Newly divorced mom Lucy Emerson (Dianne Wiest) and her two sons, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), arrive at her dad’s (Barnard Hughes) California ranch to start a new life. Surprises start here. Michael falls for a mysterious young woman (Jami Gertz), who runs with a gang of vampires, led by the sexy and scary David (Kiefer Sutherland). Soon, Michael’s but a fresh kill away from bloodsucking for eternity, and Sam decides he must save him, with help from a couple of weird Commando-style vampire hunters, Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Allan (Jamison Newlander) Frog.
For the most part, the movie is goofy fun, and, to listen to director Joel Schumacher in The Lost Boys: A Retrospective, one of the four mini-documentaries on the newly released two-disc special edition DVD, that’s all he thought it was. But, while Schumacher recalls he wanted to mix comedy, horror, and teen romance to make a “hip” vampire movie, his film is also littered with zany but distractingly jokey dialogue.
This letdown is gradually revealed as the film cuts between the antics of Sam and the Frogs with Michael’s struggles with David and his gang. Patric, Sutherland, and Gertz are aptly intense; whenever they’re onscreen, the drama and tension are extremely high. Juxtapose this with Sam and the Frogs cracking wise and it becomes confusing as to what the film might be called: a funny horror movie or a scary comedy?
The trouble is that the line between horror and comedy is too clear, and needs to be blurred. In other mixed-genre flicks of the era, like An American Werewolf in London, Re-Animator, Fright Night, campy silliness abounds. Producer Richard Donner says that Lost Boys‘ comedy comes from its being “larger than life” rather than “straight”, but he’s really only talking about Sam’s story. Michael’s is neither funny nor large. The gulf between them is underlined when each vampire’s horrible death scene is jarringly topped off with a gag. And while Schumacher remembers convincing the skeptical heads of Warner Bros. that horror and comedy could combine successfully (as if he was the first to do so), the trailer (included on the DVD, along with four featurettes, an effects documentary, a cheesy look at the how Coreys Haim and Feldman came to be a teen Bing and Bob, 18 deleted scenes, and a Lou Gramm video) shows none of the mix, only a dark, scary horror film.
Several scenes also show Sam pants-crappingly terrified of David, who leads his crew in a series of brutal acts. They scalp a gang of partygoers, kill a couple in their car and a security guard on the boardwalk, and drink lots of blood. How, then, does Sam have the presence of mind to utter, “Death by stereo!” (the film’s most famous zinger) after seeing Lost Boy Dwayne (Billy Wirth) staked to a hi-fi system and fried? Such cartoonish one-liners (“The attack of Eddie Munster,” “Great, the bloodsucking Brady Bunch!” and “First come, first staked!”) undermine otherwise dire situations.
Humor in horror films (as opposed to horror in comedies, like Ghostbusters or this year’s Shaun of the Dead) works as tension release. In The Lost Boys, tension is never relieved, just dissipated. When Michael suddenly finds himself levitating, he’s outside, floating in the air, banging on a window to signal Sam to help him. Michael’s alarm and anxiety are clear, yet Sam offers a Flying Nun joke. The line is out of place, dulling Michael’s anguish and jolting the audience again.
In the end, the comedy just takes over (along with terrible plot contrivances — is David just sitting around while his gang members are wasted? If Grandpa is planning his attack through the whole film, why choose only the very last moment to save his family?) and the moodiness fades away. One wonders why Schumacher and Donner ever really bothered giving the film its serious edge.
Still, it’s easy to feel nostalgic about The Lost Boys, as it kick-started the careers of Schumacher and Sutherland, and was the first screen pairing of those pop misfits, the Coreys. On the commentary track, Schumacher reflects with great earnestness about the film’s Santa Cruz location, cool costumes, and pretty young performers. He’s obviously overjoyed with the film’s legacy and is grateful for paving the way for his successes as a writer and a director. Schumacher, as he did on the St Elmo’s Fire DVD, talks respectfully about his actors, evincing a remarkable memory for the smallest details about all of them, from Haim’s Canadian heritage to the former jobs of bit-part players Wirth, Brooke McCarter (the “Twisted Sister” vampire), and Chance Michael Corbitt (Star’s young charge, Laddie). It’s no wonder the actors interviewed for the DVD gush about him the way they do.
And his film, even 17 years on, still looks good. While he may not have made a perfectly genre-breaking, horror-comedy mix, he got the “hip” part right. And that counts for something.