The Campy, Creepy Appeal of 'The Lost Boys'

We look back on Joel Schumacher's 80s cult classic, 30 years after it was made.
August 3, 2017, 1:21pm

Joel Schumacher's 1987 film The Lost Boys is now known for being leather-clad, violent, youthful, and kind of sexy, but it was very nearly none of that. When the film was first conceived, The Goonies—also starring Corey Feldman—had come out two years prior and had been a huge success. Goonies director Richard Donner was originally attached to The Lost Boys. The film was intended to be a "Goonies-style adventure aimed at children," which was inspired by the idea of Peter Pan as a vampire. That was until writer Jeffrey Boam of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade got onboard and took The Lost Boys from a PG film to the violent vampire-fest it ended up becoming. Despite that the film still hasn't escaped Goonies comparisons—partly because of Feldman's presence, but mostly for its silly, energetic vibe.


This past July marked 30 years since the release of The Lost Boys, and in that time the film's cult appeal hasn't waned. The film is screened at LGBTQ film festivals and maintains a strong gay fan base both because of the film's homoerotic and campy overtones and because Schumacher himself is gay. The Santa Cruz boardwalk—where the film was shot—is currently celebrating the film's anniversary.

The 1987 film, which stars Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Corey Haim, and Corey Feldman, opens with a long shot of a boardwalk soundtracked by "Cry Little Sister" by Gerard McMahon. A group of vampires, rampant in Santa Carla, get into a fight that a police officer breaks up. The same officer is killed later that night.

From there, the plot follows two boys who are forced to move to Santa Carla with their mother—the eldest of the brothers, Michael (Jason Patric), starts hanging out with a gang of vampires. The youngest, Sam (Corey Haim), meets vampire hunters, and when Michael is turned into a half-vampire, they work on turning him back. The film was well received on its first release. However, it's rampant cult following has kept it alive for the last three decades. What is it about The Lost Boys that still appeals to new generations of fans? Here are some things you might miss your first time watching the film.

While having its obvious Peter Pan roots, the title itself reflects the darker aspects of the story and the speculation that author J.M. Barrie was himself a pedophile. Early in the film, we see boards covered in "missing child" posters. Viewers know that vampires are eating victims, of course, but the majority of missing people are children and teens. We also see a triangle with a spiral symbol on the board, a "symbol" the FBI uses to identify pedophile rings. In 1987, this was a fun thing to note that gave the film a little depth, but in 2017, armed with new knowledge, it takes on a new significance. Corey Feldman recently revealed that he and Haim were the victims of sexual abuse in Hollywood as children, which allegedly contributed to Haim's addiction issues and ultimate death.


Santa Cruz now proudly boasts about its relationship to The Lost Boys, but it was once reticent to allow them to film there. The film is set in "Santa Carla" and includes shots of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the Pogonip open-space preserve, and the mountains. Producers wanted to film in Santa Cruz because of its known reputation as the "Murder Capital of the World" due to three serial killers—Kemper, Carpenter, and Mullin—having hunted victims there. Eager to distance the city from this reputation, the council refused to grant filming permits unless the producers changed the name of the city.

The Lost Boys' nods to occultism gave it the depth to elevate it beyond the fun, schlocky, horror comedy that it is. Schumacher, who is familiar with occult symbolism and numerology, sprinkled this knowledge throughout the film to again appeal to those in the know. He plants hints of Native American and Egyptian symbolism throughout, as well as vampire folklore. We see the all-seeing eye and the ankh symbols in the comic-book store. There also are references to human sacrifice, as Michael is intended to be Star's first "kill," in order to turn her into a full-fledged vampire.

The rockstar-esque leather jacket style of The Lost Boys has its roots in 80s fashion. The film also falls perfectly in line with the idea of vampire sexuality, which has trickled all the way through to shows like True Blood. Sex is not only central to the film's plot, as Michael must have ritual sex with Star but central to vampire folklore in general. Vampires are seductive, sexy, and must draw victims in somehow—they couldn't do that if they were ugly. But it's not a normal, conventional sexiness—and so, Lost Boys vampires are alternative, dressed similarly to the subcultures of the late 80s, with bleached blond hair and eyeliner-rimmed eyes.

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