October Horrorshow: The Lost Boys

To some movie fans, filmmaker Joel Schumacher is still paying penance for Batman and Robin. This page reconsidered that film a few years back, and concluded the problem lay more with viewers’ expectations than Schumacher’s final product. Still, no matter how people feel about that film, Joel Schumacher will be forever associated with putting nipples on the batsuit, when his greatest contribution to film was this operatic gem from the 1980s.

The Lost Boys, released in 1987, inhabits its time in a way that was particular to movies from the 1980s. Its bright and flashy, the fashions of the time resemble costumes as much as everyday clothes, and the music…my goodness, the music. Before I can get to the plot, I have to get this out of the way. I can’t wait. I’m bursting. Everyone out in internet land needs to see this movie for the performance of saxophone player Tim Cappello. Look at this:

Anyone from the United States who lived through the 1980s is at least vaguely aware that this scene happened. It’s a fantastic mix of synthesized and over-produced crap, but then Cappello, who spent most of the 1980s and ’90s as Tina Turner’s sax player, injects his own Chippendales-esque stylings into the performance. What a tone this sets for the movie. Anyway, the plot.

The Lost Boys follows the trials and tribulations of the Emerson family. Mom Lucy (Dianne West) is returning home to Santa Carla, California after being on the losing end of a divorce. She brings with her two teenaged sons, Michael and Sam, played by Jason Patric and Corey Haim. They are going to be staying with family patriarch Grandpa (Barnard Hughes), a peculiar old widower.

Michael and Sam aren’t that impressed with the coastal community. It seems a somewhat sketchy place, despite the location. Sam meets a pair of locals, Edgar and Alan Frog (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), who tell him that Santa Carla’s problems stem from an infestation of vampires. Sam dismisses the claim as nonsense, but it turns out the Frog brothers were not joking. Santa Carla does indeed have a vampire problem.

There’s a whole group of vampires, led by David (Kiefer Sutherland). The vampires are fashion Gods. They have a style that is engineered to within an inch of its life. Hair is teased and flows over the shoulders of these vampires in waves that would make David Coverdale jealous. If one thought that Cappello was over the top, his appearance was only the start. David and his bloodthirsty band never pass a frame in this film without looking like a publicity photo for an ’80s hair band. I’m not joking. In fact, here’s a publicity shot from the film:

And here’s one for ’80s hair band Kingdom Come:

Kingdom Come

Is this supposed to be a horror movie or a rock concert? Schumacher kind of blurs the line on that. His aim never seemed to be to film a scary movie. There are some frights here and there, but scaring the audience wasn’t the main goal. The Lost Boys is escapist entertainment — a pageant of vampires that inhabits its time. It’s about as fun as a vampire flick can get without being a comedy. That is, it’s not an Edgar Wright film, but it isn’t Eli Roth, either. The Lost Boys is nestled right in between the two, with Joel Schumacher’s own personal flair layered on top.

Back in the plot, Michael, being the teenager he is, sets his sights on the lovely Star (Jami Gertz). But, it turns out his would-be girlfriend is part of David’s pack of vampires. David takes Michael’s advances towards Star well, deciding to make him a vampire rather than kill him. This sets off a chain of events whereby Sam and the Frogs (what a great name for a 1950s garage band) try to free Michael and Star from the evil clutches of vampirism.

So much of this film, from beginning to end, is absurd. And that’s what makes it great. No other decade and no other filmmaker could have made this film. Sure, I would love to see John Waters’s interpretation of the screenplay, but I think he would go too far with the material. Schumacher, on the other hand, showed a deft touch, if such a term of nuance can be applied to a film as glamourous as this.

The Lost Boys is vampirism as a rock show. It has its visual and storytelling roots in contemporary music videos. It’s a fantastic example of a style that has come and gone, yet remains supremely watchable. How this silly movie is aging so well and so poorly at the same time is beyond me, but the older this movie gets, the more I like it.