(this post by request.)
Look: I like dumb vampire movies and I like dumb stylistic candy and I like dumb genre exercises, so it’s a sucker’s bet thinking that I wouldn’t be all about Joel Schumaker’s The Lost Boys (1987).
From the trailers and online commentary, it was obvious that Lost Boys 2: The Tribe (2008), a direct-to-video sequel, never had a chance of being anything but a travesty. This is not a review. Why bother, what can possibly be said?
Watching the sequel is an exercise in contrast-and-compare fascination. Between rounds of MY EYES MY EYES and GOD HOW COULD THEY DO THIS and MY CHILDHOOD IS BUTCHERED, one catches glimpses of significant differences in the two films’ levels of ethical complexity. The original Lost Boys presents the viewer with an essentially Manichean world of Good Humans and Bad Vampires. Even in its shock twist, what is notable is the lack of grey: Max goes from good to bad in a half-second reveal and there’s never any doubt about which side is Right. While the screenplay makes overtures towards presenting the World of the Vampires as a seductive one, these efforts are weak, at best half-hearted, and, at worst, insincere. After all, this is a narrative in which vampirism involves living in a filthy cave, having terrible breath, hanging out with Kiefer Sutherland and taking orders from a Harry Anderson impersontor. This may be someone’s idea of a good time, but that someone is probably the BTK Killer.
The original film’s loose thematic resonance resides with the idea of Family. The mother and her two children live with Hippie Grandpa in a nasty old house; this is juxtaposed with the rag-tag collection of misfit metal vampires, the Hot Chick and a little kid, all of whom are under the secret sway of the Business Man. Both families are make-do and stripped from the nuclear ideal, but their fundamental difference comes in the glue that binds. In the Mom and Gramps camp, the binding elements are Love and Concern. On the other side, the Vampiric Rogues are tied together by cruelty and mutual need. And, being a motion picture extravaganza based in the Received Wisdoms of Vaudevillian Hollywood, obviously Love Conquers All.
Lost Boys 2 presents a decidedly different outlook. The narrative setup is much the same as the original films: two kids go and live with a distant relation in a town rife with Vampirism. The second film riffs off the much beloved Grandpa of the first, substituting in an Aunt who appears– at first– as another lovable eccentric but, in a shocking divergence, is a cruel and mean-spirited woman. She even charges rent! Rent!
The sequel makes a better effort towards demonstrating the awesomeness of the world of the vampires: they’ve, like, got an X-Box 360, a big ol’ house where they throw shitty parties and generally can do whatever they want. This depiction strikes me as truer to the original concept of J.M. Barrie’s lost boys– if anything can be noted of the Vampires in the first film, it’s that they were a dour mid-80s bunch incapable of fun. Not exactly the path to winning converts.
As the narrative of the sequel plays out, both newly arrived humans are forced to make The Hard Choice: join the vampires, live forever, rock-and-roll all night and party every day, or remain human and experience, uh, whatever it is that humans do. Paying rent, apparently. The complex aspect of Lost Boys 2 is that by its own internal logic, there’s almost no reason as to why the kids shouldn’t become vampires. Unlike the first film, wherein vampirism represented a loss of inherent values, the sequel presents a world in which the protagonists are about as selfish, idiotic, pleasure-driven and thrill-seeking as the vampires. Their aunt’s crazy, they’ve got no money and they have been disappointed by all human agency. Why not join the bite club?
The world of the vampires has its own complexities: the head vampire appears to be from a different film. He’s a surf-rocker with awful hair and a soulful, other-wordly demeanor. His minions, on the other hand, are a Hollywood screenwriter’s idea of ANNOYING YOUNG MEN, even down to one of the vampires consistently videotaping (no doubt for Youtube!) hilarious acts of violence and mayhem. It’s never reconciled why a surf-rocker with his zen vampirism would chill with extras from Jackass 2. But let us not hope against hope! Incoherent garbage will never explicate itself! Rather, let’s have the underlings bring us to the crux of the matter: the slow creep of nouveau cynicism into youth films.
The Lost Boys remains well loved because it effectively straddles several genres, allowing it to exist in several places at the same time. One of these is the 80s Teenager/Youth Dramedy. These films, which are loved and loved and loved by my peers and which I mostly loathe and loathe and loathe, were, in retrospect, comparatively three-dimensional in their depiction of the young. Somewhere in the 90s, probably due to that horrendous right wing snoozefest of KIDS (1995), youth films lost any attempts at an honest, or at least human, characters. Everyone under a certain age– 25?– has been conflated into whatever cynical Youth Trends happen to be dominating the late night news in greater Los Angeles County.
So, if you’re a hack screenwriter churning out a direct-to-video sequel about sexy teenage vampires, you just make everyone– and I mean everyone– incredibly stupid. There’s probably a Wikipedia category created just for this purpose. “Sociopathic Trends Amongst Teenagers.” “Youth Oriented Idiocy.” Take your pick.
Let’s be honest: the original Lost Boys isn’t even a good movie, but it’s watchable, well constructed and makes sense. The sequel is an enormous, stupid piece of shit. And yet, for all of its directorial and authorial incompetence, for all of its reliance on tropes that were cliche over ten years ago, it presents the viewer with far greater, and less resolvable, ethical complexities than the original.
This brings us to an interesting observation, and the point: sometimes you can break something badly enough that, in your destruction, you create something almost interesting. Some things, and I guess some people, are so ugly that they achieve a new kind of beauty, or at least a transfixing hideousness. Even Medusa had her admirers.
(this post by request.)
Drudge in Hollywood
On Steve Ditko
From Sunset Blvd
Welcome to Kurdistan