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Lost Boys

Revisiting the messy teen vampire classic The Lost Boys

Joel Schumacher’s horror comedy swooped in 30 years ago with Sunset Strip biker chic and a sexual, angsty quest for blood to revitalise a limping sub-genre

By 1987 the vampire sub-genre of horror cinema was something of a limping beast, steadily slayed into submission by countless B-movie misfires and dull Dracula reboots. Set in Santa Carla, a small, semi-fictional coastal Californian town plagued by biker vampires, moping teens and mysterious goings-on, Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys turned this dwindling trend on its head by subverting the notion that the genre was somehow inaccessible to teenagers and presenting an MTV-style vampire flick that married light horror, fancy trash, era-defining action, teen romance and comedy.

With the “older male vampire, younger female prey” blueprint having long run its course, Schumacher – who had just emerged via coming-of-age drama St. Elmo’s Fire – dreamt up a reboot where offbeat adolescents, teen heartthrobs and fanged villains would face off in a gloomy world much more akin to the pre-teen netherworld of The Goonies than Transylvania. With its tagline of “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire”, The Lost Boys presented a stark yet not-too-serious alternative to the stuffier hallmarks of the genre: eternal youth over death, fun over suburban mundanity and sexual becoming over gratuitous flesh and gore.

While it divided critics upon release (that thinly-plotted narrative and stuttering flow, anyone?) The Lost Boys very comfortably resides in the collective memory of many, not least thanks to its cast, all-out 80s visual aesthetic and iconic soundtrack. For all its minor flaws, it remains not merely a quintessential horror comedy or cultural touchstone of the decade, but a film that laid the groundwork for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Twilight and many teen vampire franchises besides. As it turns 30, we don the rose-tinted glasses to gaze at what makes it still so very re-watchable.


Though a little odd to consider today, there was once a time in the not-so-distant past when teenagers and vampire movies weren’t viewed as the most obviously compatible proposition in cinema. Having evolved from an original idea of reinventing Peter Pan as a vampire, The Lost Boys – with its beach parties, biker gangs, comic book stores, eccentric grandfathers with comedy car horns and caves adorned with Jim Morrison posters – soon become a production aimed directly at a teenage audience.

Brought to life via screenwriters Janice Fischer and James Jeremias translating freedom, sexuality and fear in adolescent terms (i.e. rebellion rather than Satanism, and personal becoming and sexual awakening rather than the one-dimensional quest for blood) Schumacher rebooted the age-old youth gang motif as found in 1953 Brando classic The Wild One, applied it to vampires and re-framed it with the conflicting doom and possibility of youth. While Max (played by the late, great Edward Herrmann) secretly controls the gang, it's the teens that navigate and govern the picturesque yet damned seaside community of Santa Carla.

All things considered, though, by accepting the fact there’s nothing exactly profound to be gleaned from The Lost Boys (let’s face it, it’s not quite Anna Karenina) you’ll see it for what is really is: an eminently watchable sleepover classic that towed the line between horror and humour, injected fun back into the sub-genre and re-imagined vampires for a new era.


From that first, swooping long shot onto the boardwalk to countless scenes that Schumacher hoped to convey “a Death In Venice-style, Victorian atmosphere”, casting your mind’s eye back to a first viewing of The Lost Boys is likely to dredge up some potent visual memories. As former window designer Schumacher oversaw the production, this is something that can be largely attributed to the moody and densely atmospheric cinematography of Michael Chapman. A master in his field best known for his work with Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz and the seminal Raging Bull, he wielded with desolation and emptiness in subtle, stylish ways, ensuring that the film’s photography – emotional in tone and shot in lush, rich colours – captured the innate darkness of the idyllic seaside locale that doubled up as "the murder capital of the world”.


Very few films of the 80s embraced the decade’s fashion so brazenly as The Lost Boys. With not a single cape or cloak in sight, costume designer Susan Becker and Schumacher opted for a contrasting aesthetic that married full-on styles from the era with modded heavy metal attire and noirish Victorian retroism. There’s Kiefer Sutherland AKA vampire ringleader David’s long black overcoat and bleached mullet and the Frog brothers’ offbeat Rambo get-up (actors Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander were reportedly told to binge on Sylvester Stallone movies in preparation for their roles), then the Sunset Strip chic of his David’s cronies and the boho beads, shawls and broomstick skirts of Star. In a recent interview, Schumacher detailed how his initial inspiration for the Gothy, New Romantic looks came from an avante garde music magazine that he saw while hungover on a film shoot in Holland.The fashion of The Lost Boys not only provides conclusive proof that the 1980s happened, but also – for all its garish experimentalism – has really helped cement its enduring legacy.


Hall & Oates, Tears For Fears... Mel and Kim: the 80s weren’t exact bereft of an iconic pop duo. Though Hollywood didn’t offer many twosomes to rival the airwaves, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman AKA The Coreys AKA The Two Coreys kickstarted a big-screen relationship via The Lost Boys that yielded a career spawning everything from the varyingly watchable License to Drive and Blown Away to 2008’s frankly tragic Lost Boys: The Tribe (the less said about that the better). In uniting an effortlessly charismatic dream team including Sutherland, Jason Patric as the perpetually pouting Michael and Jami Gertz as Star – not to mention the legendary Barnard Hughes as Grandpa and the aforementioned Edward Herrmann as Max – The Lost Boys’ cast of bad guys, fall guys, outcasts and eccentrics teetering on the brink of suburban doom muster real on-screen magnetism even when the storyline begins to tail off and falter. Schumacher used his growing power as a filmmaker, fresh from Bratpack hit St. Elmo’s Fire, to cast a successful squad of relative unknowns. 

The male protagonist and antagonist floated across the lines of homoeroticism, with snatched moments of bonding between Michael and David, almost flirty rivalry and an intense intiation into the boys’ group. Sutherland, the ultimate bad boy of flicks like Stand By Me, works to seduce a cherubic, lost Patric into rebellion and hedonism – we witness a unique, intriguing head-to-head between the two young actors.


Needless to say, the 1980s was an absolute golden age for the Hollywood movie soundtrack. From Pretty In Pink and Footloose to Dirty Dancing and The Breakfast Club and far beyond, myriad soundtracks were played until the cassette tape spewed out of the reels and roller openings. But few of the time come close to distilling the pure essence of their accompanying visuals as potently as the soundtrack to The Lost Boys. From its main theme in “Cry Little Sister” by Foreigner’s Gerard McMahon and “Good Times” by INXS with Jimmy Barnes to a string of first-rate covers including Echo & The Bunnymen’s faithful rendition of “People Are Strange” and Roger Daltrey's masterfully cheesy cover of “Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, Schumacher pulled favours and wrangled magic on a budget to assemble a ten-track release that is inextricably linked to the power and nostalgic sway of the film.

Schumacher also showed an era-relevant reverence to Jim Morrison, a hallowed angel for a new generation. In the 80s, the musician gained a new lease of life as an alt-cultural icon from beyond the grave. Morrison’s influence on Schumacher resonates through the vampire gangs leathers and jewllery, as well as their lair (a Morrison poster adorns their altar). Getting a Doors tune on the soundtrack would have probably cost a bomb – enter the specially re-recorded Bunnymen’s cover, which appears twice in the film. Of course, Jason Patric’s resemblance to the frontman was most definitely deliberate.


Sure, this should probably fall under the above category but just try and convince us The Lost Boys’ legendary oiled-up saxophone guy (to use the official term) doesn't deserve his own section. Many full moons before Sexy Sax Man terrorized the world - and thus the internet - with his pop-up performances of ‘Careless Whisper’, Tim Cappello set the world alight with a hugely entertaining, albeit mildly disturbing, rendition of his perennially earworming single ‘I Still Believe' ten minutes into The Lost Boys’ opening credits. Best far-out saxophone performance in a teen vampire film? Undoubtedly. Even if the original scene didn’t tick your boxes, this “remix” below surely will.