Joel Schumacher‘s teen vampire horror comedy The lost boys opened the door for Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True blood, smashes Hollywood’s tired Transylvanian tropes with a biker dirt. But first the production had to overcome a change of director, a change of direction, casting problems, budget problems and Kiefer Sutherland‘s haircut.
Premiere on 31 July 1987, The lost boys found brothers Michael and Sam Emerson (portrayed by Jason Patric and Corey Haim) moving to a new fictional hometown of Santa Carla, California. They start hanging out with a group of criminals who are quickly revealed to be sexy night crawling vampires, led by Sutherland’s David. Sam teams up with Edgar and Alan Frog (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), wannabe vampire hunters, in an attempt to save Michael from his dark destiny.
If the underlying theme of male bonding while resisting the notion of growing up sounds familiar, that’s because The lost boys grew out of an earlier screenplay idea based on JM Barries Peter Pan. The main characters should have been “Tumbling-type 5.-6. class of child vampires,” according to the DVD commentary for the film. Sutherland’s character was even supposed to be named Peter.
“I had read Anne Rice’s Interview with the vampire,” first-time screenwriter James Jeremias later told me empire“and in it there was a 200-year-old vampire trapped in the body of a 12-year-old girl. Since Peter Pan had been one of my all-time favorite stories, I thought, ‘What if the reason for Peter Pan came out at night and never grew up to be able to fly because he was a vampire?”
The concept was shelved when the original director Richard Donner left to focus on Deadly weapon, although Donner retained an executive producer credit on the film. “What he wanted to do was completely different, which was kind of a cute, G-rated movie aimed at young kids,” Schumacher said. Venice magazine in 1999. “There were no wild teenagers on motorcycles.”
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With Schumacher at the helm, The lost boys was turned into a vampire story for a new generation, sprinkled with fresh young peoplemoan-y jokes and MTV ready songs. When confused studio executives asked Schumacher if he was making a horror or a comedy, he simply said “Yes.”
Alex Winter, who played Marko in the film, initially said “it was impossible to see it working. Let’s take all these standard rules of vampire history and push them through almost like a big, flashy ’80s sex comedy—or sex drama, does not?” he said in the 2019 documentary In search of darkness. “And I thought, ‘It’s not going to work out.'” Patric didn’t get it either and kept resisting Schumacher’s overtures. In the 2004 documentary The Lost Boys: A RetrospectiveSchumacher says he met with Patric every day for six weeks before the actor finally came on board.
Schumacher was on his way out of the frame St. Elmo’s fire, so he got some freedom. “We really didn’t know what we were doing back then!” He told Venice, with a laugh. “We made it up as we went along. The studio was incredibly patient and supportive, considering they’d never heard of Kiefer Sutherland or Jason Patric or Jamie Gertz or Corey Haim. It was another big chance taken by a studio. We was very very lucky.”
Things occasionally became markedly improvisational. “We all just opened up to the experience, we embraced it – which is the only way to make a movie,” Schumacher shared empire. “Do not hold back.”
Sutherland’s distinctive appearance, for example, was shaped by both chance and fate.
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“It’s actually a funny story. Joel Schumacher wanted me to have long hair, and I had long hair at the time, and then he wanted it white, a timeless kind of thousand-year-old look,” Sutherland shared. Yahoo in 2018. “So I dyed it white and my hair was like normal long, like long everywhere—and I just looked like a wrestler! I hated it and I was just like, ‘This is terrible.'”
With inspiration from the modern pop-punk star Billy Idol, Sutherland decided to cut the top of her hair — but left the rest long. “So I actually think I might have been responsible, or at least partially responsible, for creating the mullet — and for that,” Sutherland added, “I will apologize to the death.”
His signature gloves, on the other hand, were worn to cover up a cast. Sutherland appeared on the beach after the first night’s shooting when he lost control of a dirt bike and broke his left wrist.
Money problems had an impact as Warner Bros. took back $2 million just before filming began. This is how a piece of unused B rolls off Top Gun ended in The lost boys, providing a point-of-view shot as a vampire zooms overhead that Schumacher could not afford to shoot. He also had to agree to direct another music video INXS to have their participation in the soundtrack. (Schumacher cut to “Devil Inside“arrived the following year.)
“There was a bit of a shame factor at Warner Bros.,” Schumacher said empire. “People in marketing would say, ‘Well, it’s not really a vampire movie, Joel. It really is an alienation film; it’s about the outcasts.’ And I said, ‘No. We’re definitely making a teenage vampire movie. Our job is to make the coolest vampire movie ever made.'”
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The results didn’t quite live up to Schumacher’s stated goals, if for no other reason than the film’s ridiculously unlikely ending. however, The lost boys may be the coolest vampire movie made to that point.
“It’s quite a stylish, slightly comic film – and Joel Schumacher’s most heartfelt film,” Oscar-nominated cinematographer Michael Chapman argued later.
However, his film’s legacy will always be wrapped up in what happened next. The lost boys was profitable, earning $32 million on an $8.5 million budget, but it was not enough to enter the top 30 highest-grossing films of the year. A few big budget sequel ideas were brought up, including The lost girlsbut ultimately only two direct-to-DVD Feldman-starring sequels were released.
Instead, The lost boys found its widest audience in video rental stores. These home viewers then grew up to become directors, actors and studio executives that would spawn a stream of hilarious vampire-themed TV shows and movies.
For a vindicated Schumacher, it made thematic sense. “I think a lot of our culture is set up for people to deny who they really are,” he said Venice. “I’m not saying that all people are inherently evil, but we spend so much of our time trying to make people believe that we’re perfect—that we don’t have bad thoughts or do bad things, that we’re all really perfect people – and we are. We are perfect in our imperfections.”
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