A retrospective essay

John Odette

Ye be warned – spoilers ahead!

Amongst the heap of horror films being produced in the 1980s, some were underground, while few went mainstream. There was indeed a fair helping of entries that were received well regardless of their distributing power. These films are now classics and grace any Top Horror Movie list. Some of these icons include The Shining, The Evil Dead, Aliens, The Thing and Poltergeist.

But there are a pair of films that not only make these lists year after year, but also in retrospect fully compliment each other.  Not to mention they were both released in the same calendar year, 1987.

Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys and first time director Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

These are two stories about vampires. And family. Though on the surface they have many differences, they also share a wealth of similarities. The Lost Boys is by all accounts very mainstream which allowed it to easily eclipse Near Dark. There is other statistical mumbo jumbo I could get into such as box office figures, VHS rentals and star power. After all, Boys had both Coreys (Haim and Feldman) in its casting ranks, each having incredible drawing power in their prime. But most of those metrics are boring. Though in fairness, Near Dark had a crop of popular James Cameron veterans fresh off of making Aliens in its billing. More on that cast later. 

The juicy bits that bear revealing and remembering are the similar themes of family, the ethical implications of their characters and the stark (yet fun) differences between each film that ultimately make them so revered after all this time.

“Drink, Michael.  Be one of us.”

NOVEMBER. 15. 2020.

A COMPARATIVE RETROSPECTIVE

THE LOST BOYS vs NEAR DARK

The vampire as a creature of lore typically prowls the night like a lone wolf, preying on its next victim. They may have a watchdog during the day (in The Lost Boys, one vampire has a literal dog for this purpose), but that's usually it. In these two films, there is instead a pack mentality afoot. Near Dark showcases Jesse (Lance Henriksen) and his gang scrounging nightly for food and shelter. The Lost Boys – a literal tribe fully earning their namesake – dwell in a seaside cave and prey on beach tourists during the evening. 

Each sect has their leader and a hierarchy, an understanding of purpose (food/safety/black leather jackets in some cases) and a respect for teamwork. But it's not just the family of vampires that round out this point. In Near Dark, Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) has a stern but caring father and a precocious sister who both turn the Midwest upside down searching for him after he gets whisked away by the vampire Mae (Jenny Wright) and into the arms of her cadre. It might be plot convenience, but Near Dark also provides us with the first on-screen blood transfusion to serve as an antidote for vampirism. Caleb’s dad deserves a medal for his efforts. In The Lost Boys, Sam (Corey Haim) and older brother Michael (Jason Patric) move to murder-capital-of-the-world Santa Carla with their recently divorced mother Lucy (Dianne Wiest). They all want a fresh start and maybe this beach town is the golden ticket. Both of these families are broken, but their love for each other is genuine and sincere. 

In each story, a member of the family gets pulled into the film’s pack of bloodsuckers. Michael inadvertently drinks the blood of David (played wonderfully by the super charming Kiefer Sutherland), the apparent alpha of The Lost Boys. This initiates his transformation into a “goddamn shit-sucking vampire”. Whereas Caleb gets drawn in by the short-haired petite Mae. He has no ambition to join a club or to fit in somewhere new. Regardless, both Michael and Caleb nearly cross a line that neither of them particularly asked for. In both instances, the importance of their real families gets challenged as everything they know gets pulled from them overnight.

Trading in one family for another is one issue among many across both films. It’s one thing to pack up and move out of your mom’s house, but that isn’t the situation that either men face.

“I sure haven’t met any girls like you.”

“No. No, you sure haven’t.”

THE LOST BOYS (WARNER BROS HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

I know, I know. What is the expectation of ethics among vampires? It seems like a silly prompt when asked out loud. To be fair, vampires are very charismatic creatures. Being seductive and sexy can be very influential. 

But the problem remains: Mae transforms Caleb. Without his consent. The same goes for David and Michael.

While this is very commonplace for many vampire flicks, it still does cross the ethical boundary. This point was made extremely well in a vampire podcast by host Rose Sinister. She dives way deeper into this in her episode about Near Dark. I highly recommend giving it a listen. In turn, Caleb’s father returns Mae to human form at the end without having her consent either. 

The Frog Brothers in The Lost Boys are ready to ice a little boy for being a vampire, knowing full well there was a way to return him to human form. Then again, their solution to problems is seemingly always death. 

 

“Kill your brother, you’ll feel better”.

NEAR DARK (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group)

So, what does all of this heavy talk mean? Both films address two very precarious paths for our protagonists. Both of them are pulled into a world they have no idea how to walk through. Mae picks Caleb and David selects Michael. The biggest ethical slip-up is that both clans of vampires falsely give an illusion of choice. Jesse, with dubious support from Severen (the late Bill Paxton) and Diamondback (Jeanette Goldstein), keeps telling Caleb he has a choice to make. David and company corner Michael the same way. Both need to “make a kill” to be fully initiated. The problem? They’re already in the club.

THE LOST BOYS (Warner Bros Home Entertainment)

“I tried to make you immortal!”

“You tried to make me a killer!”

NEAR DARK (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group)

The latter has all the trappings of the 1980s, and many conventional vampire tenets. The rules of having to be invited in, reflections in the mirror, stakes through the heart and holy water are threaded throughout The Lost Boys. This playful nature ties into vast amounts of humor which is the one flavor that is very underserved in Near Dark.

NEAR DARK (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group)
THE LOST BOYS (Warner Bros Home Entertainment)

Since Caleb and Michael both harbor humanity, their personal ethics forbid them from crossing that line. This costs them respect and trust from their new “family”; not to mention, by not killing others they in turn begin to die themselves. Like it or not, despite the illusion of choice given before them, they’re vampires already.

“We keep odd hours”

NEAR DARK (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group)

The best bits about both of these films are the fun signature features that separate them not just from each other, but from the rest. Near Dark isn’t your typical vampire yarn. It is a set piece reminiscent of a western. It has a strong rustic and rural feel. This contrasts dramatically with The Lost Boys.

NEAR DARK (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group)

You can scour the dialogue of Near Dark end to end and not once hear the word “vampire”. It doesn’t provide fangs or coffins. These vamps aren’t clean or pretty, they’re dirty and grungy. There is one stark 80s staple that will forever cement Near Dark with the decade it was released in. That is a dense synth pop score sweeping over the opening credits which is ramped up to a million when played over arguably the best bar room scene in horror cinema history. One might say that this scene is “finger-lickin’ good.”

NEAR DARK (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group)

The Lost Boys has an incredible soundtrack with hits such as “Walk this Way” playing during a pivotal scene of Michael’s arc and the ever present “Cry Little Sister” which will have you humming it’s chorus on repeat for hours. Also, who can forget the oiled-up ripped sax player Tim Cappello crying out “I still believe!” in one of the opening scenes?

THE LOST BOYS (Warner Bros Home Entertainment)

Narratively speaking, Near Dark is pretty straight forward with its climax. The Lost Boys presents a well set-up twist that pulls out the rug from under the virgin viewer’s eyes when video-store owner and dork extraordinar Max (Edward Herrman) is revealed to be the real alpha of the pack.

“The Blood-Sucking Brady Bunch!”

THE LOST BOYS (Warner Bros Home Entertainment)

The duality and connection of these films has grown in popularity over the years. But while the mainstream success of The Lost Boys has granted it sequels and rip-offs, it’s the cult following that has kept gas in the tank of Near Dark. Make no mistake, you can pull either film off the shelf and have an amazing experience. Both entries boast amazing characters, rich story-telling and some awesome vampire executions.

“Death by stereo!”

THE LOST BOYS (Warner Bros Home Entertainment)

In the pantheon of horror films, 80s films and vampire films, both are required viewing. They set a benchmark for what tasty cinema looks like without being too scary or too serious. Their complementary nature makes them a dynamic double feature any time of year.

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