By Jacqueline Howell
The Lost Boys is having a moment.
As the 2000s trudge on growing more dystopian on screen and off, with depressed supermen who don’t even have the flag-like brights of a good leotard for a quick-pick-me-up anymore, with all of today’s McPop music played in public and private spaces increasingly aggressively soulless and coldly sexual (vampiric, in an un-fun way, no?) the past has never looked better.
The recent past is, for some, a treasured rosy time of their youth, and for a younger generation, a distanced pseudo-nostalgia for something they just feel was inherently better, purer, cleaner and more immediate, more real than today’s reality. And it glows rosier every season. The well trodden landscapes of 80s & 90s beloved teen/comedy/drama films of varying quality have been absorbed into a meme-ified landscape of one liners and reaction shots, of side-eyes and tea drinking, of a new non-language of wistful imagery that begs to be part of a long over conversation. It’s all still so funny and touching: if you loved Molly Ringwald you will likely never stop loving the Molly Ringwald on celluloid, but it’s tinged with sadness, too.
So much of those inner worlds of films are full of obsolete vernacular, entire industries and hang-outs now the stuff of dreams, as if the musty old record store inside of any film was now our shared dream vacation, and the teen bedroom something visually data mined as if we were Indy searching a document for the holy grail with our finely tuned, expert eyes. The teen bedrooms sometimes look as the real ones did- at least, the posters on the walls did look like that, even if most kids never had the massive double windowed master bedroom suite (/ film set) with the plaid curtains so popular with 80s set designers which somehow quietly stated “Ralph Lauren = affluence” as well as telegraphing that these kids and these stars were ultra special, impossibly well loved, on, and, we presumed, off screen.
The Lost Boys is one of those glossy, casually important, at times over the top Joel Schumacher outings that successfully seems to convince a bunch of different solid actors that they are in fact the star, that this film is their vehicle (in the parlance of the times). The “red” poster I remember and the more interesting cinematic one I had forgotten about both tells us that impossible marble carved Jason Patric and/or Kiefer Sutherland is the star and Jami Gertz is top-tier eye candy. Nowhere to be seen are the top billed Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, who carry about a third of the film on their slight shoulders. Make that, the late Corey Haim, the adorable perfectly moussed star of so many sweet and colourful moments of the era, and Feldman, the old-man in a kid’s body who wore tough-talk like armour. These two stayed deep in fans hearts, one of whom is lost to us now, tragically young. Forever lost.
The Lost Boys, through some kind of kismet, gives 80s film buffs the first, historic pairing of “the two Coreys”, who both shine in this film as young, natural, very funny comic actors with a lot of promise, both together and in their separate scenes. They meet cute in a kid way, in a comic book store, marking territory and side-eyeing each other as beautifully as Feldman did in the previous year’s Stand By Me. The Coreys, a name that would come later, an actual lifelong Hollywood friendship and brotherhood, infuse The Lost Boys with a type of Goonies for the tweens chemistry that sparks off not only their two characters as written, and their vastly different but equally comical (comic book-like) wardrobes, but also their very different personalities and acting styles at a time when parts for kids of that age as written and acted were little more than five year olds with a few more light curse words and attitude. Instead, Schumacher got performances from these two boys that was reminiscent of Matthau and Lemmon if they’d been a kid double act instead of the great middle aged or senior citizen duo they were. And within the weird, relentless nostalgia that filmmaking always creates in us, the future work of the Coreys, never to be, has been long pined for.
The film itself shifts focus evenly between two brothers, played by Patric and Corey Haim, and how they adjust to their sudden, uprooting move from Phoenix to “Santa Carla” California, with the real Santa Cruz standing in and a large dollop of Venice Beach-style dirty cool randomness in the cocktail. Both boys (Patric has always looked a Dorian Grey-like 24 but is probably meant to be a high school senior here) venture out into this strange new world and encounter friends/frenemies/allies and, for Patric’s Michael, a dream girl love interest that sets the action unfolding into a world of vampires.
There are two prongs to the story as both brothers navigate the darkness that lurks in the ever exciting Santa Carla. These are rounded out by the story arcs of divorcee mom Dianne Wiest, and the period’s very best eccentric Grandpa, with a serious support role by the family dog, Nanook.
But you know all this already.
The film, viewed today, reminds us about director Joel Schumacher’s imprint on Hollywood. The director was an interesting anomaly of the era that marks all of his films with iconic, beautiful stylistic flourishes. With a background as both a screenwriter and a costume designer – a rare and rarefied survival job, it seems- Schumacher found his niche with the delicious, stylish, star making St. Elmos Fire and The Lost Boys, (so-called Brat Pack films, but no one aside from bitchy, glamour-hating reporters ever used that word). Both of these films are filled with music video interiors and gorgeous, on point, on trend, larger than life big screen wardrobe choices, not least of which is this:
and more to the point of the vampire hunter via California look there is this:
Corey Haim’s wardrobe threatens to distract from the film’s action until you remember (or learn) that this was exactly how many kids (and trendy adults) dressed or would have dressed given the credit card and access to the better malls in the bigger cities. Many current films get the 80s and 90s references wrong, and it’s easier to overplay the colours, fabrics, looks and mullets of that golden age than it is to make it feel authentic. But a world where one kid is in fatigues and another sports dayglow and candy-coloured L.A. looks with layers of white and shoulder pads is the late 80s in any city that allowed for such things. Men went to hairstylists and not barbers, mullet-lites were the apex of cool on many people from executives to paperboys, on male and female (starting from Mel Gibson, who wore it the very best of all and first) and a touch of sun was what everyone wanted in their hair.
Schumacher’s films deal in the trendy and the timeless: beautiful, quick reference archetypes fall naturally from his background in costuming, making stories possible at a glance without a bunch of boring exposition or more than the usual number of montages (and we need montages). Star, the dream girl played by Jami Gertz, is immediately understood to be just that with one look at her perfect flowing dark curls, red lips, white cotton slip like-top and flowing skirt (a style that was already in malls North American wide, while the hair could only be achieved by genetics). She needs not convince Michael that she is the real deal with a single word, in fact, the silent looks of their first scene is more effective than any script could be, something throwback and classic. Michael is the mostly-good possibly tempted bad boy of the flip side of that dream. You want these two to make it, before they’ve even kissed. Before they’ve even spoken. Magic. Patric’s impossible good looks are reinforced by a scene superimposing them against an iconic head shot of Jim Morrison on the walls of the Vampires’ lair, just in case you missed his star quality. There’s also the pitch perfect cover of The Doors “People Are Strange” by 80s giants Echo and the Bunnymen to remind viewers of the type of intoxicating beauty, sex appeal and drama going on here.
A couple of the characters are dressed in cool last century military jackets (or perhaps 80s designer), an impeccible, perfect vampire look that no doubt found its way into the 1994 film version of game-reinventing vampire novel Interview with the Vampire, and that 2015’s What We Do in the Shadows makes use of both in wardrobe cues and in inner-group modern boy faux-reality dramatic tension.
In a busy film with teen and pre-teen angst (and mom/dog angst), vamps flying about and racing motorcycles, a boardwalk that runs 24/7 like some kind of Vegas only better, and a taxidermy-hobbyist gramps, there is also this, which is just there. For posterity. For all eternity. Grounding the rest of the costuming and theater with a rosy glow by its delightful insanity:
Viewers today might not know that Kiefer Sutherland, the delightful baddie/foil to Michael, was indeed the prototypical young Canadian movie star: full of real acting pedigree, he held down the cred of both Ryans today (Gosling & Reynolds) with a cool that was real and Canadian: out there. Weird. Outsider. Rugged. Quality. Timeless. Much more interesting than TV stardom would ever let him be in the breakneck anxiety attack that would be his star turn in the 2000s 24.
The film has become iconic in the canon of vampire films aside from any “canon-prescribed” rules, logic, or gore. Is a half-vampire really a thing? Can they eat food? We’ll never know. The CG & prosthetics of the time moves between clunky and effective, no doubt though, representative of big-budget work of that time. But it’s a great yarn. It’s fun. It’s (still) cool. The Lost Boys is probably the best of all of the sub genre of horror/comedy: rich, unusually rich in late 80s movie magic: everyone is beautiful or talented, and yet real looking (their faces move), real acting, money is splashed out in a way now reserved for James Bond- arial shots abound (both bloated by today’s standards and justifiable as they represent the soar of a vampire in flight, or a bat) the costumes and sets shimmer and the movie is full of style in every frame. It’s aspirational, full of fantasy even in its daytime scenes of childhood, buddy buddy freedom* and brotherhood. Aided by a perfect cast of talent and a strong script, it merges style with popcorn fun and sweetness, making it a modern classic.
But you know that already.
*While Netflix’s summer smash Stranger Things takes some obvious cues from E.T. in its portrayal of children solving their own big world (and otherwordly) problems, the Lost Boys rewatch shows that a few cues come from here, too.