Author's Note: When three friends of mine sought to open a pop-up drive-in theater one October, they asked me to write about one of the films they were screening. I chose an immortal classic, The Lost Boys.
My Path of Nonviolence to The Lost Boys
by Jake Kilroy
I first heard about The Lost Boys from my dad.
I was stumbling out of junior high with a heart on my sleeve and a hard-on for film noir at the time, so vampires weren’t even on my radar. But, my father, the man I had a year-long argument with about the violence in Quentin Tarantino films, told me, to my very great surprise, that The Lost Boys was “awesome.”
This is the man who wouldn’t let me see Jurassic Park in the theaters, by the way.
Now, my father wasn’t a square by any means. He surfed, owned a VW bus and went to Sex Pistols’ shows in the ‘70s, and then raised me and my siblings in the ‘80s. He just didn’t like violence in film. Or at least he didn’t like modern or gruesome violence in film. I mean, as a kid of the ‘50s and ‘60s, he was practically raised on war and cowboy movies.
So my father never rented me Tombstone or let me see Scream in the ‘90s like the other dads in the neighborhood. Instead, he rented How Green Is My Valley and The African Queen. It affected me greatly, because then, when I finally started making my own movie-viewing choices as a teenager, contemporary violence was way too intimidating for me.
At my friend David’s sleepover in sixth grade, we had his mother-approved option to watch Species, which had violence and boobs (the joyous sixth-grade equivalent of free alcohol and a surprisingly high tax return for a twenty-something). But because I was raised on annual viewings of The Quiet Man and It’s A Wonderful Life, the very idea of watching an (albeit, wildly hot) alien chick savagely kill like a maniac was too much for me. I told the mother in charge of us young idiots that my mom wouldn’t be all that happy if we watched Species, which was entirely untrue.
So we watched Jury Duty instead.
I know, I know, but whatever the fuck ever. It was 1996 and Pauly Shore was hilarious at the time.
Anyway, when I was picked up in the morning, I stood next to my mother, saying goodbye to David and his mom. Then, my great fear realized, David’s mom told mine not to worry, she didn’t let us watch Species. My very confused mother replied, “Oh, I told Jake it was up to him.”
And, I swear, to this day, that look from David haunts me. That dude was fucking pissed. I don’t remember if he said anything. I must have blacked out from sweating. But I’ll remember those angry pre-pubescent eyes for the rest of my days.
But that was how I was raised. I was raised to be freaked out. I was raised to be unfamiliar to the brutality and the lust for gore. Murder (human, monster, or hybrid) as a means of cinematic fulfillment was extremely surreal to my very pale and lanky existence as a kid. But I came to understand it in junior high. I didn’t exactly embrace it, but I at least heard it out. I watched movies as a young teenager that I knew would scare the goddamn daylights out of me (and, to be honest, Silence of the Lambs might do that forever).
By the time I started high school, my dad began to hand me the reins to my life and started renting classic violent movies he secretly loved, but didn’t want his kids to see too young: the Alien series, the Terminator series, etc. I realized he had been the way he was with me because I was the oldest child, and he legitimately wasn’t sure if I’d turn out to be a sociopath.
Still, vampire flicks never really became my thing. And it wasn’t the violence. I just didn’t see the fervent appeal of vampires, even as I watched more of my peers turn all goth and spooky. I never got into From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, I’ve still never seen Interview With A Vampire, and the only thing I remember about 1992’s Dracula is that Gary Oldman dressed sick as hell.
I suppose I was always more of an Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein kind of guy. I liked my vampires slow and spacy. Maybe it comforted me to know that I could outrun Nosferatu as an eighth grader. However, a decade later, I got wildly stoned and watched Nosferatu again. This time, the slow and spacy quality of that tall drink of water scared the shit out of me. Sure, it was partially the drugs, but...ok, let’s be honest here. It was almost entirely the drugs.
Anyway, when I finally saw The Lost Boys, I dug it. I dug it a whole lot actually. It was the first modern vampire movie that I really got into. It was just...cool. As a fun all-around grab-bag of cinema, The Lost Boys had old-school suspense by not showing anything early on and it offered up that peculiar Hollywood hoodrat dreamy interpretation of surf culture, all while making jokes as townspeople were being killed off.
The cult classic follows two brothers and their mother, and it takes place in Santa Carla, a fictional sprawling coastal town in California with “murder capital of the world” spraypainted on the back of the city’s welcome sign. Guess what? The town’s got a vampire problem and only a few people know it. Enter several issues with living a normal life for the summer.
And everyone’s rad in the movie, even sweet mama Dianne Wiest. Also, almost every single thing Jason Patric does is smooth and nearly everything Kiefer Sutherland does is pretty goddamn cool. At some point, Alex Winter hands Sutherland a box of take-out, and he just mumbles, “Chinese. Nice choice.” And even that seems cool, since, you know, you have this gigantic hunch that he’s the leader of a pretty sweet local vampire gang. What the fuck does he care about Chinese food? Later, when heavy shit starts going down, he doesn’t drop some harrowingly condescending line like, “Stupid mortal.” No, Sutherland, in all of his leather hipster glory, yells, “You’re dead meat!”
The movie dashes between comedic and eerie pretty frequently. It never fully leaves the realm of simultaneous light and dark. I mean, there’s the scene with the little dudes filling up canteens with holy water and everyone in the church is just staring at them. And then there’s that one shot I remember well, and maybe I always will. It only lasts for a few seconds. As some weird misfit jock surfer bro gang (who appear in too many ‘80s movies, by the way) are hosting their own personal Burning Man on the beach, just raging their arrogant balls off, the vampires loom, watching them from a tree with the night behind them and the fire before them. It’s an intense (and strangely artistic) shot.
But why does it make sense? Because anything goes in The Lost Boys. It has the snarky but childish hero little brother. It has the earnest single mother. It has some hot babe named Star. Plus, it has motorcycles, roller coasters and Corey Feldman doing an entire movie in the tough guy voice. It all works. It’s campy, violent, silly, wild, spooky, cool, weird, suspenseful and just straight up rad.
Last week, I told my dad about the Dead Ringers Drive-In and that he had the chance to see The Lost Boys on the big, big screen, and he seemed uneasy.
“Lost Boys freaked me out,” he told me. “It was so well done.”
“But you dug it, yeah?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “It had style.”
I guess that was what all those other vampire movies were missing. Style.