Friday, August 21, 2020

Peeping Tom: The Lost Boys (1987)

What is the appeal of The Lost Boys?

That's a question I found myself asking in a rather sarcastic manner as I began my to rewatch Joel Schumacher's famous film for the first time in a good ten years. I had written it off on my original viewing when I was a teenager (ironically when I was a part of the film's target audience), but found that this time, I was feeling what Schumacher was putting down. To the point where my question as to the what the appeal of Lost Boys shifted from sarcastic to genuinely inquisitive. I found myself intrigued with the film's visuals to the point where I gave it the slot formerly occupied by Texas Chain Saw Massacre as this month's entry into my Peeping Tom series. Because I believe part of, if not the, answer to my question lies within the creative decisions made by Schumacher and the film crew. Specifically, with regards to the visual presentation of the film's main story revolving around protagonist Michael (Jason Patric) and the influences that came with making the film during the 1980's.

Welcome to Santa, Santa Carla

To begin unpacking this look into the film's aesthetic, let's start from the beginning: The Lost Boys is ultimately a coming of age story that relies on its audience identifying with Michael. In order to immerse us into Michael and his younger brother/the film's deuteragonist Sam's (Corey Haim) mindsets as they move to Santa Carla, Schumacher includes multiple montages that puts an emphasis on the youths of the town. Showing us repeatedly that the film's intent is to focus on young characters, rather than the elder characters of the cast such as Michael and Sam's mother Lucy (Dianne Wiest).

People are strange in The Lost Boys

By over-stuffing the film with young extras early on, it sets the stage for the focus on the Emerson brothers. In fact, after the second montage of the Emerson brothers at the boardwalk concert, the film kick starts the main plot by giving us our first glimpse at Michael's love interest Star (Jami Gertz). Immediately after this scene is when Michael goes to approach her for the first time.

Michael meets Star

The story continues with Michael approaching Star, who quickly finds that she is spoken for by David (Kiefer Sutherland) and his lackeys: Dwayne (Billy Wirth), Paul (Brooke McCarter) & Marko (Alex Winter). If David and his gang's introduction didn't already cue you in, David's isn't exactly peachy fucking keen with Michael's interest in Star. Basically, if this is a coming of age film and Michael is our hero, David is our bully/cool jerk and his group is the wrong crowd/cool group Michael wants to keep up with and join. This is expressed visually with the motorcycle race between David and Michael, a device that turns Michael's feelings from figurative to literal as he literally can't keep up with David.

Michael's first encounters with David and the titular lost boys

After the race, when the group returns to the abandoned resort that serves as the lost boys's haunt, we have Michael go through David's hazing, which include mind tricks regarding their takeout and making Michael drink blood out of a bottle. Something that, along with a reckless activity involving diving from a bridge, initiates Michael into the group. Something that, as we come to see later, distances himself from his family. Basically, we're at the point where Michael's falling in with the cool crowd is pushing him away from those he cares of.

Michael Emerson: Lost Boy

This is until Michael sees the effects David is having on him: Namely, his becoming a "half"-vampire. Which includes his reflection beginning to fade out and his gaining the ability to hover.

Michael and Sam witnessing the "perks" of being a half-vampire

As an intriguing aside, Schumacher makes a creative decision with regards to flight that cues us in to who the audience's allegiance should be with: When Michael, and later Star, use their flight, they are actually depicted as such on-screen. However, whenever David and the other lost boys use it, they are not actually depicted on-screen as such. The camera is shot through their viewpoints as they fly throughout Santa Carla. While this was most likely done this way for A) budgetary purposes and B) to get some truly gorgeous drone shots, it's also dehumanizing the lost boys, showing them as the villains they are, whereas Michael and Star get humanized, showing we are meant to side with them.

Michael & Star's flight vs. David & the lost boys's flight

After some entertaining antics with Sam freaking out over his brother's transformation, Michael returns to the resort to confront Star where Star insists she can't explain Michael's new status as a new half-vampire. So, instead, they make love in a sequence that is actually pretty well put together. Interestingly in a similar fashion to Michael drinking the blood and becoming a half-vampire. Showing that, like becoming a vampire (or half-vampire specifically), Michael making love to Star for the first time is a transformation into itself, especially within a coming of age story such as this one.

Editing parallels: Michael and Star's first time and Michael's transformation

Of course, Michael eventually learns the truth about himself and the other lost boys, something done in detail with a sequence in which David leads the others in killing and roasting a gang with fire. Something done to express the turning point in which their status as antagonists and monsters that Michael shouldn't (and officially now doesn't) want to be a part of is enforced.

The turning point of The Lost Boys

This is what leads Michael to seeking the help of Sam and the Frog brothers. Together, the four go to the resort during day to take down David and the others, which gives us the fun visual of the lost boys sleeping upside down. Interestingly, Star is also present and is sleeping in a bed normally. While this is probably to stress her also being a half-vampire like Michael, it also further villianizes David and his group further.

How half-vampires sleep against how vampires sleep...

After a failed attempt at killing David that results in our protagonists chased out of the resort (as well as Marko's death), it all leads to a final confrontation between the Emerson brothers and the Frog brothers against David, Dwayne and Paul. This brings the coming of age story to its conclusion as Michael separates from the wrong crowd and realigns with the good crowd. Although it should be noted that his final fight with David is memorable for being...

suggestive, to say the least.

While there is still a resolution involving the head vampire that the group must kill being revealed to be Max, now Lucy's new boyfriend, the main coming of age story is resolved with the death of David. Now that I've presented the plot, I will state that I believe that is a large part of the enduring appeal of The Lost Boys: It has a somewhat simple coming of age plot that is relatable to viewers young and old, but expressed through the lens of horror comedy and vampire metaphors.

In addition to the plot, something else of note in regards to the appeal of The Lost Boys is the emphasis on the fashion of the decade: Besides the obvious Goth/Punk fashion throughout, especially embodied by the titular characters, there is markers of what was popular in the 80's everywhere. The characters of Michael, Sam and Star, especially, are practically defined through their 80's fashion and their big, baroque 80's hairdos.

The 80's fashion and hair of The Lost Boys

In addition to the fashion and hairstyles, another 80's marker is the neon lighting present in some settings, primarily Grandpa's work room, the video and comic stores and the bonfire attack scene. This type of lighting was definitely big in the 80's, as it's present in other 80's horror films. One example of this can be found with the 1986 film Vamp, which also deals with young men becoming entangled with vampires

Lighting parallels: The Lost Boys & Vamp

Also germane is the film's use of color, with its primary color motif being red. There are also, to a lesser extent, several instances of the colors of blue, green and orange. The primary color the film has on its mind, though, is definitely red. While it's an obvious choice in hindsight, due the use of vampires in the film, it really shows up everywhere. Even in the background of certain shots, you can see one or more red objects in the distance. The use of red is to the point where fatal drinking games can be done to this film with the sole rule of "drink every time you see something red."

Red, red, everywhere

All of these aspects of the film's aesthetic come together to create a very evident product of The Lost Boys's time (1980's/1987). With the increase of nostalgia for the 80's, it's no wonder that the film's inherent 80's-ness is helping the film endure the test of time. It can be seen that a combination of the film's visual expression of plot, as well as the enormous influences of the film's setting in terms of both location and time period, are large reasons that help explain how The Lost Boys remains beloved to this day.

The city of Santa Cru-....Santa Carla bids you farewell.

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