Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys tends to get the credit for the rejuvenation of vampire movies in the late 1980’s. It’s a little strange, on one hand, considering that Lost Boys followed on the heels of the very successful Fright Night. It was only three months ahead of Near Dark. Those three make up the most popular vampire films of the 1980’s. So what is it that makes The Lost Boys so special?
While there were clearly movies about vampires being made while Lost Boys was being made, there were definitely a lot more after. Right after the film’s successful release we had My Best Friend is a Vampire, Fright Night II, A Return to Salem’s Lot, Vampire’s Kiss, Vampire in Venice, Lair of the White Worm and Subspecies all in a span of five years. Something about it just stuck with the masses and even though others had paved the way for it, it became the face of vampirism for its decade.
There was a balance of horror and humor, there were central characters from virtually every age group. Even though it bears an R-rating, there is no nudity or gratuitous gore. It’s very tame. All in all, it really gets the credit because it’s much more commercial than contemporary features of its type.
While this dates it now, it only helped it back when it was first released. Everybody recognized something in it from their own lives, the soundtrack—which really is great—was a major hit in its own right. All of these factors made it a hit, and those people who made it a hit made it something to remember.
One of the more interesting elements of Lost Boys is that it is surprisingly good natured. It almost feels more like an Amblin movie than a horror movie, which could largely be due to Goonies director Richard Donner. He was actually going to direct it before passing the reigns to Joel Schumacher, but his fingerprints can be felt all over the final product.
It’s fun, it’s funny, the kids are great and aren’t written to be dumb or naieve, which is a trap that a lot of child-centric features fall into. They’re the protagonists, they’re the ones who really know what’s going on. It’s the adults—well, all except Grandpa—who are naïve, which is a large part of its success.
This also ties it back into its namesake. Initially, The Lost Boys was going to be much more of an obvious Peter Pan story. The characters were even going to retain their names, with David being named Peter, Star being named Wendy, etc. but all of that changed throughout production.
Still, the idea of immortality, being young forever and the distrust of authority figures are all intact. David acts as a sort of inverted Peter Pan, a rebel that all of the lost boys look up to, offering the chance to stay young and free forever. If anyone, it’s Michael who takes on the Wendy role, given that he is the one seduced by David into becoming a vampire, with David effectively serving as his mentor.
While it may be geared toward the largest possible audience, Lost Boys never forgets that it is first and foremost a vampire movie. There are some incredible FX created by Greg Cannom and John Vulich that have had a huge influence on the look of vampires ever since. Buffy the Vampire Slayer took pretty specific inspiration from The Lost Boys. Creator Joss Whedon gave specific directions for the makeup to look “like The Lost Boys, but bumpier.”
The film’s visuals, style and tone have had an influence on pop culture for over thirty years. It’s still widely recognized where so many others have been forgotten, and that’s definitely not due to its two straight-to-video sequels that have done nothing to help its legacy. It has lasted due to its own strengths and the fact that it simply came along at the right time.
All of these elements went into making The Lost Boys the enormous hit that it was. That’s not to say it was better than the other vampire films released around the same time. In fact, when placed side by side with Fright Night and Near Dark, it may even be the weaker of the three. But there were reasons for its success. It was a major pop hit, in fact in some ways it’s the face of pop horror.
It’s an adrenaline rush, with the major focus simply being on having fun. It didn’t bring vampires back, but it put the audience on their side and introduced a new appeal. The notion of wanting to be a vampire was becoming clearer and clearer here, and in that if nothing else, The Lost Boys set the stage for the modern vampire movie.