The Lost Boys (1987)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Dianne Wiest, Barnard Hughes, Edward Herrmann, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Corey Feldman, Jamison Newlander, Brooke McCarter, Billy Wirth, Alex Winter, Chance Michael Corbitt
(out of 4)
The Lost Boys (the title being a reference to Peter Pan’s companions who never aged) is one of these “80s nostalgia movies” for me. That probably means that I like the film more than it deserves – I recognize that it has flaws but I don’t really care about them too much. The weaknesses of the film are mostly related to the silly humor it tries to squeeze out of the relationship between Cory Haim’s teen-aged character Sam and his new comic book-selling friends – the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander). The problem with the Frogs is that they try to pass themselves off as weathered vampire killers when they’re just a couple of kids working in a comic book store. That’s the joke, of course, and there will be lots of one-liners/goofy puns in the course of battling bloodthirsty vampire gangs, but the humor doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the film’s mood, which is rather brooding and weighty. The film is certainly “mainstream” in the sense that, despite the R rating, it works for all ages – equal time is given to the trials and tribulations of teens coming of age and to the problems of divorced parents in strange new towns (which include making a living and trying to protect their kids from the world’s hidden dangers). While this makes things uneven it helps the movie to age better. Helping it, also, are a number of good performances, great cinematography, and – exploding vampires.
As the Doors’ People are Strange plays (well, Echo & the Bunnymen’s version, anyway), we are introduced to Santa Carla, California (actually, it’s Santa Cruz), a small oceanside town that has also been dubbed “the murder capital of the world.” Indeed, there certainly seems to be a lot of people disappearing, as evidenced by the legion of “missing” posters plastered all over town. Moving in are Michael (Jason Patric), his younger brother Sam (Corey Haim), and recently-divorced mom Lucy (Dianne Wiest). Lucy has decided to take the clan to start over in a new town, living with grandpa (Barnard Hughes), who is a rather strange dude to say the least. But then again, the whole town of Santa Carla is strange, populated by all sorts of hippies, freaks, motorcycle gangs, and maybe worse. At the bay-side, Lucy manages to pick up a job at a video store run by Max (Edward Herrmann), Sam strikes up a conversation with Edgar and Alan Frog in their hippie parents’ comic shop (they give him vampire comics not as entertainment, but as a handbook), and Michael falls in love with the mysterious Star (Jami Gertz), who runs off with gang leader David (Kiefer Sutherland). Soon enough, Michael finds himself in a gang initiation of sorts, as David and his minions (which include a pre-Bill & Ted Alex Winter) lead him down to an abandoned hotel by the water that was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. David plays some mind tricks (it’s not Chinese food… it’s maggots and worms!) before getting Michael to sip on some of the house wine. Except it isn’t wine, you know, and pretty soon Michael’s feeling awfully strange (a picture of Jim Morrison on the wall looking over the proceedings helps to complete the drug metaphor). He’ll start wearing sunglasses during the daytime, flying around his room, and getting the “thirst”. (“My own brother, a goddamn shit-suckin’ vampire! You wait till mom finds out, buddy!”). Alan Frog tells Sam: “Kill your brother, you’ll feel better.”
Fortunately, the film’s vampire mythology suggests that Michael is only a half-vampire, and only becomes a full vamp when he makes his first kill. In the meantime, Lucy starts dating Max, who Sam suspects may be the “head” vampire, so he invites the Frogs over to submit Max to tests (garlic, reflection, holy water, etc). Max tells Sam that he knows what this is all about: “I’m not trying to replace your father, or steal your mother away.” The Lost Boys isn’t really about vampirisim at all; it’s about broken families struggling to stay cohesive, about being an outsider, about how everybody needs family ties (even vampires). I like the setting – Santa Carla, with all of the liberal, offbeat lifestyles, makes a good hiding spot for the undead, who probably have the best chance of blending in there. Jason Patric puts in a good performance, as does Sutherland, Herrmann, and Wiest. For a single mom and troubled teenagers, vampires are just one more problem the world is throwing at you, along with crime, drugs, lack of jobs, lack of father figures. Sequences involving Star and her little brother Laddie (at least, I think he’s her little brother – the movie isn’t too clear) don’t work as well, but probably because Star is not too fleshed out as a character.
The movie is stylish – Michael Chapman’s photography is great to look at, as he takes full advantage of the scenic beauty of the California coastline. Gerard McMahon’s tune “Cry Little Sister” is memorable, also. I think The Lost Boys is one of those popcorn flicks that is unmistakeably 80s and yet still watchable 23 years later – of course, the goofy 80s hairstyles will date it and I got a chuckle from the cheesiness of the Michael/Star love scene, but I consider these things minor details. The movie is also a reminder to me that Joel Schumacher was a director with promise (he didn’t always direct crap like Batman & Robin). Look at it as a nice time capsule and a tribute to Corey Haim (rest in peace). The movie spawned a sequel which came out a few years ago (and which I still need to review one of these days). There’s also a third in the works (featuring Corey Feldman).
- Bill Gordon