The Lost Boys paired vampire camp with real teenage fears

The lost boys‘ poster made the prospect of becoming an undead creature of the night quite appealing: ‘Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” But the film’s story is full of teen horrors: an older sibling in the grips of addiction, divorced parents, starting over in a strange new place, and struggling with adults who won’t listen to your real, valid teenage problems.

Released in 1987, The lost boys isn’t particularly scary as a horror film. With its gaudily dressed vampires and long-flowing mullets – plus its iconic, extremely sweaty saxophone man – it reads more camp than outright horror, thirty years later. And despite its R-rating, it’s pretty tame. The odd sex scene is quite chaste and the film’s gore is limited to rivers of blood from dying vampires.

The lost boys succeeds as an enduring piece of vampire fiction because of its stars, with Kiefer Sutherland standing out as vampire gang leader David, and the strong bones of the story. In that story, recently divorced single mother Lucy (Dianne Wiest) moves to the fictional Southern California city of Santa Carla, “the murder capital of the world,” the film tells us, along with her teenage sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam. (Corey Haim). The displaced family moves in with Lucy’s father, an eccentric taxidermist known only as Grandpa.

Image: Warner Bros./Everett Collection

As they settle into the town, which seems to consist mainly of a busy beach promenade, Lucy gets a job (and a potential boyfriend) at a video store, while Michael and Sam look for new friends – Michael’s comes in the form of a group of young vampires, while Sam bonds with comic book store nerds Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan Frog (Jamison Newlander). When Michael falls in love with Star (Jami Gertz), a seductive wannabe vampire and apparent partner of David, peer pressure forces him to become a vampire himself.

Across Michael’s path, Sam ends up with the Frog brothers, who warn the new kid in town that Santa Carla’s whole murder-capital-of-the-world problem stems from a nest of vampires. The lost boys doesn’t shy away from established vampire fiction with the Frog brothers; they use horror comic books as a field manual to identify and kill vampires. (Refreshingly, unlike far too many modern zombie genre stories, which refuse to use the word “zombie” at all, vampire fiction isn’t afraid to call its monsters what they are.)

While Michael’s story of being enchanted by both Star and David is central to the film’s narrative, The lost boys is also Sam’s story of how his brother fell into a metaphorical addiction during the “just say no” era of the Reagan administration’s war on drugs. It’s also a story set in an era of sky-high divorce rates; The lost boys plays masterfully on the fear of seeing your parents split up and the inevitable replacement father figure entering the picture.

Brooke McCarter, Kiefer Sutherland, Billy Wirth and Alex Winter in The Lost Boys

Photo: Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Sutherland and Patric hold on The lost boys together as rivals seemingly competing for Star. As David, Sutherland channels Billy Idol as a prickly trickster, causing Michael to hallucinate that he is eating worms and maggots – while in reality he is eating Chinese take-out – before David gives him a taste of real vampire blood. As Michael, Patric plays it both cool and disgruntled, but also sincere in his love for Star and terrified of his new vampire powers. There are strong set pieces involving the two male leads, including a moment where David and his vampire gang convince Michael to hang out under a moving train, forcing Michael to let go and embrace his ability to fly. It is the film’s strongest allusion to its inspiration, that of JM Barrie Peter Pan.

Despite strong performances and great character turns, The lost boys rushes to its end in clumsy and unsatisfying ways. Dianne Wiest’s Lucy doesn’t have enough to do outside of reacting to the men in the film, and Grandpa seems to have a lot more going on than the film shows. The 98-minute running time needed a little more time to breathe.

But The lost boysjust like children’s hero films from the 80s ET the extraterrestrial And The Goonies, is about his young people. As an often campy time capsule of ’80s hope and fear, it will never get old.

The lost boys currently streaming on Max.