“The Eighties….,” I sigh with wistful nostalgia. The decade that was so maligned for the twenty years that superseded it. The decade of big hair, mad fashion, cheesy pop and monetary excess the likes of which we haven’t seen since. “Greed is Good” said Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street and it seemed, in many ways, that many of us at the time agreed with him.
So many things were being made available to us ordinary folk on levels we’d not experienced prior. Home video was massive, home computers acted like the precursors to game consoles for those of us who were children in this decade. Vinyl and cassette tapes gave way to CD’s and our music never sounded crisper. The label or name you had on every single item of clothing you owned took on major importance and could even affect the way you were treated at school. (Heaven forbid if your trainers weren’t of a certain brand for example.)
And then, there were the films. Loud and bombastic, designed for maximum entertainment. Jaws in 1975 might have invented the summer blockbuster but the decade that time unfairly wanted to forget amped this up to 11 and delivered film after film that we, as adults, couldn’t wait to show our children when they were the right age, to hopefully imbue in them the same magic we felt touched by when we saw them as children ourselves.
One of the many 80’s phenomenon’s was MTV. THE place to watch and listen to the music that you absolutely had to pay attention to if you wanted to appear hip or current.
It made sense that there were going to be films that tried to emulate the feel of these music videos; tap into the zeitgeist and create something so in the “now” that they would have to be exceptionally bad to come close to failing.
In 1987 director Joel Schumacher gave us one of the quintessential 80’s MTV style movies which just happened to be a horror film (and there were a lot less films in this genre over others that had that style). The Lost Boys is one of those horror movies that even a lot of people who are not a fan of the genre enjoy…..my mum, for example.
Again, I was not quite old enough to see this at the cinema so had to wait for it’s video release before I could watch it but once I had……
This was a vampire film unlike any I’d seen to that date. These vampires weren’t living in a castle in Transylvania. They weren’t stalking the virginal beauties that reminded them of their loves from centuries before. There’s no cloaks or bats or strange waist-high mists floating around wolf infested forests. The vampires here looked like teenagers. They smoked, they dressed in modern day apparel, they enjoyed Chinese food. If we were gonna be vampires, these were the vampires we were gonna be, the kind of vampires we might have wanted to be. These vampires were cool.
Santa Carla in California is the setting for the film and we are told very early on that is the “murder capital of the world”.
Lucy Emerson (Dianne Wiest) moves to this seaside town with her two sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) following her divorce which has left her with little money and she moves in with her father who lives on the outskirts of the town (Barnard Hughes) who may or may not be ever so slightly crazy (He buys the TV guide so he doesn’t have to watch the programmes, uses window cleaner as aftershave & has a penchant for stuffing animals that look like they were alive when he started stuffing them).
Keen to get away from the house that looks like something out of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Michael & Sam, along with Lucy, head into town after the sun sets. Lucy is looking for work and is lucky enough to find it on her first night at the local video store run by a man called Max (Edward Herrmann) who seems to take a shine to her very quickly.
Michael & Sam go to the boardwalk, the hive of activity in the town, and see part of a gig featuring a half naked bodybuilder singing and playing saxophone in one of the most 80’s moments ever captured on film.
It’s there that Michael spies an attractive girl, seemingly around his age and she notices him right back and, when she walks away, the already captivated Michael follows. Not wishing to lose any cool points, Michael tells Sam to go off and find his own thing while he chases his hormones.
Sam has already seen something that has attracted his attention; a comic book store, and it it there that we meet Edgar & Alan Frog (Corey Feldman & Jamison Newlander) who run the store on behalf of their parents. Of course, it transpires that the comic book store is just a front for bigger extra-curricular activities. According to the Frog Brothers, who dress like Rambo and take themselves ridiculously seriously, Santa Carla has a vampire problem. Sam, obviously, dismisses this as nonsense.
Michael trails the girl who reveals her name as Star (Jami Gertz) and she seems easier to pick up than a cold but, before she can accept a ride on Michaels motorbike, a gang of youths arrive on their own bikes. Their leader is a peroxide drenched Keifer Sutherland called David who challenges Michael to a race along with the rest of his gang, Paul (Brooke McCarter), Dwayne (Billy Wirth) & Bill S Preston….sorry…Marko (Alex Winter).
As the night continues, Michael is taken to the underground hangout (lair) of the gang where he meets the youngest member Laddie (Chance Michael Corbitt) who Star is maternally protective over.
The gang, David especially, play mind games with Michael over dinner, transforming his rice and noodles into maggots & worms respectively. Of course, when he is given a special bottle of wine and Star tells him not to drink it as it’s blood, Michael dismisses her warning.
We, the audience, are a step ahead of most of the characters here. We know that Michael drank blood and as his attitude changes, to the disappointment of his mum who is starting to date Max, and he starts wearing dark glasses during the day, it becomes clear that something untoward is going on.
Sam discovers his brother is a “shit-sucking vampire” after the family dog Nanook, saves Sam from possibly being Michaels first human shaped snack but the younger of the brothers, who has been reading up on his vampire lore in the comics (survival manuals) given to him by the Frogs along with their, albeit, comically po-faced bravado believe that Michael is only a half-vampire. Full vamp status isn’t achieved until you make your first kill and if they are able to destroy the head vampire, Michael will revert back to normal.
The boys piece together the facts and come to the conclusion that Max, the mild-mannered video store owner is the head vampire. After all, the trouble began after their mum met Max and his dog, Thorn, nearly mauled Lucy when she visited his house which may be an indication that he is a “hound of hell”, a daytime protector for the sleeping bloodsucker.
Sam and the Frog Brothers devise a plan to “out” Max as he comes for dinner. This is one of the comic highlights of the film as they spill water on him, force him to over-indulge on garlic and try to startle him with his own reflection all to no avail. Max is not a vampire…….mmmm.
Lucy believes it’s Sam acting out to the new man in her life and Max, showing restraint (aaahhh…hindsight) tells Sam that he’s not looking to become the replacement father which leaves Sam ashamed and sorry for ruining his mothers evening and potentially scuppering a renewed chance at finding love.
Michael meanwhile, after sleeping with Star confronts David and at just over an hour in to the movie, we finally get to see what we knew all along.
As much as there are comic moments in the movie, to describe it as a “Horror Comedy” wouldn’t really be apt. A difficult balancing act at the best of times Lost Boys is, primarily a horror movie. It might not be packed wall to wall with scary and/or violent content but the horror is played mainly dead straight (no pun intended) and this is most clear in the scene at the beach where we finally get to see David and his gang in full vampire mode as, to the tune of “Walk This Way” they slaughter and feed on a group of partying punks. Though edited with lots of flash cuts and lit dimly it’s a reminder that these vampires are brutal killers as necks are broken and scalps are torn in a scene that is quite shocking as, to this point, the film had little on-screen violence.
With time against him, Michael allows Sam and the Frog Brothers to help. Having eliminated Max as the head vampire, that leaves David as the obvious candidate so the group head to the lair during the day to stake themselves a vamp or two but primarily, at least as far as Michael is concerned, to rescue Star and Laddie.
The Frog brothers do back up their bravado even in the face of four sleeping vampires hanging upside down like bats in what they realise is, effectively, a giant coffin. Marko is staked and acts like one of those cola bottles that you’ve popped a mint into as he fizzes an excess of liquid from his body before his demise. The surprise of David waking and talking scares the bejesus out of them and they make a hasty retreat into the sanctuary of daylight.
With sunset imminent Michael, Sam & The Frogs prepare for what they know is coming. Lucy and Grandpa are, thankfully absent from the house as the film heads into the final act when the vampires attack and it’s all hands, and paws on deck as our protagonists make their stand.
This effects packed finale delivers with “Death by Stereo” being one of the highlights. The film even manages to give us a twist that some (those who knew many aspects of well-established vampire lore) might have seen coming. I did not see the twist coming myself as this was early in my horror fandom life and the way the twist is set up may have even passed over the heads of many horror aficionados.
For me, Lost Boys, is THE vampire movie of the 80’s with only “Fright Night” coming close (another film that has comedic elements amidst the horror) but Lost Boys felt much more like a horror movie about teenagers made for teenagers.
The soundtrack, from Echo & The Bunneymens superior version of “People Are Strange” to “Cry Little Sister”, the main theme for the movie, is fantastic and remains one of my favourite movie soundtracks.
The performances are solid throughout for the type of film this is and, despite being edited and shot like a music video, it is nowhere near as jumpily edited as, for example, the Transformers movies. You can see what’s going on in this film.
Quotable dialogue abounds ; “They’re only noodles, Michael” has rung out many a time during the consumption of Chinese food amongst friends and “Holy Shit! The attack of Eddie Munster” is a favourite.
If you want to know what the 80’s were like in microcosm you could do worse than watch the Lost Boys. It’s one of those must-see horror movies for anyone getting into the genre.
Sequels followed sadly and, I like to pretend that neither exist and that will be the same for the inevitable remake/reimagining that we will get at some point.
Lost Boys is a window into a whole decade but more importantly is a fun, entertaining vampire romp that adheres to a lot of the lore but seemed fresh and original at the time. It has held up well effects wise and is on the list of films I’m happy to watch every single year and probably have done since around 1988.
If you haven’t seen Lost Boys then you’ve probably wandered onto this site by mistake. I would still say to you to go and track it down and watch it and if you’re not entertained on any level then I’d be legitimately surprised.
My next retrospective covers a film that far fewer people will likely know or have seen as I look back on a film that dealt with how the rich and upper class feed off the poor in the most literal of senses.
That’s for another day though. Until next time, stay safe, stay well and, above all…. Sleep tight.