Thursday, October 15, 2009

Horror Fest '09: The Lost Boys

The Lost Boys combines the horrific and the comedic in a way that only the 1980’s could produce. Director Joel Schumacher effectively updates the style and demeanor of vampires to fit the era. In fact, the film instantly becomes defined by the time in which it was made – from the clothing and hairstyles to the punk-influenced attitude. Although perhaps the style inadvertently sticks out for today’s audiences, The Lost Boys fortunately has more going for it than a bunch of hair gel.

Our story begins as divorced mother Lucy and her two sons, Michael and Sam, move to the small town of Santa Carla to get a fresh start. Little do they know that strange disappearances and killings regularly occur in the city, prompting some to dub Santa Carla the “Murder Capital of the World.” Despite such a dubious label, Michael and Sam quickly familiarize themselves with the area, hanging out on the boardwalk where many young people gather. Unfortunately some shady characters also explore the area with great interest. When Michael, the oldest boy, locks eyes with a girl named Star, trouble soon follows. As it turns out, Star associates with the shady bunch who patrol the boardwalk, headed by David (Kiefer Sutherland). Soon enough, Michael unwisely attempts to fit in with these new acquaintances, leading to a truly bizarre night that he can’t quite remember. Sam soon begins noticing unnatural changes to his brother (sensitivity to light, floating in mid-air, a thirst for blood, etc.) and the remainder of the film essentially focuses on getting Michael back to normal. Along the way, the film throws in plenty of jokes to balance out the horror aspects, as well as a few twists and turns dealing with vampire mythology.

While the story contains some interesting ideas, some aspects come across as clunky. The romance between Michael and Star, for example, barely develops and yet it becomes the catalyst responsible for launching the story forward. With the main thrust of the story lacking an adequate amount of depth, the overall stakes of the film aren’t as high as they could have been. The villains aren’t especially well-developed either, coming across as interchangeable and underdeveloped (except for Sutherland). Often times in horror films, a lack of knowledge of the monsters will benefit the effectiveness of the story. But with vampires, one of the few monsters who spend a significant amount of time mingling and associating with the living, I think a tad more character development is in order. These flaws by no means derail the film, though. In fact, The Lost Boys succeeds on several levels.

The film works most effectively in its tone. From the opening shot we get a strong sense of foreboding as an image of a nighttime boardwalk accompanied by an eerie song fills us with unease. Joel Schumacher and crew create a real sense of place that adds to the creep-factor. From empty parking lots to abandoned caves, the set-ups for scares put you in the scene. But, at the same time, the film switches smoothly between its creepy set-ups to humorous one-liners. The fact that it maintains this shifting tone throughout becomes the most impressive feature of the film.

The cast proves serviceable given the material. Kiefer Sutherland gives an effectively creepy performance as David, the lead vampire. Between this film and his bit in Phonebooth, I’m convinced this guy should play more villains. Jason Patrick probably has the most challenging role, switching from typical teenager to a psychologically tortured half-vampire, a change that he captures with skill. Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander provide the film with a majority of its comedic relief as two comic book store employees who know a thing or two about dealing with vampires. It just goes to show that a vast knowledge of comics could potentially save your life; a comforting thought for all those collectors out there, I’m sure. Perhaps the unsung heroes of the cast would include performances by adult actors Dianne Wiest and Edward Herrmann as they provide a sense of balance against the adolescent performers.

All in all, I’d say The Lost Boys represents a solid entry in the sub-genre of vampire flicks. While the climax builds up to a pretty paint-by-numbers ending, there’s plenty of fun along the way. It’s already become one of those time-capsule films that couldn’t really be made anymore, at least not in the same spirit. For better or worse, they just don’t make them like this anymore.

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