The Lost Boys turns 30 years old this weekend, July 28th, 2017, and the movie has not aged well. While it’s not quite the embarrassment that was the Twilight movies, The Lost Boys is bad in its own unique ways. While nostalgia might cloud fans of the Coreys’ first team up (Haim and Feldman for those aren’t fans of Tiger Beat circa 1987) the reality of The Lost Boys is that director Joel Schumacher is an epically bad filmmaker and teamed with a cast of not ready for primetime teenagers, and a minimal budget, Schumacher’s modest talents are entirely overwhelmed.
The story of The Lost Boys began life as a kid’s adventure movie surrounding the bizarre idea of Peter Pan as a vampire, explaining why he was always a teenager, and attempting to lure Michael, eventually played by non-child Jason Patrick, and his brother Sam (Corey Haim) to become one of his "Lost Boys" hence the title that seems confusing minus the Peter Pan story. The Peter Pan aspect was ditched when director Richard Donner bolted from the project for the chance to direct Lethal Weapon. (Why did they keep the name? It means nothing without… oh never mind.)
In the story, as it plays out in the finished film, Michael and Sam have moved to Santa Carla from Phoenix after their mother, played by Dianne Wiest, divorced her husband and lost her job. They are going to live with their eccentric grandfather, played by the perfectly cast Barnard Hughes, who specialized in playing oddball grandpas. Hughes is one of the many extraneous idiocies of The Lost Boys as his character is little more than a series of creepy, supposedly endearing, quirks that have nothing to do with the plot.
Santa Carla, standing in for Santa Clara, California, a city which preferred not to be associated with the teen vampire movie for some reason, happens to be the supposed "Murder Capital of California." People, especially children, have been going missing at a rate that probably should alarm authorities but not a single police officer is glimpsed as the film goes on to introduce our vampire antagonists led by David (Kiefer Sutherland) who sets about recruiting Michael to his vamp gang, using the comely Star (Jamie Gertz) as bait.
Eventually, Michael drinks blood and is a half vampire? I think? He can’t see his reflection in a mirror afterward but he’s still able to go outside in daylight? He never gets bitten on the neck in the classic vampire tradition but the film is quite silly and vague about the nature of vampires in general. At one point Michael drinks milk and immediately gets sick because apparently being a half vampire makes you lactose intolerant(?). Later, after being bitten by a dog Michael finds he has super healing powers because vampires just have that? Or half-vamps, again Michael’s vampire status is unclear throughout.
Kiefer Sutherland does his best to make David menacing but in one of his first big roles, Sutherland can’t compete with the silly direction of Joel Schumacher who undercuts any cool David might have by dressing his vampires like a Twisted Sister cover band and giving them vague powers like flight and super strength and mind control that come and go as the plot needs them. These are vampires with the strength to rip pieces off of cars while flying but they can’t maintain a grip on a 90 pound Corey Haim as he is scurrying from their cave into the sunlight which they can’t go into but somehow Michael can(?).
The only characters who seem perfectly at home amid this silly plot are The Frog Brothers, Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander), each of whom would carry on the franchise in sequels even worse than the original. In the original, however, The Frog Brothers are a pair of teenage comic book fans who are fully aware of the vampire problem in their town and are building an arsenal for a major showdown. Feldman and Newlander’s deathly seriousness is backed with a surprisingly skillful bit of knowing humor and thus they come off as the only characters who get the silly fun at play here.
Too bad Feldman and Newlander couldn’t explain to director Joel Schumacher what kind of movie he was making. While they appear to be playing from the original, childlike, Peter Pan conception of the plot, Schumacher thinks he’s making an R-rated horror movie for the high school crowd. Unfortunately, he seems to know nothing of the tone, mood or skill that goes into horror and hasn’t updated the script enough from the kids’ adventure movie to match the horror idea he thinks he is directing.
The film is further hindered by bizarre editing and a terrible music score that aims more at creating a hit soundtrack than aiding the already stumbling tone of the movie. The goofy soundtrack of desperate pop songs and jump scare guitar licks threatens to turn The Lost Boys into a so-bad-its-good camp classic. Sadly, Joel Schumacher fails even at making a bad movie bad enough to be fun. The movie may lack skilled editing and post-production polish but it’s also far too competent for true camp.
The only hints at the camp potential of The Lost Boys come from poor Corey Haim who is saddled with a dim bulb character and costumed like a clown minus the makeup. The costume designer must have really hated Haim to have placed him in such hideous costumes that even the most 80s of 80s fans would wince at but they weren’t the only people messing with the preteen star. The set decorator on The Lost Boys apparently thought it would be funny to have posters on his bedroom wall for the movie Reform School Girls and a sexy poster of Rob Lowe on his closet door, right in front of his bed. You can imply what you wish from that poster but given it was 1987 it feels like an old-school form of trolling.
Haim would go on to make License to Drive and prove, at the very least, he could make a convincing teenage leading man. The Lost Boys sadly is an embarrassment for the young actor who comes off like a whiny weeny under the direction of Schumacher. Haim likely would have been more at home in the original conception of The Lost Boys rather than Schumacher’s abomination of a teen-targeting horror movie.
The only person who escapes with dignity is Jason Patric as Michael. Throughout the movie Patric is so lazy and bored, it plays like an actor’s idea of sticking it to a director. I can’t speak to Patric’s motivations but he comes off on screen as supremely uninterested in some scenes and goofily intense in others, like an actor who hopes if he overplays the scene enough or looks disinterested enough maybe he can get fired. No such luck, Jason, this one is on your resume for good.
Boiling the problems of The Lost Boys down to their essence they are twofold, bad direction and the bizarre choice to switch a fun-sounding premise to a more mundane and predictable premise. The Peter Pan as a vampire story sounds kind of cool. The movie that Richard Donner conceived sounds like the kind of movie I want to see. Imagine a charming Peter Pan vampire trying to recruit other kids to his lost boys coming up against the funny Frog Brothers characters, battling over the soul of Haim’s skinny goof. That could have been a minor 80s classic.
As it is, The Lost Boys is an embarrassing relic that only the most misguided nostalgia could defend. As Joel Schumacher has gone on to make one poorly reviewed mess after another, minus a bizarre pair of good movies in Tigerland and Phone Booth, it should come as little surprise that The Lost Boys is as rotten as it is. Something in my memory, however, had tried to fool me into memories of the movie being not terrible.
I don’t know if it was a respect for the taste of my brilliant sister who loved the movie, and Corey Haim, for years or my own enjoyment of classic vampire movies, but I’d tried to remember The Lost Boys as a good movie. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, never underestimate its power to convince you something you enjoyed as a child will still be great as an adult, it deeply increases your disappointment.