When Kathryn Bigelow’s independent horror film Near Dark came out in 1987, it was eclipsed at the box office by The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher), a Warner Bros film released earlier in the same year. Bigelow, of course, went on to Oscar glory with The Hurt Locker, and Near Dark has since been claimed as a cult classic. Set in the small towns and wide open spaces of America’s mid-west, Near Dark is a hypnotic excursion into the wonders of first love and transformation: the headiness of being both godlike and monstrous. The Lost Boys, similarly themed, is a kind of hybrid of comedic kid’s film (driven by the excellent Corey Haim) and something altogether more mysterious and disturbing, as evidenced in every interaction between Jason Patric’s Michael and the Lost Boys.
Bigelow’s film is dirtier, more uncompromising than Schumacher’s, its vampires (bar Bill Paxton’s Severen) all experiencing some form of desperation, some sense of loss. Yet in The Lost Boys, despite its tongue-in-cheek approach, you still get a glimpse of this desperation in David’s (Keifer Sutherland) determination to recruit Michael to his vampire gang. It might be glamorous being a teenage vampire riding your motorbike along the boardwalk in Santa Carla, but it’s lonely too, Sutherland’s performance implies. Bigelow’s film is a masterwork from conception through to finished product. The Lost Boys is perhaps more the result of an extremely fortunate confluence of elements (director, actors, set designer, cinematographer) which made what might have been a forgettable teen film a classic.
For all that, these two films (both personal favourites) are extraordinarily complementary. In each, a young man on the brink of adulthood is forced into the pain and bewilderment of transformation. He will be exposed to the exhilaration and evil of the vampire state, before being offered ultimate redemption and a return to the sunshine. Both films share an eerie evocation of place and the casting of actors whose depiction of the vampiric goes well beyond cliché (think how two-dimensional Keifer Sutherland’s role would have been in lesser hands). Thanks to cinematographers Michael Chapman and Adam Greenberg, the predominantly nighttime action in The Lost Boys and Near Dark has an otherworldly quality in which the supernatural becomes eminently believable. Every now and then, time seems to slow down.
From the second they begin (think of that swooping aerial shot over the ocean that introduces The Lost Boys) until the moment at the end where the monsters are slain, these films draw you into their darkness. It’s a wondrous place to be.