The Birthday Series–The Lost Boys (1987)
It’s been a while between drinks, not only for the Birthday Series, but for reviews in general. But I’ve got a couple in the bag now, ready to go, and the first back from my work imposed hiatus is a teen vampire love story. No, nobody gets all sparkly in this one. I give you the ‘The Lost Boys’.
I was going to begin this review by opining about the recent resurgence of vampire films, and comparing it to the mid to late 1980’s when there also seemed to be be a multitude of films about vampires. But looking over a list of vampire films, there really never was a resurgence. Every single year has seen vampires in various incarnations hit the big screen. It just seems worse now because two of the most popular series, Twilight and TV’s True Blood, are complete garbage. We look back fondly at the time when we were given movies like Near Dark and Fright Night. Another film we look back at fondly is Joel Schumachers tribute to baby oiled, musclebound saxaphone players ‘The Lost Boys’.
Newly divorced Lucy Emerson (Diane Weist) has moved back to the California town of Santa Carla with her two boys Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim). Living with their hippy grandfather (Barnard Hughes), Michael meets a bunch of local thugs, led by David (Kiefer Sutherland). But when Michaels initiation into the gang results in his becoming a vampire, it’s up to Sam and the Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to kill the head vampire and save Michael.
I hadn’t seen ‘The Lost Boys’ in about ten years, and what I was struck with early on is that it’s not nearly as good as I remember it being. It’s a fun movie, don’t get me wrong, but the problems begin with the script. There’s a lack of detail to the vampires, and no real attempt to explain the lore. The vampires can fly. They have superhuman strength. They hang upside down like bats to sleep, complete with bat type feet. Some are effected by holy water, while others aren’t. The screenplay by Janice Fischer, James Jerimas and Jeffrey Boam seems to have no real rules. It’s a scattershot approach and a different vampire related cliché is used if and when it suits. There’s also not much in the way of a compelling story here. Family moves to town, Michael gets seduced by a bleach blonde Kiefer Sutherland (under the pretext of wanting to bone Jamie Gertz). An all action finale solves everything.
The performances are a mixed bag. I’ll start with the bad. Firstly, Jason Patric just isn’t very good as Michael. He’s a strange actor. He can be a brilliant, exciting actor when he’s playing darker roles, such as in Rush, After Dark My Sweet, Narc or Your Friends and Neighbours. But in more conventional roles, such as this one or Speed 2, he’s bland, and quite frankly, appears disinterested. I suspect that he simply isn’t the type of actor that makes the material better. But he’ll rise to the challenge of more difficult, interesting material. Alas, he doesn’t find that here. The other performances that don’t work are Max (Edward Hermann), as the romantic interest of Lucy who may not be who he says he is (it’s completely obvious that he’s not), and Star (Jamie Gertz), Michaels love interest. Both roles are poorly written so I don’t hold Hermann or Gertz entirely responsible. With a bit more effort in the script stage these characters could easily be more interesting.
On the other hand, ‘The Lost Boys’ features some good performances. Weist is likeable in another of the films underwritten roles and Grandpa provides some amusing moments. Kiefer Sutherland has always had a great screen presence, and it’s no different here. The character is never developed beyond being menacing, but Sutherland does his best and makes it work. But this film belongs to the two Coreys and Jamison Newlander as Sam and the Frog Brothers. These three kids are directly responsible for the films success. All three are ceaselessly entertaining and deliver the films best dialogue with great timing and enthusiasm, such as Sam yelling “You’re a creature of the night, Michael! My own brother a goddamn shitsucking vampire! You wait until mom finds out!” or after the Frog Brothers are attacked by a young girl vampire one of them says "Holy shit! The attack of Eddie Munster!" These three are great, memorable characters and make the film a lot better than maybe it had any right to be.
I wasn’t really that familiar with Corey Haim until about six months ago beyond that of a child actor who never fulfilled his promise and died young. But after watching him in ‘Lucas’, ‘Silver Bullet’ and now this, I can understand why he was one of the most exciting young actors of the 80’s. He was hugely likeable, had terrific energy and was able to control the screen against more notable actors. It’s a bit of a shame in retrospect that his career faded away.
The other problematic element of ‘The Lost Boys’ is the direction by Joel Schumacher. There are so many highly stylised musical interludes, with slow motion, smoke effects, soft lighting and the aforementioned oil slicked saxaphone player that it becomes tiresome after a while. If Schumacher set out to make a ninety minute music video then he has succeeded and then some. There’s also moments that are inexplicable. When the Frog Brothers dump one of the vampires into a bathtub of holy water and he proceeds to melt, the house’s entire plumbing goes batshit and blood pours out of taps, the toilet explodes and blood is everywhere. It doesn’t make a lick of sense and is only included so shit can blow up. And while the pop songs on the soundtrack were very likely popular at the time, viewing the film today does two things. It dates the film badly (the wardrobe department also eagerly assist in this) and it gives the film a really cheesy feeling to it. What was cool in the 80’s is kitsch today.
Now, I’m aware that I’ve focused largely on the negative aspects of the movie, so while I stand by these comments, I will also readily admit that the film moves along at a cracking pace and it’s never dull or boring. Some of the characters are, but the film never stops long enough for it to become too much of a problem. And it also features three great performances from the kids. All things being considered, it’s an entertaining film that doesn’t quite live up to it’s reputation.
Because this is my birthday series, I’m going to be very generous and round ‘The Lost Boys’ way up to…