Pulling Focus: The Lost Boys (1987)
“My own brother, a goddamn, shit-sucking vampire. You wait ’till mom finds out, buddy!”
– Sam Emerson (played by Corey Haim)
The children of the night. What music they make!
The late Norwegian literary historian, mythographer, and professor, A. Asbjørn Jøn notes in his essay “From Nosferatu to Von Carstein: shifts in the portrayal of vampires,” that director Joel Schumacher’s influential teen-focused horror comedy from 1987, The Lost Boys, bolstered pop culture’s delineation of vampires, presenting a youthful glamor to the conventional genre.
This adolescent angle, which allowed the vampires to appear young and seductive, would go on to inspire later fictional works like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (both the 1992, and the TV series which ran from 1997–2003), Stephenie Miller’s Twilight Saga, and John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 novel “Let the Right One In,” which has enjoyed two theatrical adaptations thus far, amongst so many other notable vampiric works.
Certainly The Lost Boys, the title of which is a reference to J. M. Barrie’s Neverland stories featuring the iconic Peter Pan––an archetype of the perpetual child––who, like the mythical vampire, never grows up.
An essential staple of 1980s American pop cinema, particularly to anyone who grew up during that time, The Lost Boys has it all: impeccable production design, a great script that blends laughs with scares, sterling direction, shockingly good cinematography (Oscar-nominated DoP Michael Chapman, who lensed Raging Bull, made his return to cinema after a four-year absence with this film) and a winning cast, all came together to make The Lost Boys something of a societal touchstone. It’s one of those films that a certain cult of fans cherish and preserve, regardless how idiosyncratic or imperfect.
“[The Lost Boys] laughs at the form it embraces, adds a rock-and-roll soundtrack and, if you share its serious-satiric attitude, manages to be very funny.”
– Caryn James, New York Times
Totally annihilated his night-stalking ass!
When divorcee Lucy Emerson (a wonderful Dianne Wiest) moves from Phoenix, Arizona, to small town Santa Carla (“The Murder Capital of the World” according to some graffiti spray-painted across the not-so-welcoming sign on the community’s outskirts) in northern California, with her teenage sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), to live with her offbeat old man (Barnard Hughes).
Sharing Grandpa’s peculiar abode on the periphery of town––wherein Michael, after studying Grandpa’s taxidermy animal-adorned work-room quips: “Talk about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!”––the stage is set when angsty Michael meets a dreamy hippie babe named Star (Jami Gertz), on the Santa Carla boardwalk. Star rolls with a gang of free spirited young men, the titular “Lost Boys,” led by David (Kiefer Sutherland, in an iconic turn), who, spoiler alert, are a bunch of vampires.
Add the vampire-obsessed comic book dorks the Frog brothers into the mix (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) and you get all the essentials for one of the most memorable, epochal, and enduring of modern vampire films.
Not only does Schumaker and company (particularly the writers Janice Fischer, James Jeremias, and Jeffrey Boam) gleefully reimagine many of the genre conceits, The Lost Boys reshapes them into a more palatable, though no less amusing, amalgam of dread and drollery.
“One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach; all the damn vampires.”
– Grandpa (played by Barnard Hughes)
People are strange when you’re a stranger
It may be a little mean, but it may well be fair to suggest that Schumacher’s directing career may have peaked early with this teen-centric tour de force, and so be it. For myself I still distinctly recall the excitement, and the bitter disappointment when 11-year-old me was denied entry to the theater showing the R-rated film. Defeated, and in repose I slyly bought a ticket for PG-rated dog turd, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, and then stealthily made my way into the auditorium showing The Lost Boys.
Was my act of disobedience and misconduct worth the trouble? Hell yeah, it was. Nothing was going to keep me from seeing a film that seemed custom-designed for my monster-obsessed, comic book-corrupted, MTV-addicted, and impressionable young mind. Did I immediately afterwards beg my parents for money to buy a pair of sunglasses and the Lost Boys soundtrack? You better believe it.
Through the rosy-tinted nostalgia lens there’s so much to admire about The Lost Boys. As a 1980s artifact it’s a Rosetta Stone of what once was cool––though as much as I try to recapture those halcyon days of yore, I’m not convinced that the oily, muscle-y, ponytailed Tim Cappello and his saxophone were ever coveted by teens of any era, despite what the wide-eyed Star would have us believe during his unintentionally hilarious cameo scene––and the film also holds a lot of cultural currency for being the first film to feature both Feldman and Haim, affectionately remembered as “the Two Coreys,” the teen idols who would go on to make several successful teen-oriented films in the late 1980s (1988’s License to Drive, and 1989’s Dream a Little Dream, amongst their most acclaimed collaborations), while gracing the covers of Bop, Seventeen, Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, and other youth-oriented magazines from that era.
“The Lost Boys was viewed with some trepidation by the studio, but at our first test screening there were lines around the block. The theater held about 750 people, and it was like a rock concert, it was fantastic… You’ve never seen so many happy executives.”
– Joel Schumacher
Oh, you were a vampire, and baby, I’m the walking dead
Initially, The Lost Boys was conceptualized as a very different film, with Fischer and Jeremias’ screenplay being modelled after the kid-friendly action-adventure The Goonies (1985), which had surpassed expectations and been a hit for director Richard Donner, who originally intended to follow it up with “a bunch of Goonies-type 5th–6th grade kid vampires.” Fatefully, Donner eventually got pulled away from the project to direct the buddy-cop blockbuster Lethal Weapon, leaving the door open for Schumacher, who signed on and wisely set about emphasizing a more teen-oriented approach.
Viewed today, some 30 years on, The Lost Boys remains an undeniably charming, toothsome genre experience. It’s a forgivably flawed vampire film, certainly not up to snuff with the truly great vampiric perfections (such as Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece, Nosferatu, Tod Browning’s Dracula , Terence Fisher’s Dracula  or Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In ), but it remains a venerated fan favorite, all the same.
The years have been kind to this film, the dated aspects are largely still very engaging and good-humored, as the overall film lacks much of the cynicism and misandry that often infiltrates horror. The quick-witted bon mots, and the juvenile gags still hold much of the humor and relatable adolescent burnish they always did, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be trotting this one out every Halloween for a laugh, and a gushing grin for forever and a day. The Lost Boys, for me and for many, will never lose its breezy bite. “You’re one of us, Michael…”
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.