When vampires first appeared in cinema, the most common imagery associated with them was that of a handsome gentleman who would seduce his victims into submission. Count Dracula has seen several suave actors portray the role – Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman – in an effort to convey the consistency of that image. It’s a far cry from what vampires have evolved into in today’s cinema, which ranges from rabid animals (From Dusk Til Dawn), to angsty teenagers who fall in love with humans and sparkle (Twilight).
But there was one film that brought forth that period of transition, and a new take on the supernatural creature. These vampires’ attributes were unlike anything audiences in 1987 had seen before- a direct reflection of the youth culture of the time, while maintaining an aggression that made the vampire universally feared. Joel Schumacher’s “The Lost Boys” reinvented vampires for modern audiences by not only updating their image, but also by giving them traits that made them relatable to the viewer.
The movie takes place in the fictional California coastal town of Santa Carla, where there have been a string of missing persons alerts. We meet Michael and Sam (Jason Patric and Corey Haim)- two brothers who are moving into town with their single mother, Lucy, to live with their grandfather. Simultaneously, the audience is introduced to a gang of young motorcycle-riding, leather-clad youths, led by David (Kiefer Sutherland). The gang stirs up commotion on the local boardwalk on a nightly basis, and afterwards, we see several victims being abducted by an unseen force.
Going into town, Sam meets the strange and quirky Frog Brothers (fan-favorites, Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), who run the local comic book store, while Michael becomes infatuated with local girl, Star, who also happens to be in David’s gang. As Michael starts hanging out with the gang in order to get close to Star, and after he drinks what he thinks is wine from a bottle David gives him, he begins to feel himself slowly changing- and a strange thirst coming over him. At the same time, the Frog Brothers reveal that they are in fact amateur “vampire hunters,” and that Michael will become a vampire himself unless they find and kill the head vampire, which Sam becomes determined to do to save his brother.
Released in 1987, the film came out in the middle of the MTV generation, when youth culture was getting more loud and expressive. The disconnect between teens and their parents was at an all-time high, and everything from music to movies set out to sell that disconnect as a rite of passage for teens everywhere. “The Lost Boys” was no different, often cutting in shots of teens having fun on the beach on dates or at an outdoor beach concert (featuring the single most ridiculous lead singer in 80’s movie history). Even Sam’s friendship with the Frog Brothers blossoms from their mutual interest in comic books, while their mother Lucy finds a job at a hip music store. These inserts remind the audience how much fun it is to stay young, without having any responsibilities weighing us down- something that is heavily referenced by the original themes of the screenplay.
Screenwriter James Jeremias’ original influence was that of Peter Pan and his Lost Boys- a group of boys who can never grow old, visit Wendy Darling in the middle of the night, and never have to worry about responsibility. Jeremias thought these traits made Peter and the Lost Boys sound strangely similar to vampires, providing many references to the Peter Pan story in the movie, the most obvious one made in the climax, where it is revealed (SPOILER ALERT) that head vampire, Max, wants Lucy to be a mother-figure to his “lost boys,” the same way Peter had hoped Wendy would be.
But it was David’s and the other vampires’ lifestyle that set them apart from any previous bloodsuckers shown in film. Looking like they walked out of a Guns N’ Roses concert, the glam rock image was a strong reflection of the time period, but also pertinent in the message put forth- being a vampire was a metaphor for what guys do when they hang out and get rowdy together, while ignoring any kind of commitments. All they wanted to do was “party all night, and sleep all day,” as the film’s tagline claimed. For the first time, vampirism looked like so much fun.
On the flip side, the raw animalistic nature of being a vampire was on full display. If the movie made being a vampire look like fun, the horror of their feedings brought the audience right back down to earth. The first time we see the gang’s vampiric side, they attack a group of young punks partying around a bonfire, and that’s when we see just how frightening vampires with reckless abandon can be. The gore is minimal, but it’s the quick cuts and sound that generate the terror of the scene, as they give in to their blood lust without mercy. Even the use of traditional organ music played throughout the movie is an ode to the horror of the classic vampires. The cinematography creates an uneasy suspense, as the scenes are often lit to reflect a dream-like ambience, or filtered fully in red, like during the vampires’ invasion of Michael and Sam’s house, to create a nightmarish scenario.
What makes “The Lost Boys” so iconic in vampire cinema is that is reflects everything you want a vampire to represent. They are vicious killers who hunt their prey ruthlessly, but at the same time, blend into modern society through the use of cultural norms. But whether you are a vampire or human, the message of “The Lost Boys” was simple- boy, was it fun to be a teenager in 80’s.