Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wendigo Meets THE LOST BOYS (1987)

Here's how seriously my friend Wendigo takes his vocation as a vampire-film reviewer. He insisted that we watch Joel Schumacher's historic suckfest even though he told me ahead of time that he likes it less every time he watches it. The first time was way back in the year of its original release, and while the "Thou Shalt Not Kill..." chant stuck in my mind like an earwig long afterward, Lost Boys made little impression otherwise. At the time, certain novelties impressed my friend, and there are still details about the film he likes, but they've never justified his actually owning a copy. In any event, when he saw it available on the Vutopia on-demand service he insisted we see it again on the assumption that its historic significance is indisputable.

Along with Fright Night, Lost Boys is one of the pillars of the pop-vampire trend of the 1980s -- on a purely pop level, Wendigo claims, The Hunger comes in a distant third and Near Dark is hardly in the same category. Schumacher's movie made stars of Kiefer Sutherland and the infamous Coreys -- Feldman and the late Haim -- and was the first proof that nothing could make a matinee idol of the oft-lauded Jason Patric. What sets Lost Boys apart in Wendigo's eyes is that it, above all, identified vampirism (in a cartoonish way) with Eighties subcultures: punks and punk wannabes and punk-influenced music and club scenes. The film itself is above all a youth vampire movie, with vampires who seem to be of the same generation and social background as Patric's hero. It's also the first vampire movie of the MTV generation -- which isn't necessarily a compliment. At the same time, it's a conventional viewer's nightmare of what those weird-looking people are doing when they congregate together. To the extent that it scares anyone, it may scare them more about youth subcultures than the possibility that vampires might exist.

What surprised me on my first viewing in many years was the way the film emphasized poverty in the middle of the Reagan years. Patric's family has had to move to the "murder capital of the U.S." in order to live with his grandpa because they have no other economic options. Maybe the vampires are also a scary version of the homeless, but they offer the temptation of empathy with young drifters without apparent opportunities whose only real hope is each other. As the title tells us, the real temptation is an alternative family that never comes apart since no one ever grows old, complete with the mother figure who's the secret master vampire's ultimate target -- the Wendy for a gang of bloodsucking Peter Pans, with a friendly "half-vampire" Jamie Gertz as a mostly-impotent Tinker Bell. From what Wendigo knows about the production history, the Peter-Pan elements and their actual dramatic potential got diluted as the script evolved -- if that's the right word for what happened.

The concept has potential, so what went wrong? The humor, if you can call it that, practically kills the film, while the fashions and hairstyles have dated Lost Boys into a camp nostalgia item. Wendigo finds Schumacher a heavy-handed director more interested in style than narrative. He gives everything a neon glow and turns on the wind and fog machines and floodlights whenever given a chance.  Too many scenes seem timed to the soundtrack tunes. Too many incidents don't make sense -- for instance, why does Patric suffer from uncontrollable floating when he becomes a half-vampire? Can he really have become one only by drinking a bottle of master-vampire blood, without shedding any of his own? (Really, was Schumacher afraid of showing an exchange of fluid between men?) And how can this barely-functioning half-vamp best presumed veteran Sutherland in airborne combat so soon afterward? Who knows? At least the film is honestly blatant about making up vampire rules as it goes along, but the comedy makes the vampires utterly unfrightening, no matter how scary Schumacher would like us to think them in any given scene. The jokes only make the story more stupid. We learn at the end, in a bit intended as a punch line, that Grandpa knew about the vampires all along; if so, why didn't he warn his loved ones about them?

Wendigo predicts that a time will come when Jack Bauer is forgotten and Kiefer Sutherland is once more best remembered as a star of The Lost Boys.

While Wendigo now regards Lost Boys as "one of the worst pieces of shit I've ever seen," there are still elements that please or intrigue him. A lot of these boil down to make-up, from Sutherland's grrr-face to the batlike feet the boys use to sleep upside down in their cave. On the other hand, Wendigo feels that the master vampire's makeup only makes him look like a clown. He also gives this film credit for popularizing the idea of saving an incompletely-turned vampire by killing the master, and for enshrining the super soaker as the poor man's vampire-fighting tool of choice. The idea that being invited into a home renders all traditional vampire tests (mirrors, garlic, etc.) ineffective also interested him. But while ideas can sometimes salvage an otherwise ill-executed project as long as the ideas are presented in an interesting visual way, Schumacher's bombastic music-video approach and his tin ear for comedy leave Lost Boys irredeemable. A lot of people like it better than we do, or else there wouldn't be those unseen-by-us straight-to-video sequels. Maybe the sight of Corey Feldman inspires an inscrutable nostalgia for people of a very specific age -- and maybe Corey Haim is a kind of Bela Lugosi for his generation. We'll never tell people not to like something they enjoy, but sometimes we might appreciate an explanation. But if you do enjoy, keep enjoying, and don't mind us.


dfordoom said...

It's not the worst vampire movie of the 80s though. There's always Vamp.

I haven't seen Fright Night. Should I bother with it?

hobbyfan said...

Sam: (Really, was Schumacher afraid of showing an exchange of fluid between men?)

My take: Maybe he had something to hide and this would've given it away?

I guess Schumacher was still trading on this film when he was tapped 8 years later to replace Tim Burton and helm the Bat-franchise. He ran it into the ground, as we know, but one wonders what might've happened if The Lost Boys became a franchise.

Oh, and one more thing, Sammy. While the title is taken from "Peter Pan", that's about as far as any connotations should go. Likening Pan to vampires is utter blasphemy.

Anonymous said...

@D: Although I haven't seen the original in a looooong time (and I won't bother with the remake), I'd say it's worth a viewing simply because it is one of the last films where vampires are NOT some cutesy, romantic sympathetic character.

@hobby: I disagree. With the context, "Lost Boys" is very "pan-ic". It is all about the wish fulfillment recent generations have with "not having to grow up." I see it everyday - 40+ year olds who still listen to, watch and read the same stuff they did while in high school. Hanging out with the same friends, talking and acting the same way. I think Springsteen's "Glory Days" sums it up perfectly.

SPEEDbit said...

Hey Samuel. Thanks for the Post. We remember the Lost Boys and looking back at it now, the film was a prime example of one (in it's own weird way) about vampires can bring attention to the hardships of these lads. Great post. Keep it up.