- YEAR: 1987
- DIRECTOR: Joel Schumacher
- KEY ACTORS: Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman
- CERTIFICATE: 15
- IMDB SCORE: 7.3
- ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 79%
SEX SCORE: 2.5/5
❌ For the first time in a while, this is a film that fails the Bechdel Test. The female characters don’t even share a scene, let alone speak!
✔️ And it is definitely rewatchable. Reportedly the ‘most Eighties film ever made,’ it is hugely entertaining and easy to watch again and again!
✔️ The cast are also definitely fuckable. Yes, again, very 80s, but also – hot.
❓I’m going to give it half a mark for inspiring fantasies. This movie didn’t inspire fantasies for me, but it is the source of inspiration for another vampire that did inspire a lot of fantasies!
❌ But it’s not sex positive. Instead, sex is a metaphor for danger and risk-taking, which isn’t so great…
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
STREAMING: Amazon Prime (rent £3.49), YouTube (from £3.49). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com
Being a teenager is simultaneously the most exhilarating and most terrifying time of most of our lives. We feel everything more intensely, with greater highs and deeper lows, and consequently the bonds and relationships we form are also more intense and more volatile. Obviously, this is hardly a new insight but it does offer the chance for some pretty incredible storytelling when done right. To misquote another classic 1980s coming of age film starring Corey Feldman, do any of us have friends later on like the ones we make when we were younger?
Which brings us on to The Lost Boys, a classic 1980s coming of age film starring Corey Feldman, that changed how we thought of vampires forever. The Lost Boys is really only nominally a vampire story – it is much more a story about being a teenager. Michael (Patric) and Sam (Haim) move to Santa Carla, the self-proclaimed murder capital of the world, when their mother gets divorced and they immediately fall in with the locals. After following a beautiful girl on the boardwalk, Michael is taunted by David (Sutherland) the leader of a teenage gang who persuade him to join them, drinking and smoking and jumping off bridges. You know, normal teenage stuff. Sam, the younger brother, makes friends with Edgar (Feldman) and Alan Frog (Jamison Newlander) who are self-styled Rambo-esque vampire hunters and warn him that Michael’s friends are not exactly human. Having unknowingly drunk blood, Michael starts turning into a vampire but the transformation isn’t permanent until he makes his first kill, and so Sam teams up with the Frog brothers to destroy the head vampire and return Michael back to normal.
When I wrote about vampires and Dracula last year, I mentioned how I have never doubted that vampires were hot because I had a serious crush on Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I was 16. (I don’t know why I’m using the past tense – we’re re-watching the series at the moment and I am just as in love with that problematic platinum blonde guy as I ever was!) But what I hadn’t realised until rewatching The Lost Boys is how much my vampire crushes owe to this movie. Joss Whedon has said that Spike was supposed to look ‘little Billy Idol, a little Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys, and every guy in a black coat’ and I feel like he stole a whole lot more than just the blonde hair and long black coat. Much of what makes Spike sexy is his arrogance and fuck you attitude, and the vampires in The Lost Boys have that in spades!
Because while vampires may have always been seductive and sexual, although perhaps often more ‘blood-sucking butler-types,’ The Lost Boys made them fucking cool! The Lost Boys really made them sexy and desirable and fucking hot.
It’s an intoxicating combination. I know that Kiefer Sutherland has many fans but I’ve never really got it – he may have a seductively deep and smooth voice but there’s always something too self-righteous and smug about him – except that, damn, he makes a sexy vampire. The 1980s styling is definitely too much and nearly ruins in but all of the vampires have such a self-confident swagger that I can almost forgive the mullets and single dangly earrings and crop tops and strange fabric choices. Mike Scott on the Dana Buckler Show described it as ‘1987 as hell’ and he’s right – it’s essentially a period movie and objectively they look ridiculous through 2020 eyes, but it is still easy to get drawn in. And Jason Patric is just hot, regardless of the decade. With his rough voice, chiselled jaw and sunglasses, he is timeless.
I was interested to read that the original script for The Lost Boys, before the change to the current ‘sex’n’goth’ version, was much more family friendly and more like The Goonies – a true update of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan with teenage vampires as another way of remaining forever young. In an interview reported in the Irish Times, James Jeremias, who co-wrote the original script, said that they had purposefully chosen younger children – aged 12 and 8 – because they ‘wanted it before sex rears its ugly little head.’ And I think that could have been a very interesting movie, but I doubt it would have had the same lasting power that The Lost Boys has. It needed the ‘hormonal frisson’ of being a teenager to make sense.
Following the lead set by Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles to make the vamps rock stars of their day, Schumacher’s vampires are kind of living the life that all teenagers want, if you ignore all the murder and death. The movie’s tagline is ‘Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire’ and, honestly, it does sound kind of fun! I can understand why Michael follows them and why he is led by their games. Without the supernatural vampire element, their ‘seduction’ of Michael feels worryingly familiar and reminiscent of some of my own teenage friendships. Don’t worry, I’ve not nearly done anything as extreme as Michael but I have knowingly put myself in relatively dangerous situations so that I might be included. Drunk more alcohol than I was really comfortable with, said that I was happy to join in when I’d really rather have just gone home or done something else. Being a teenager is hard, and I think Joel Schumacher captured that kind of perfectly.
Because the peer-pressure that Michael faces when he meets the vampire gang is relatively universal, even if our own experiences aren’t quite as intense. It’s the same cliched plea of harassed parents – if your friend jumped off a cliff, would you do the same? And we only need to substitute ‘cliff’ for ‘bridge’ and we get Michael’s answer. He does hang under a bridge as a train goes overhead with no idea what is hiding in the fog beneath just because the people he is trying to impress do the same. He literally does ride his motorbike towards a cliff edge so as not to look scared. Patric also made a decision to play Michael’s transformation to vampirism as if he had a drug addiction and the ‘blood in his veins was this intoxicating substance that was changing his life dependencies.’ If Coppola’s vampirism was a blood-borne disease, Schumacher’s was heroin.
Vampirism is also toxic masculinity. Michael is only so keen to impress David and his gang because he has a crush on the one girl on screen and doesn’t want to look weak in front of her. Cool cool cool. (By the way, I loved Ebert’s cutting aside in his original review that in The Lost Boys ‘there is a lost girl, too, but why mention her?’ The only women on screen are a helpless mother and a sex symbol who needs rescuing. This is not a great feminist movie…)
Is that the moral message of this movie? That giving into peer-pressure will cause disaster? It’s certainly the message that is hammered home by the bloodbath at the end! Or is it another movie that highlights how traumatic puberty and coming of age can be, with extreme ‘physical transformation, sexual awakening, and experimentation?’
But I think there is another, more interesting message that was also stolen by Joss Whedon in BtVS – the idea of vampires ‘looking like monsters and then looking like people’ so that they could fool you, and this mistaken safety is a key feature of the whole film. It looks for the seedy and dangerous underside of normality, asking us ‘how we can separate the seriously strange from the harmless, garden-variety wackos.’ Are David and his gang just angry rebels or truly dangerous? As with so many tropes, I don’t know if the idea of a seedy beachfront arcade was a thing before The Lost Boys but there is now definitely something eerie and potentially creepy about the neon lights and cheap prizes of a carnival.
And don’t forget the more mundane but much more relatable deception that Lucy, Sam and Michael’s mother, has to go through. She is happily dating the nice man at work who seems so kind and great and gentle, but it doesn’t take long for his real intentions to be revealed. He doesn’t want her specifically at all – he’s just looking for someone to be his wife and take care of him, and to be a mother to his troop of vampire babies. Sigh. Isn’t it always the way? Also, as someone who loved the Gilmore Girls long before I saw The Lost Boys, how traumatic is it to see Mr Gilmore (Edward Herrmann) as an evil vampire?!
Finally, The Lost Boys is also important because this is where the two Coreys first met and worked together. I was too young in the 80s to really be aware of the Coreys and I honestly only discovered who Haim was because I was curious about who The Thrills were singing about in their song ‘Whatever Happened to Corey Haim.’ But their story is one of really quite incredible tragedy, and tragedy that feels like it should have been avoidable. Drug addiction, abuse, and just so much missed potential. As Hadley Freeman wrote earlier this year, ‘at 14, Feldman and Haim were two of the biggest young stars in the business. By 19, they were washed up, their addictions rendering them unemployable. Few falls have been faster or crueller.’
It feels like their story is too much part of the legacy of The Lost Boys to ignore. For the characters, the truth behind that incredibly intoxicating vision of sex and rock and roll is revealed to be dark and bloody and horrific, and it nearly kills them to escape. It doesn’t take too much of a squint to see analogies with the future of the two Coreys in that interpretation. Especially as, according to the Irish Times, Haim first tried cannabis and Feldman first tried cocaine while filming The Lost Boys. Reading more about the atmosphere on set, I’m not that surprised that these young boys had access to drugs – speaking to the Telegraph, Alex Winter described working on The Lost Boys as like a rave: ‘I’d seen a lot of shit by the time I did Lost Boys, but I’d never seen anything like it. It wasn’t Joel. It was all off-set. Joel runs a really tight ship…. but oh my god.’
Which, accidentally, is a perfect metaphor for The Lost Boys and the sexy vampires, and perhaps the whole of the excess of the 80s. It looks like so much fun on the surface – sexy, intense, fast, high, and yet is wildly, wildly out of control. And dangerous, as the Coreys learned to their cost. There’s darkness beneath this initial hedonistic impression, and tragedy too. To bring it back to the movie, it’s easy to forget that it’s a story about dead teenagers and dead children. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, ‘if you really stop to think about it, a bunch of vampire teenagers would be a terrible shame, a tragedy, a heartbreaking loss of innocence for them, let alone their victims.’
Coming of age requires a loss of innocence – that’s the whole point – and while it has rarely looked as good as it does in The Lost Boys, I also rarely feel the poignancy of that loss as strongly. Which makes it an unexpectedly powerful movie!
NEXT WEEK… The Babadook