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There’s an old truism about vampire and zombie films. Zombie films (in the classic Romero style) are about a fear of the mob. The shuffling mass of humanity that could overwhelm and destroy you in an instant if things turned bad. On the other hand, vampire films are about a fear of the elite. The privileged few, untouched by the cares of the world, but reliant on the lower orders for sustenance. That’s why in the zombie wish fulfillment fantasy you fight the monsters, but in the vampire wish fulfillment fantasy you become the monster. It’s fun to be a vampire.
The Lost Boys embraces this stereotype, but redefines it for the modern age. Rather than the pale nobles of films gone by, David (Kiefer Sutherland) and his brethren are the unspoken aristocracy of the boardwalk – the effortlessly cool young men who glide through the brightly lit nights without a care. They’re introduced to us in the first part of the opening in memorable fashion like wolves on the prowl, spoiling for a fight. And the unfortunate security guard who crosses them naturally soon meets a (for the moment) mysterious end.
It’s after this that we’re introduced to the protagonists of the film, the Emerson family. Divorcee Lucy (Dianne West) and her two teenage sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) are moving from Phoenix to Santa Clara in California to stay with her father after a messy divorce. Sam is deeply unimpressed by his grandfather’s creepy old house, and is even less impressed when his brother becomes fascinated by a girl he spots at a concert. Her name is Star (Jami Gertz) and she turns out to be another member of David’s gang. Through her Michael gets drawn into their circle, and manages to impress them enough that David decides to make him “one of the family”. Michael soon finds himself drawn into their camaraderie, though he has no idea what he’s really getting himself into when he drinks from a bottle of what Star warns him is blood…
Now you know what we are, now you know what you are. You’ll never grow old, Michael, and you’ll never die. But you must feed!
Leather-clad outsiders and tainted fluids at the height of the AIDS epidemic? It’s not difficult to see what references are being made. Director Joel Schumacher was known at the time for alluding to LGBT culture in his films (he himself being gay), though in the cultural climate of the time these were usually pretty covert. Yet despite Michael’s story being an allegory for the classic homosexual narrative of the time, it’s his younger brother Sam who is the one clearly coded as gay to modern eyes. This is indicated by his flamboyant yet stylish outfits, the beefcake poster on his wall, and of course him singing along to Clarence “Frogman” Harvey’s Ain’t Got No Home in the bath.  Throughout the film, Sam derides his brother’s interest in “girls”, while one of the pivotal moments early in the film comes when Sam and Michael attend a concert on the waterfront. The frontman for the band is a muscular oiled saxophonist, who holds Sam’s interest but not Michael’s. And it’s while he’s distracted and looking through the crowd that he spots Star for the first time.
You’re a vampire Michael! My own brother, a goddamn, shit-sucking vampire. You wait ’till mom finds out, buddy!
Despite their conflicts, though, it’s the relationship between the Emerson brothers that sits at the heart of a film that’s more about family than anything else. The first scene (after we’re introduced to David and his family) is of the three Emersons on their road trip, with Lucy flicking through the radio stations and good-naturedly joshing with her sons about the songs. Lucy’s arc in the film is all about family, too – trying to keep her family together in the face of change, and dealing with their more and more erratic behaviour. The Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) offer a glimpse of a much more dysfunctional family – parents glimpsed slumped immobile in the back of their shop with the two boys left to try and run the family business on their own. Of course, family turns out to be the villain’s chief motivation, and it’s family that foils him in the end.
For many of its stars, unfortunately, The Lost Boys was the peak of their career. Drug addiction and family conflicts saw its two big child stars (the “Two Coreys”) never make the leap to successful adult acting (though Corey Feldman has worked steadily since then and remains a cult figure.) Jason Patric seemed like the next big thing for a while, but never had the breakthrough hit he’d have needed to push him to the next level. For a long time it seemed that Kiefer Sutherland was in the same boat – until the success of 24 made him a top name. As for the director, Joel Schumacher, his reputation took a major hit from his two Batman films in the mid-90s, especially critical and commercial failure Batman and Robin. He’d go on to make several well-respected films, but would never quite reach the same level of fame he had in the 80s ever again.
The only real winner from the success of The Lost Boys was the vampire itself. The film revitalised the moribund genre and along with Near Dark it made the vampire a thoroughly modern threat. The RPG Vampire the Masquerade, released in 1991, rode on the coattails of the VHS release of The Lost Boys to cult success. In a more direct influence, the “vamp face” concept from the film was directly copied for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while the character of Spike clearly owes a huge debt to Keifer Sutherland’s David. Through VtM and Buffy, The Lost Boys would shape an entire generation’s conception of what a vampire was – effortlessly cool, dark and dangerous. It’s fun to be a vampire.
 John Waters, another of the great film directors of the 1980s, has said that he first realised he was gay while listening to Ain’t Got No Home.