February 22, 2013

The Lost Boys

An 80s cocktail, with vampires, The Lost Boys is something of a classic for those of us who grew up with it. Although, like The Goonies, it might be less enjoyable when viewed without nostalgic graciousness. It has a lot of fresh-faced young actors whose careers rose and fell in the coming years: Jason Patric and Corey Haim as two brothers who move to Santa Carla, California, with their recently divorced mom (Dianne Wiest); Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander as two Santa Carla brothers who work in their parents' comic book store; and Kiefer Sutherland, as the head of a quartet of punk-vampires who live in the ruins of a hotel that sank into the earth during the great quake of 1906. The vampire buddies spend their nights at Santa Carla's main hangout: an amusement park located right on the beach.

The tagline of The Lost Boys is "sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, never die: it's fun to be a vampire." This is a vampire film for the MTV generation. (And these vampires do have a lot more "fun" than recent cinema's exploits into the genre. There's no policy about avoiding human prey. No kidding themselves about living in community with the not-undead. These vampires are evil, and happy about it.) Unfortunately, The Lost Boys isn't thoughtful enough to explore its own theme--the allure of eternal youth--with any finesse. This isn't a critique of youth culture or its excesses. Neither is it a celebration of youthful impressionism or recklessness. Instead, The Lost Boys, like so many other films, is an unashamed studio product, one that wants to cash in on young moviegoers. It's exploitative in that way. We're getting very mainstream vampirism here.

Lucky for us, this mainstreaming of the vampire legend works for the most part, because The Lost Boys, for all its cookie cutter edges, is still a fun, energetic movie at heart, full of witty, likable verve from its cast. It has a smartass sense of humor, punctuated by Haim's performance. His character is always ready with a well-delivered quip, usually directed at his older brother, Michael (Patric). Patric is the impressionable one, seeking approval and friendship in a new town, and willing to do anything to get it. He's sucked into the vampires' world, and it's hard not to see a comparison to the drug culture being made. In the ruins of the lost boys' lair is a large photo of Jim Morrison: iconic, surprisingly apropos. He's their idol, their inspiration.

The studio executives behind The Lost Boys were going for a hit, and nothing more, probably in response to the success of 1985's Fright Night, which was cheaply made and grossed 24,000,000 dollars. The Lost Boys made something over 30 million, and these two films ushered in another cycle of vampire-themed comic-horror films that also included Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (released a couple months after Lost Boys), and culminated in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Bram Stoker's Dracula (both 1992). These movies--or more specifically, their financial success at the box office and the relative cheapness for which they can generally be made--do a lot to explain the popular culture's fascination with vampires in the last 30 years, though of course they don't explain all of it.

The allure of this sub-genre is also present in Kiefer Sutherland's performance: he's a magnetic actor, and a magnetic vampire; he's almost a cult leader, if you will, and he gets Michael to do just about anything--even literally jump off a bridge--in his quest to convert him into a bloodsucker. Then there's the Frogg brothers (Feldman and Newlander), whose dead-serious sincerity (they give Haim's character a vampire comic and assure him that it should be read like a survival manual rather than entertainment) makes The Lost Boys funny. And that's why I still enjoyed watching it tonight, after many viewings. It's the kind of horror movie you're allowed to laugh at. It never takes itself too seriously. (Although it has a few moments of excess, including some over-the-top special effects characteristic of 80s horror movies.)

Dianne Wiest is appropriately motherly (although not nearly as memorable as she would be in Bullets Over Broadway) in a mom role for which the spunky Dee Wallace (E.T., The Howling, Cujo) would have been perfect. With Barnard Hughes as the crusty old grandfather with a sharp sense of humor; Edward Herrmann as the mom's love interest, Max; Jami Gertz as Star, Michael's love interest, a half-vampire with a heart of gold; and Brooke McCarter, Alex Winter, and Billy Wirth as members of Sutherland's band of teenage nosferatus. Directed by Joel Schumacher. 97 min. 1987

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