When The Lost Boys hit theaters on this date, July 31, in 1987, it seemed to be a welcome change to all the John Hughes teeanager flicks and movies horny kids who want to have a little sex. It’s a teen angst movie but with vampires. Alex Winter who plays the vampire Marko would later drawl parallels between the movie and Rebel Without a Cause on Eli Roth’s History of Horror.
But what made the movie work was that it was the first time for many vampires weren’t seen as adults. Chris Sarandon had portrayed a cool vampire just a few years earlier in Fright Night. And everyone was playing Dracula in so many adaptations. But in this case, the vampires are the “bad kids” who drive motorcycles and wear their hair long. They also piss off the adults who don’t like them hanging around a popular boardwalk in the fictional Santa Carla, Calif.
Anyone going into the movie knew who the vampires were so there’s really no mystery about it. Along with Marko, there is Paul (Brooke McCarter), Dewayne (Billy Wirth) and David (Keifer Sutherland), who functions as their leader. They’re introduced harassing a couple on a merry-go-round to a point that a security guard manhandles David and orders them off. Later the guard suffers a grim fate.
Arriving in Santa Clara are Michael Emerson (Jason Patric), his brother, Sam (Corey Haim), and their recently divorced mother, Lucy (Dianne Wiest). They’re going to live with their eccentric Grandpa (Barnard Hughes) who seems a product of the 1960s counterculture movement but is heavily into taxidermy. On their way in town, Michael notices graffiti advertising Santa Carla as the “Murder Capital of the World.”
Later when Lucy is walking along the boardwalk, she notices a lot of missing posters including a new one up for the guard. When helping out a lost young boy, Lucy comes into contact with Max (Edward Hermann) owner and proprietor of a video and music store who takes a liking to her and offers her a job. Michael becomes interested in a young woman, Star (Jami Gerz), when seeing her at a Tim Cappello concert. Sam becomes more interested in a comic book store owned by a hippy couple who are always shown half-conscious and uninterested. Their sons, Edgar and Alan Frog (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), are more militant and immediately warn Sam of the problems in Santa Carla mentioning vampires.
When Michael finally gets to talk to Star, he introduced to David and the rest. Michael has a dirt bike which is a way for him to befriend David and the others after a race, they invite him down to their hangout spot at the bottom of a cliff next to the ocean. It’s the remnants of a tourist hotel that was mostly destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Despite being warned by Star, Michael drinks what he thinks is wine but it contains David’s blood and after a wild night of party, Michael begins to change.
Sleeping mostly during the day, Michael begins to wear sunglasses at all times. He becomes more agitated around Sam and Lucy, who just sees his behavior as nothing more than problems with the recent move. Lucy is also blind to problems Sam has when he notices Michael begin to change into a vampire. Suspecting Max might be the leader, Sam invites the Frog Brothers over for a dinner that turns bad when they try to prove unsuccessfully Max is a vampire. But Max and Lucy just see this as anger that Lucy is dating and wanting to “replace” his father.
Very little is spoken of Michael and Sam’s father, which often makes me wonder what exactly happened. My guess is it was something that is really awful. They have moved to Santa Carla from Phoenix. Did their father do something illegal and is in prison? Or has he decided to move abroad? You’d think Sam would eventually call his father. Or could it just be that his father was living a double life with another family and has told his sons not to contact him anymore.
Lucy seems to focus on starting over but doesn’t realize that maybe she is too focused on Max. She pulls the “You can talk to me about anything” thing with Michael. Later when Sam tries to explain to her about what’s happening, she again just assumes it’s anger about her relationship with Max. And even when Sam tells her it’s not about Max, she still dismisses him. I’ll admit Lucy is very obnoxious. And Weist plays her very well to show how ignorant she is. But then, again, how would you handle your teenage son telling you your boyfriend and boss is a vampire?
So, it comes down to the Frog Brothers helping Sam and Michael battle David, Paul, Dewayne and Marko with gory and comical results. If you’ve never heard the phrase “Death by stereo,” it does seem a little overboard. I don’t think an arrow piercing a stereo would do much damage. Nor would a vampire dying in a tub of holy water and garlic result in a water overflowing everywhere including the downstairs kitchen. But who cares? This is a movie about teen punk vampires, dammit!
Joel Schumacher directed this movie and he had made the Brat Pack movie St. Elmo’s Fire in 1985. Here he takes the old Victorian romanticism of the vampire myth and gives it a “MTV Generation” feel. The scene in which Cappello performs for the young people has become almost as iconic as the movie itself. You could randomly select 100 people who have seen this movie and ask them to name a memorable scene and they would all choose this one.
With a soundtrack that included Roger Daltrey, INXS and a cover of The Doors’ “People Are Strange” by Echo & the Bunnymen, this is a movie about Gen X vampires for Gen X audiences. Who cares if Dracula doesn’t drink wine, the vampires practically walk around Santa Carla like they own the joint. And that’s what youth is like. You think you’re going to live forever. The only thing that matters is the moment you’re in. You want to dress the way you want and look the way you want. There’s such a big issue about Michael wearing sunglasses when he’s around Lucy and Sam.
You could also look at Michael and Sam as the contrast in youth. Since Michael’s the eldest, he feels he’s almost an adult but still being treated like a child. There’s a mention that Michael is still in school which leads me to suspect that he’s 17 and going to be a senior which is why Lucy feels Michael’s rebelling because he’s had to move his senior year. Sam, on the other hand, is still young to the point he’s terrified of the “closet monster.” He reads comic books which in 1987 was something only younger kids were thought to do. There’s been some speculation that Sam is gay as he has a Rob Lowe poster in his room. But what does it matter?
In many ways, the movie says a lot about young people navigating through the 1980s as children of Baby Boomers. The Frog Brothers rebel against their lazy hippie parents by actually working at the family business and being inspired by Rambo and Chuck Norris, who are more conservative. Sam’s loud 1980s fashion contrast with his mother’s more conservative and Grandpa’s more rustic attire. Even Max, who is later revealed to be the head vampire, and “father” to David, Paul, Dewayne and Marko, is first seen trying to look like some 40-something going through a mid-life crisis in contrast to how his “boys” wear their clothes in a more rebellious but casual fashion.
The Lost Boys, taken its name from the Peter Pan stories, helped usher in a new way of looking at vampires for Gen Xers. Dracula might have been depressed he was searching for love, but these vampires just wanted to party. Years later when Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise would play the more classical vampires in Interview With the Vampire, you couldn’t help but see a nod to The Lost Boys in the casting. And even though I didn’t care for the show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer owes a lot to The Lost Boys.
Two sequels were made that I haven’t seen but the less said about them the better. And I’m not even going to mention the Twilight saga. But what I think made The Lost Boys so memorable was how it spoke to a certain audience. “Gen X” was a few years away from being popularized. And most people didn’t feel that John Hughes was doing them justice. This was for a different audience that might not have seem so popular. Produced on a $8.5 million budget, it grossed over $32 million. Not a huge blockbuster, but it did resonate with a lot of young people thanks to cable TV and home video.
It’s been popular for 35 years and hopefully another 35 more and beyond that.
What do you think? Please comment.