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Alex Winter, Jason Patric & more look back on 'The Lost Boys' as game-changing vampire flick turns 35
Even after all these years, we still believe! [Cue oiled-up saxophone man.]
Without Joel Schumacher, we probably wouldn't have Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, or even Peacock's upcoming Vampire Academy series. Thirty-five years ago, the late director known for his stylish flare and finely-calibrated sense of camp quite literally invented the coming-of-age vampire sub-genre with a little picture called The Lost Boys. You might have heard of it...
"Prior to that, it was always scary, ancient Peter Cushing or the classic old Dracula," the movie's production designer, Bo Welch, tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. "So that really was big when you see what happened in subsequent years with vampire movies. Joel nailed the sexy young vampire thing."
Richard Donner — the filmmaker responsible for mega-box office hits like Superman and The Goonies — was originally slated to helm the project until he was forced to abdicate the director's chair over his commitment to Lethal Weapon. Had Donner gone through with The Lost Boys, however, it might have turned out "like vampire-Goonies," Welch posits. "But that would have been sad to follow up Goonies with a Goonie-age bracket vampire thing. So Donner bowed out of that. He remained as producer and was just an incredible positive energy towards the execution of this movie. There were tremendous people involved in this thing."
This was only the beginning of an impressive production design career for Welch, whose resume would go on to include Beetlejuice, Batman Returns, Men in Black, the first Thor, Land of the Lost, and Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events (among others). In fact, The Lost Boys marked the professional starting point for several longtime Hollywood veterans such as Kiefer Sutherland and Alex Winter — the latter of whom never expected to see the film live past the decade in which it was made.
"It's such an idiosyncratic movie, that it never occurred to me that it would survive its era," admits Winter, who would become a household name two years later with the release of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. "It felt like a movie for the ‘80s, about the ‘80s, and that it would be done when the ‘80s were done. And not in a disparaging way — it's such a specific movie to the times. I was just in London, we showed it at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, in Soho. It was totally packed. I took my son, who's 12 [and had] never seen it. He had a great time. It just kind of reminded me that, ‘Well, at the end of the day, it's an entertaining movie,’ which is why I think it’s stood the test of time."
That's not to say he didn't have misgivings before principal photography began in earnest in the summer of 1986. "I was like, ‘This is either going to be like an absolute masterpiece, or it's going to be unwatchably bad.’" The studio had a similar worry: "Warner Bros. did not like what they were seeing; they did not understand his vision and they were so afraid they'd hired the wrong director and that he was making this crazy ass Grand Guignol nonsensical thing that was neither a comedy nor a horror film nor for kids nor for adults. There was so much pressure on him."
Written by Janice Fischer, Jeffrey Boam, and James Jeremias, The Lost Boys centers around Michael and Sam Emerson (played by Jason Patric and the late Corey Haim), two brothers who relocate to the fictional California town of Santa Carla with their recently-divorced mother, Lucy (Dianne Wiest). After moving in with their eccentric grandfather (Barnard Hughes), the siblings learn that the seaside hamlet serves as the feeding ground for a pack of ageless and motorcycle-riding vampires led by Sutherland's David.
Once the sun dips below the horizon, David and his undead cohorts — Marko (Winter), Dwayne (Billy Wirth), and Paul (Brooke McCarter) — leave the safety of their coastal cave to stalk fresh victims along the boardwalk. Entranced by vampire-to-be Star (Jami Gertz), Michael falls in with the creatures of the night before realizing the error of his ways and recruiting Sam and the comic book-loving Frog brothers (portrayed by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to help break the sinister curse.
While Fischer, Boam, and Jeremias got their names on the finished screenplay, Patric asserts that Schumacher also deserved a major script credit:
"It’s all Joel. He hired these young people [and] he gave me a big voice. For a 19-year-old, who certainly was not a star by any means, I was given a lot of input into my character [and] even other aspects of the story. That was one of the selling points to get me in. What Joel was great about was tailoring these parts around the actors that he hired. Then the scenes took on their own shape and their own flavor as the style came in, and how the people acted off each other. So it was a really organic experience. The pages and the ideas were always changing. They didn't have an ending that was right. Joel promised me, ‘Okay, if you do this, you will never have to wear vampire makeup, you'll never have to wear fangs, and you'll never have to fly.’ He broke every promise."
"I kind of just had to throw in and put my trust in Joel. Once I was on set for a little while, I really gained confidence because he was so good with actors, and he was so clear about what he wanted," Winter adds. "It wasn't all in the service of style over substance. [Joel] cast Diane Wiest and Ed Herman — actors that I actually knew from the New York theater scene because it was my community ... I was like, ‘Okay. Alright, he's building this incredibly high-end group of talent and he's putting them in the service of this very theatrical, campy thing. He's just swinging for the fences.’"
The greatest strength of Lost Boys is arguably the comfortable relationship between Michael and Sam. From the second they step into their grandfather's house, the boys are goofing around and teasing each other like real siblings would. Patric insisted on getting this dynamic right before the cameras even started rolling.
"I said, ‘I need to spend a lot of time with him. Because right now, in the script, all it says is they're their brothers, but they don't do anything that is believable.' So I'd have Corey come over here and I'd take him around. We’d go play Wiffle ball or I'd take him to the pier. And then Joel sort of gave me a little bit of a big brother power over him when we were filming, keeping him in line. If he wasn't prepared or getting ready for a scene, it was clear that I was his big brother and he had to behave around me. All those little, natural things that you believe and then that will become the basis in the spine for this movie that deals with supernatural, fantastical elements."
This camaraderie led to many hijinks on the Warner Bros. lot, including an incident where Patric and Haim took a golf cart for a joy ride, which caught the attention of the studio's security force. "When we got pulled over, I thought it was kind of hysterical," Patric recalls. "We got brought into some Warner Bros. police station and then they called Joel [who] had to come get us like he was our dad. I thought it was ridiculous; Corey loved it and I think Joel didn't mind it either. In front of the guards, he acted stern and sort of reprimanded us until we got outside. I think he liked that that was a bonding experience."
Setting the film against the backdrop of a non-existent town certainly reinforced the fairy tale and Peter Pan-inspired elements of the narrative, though a real-world locale was required to stand in for the apocryphal Santa Carla. "We knew we would go to Santa Cruz because they have that great, old-fashioned Boardwalk," Welch says. "The boardwalk had that beautiful, merry-go-round, which, when I saw the dailies and Susan Becker's costumes all together, it was just really rich and layered."
Since most of the exterior sequences took place at night, the cast was forced to adopt a vampiric sleep schedule (talk about being method). "We had blankets taped to our windows all day, and we would get up at night," Winter reveals. "We had to do that [even] when we weren't shooting because we had to stay on a night schedule. So, we got up to all kinds of trouble in Santa Cruz. We were very well known in town, the four of us, and when we were shooting, there would literally be thousands of people lining the boardwalk watching us ride our bikes up and down the boardwalk or on the sand or whatever we were doing. It was definitely one of the most debaucherous summers of my life."
The boardwalk also gave birth to one of the film's most iconic scenes: the performance of Tim Cappello's oiled-up saxophone man who belts out a cover of "I Still Believe" (originated by The Call) as Michael spots Star for the first time. Cappello, who was touring with Tina Turner at the time, landed the job while he was waiting to audition for the role of Mr. Joshua — a character ultimately played by Gary Busey — in the first Lethal Weapon.
After music producer Joel Sill recognized him, Cappello was immediately shepherded into Schumacher's office. "Joel had a picture of me behind his desk. So when I came in, I saw myself and something told me, ‘I'm not sure what this is, but I get the feeling I got it.’ He really just came out and said, ‘Do you want to perform a song in a movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Why wouldn’t I want to?' ... They accepted all of my wardrobe — all of the tie-dyed pants and the chains and the grease. They didn't put up a fight about anything."
Cappello filmed the mini-concert in a span of less than three hours in front of a crowd of Santa Cruz locals. "There were no extras for that scene, those people were there every single night. When they were filming and those people were banging heads and dancing like crazy, what you didn't see was all the people that jumped up on stage that were trying to hug me or sing with me or whatever. [Cinematographer] Mike Chapman, who I just thought was a security guy, was throwing people off the stage."
"He was a very gruff [guy]," Welch says of the legendary director of photography known for his work on Martin Scorsese classics like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. "‘Chappie’ did a fantastic job ... He really pushed the crew hard. He was as a great guy, but man, what a dynamo."
"This was the best of the best," Winter, who decided to drop out of NYU film school after making Lost Boys, says of the talent behind the camera. "I was like, 'Alright, this is going to be like boot camp for a film student.’ I was lucky because I had a lot of days on set. I was in a lot of scenes, but I didn't have a lot to do. I didn't have to memorize seven pages of dialogue. It wasn't like Bill and Ted where I was in every scene [with] all the dialogue [and] all the focus on me. So once I locked into how to play this character, I mostly just hung around on set and watched Joel work, watched Mike Chapman, watched Bo ... I came away with a very saturated sense of how the industry works from the inside."
Once shooting on the "I Still Believe" sequence had wrapped, Cappello partied alongside the principal cast members in Corey Haim's hotel room until someone called the cops with a noise complaint. Haim instantly took control of the situation, charming the officers and allowing the gathered actors to continue the revelry well into the night.
"Corey just looked at everybody until they shut up and he went, ‘Watch this…’ He opened the door, this adorable little 14-year-old kid [staring down] two big, burly cops [with] guns, jackets, and hats... and he charmed them so totally. [He said]: 'Oh, officers, we are so sorry. We're doing this movie and sometimes it's hard and we're just trying to blow off a little steam. I promise we'll keep it down.’ [He was then] engaging them in conversations about their lives [asking] 'What's it like to be a policeman?' And he had his arms around them when he walked them out. Then he closed the door and just went, ‘Turn it up!'"
Once the Santa Cruz leg of principal photography had been completed, production moved to the WB lot, where a number of heavily-detailed sets oozing with personality had been constructed. Most famous among them is the vampire HQ: a dilapidated hotel located inside a secluded cave down by the eternal surf of the Pacific.
"I don't know if it was written this way, but we decided that their hideout was basically an old, elegant seaside hotel that had been swallowed up in an earthquake. That's how we rationalized it being underground," Welch explains. "I designed an ornate kind of hotel; we built a model of it; and then I basically smashed it and mashed it together. Then it was too expensive [looking], so I smashed it even more and collapsed it more until we ended up with what you saw. It worked out great, there was just enough architecture and decay and the light coming down through the top. But Michael Chapman said, ‘This is the worst f***in' set I've ever shot in!’ He was under the gun to do it fast, but we had built big pie-shaped pieces of terrain that you could move in and out. A camera guy likes to walk in and find a flat floor you can dolly on, and this was the furthest thing from that."
To pass time in between lighting set-ups, the cast and crew would amuse themselves with a foosball table that could be moved around the various stages. "On the side, in the dark, with a work light, you’d see all these vampires playing foosball and breaking their nails," Patric says.
Welch has a similar recollection: "We’d be over there, screaming and playing foosball until they’d say, ‘Alright, shut up! Get back to work! We're lit, we're ready to go!'"
From the very start, music establishes an overall tone that is both gothically tragic and hopeful via the introduction of G Tom Mac's "Cry Little Sister" — a song that has become every bit as famous as the movie it was created for (to date, it's been covered and sampled by everyone from Eminem to Chvrches). Hired by Schumacher and granted complete creative control over the track, Mac — a.k.a. Gerard McMahon — read the screenplay, whipped up a quick demo in his Manhattan studio and sent it off to Los Angeles. He got a call three days later while attempting to sleep off a hangover.
"I hear my answering machine [turn on] and I'm hearing somebody say, ‘Gerard, are you there? It’s Joel!’ I'm hearing the song playing in the background and I'm going, ‘What the hell is going on?’ So I go out to answer the phone. First words out of his mouth were, ‘How did you know? There's no way you've seen the film. I'm playing it on set and you nailed my theme song!’ ... Of the 56 films I've done music to, I can't remember a time when everything had that kind of synergy to it."
Even after 35 years, the musician isn't entirely sure whether there is a grander meaning behind the lyrics, though if he had to provide an answer, he'd say it comes down to two major themes: finding a family and the inflated sense of invulnerability that all young people share.
"When you look at Michael and Sam with their mother, who's divorced. She's looking for a family, they’re all looking for something. I remember saying to Kiefer one time, ‘I always thought that David was really looking, to find that.’ As rebel without a cause and James Dean-ish as he came out in that film, it seemed like he was looking for a family. It was almost like a put-on ... It conjures up a lot. But that's the great thing about art, about writing: you get to take in stuff, and you don't have to make sense of it right away."
Warner Bros. will celebrate the film's 35th anniversary this September with a 4K Ultra HD re-release chock full of bonus features, including the first-ever music video for "Cry Little Sister" (helmed by Dave Maresca and featuring Holly Sidell in the role of Star). "I think what's going to be surprising on what I've done with the music video is I've remastered it," teases Mac, who was able to film at the very same cave exterior used in the 1987 original. "I've kept the groove and everything to it and all the elements, but I've remixed it. Keeping it analog [but] a little bit more modern."
And speaking of that cave, Welch found it back in the '80s after scouring "the entire length of the coast of California over two days. In one day, you do the southern half. On the second day, you do the northern half. All day in a helicopter, maybe 50 feet to 100 feet off the water, it was the most spectacular helicopter trip [though it] a little bit scary at times. And then we ended up finding that cave in the greater LA area and used that."
The movie's impact on pop culture — and the vampire genre in general — cannot be understated, with filmmakers like Jordan Peele and David Yarovesky paying either subtle or direct homage to the fanged touchstone in genre outings like Us and Nightbooks. "People who grew up at that age now have money and are nostalgic and are looking back and they're just reenergizing things," Patric says in reference to the current boom in '80s nostalgia. "It happens all the time. I remember in the ‘80s, the ‘60s were big."
Even Cappello's incredibly minor character has continued to live on, gaining new life through Saturday Night Live, whose 2013 Digital Short "The Curse" (see below) allowed the musician to ditch his anxiety-inducing gig as the leader of a wedding band and start touring the country with a multimedia show inspired by The Lost Boys.
"Now, I make my living in relation to [the film]," he says. "I tour all the time, I’ve been doing a lot of film and TV work and stuff like that, and it's all related to that. So as it goes on, I keep waiting for it to drop and it ain't dropping ... I never get asked nearly as much about that as that little couple-minute vignette. Maybe [it's the] the fact that I'm just not ever in anything for long enough [for people] to get bored with me. I just come in and swivel my hips around for a little while and pump my fist and then leave … I think there's an advantage to that, because people want to see more … People come out and see me because [they say]: ‘I wonder what it would be like to see him for an hour and meet him and find out what he's like because he’s such a weird character.’"
Despite a legacy as immortal as its central vampires, The Lost Boys' ability to spawn a tenable franchise has not reached the same dizzying heights. A pair of direct-to-video sequels (featuring the return of Feldman and Newlander as the Frog Brothers) pretty much flew under the radar in 2008 and 2010. In addition, two comic books (one of which revealed that Cappello's saxophone man was secretly a vampire hunter with blessed body oil) hit stands in 2008 and 2016 from Wildstorm and Vertigo, respectively.
Elsewhere, the CW flirted with the idea of a television revival, but the pilot episode failed to result in a full series order. Last September, news broke that Warner Bros. had tapped Jonathan Entwistle (The End of The F***king World) to direct a "contemporary" film reboot headlined by Noah Jupe (Marcus Abbott in A Quiet Place Parts I & II) and Jaeden Martell (young Bill Denbrough in Andy Muschietti's two-part adaptation of IT). Randy McKinnon (Static Shock) is penning the screenplay.
Patric doesn't hold back on his opinion surrounding reboots and weaponized nostalgia:
"The Lost Boys is The Lost Boys because Joel Schumacher made it. Because Kiefer Sutherland was playing David; because Corey Haim’s my brother; because I'm in it; because it's shot by Michael Chapman; because Jami Gertz is in it. That's why The Lost Boys is The Lost Boys. It's not like it’s some high-concept idea that is ready for a reboot or can be done in a more interesting way. I feel that [way] with the majority of movies that are rebooted. They were famous or became iconic because of the individuals that were in them — not because of the idea of what it was about. It's not a superhero movie, where it doesn’t matter who you put underneath the costume."
"I would like to see it maintain the sense of humor," Welch muses when asked about what he'd like to see out of the new movie. "With today's technology, you can go even crazier with the action, although there's nothing better than stuff that's in-camera, in my estimation. I don't know, there was just something really fun and cool and sexy about the whole production that I think people really responded to."
Winter has decided to reserve judgment until he sees the finished product. His only hope is that Entwistle's modern update doesn't end up as an "anemic, generic reboot" in the vein of recent attempts to revitalize Total Recall and Friday the 13th. "I'm not scared that if they make a great movie, no one will watch ours. There's never going to be another Lost Boys like Joel’s Lost Boys. It's never ever going to happen. It's so f***ing weird and it's so its own thing. I just want to see them take the risk and make something cool and take the risk of failing and falling on their face that they make something cool [and] not make something generic."
Cappello is also on the fence, although he leans more toward Patric's way of thinking: "If they make a good movie, I'll be happy. And if they don't, if the writing isn't that great and the acting isn't that great, then I'll feel sad. Just let it lie. But you never know…" Echoing Winter's comments, he adds: Joel was an absolute, black swan. Coming out of Warhol's Factory and then doing D.C. Cab and Carwash, he was just all over the place. He was the craziest, smartest, coolest genius that I've ever met."
G Tom Mac has the most insider knowledge of the reboot, given that he still retains the rights to "Cry Little Sister" and maintains a working relationship with the studio to this day. "I think he might pull it out," he says of Entwistle. "I kind of know where it's going, but he knows the challenge of what it is. It could be really good and the script is nearly there."
He compares the situation to the run-up to Matt Reeves' The Batman, in which many fans voiced ambivalence over yet another movie centered around DC's Caped Crusader. Once the movie arrived on the big screen, though, many naysayers reversed their stances and hailed it as one of the greatest depictions of the brooding vigilante ever put to film.
"If they can do that with Lost Boys…that’s what I'm hoping for … [to] get something in there that’s just really intriguing and can go retro with it," the musician continues. "I always said that if you can make Lost Boys be what Amy Winehouse did with music, where she was modern and she was retro at the same time, there is no better place than that."
Moreover, he sees the reboot as a chance to re-record "Cry Little Sister" with Post Malone. "I’ve loved his work from before he got on the map. I just love his voice, I love his sensibilities. Post if you read this, I'm voting for you and me to do a duet on this thing."
Looking for more bloodsucker action? Vampire Academy lands on Peacock Sep. 15, while Reginald the Vampire premieres on SYFY Oct. 5.