the Pacific Ocean, the Warner Bros. logo with a child singing from the film’s original song “Cry Little Sister” before the synths of the actual song kick in. The camera glides across the water, and stares onto the neon lights of the bank’s amusement park. It’s an instant mood-setter, and the film follows up with in many other scenes: the biker gang hanging from underneath a road-rail bridge, a brutal scene of carnage set near a bonfire-lit tree, and the oiled-up saxophone scene featuring Gertz floating across the screen as distant lights send lens flare across the screen. The Jim Morrison mural isn’t anywhere near the film’s highlight visual moment, even though it remains very effective in and of itself. On a sidenote, let’s not forget the scene where we see one tear fall down David’s face following the slaughter of one of the boys.
The Lost Boys isn’t a film without its flaws (two kill scenes in the first act could’ve been exorcised for better effect of the bonfire scene), but the film is very late-80s – capturing the period and a social movement without fearing certain subtexts that could make it more universal. Think of it as a John Hughes comedy/drama crossed with a glossy and glittery reimagining of the vampire mold. It holds up because of that, and is ripe for more analysis on Schumacher’s part; for what that supplies to the movie under a queer perspective. To quote the tagline for the film: “being wild is in their blood”. And Michael drank the Kool-Aid.