[Horror has long been as much about the sources of the scares as the jumps they produce, and American horror is no exception. In this week’s series, I’ll AmericanStudy some of the symbolisms behind our scary stories. Leading up to a special weekend Guest Post on a very scary disease, past and present.]
On mindless pop entertainment, and what it can still symbolize.
Roger Ebert wrote of Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987) that it ends up devoid of anything deep or lasting, becoming “just technique at the service of formula”—and as usual, Rog was right on point. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything else of a film that stars both of the ‘80s Coreys (Haim and Feldman), each in his own way a symbol of the decade’s tendency toward style over substance. Certainly hindsight should clarify for us just how much “style over substance” seems to define Joel Schumacher’s directorial mantra. But in any case, the salient question about The Lost Boys isn’t whether there’s any there there—it’s why on earth I’m writing about it in this series and this space when there so clearly isn’t.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to make the case for hidden depths to the film—I like the “and yet” second paragraph transition as much as anybody, but it has its limits. But what kind of AmericanStudier would I be if I couldn’t find cultural symbolism in even the most vapid pop entertainments? For one thing, I think it’s possible to see The Lost Boys as originating—or at least representing a very early example of—one of the most significant cultural trends of the last couple decades: turning vampires into sexy, cool teenage icons. Vampires have been alluring since at least Dracula, of course; but when it comes to Angel, Edward Cullen, the cast of The Vampire Diaries, and so many other teen-demographic forces on our recent cultural landscape, I think Kiefer Sutherland and his fellow Lost Boys might have really gotten the ball rolling. Which, given the momentum that ball now possesses, would make Schumacher’s film pretty darn influential.
But I also don’t think we have to look into the subsequent decades to find significant symbolic value to The Lost Boys. I’m pretty sure that Schumacher didn’t think about it on this level—and I don’t even know that the trio of screenwriters can be credited with any part of this insight—but the film seems to me to reflect a significant and interesting cultural tension in its portrayals of the era’s titular young men. On the one hand, Kiefer and his fellow vampires are pretty much pure evil, young punks whose appearance and affect precisely parallel their darkest intentions. But on the other hand, protagonist Jason Patric is drawn to the vampires because he’s quite a bit like them in every way—and he and his younger brother (Haim), the sons of an overworked and somewhat absentee single mother, seem scarcely less lost than the vampires they end up fighting (with the help of a couple of similarly wayward boys, including Feldman’s character). So are the lost boys villains or heroes, a threat to their small towns or the saviors of those places? They seem, in this slight yet symbolic film, to be both and all of those things.
Next scary story tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Scary stories you’d AmericanStudy?