Monday, January 8, 2018

The Lost Boys (Warner Bros., 1987)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After the Golden Globes I ran a movie I’d dubbed to DVD from an old VHS tape I made 30 years ago, The Lost Boys — which I was curious about because I’d just watched the Lifetime TV-movie A Tale of Two Coreys, the Coreys being Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, who met and formed their “bromance” while making this 1987 film and remained close friends until Haim’s death in 2010. There were other reasons to re-investigate The Lost Boys over three decades after it was made, including the fact that when it was filmed the whole idea of a teenage-vampire movie was a novelty, whereas now it’s become almost too familiar. I had very little memory of The Lost Boys — my recollection was that I put it on the same tape as the film The Big Easy, and my then-partner John Gabrish liked The Lost Boys better and I liked The Big Easy better — but it turned out to be a pretty good film which like a lot of horror films from Hollywood’s classic era got considerably better once the filmmakers (director Joel Schumacher, who was a lot better here than he was in the Batman and Jurassic Park franchises he came close to wrecking, and writers Jan Fischer, James Jermias and Jeffrey Boam — did you have to have a first name beginning with “J” to direct or write this film?) admitted already that the vampires existed. The plot deals with a mother, Lucy (Dianne Wiest), who’s just been through a painful and financially impoverishing divorce in Phoenix, Arizona and who moves to “Santa Carla,” California (really Santa Cruz — much of the film was shot on location at Santa Cruz’s famous boardwalk) with her two sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim). She stays there with her father (Barnard Hughes), who rather acidly tells her she’s the first woman he’s known who emerged worse off financially from a divorce, and her sons spend a lot of time hanging around the boardwalk, which is depicted as a sort of living freak show.

The point is made by the inclusion of the Doors’ song “People Are Strange” — though in a cover by Echo and the Bunnymen rather than the Doors’ own performance (though actual Door Ray Manzarek produced the recording and, I suspect, played his original prepared-piano part on it) — and among the strangest people there are a coven of teenage vampires, apparently led by blond-haired David (Kiefer Sutherland) but with a single vampire-in-charge whom they all report to and who will all die if the alpha vampire is killed. Michael gets sucked — so to speak — into the vampire cult when he meets Star (Jamie Gertz), a sort of apprentice vampire because she’s already drunk vampire blood but hasn’t yet “made her bones,” vampire-wise, by killing someone for their blood. She’s attracted to Michael but thinks the only way she can get him is to vampirize him, which she does by inviting him to a party David gives at their hideout (which Charles said he recognized as the set for the Sid and Marty Krofft film Sigmund the Sea Monster, though re-dressed with a large picture of Jim Morrison and a poster from the film The Breakfast Club — the movie does sort of come off as the answer to the question, “What if John Hughes had made a vampire movie?”) and getting him to drink from a bottle he thinks just contains wine but really has some of David’s blood in it. So Michael becomes a vampire pledge and spends his days sleeping, or trying to with his mom continually waking him up and trying to get him to live a normal life — sort of like the way the real Corey Feldman lived once he got into drugs, staying up all night partying and showing up for work too tired to remember his lines (at times The Lost Boys comes off as a weird combination anti-drug movie and coming-out movie). Meanwhile, Mom is dating Max (Edward Herrmann), owner of the local video store (that really dates this movie!), despite the suspicions of Michael’s brother Sam (ya remember Michael’s brother Sam) that he’s really the head vampire. Sam teams up with Edgar and Allan Frog (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), who hang out a lot at the local comic-book store and give Sam two vampire comic books (despite Sam’s protestations that “I really don’t like horror comics”) that serve in this movie what those old, graying books of vampire lore did in classic Hollywood’s vampire movies (as well as such European films as Murnau’s Nosferatu and Dreyer’s Vampyr): they give the good guys the instructions they need to defeat the vampires and bring the vampire-pledges, Michael and Star, back to normal humanity.

The two most charismatic performances in the movie were delivered by Jason Patric as Michael — who really does a good job showing his character’s being torn between his normal existence and the promise of immortality and romance being offered by the vampire alternative, despite the downside of having continually to kill people for their blood (a duality first presented on screen, I think, by Louise Allbritton in her marvelous performance in the 1943 Son of Dracula) — and Kiefer Sutherland as David, malevolent but also exciting. Of course, Max turns out to be the lead vampire after all — he passed the “vampire tests” Sam rigged up for him at their home but only because one piece of vampire lore relatively unique to this movie holds that a vampire can “pass” as normal in a home to which he has been invited — and his destruction at the end of the film dispatches the rest of the cult as well, and also destroys the lead family’s plumbing as great spurts of blood back up through their pipes. The Lost Boys is very much a movie of its time — there aren’t any “good vampires” to balance the bad vampires the way there’ve been in the Twilight cycle and its imitators — though it also holds up pretty well, and i found myself liking it better now than I did when it was new even though neither of the two Coreys comes off that well: Feldman’s role is too small to matter much and Haim becomes an annoying ninny, the 1980’s equivalent of a damsel in distress in a 1940’s horror film. Like the two actors who played him at different ages in A Tale of Two Coreys, Haim was a pretty-boy twink in his teens who grew up to be a quite handsome, buff, butch adult; a pity that, like John Coltrane, he was done in by the long-term damage to his body done by his years of drug abuse even though he was clean and sober at the end.