Retro Review – The Lost Boys

Before Joel Schumacher took his rightful place as the most disgusting creature history has ever produced, he was famous for two things. The first thing was his apparent addiction for directing films based on John Grisham novels. Much like the author, Schumacher’s adaptations were neither good or aggressively awful. They just sort of exist as a way to measure how much time has passed in your life. (One Grisham = the length of one U.S. domestic flight.)

The second was for The Lost Boys. It was a cult 80’s teenage film that everyone insisted was not that bad. Sure, it’s a direct lift of the plot to that OTHER (and better) cult 80’s teenage film Near Dark, but it still was a sort of calling card for Schumacher and got him all sorts of work. Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example, was impressed enough with the film’s “use of music” that he hand picked Schumacher to direct the Phantom of the Opera musical adaptation.

Everything about that last sentence makes me want to throw up in retrospect. But still, was there anything to Schumacher before we all learned that he really, really wanted to see Batman’s nipples and was willing to make us all suffer for it?

Well, the answer is, “almost.”

I include the opening scene to show the amazing promise The Lost Boys has. In fact, I almost see what Andrew Lloyd Webber saw in the “use of music.” The film is a wonderfully stylized work that actually uses vampires for symbolic purposes.

Vampires, like all monsters, are a symbolic representation of something deep inside man. Ever since Dracula’s brides and his preying on Mina Harker, the underlying point of vampires was about how sex and sexuality can change people. And no matter the benefits, sometimes the cost is too much.

That’s the case with Michael (Jason Patric) who is lured into becoming a vampire by David (Keifer Sutherland) and Star (Jami Gertz). He is a “new kid” who is offered a chance to belong with a group. Star entices him to join her, only for him to later realize what he’s getting into.

You may recognize this as the plot of Kathryn Bigelow’s classic Near Dark. That’s true, but Schumacher is able to create his own style around these characters. Plus, exploring homosexual themes in an ’80s blockbuster was still incredibly taboo.

David, for example, is obviously a gay character who is obsessed with Michael. He’s also profoundly upset when one of his male vampire cohorts is killed. Finally, the only reason Michael became a vampire was because he (accidentally) drank David’s blood – a stand in for an alternate fluid.

The symbolism is obvious, in the way all vampire symbolism is obvious. Michael is experimenting with David and Star and and is not sure what he prefers. That sounds mawkish, but The Lost Boys makes it seems fresh. I liked those moments in the film. It’s what horror is meant to be at it’s core – a revelation of the human experience.

But what if I told you that this is not a film about puberty or sexual experimentation, but rather another slapstick vehicle for the two Coreys? And that the main plot involves them trying to thwart a man’s attempts to date their mother because they believe he’s a vampire? You would think that I’m lying, but there’s so much screen time given to those two that the fact they aren’t in front of Keifer Sutherland on the poster is a form of false advertising.

And it’s about as dumb as you think. I don’t need a dinner scene in which the kids try to force feed a suspected vampire garlic or spill water on him for the sake cinematic shenanigans. It’s not even that funny or that exciting. You know that none of the boy’s techniques will work and he’ll just end up embarrassing his mom. These scenes don’t work and are just a distraction from the more interesting elements. But of course the film decides the two Corey’s subplot is the climax to ensure that the prudes are not offended. It’s such a weird cop out for what had been an interesting horror film.

Part of me wants to unequivocally praise The Lost Boys. It has the air of a director who started off strong but ended up corrupted by the studio system. At least it demonstrates Schumacher knew what he was doing in the 1980s. It wasn’t until Phone Booth that he made a good movie, and even that had no personal experience involved in its viewpoints. The Lost Boys could have been a stepping stone for a gay horror auteur. Too bad both the film and Schumacher’s career went wrong.

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