What Lies Beneath The Lost Boys?
The BFI served up an OTT treat last night as part of its Flare film festival with a screening 1987's The Lost Boys
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A high velocity hairspray-infused motorbiking vampire slasher movie backed by a roaring INXS soundtrack, it comes as little surprise that 80s punters wrapped around the complex to buy tickets to see The Lost Boys and it became a sensational summer smash, banking a cool $32 million for Joel Schumacher's fourth film.
But did box office audiences at the time enjoy the richly layered gay innuendo and queer reckoning that riles throughout the ride? And can present day audiences now start to see the even darker undercurrents that creep along vampirically throughout this glorious film?
Audiences are kept on the edge of their seats by vapid screams, glossy tans, gushing blood, neon punch-ups and an absolutely hilarious script. But as the hazy endless summer days and vivid white-knuckled nights melt back and forth, marijuana fumes mixing with dry ice, a powerful and quite vivid dark message begins to hint itself at us. Could the The Lost Boys in fact be a cinematic whistle blower for the sex abuse, drug abuse and child abuse that Californian casting-couches have been drenched in since day one?
On the surface The Lost Boys embodies everything that kids wanted to see, do and be during that intoxicating and exciting period in which punk rock and synth pop exploded in a maelstrom of eye shadow and whack accessories. The tight-thighed biker boys in the film dress like sluttier variations on George Michael on his Club Fantastic Tour. Is it a coincidence the main character is called Michael?. While the only girl vampire in the film, Star, smacks of Madonna in her 'Like A Virgin' publicity shots. She may as well be called Lucky Star.
And so The Lost Boys cashed in on a pop culture bandwagon that was already soaring high across American. The boys wanna be him, the girls wanna be her, and everyone wants the soundtrack.
Yet behind the rouge, the ringlets and the fluorescent gore of this great pulp thriller, The Lost Boys is an incessant role call of gay culture tit bits. The film's gay director clearly has fun in dolling up the little brother character Sam (Corey Haim - pictured right) in brightly-coloured lounge garments, camp Hawaiian numbers and even a t-shirt that bears the slogan "Born To Shop". Arguably a comment on 80s consumer culture, more likely a raging teen queen. When Michael makes a joke about their Grandpa being gay, Sam seethes "That isn't funny Michael!"
Familiar dialogue between vampire culture and queer culture emerges throughout. So we have conversations where Mum says stuff like "I don't know you any more. You go out all night, you sleep in all day, you dress differently. Is there a girl you want to tell me about?" And then son says "No Mom. There's more on my mind right now than girls. You wouldn't understand", and then minces into bedroom, slams door, slaps stereo on and passes out on bed.
It is this high camp and relentless gay innuendo that brings the BFI their justification in screening The Lost Boys as part of their gay film festival this week. And rightly so. Queer theory and vampire literature is common territory on university English courses these days. We've all got a friend who did their dissertation on the "heteronormatve hemogonising" of Anne Rice on the big screen.
But what interests me more, or what scares me even more, is how the film is a premonition of its own casts' fates. (Aside from Keifer Sutherland, although you could argue he's become lost, literally, in never-ending box sets)
Gay little brother Sam, played by Corey Haim, shines in the film as a fair-haired freckled twink with a cheeky smile. Co-star Corey Feldman (who plays vampire hunter Edgar) exposed in his memoirs last year how Corey Haim had confided in him on set about how he was sexually abused and continuously raped as a prepubescent by Hollywood talent managers and also by other older figures who he refused to name. Feldman himself was also tangled into a web of child abuse, saying on several occasions when he slept on set in trailers men would come in and unzip his flys. Feldman obliged, out of fear and naivety, while Haim himself became a confused gay sex addict and serial abuse victim at the age of only fifteen.
Of course it's important to keep these two very different arenas, homosexuality and child abuse, one normal - one criminal, completely separate and exclusive of each other in any kind of discussion. But with our current climate The Lost Boys makes for a slightly disturbing view today, not because of its blood-sucking vampires, but because of the very real horrors that some of its cast seemed to face as young aspiring actors around the same time.
I'm not really one for conspiracy theories, but it's worth reminding ourselves that the film's title "The Lost Boys" holds its origins in the tales of Peter Ban, written by J.M. Barrie, who we now know was some kind of childhood-savouring creep with secrets taken to the grave. And of course Peter Pan's nirvana was called Never Never Land.
Regrettably, Corey Haim died of a supposed drugs overdose in 2010 and was mysteriously omitted from the Academy Awards obituary mentions. And so it seems The Lost Boys also has its secrets that it will take to the grave.
But don't let that stop you enjoying the ride.
"You don't have to beat us Michael. You just have to keep up"
The BFI's LGBT film festival FLARE is running until Sunday. Take a look at the action-packed schedule and book your tickets here.
Words: Jack Cullen @jackcullenuk