There are two kinds of vampire movies: Those made before the Lost Boys, and those made after. Boasting the killer tagline of “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire,” this movie took the nosferatu as a storytelling device and turned it upside down, giving audiences full-throated permission to enjoy watching vampires do their thing, rather than be frightened by it.
Earlier vampire films often focused on the compelling power of vampires, but it was always couched in some kind of supernatural charisma, or mind control, or other ability to override one’s sober judgement. The Lost Boys doesn’t go in for any of that. It sells you the vampire life with the brute force of how much it would kick ass to be one, especially in a coastal California town in the 1980s run by ex-hippies and populated by an endless stream of runaway kids. The vampires in this movie can get you to do bad things not because they have supernatural powers, but because they’re the bad kids your parents always warned you about, and yet somehow, you find yourself drinking wine with them in an abandoned hotel anyway.
Our story begins as teenagers Michael and Sam and their recently divorced mom Lucy move in with Lucy’s elderly father in Santa Clara, California. The boys definitely aren’t too keen on the town or their weird, grumpy grandpa, but soon they discover the weird, endless carnival that is Santa Clara’s night life. Before you can say “missing children,” the boys are of enjoying their summertime freedom in the way that only two uber-latchkey kids possibly can. Sam descends into the local comic book scene while Michael falls for Star, a mysterious girl who’s hooked up with David, the leader of a gang of outlaw punks who can’t seem to decide whether to admit Michael into their gang or to kill him. Cut to the chase: David, Star and the crew are all vampires, soon Michael is one, too, and Sam enlists the help of a couple of fairly clueless teenage vampire hunters to help set the whole thing right. Max, the guy who runs the local video story and is dating Lucy is probably a bloodsucker, but nobody’s sure.
It all boils down to our heroes enduring a vampire siege at grandpa’s house, armed with squirt guns filled with holy water, table legs filed to sharp points, and enough garlic to launch an Italian restaurant. The battle that follows is the right blend of the kids’ harebrained plans working, and the invading vampires being too much for them anyway, and just as things look like they have taken a fatal turn for the worse, in comes grandpa, who saves the day in a way that will never make you question the wisdom of post fencing ever again. But what really sells it, and what is the movie’s moment of truth is its final line, when grandpa casually heads over the fridge after the battle, pops open a soda and utters the immortal line: “There’s one thing about Santa Clara I never could stomach. All the damned vampires.” Everybody left alive just stares slack-jawed at the old-timer, wondering exactly how many times has this happened before? And..fade to black.
The Lost Boys was an effort by director Joel Schumacher to blend horror and fantasy, using the trials and tribulations of teenage rebellion to recast the traditional vampire story. Along the way, it’s a baroque mashup of every teen fashion from the mid-to-late 80s, in a world where MTV will always still be just a few years old. It’s a strange and dated mix, but it works mainly because it seems to know when to shift gears without ever making you feel like it’s laying off the clutch too fast. There is a genuine malevolent charm to David, played by a largely still-unknown Kiefer Sutherland, and his fellow vampires (one of whom, Alex Winter, we’d see not long after in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure). Jason Patric is Michael, Jami Gertz is Star, Corey Haim is Sam and Corey Feldman is teen vampire hunter Edgar Frog. This is the movie that established the Coreys at their most annoying. Here, in this one movie, it works. Everywhere else, it doesn’t. If the Lost Boys has to take the rap for unleashing these guys on pop culture, that’s fair. But it’s still worth it.
Featuring an eclectic soundtrack that plays out exactly like you’d what you’d expect from a lost summer in teenage Neverland, the Lost Boys succeeds in selling its vampires as something pretty awesome. They’re evil, sure. They’re killers, true. They’re monsters, yes. But by the powers, they are cool as hell, and even though you know you’re not supposed to root for them, you’re still kind of sad when the movie declares that the fun’s over and the vamps gotta depart.
This all landed at a time when people were exploring vampires as a sympathetic kind of villain; Anne Rice was just getting rolling, and this movie quickly created a template for the rough and tumble outlaw vampire who is so busy raising hell in other ways, you kind of forget that they eat people. After the Lost Boys, seeing vampires in the traditional setup became a conscious narrative choice, rather than the default. Vampires were something that could be part of any walk of life, rather than a walk of life unto themselves. They didn’t have to be a pure force of evil anymore. They didn’t have to represent repressed sexuality anymore. They could be just about anything, really. From this point on, vampires would be a whole hell of a lot more interesting, even if they still are best met with a sharp stake and a squirt gun loaded from the local baptismal font. Later on, a few of them would sparkle, but that’s okay. Nobody’s perfect. Not even vampires.