In this series, film lover and BATMAN & ROBIN defender Bee McGee goes through the entire filmography of divisive director Joel Schumacher to explore what his work as a whole is really like, once one gets BEYOND THE BATNIPPLES.
Now, as I argued in the last article, I believe that Joel Schumacher is a good filmmaker. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have duds. We covered one last time with The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and we’ll be covering another one today with a movie that may very well be the epitome of White Nonsense™, St. Elmo’s Fire.
St. Elmo’s Fire, written by Schumacher and his then-intern Carl Kurlander, is about a group of recent Georgetown University graduates and their struggles with employment, love, and addiction. Kirby (Emilio Estevez) is an aspiring lawyer who promptly forgets all of that when he falls in love with and begins stalking an old ex (Andie MacDowell, post-Greystoke but pre-Sex, Lies, and Videotape). Alec (Judd Nelson) and Leslie (Ally Sheedy) are yuppies in love who are starting to grow apart. Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) is an obituary writer who everyone thinks is gay (there’s even a running gag where Demi Moore tries to set him up with her neighbor/decorator/gay-best-friend) but is really just in love with Leslie. There’s also a subplot about him trying to write an article about the meaning of life, but that has no effect at all on the plot. Jules (Moore) is an overspending banker who turns to cocaine and various sexual affairs in order to deal with her stress. And Wendy (Mare Cunningham) is a sweet welfare agent from a wealthy, sexist family who is hopelessly in love with Billy (Rob Lowe), a constantly unemployed, alcoholic deadbeat dad who only cares about two things: playing his saxophone and cheating on his wife.
One of the enduring parts of this flick’s legacy is that during production, reporter David Blum was sent to do a profile on Estevez, whose star was rising at the time, and after a dinner with Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe, instead decided to write an article about the teen stars of the 80’s, coining the term “The Brat Pack” to describe them. In the DVD commentary for the film, Schumacher says that he despises the term, saying that he didn’t think that it accurately described the actual personalities of the cast. Not that you’d know it from the movie, though, because the majority of the film’s main characters are horrible people. According to Schumacher, a studio exec told him to his face that the characters in the movie were “the single most loathsome human beings I have ever read on the page”, and you can see why. Everyone cheats on each other left and right, most of them have trouble keeping jobs, and only rarely do these characters even try to call each other out on their bullshit. Even the characters who approach likable, Wendy and Leslie, have moments that keep them from staying that way the whole way through.
However, these asshole characters are at least performed well. Mare Cunningham and Ally Sheedy are the standouts, Cunningham nailing the utter niceness of her character while Sheedy reminds us that she is a national treasure whom we have all wronged by not putting her in more movies. Andrew McCarthy plays up the asshole part of his character’s personality, but he nails the dry humor he’s given and is probably the most entertaining part of the movie as a result. Nelson and Estevez are fine, doing the best with what they’re given. Moore seems a bit off, playing her character with a strangely raspy voice and almost dancing her way through scenes before her character (who seems to be the star of an erotic thriller happening just offscreen) has a meltdown. And Rob Lowe is straight up awful, none of his natural charisma showing as this god-awful would-be rapist who could possibly be the single worst character in any film I have ever watched.
The movie is at least well-made. The D.C. locations look fabulous, the production and costume design is solid, and Schumacher really does have an eye. Another positive about this is the music. David Foster’s score is amazingly cheesy, but I won’t deny that it’s charming as hell. And I could write an entire essay on Joe Parr’s theme alone, mostly on how it doesn’t fit the movie at all but is so good that no one cares, but Todd In The Shadows already covered that pretty well in his Joe Parr episode of One Hit Wonderland, so I won’t even bother.
St. Elmo’s got mixed reviews upon release, but it made a decent-sized haul at the box office, so of course Joel Schumacher would live to make another movie. The question was what it was going to be. As luck would have it, Richard Donner had dropped out of directing a movie that was pitched as “The Goonies, but with vampires”, and the project needed a new director. Donner’s wife, Lauren Shuler Donner (who had produced St. Elmo’s) suggested Schumacher, and he agreed to direct the movie as long as the movie was rewritten to be about teenagers. The result? The Lost Boys.
Released in 1987, The Lost Boys, written by Janice Fischer, James Jeremias, and Jeffrey Boam, focuses on Michael and Sam Emerson (Jason Patric and Corey Haim), two teenage boys who move to Santa Carla, California, the “Murder Capitol of the World”, with their mother (Dianne Wiest, just coming off her Hannah and Her Sisters Oscar) to live with their grandfather (Barnard Hughes) after her divorce. Chasing after a girl named Star (Jami Gertz), Michael falls in with a group of vampires led by David (Kiefer Sutherland), and slowly begins to gain vampiric abilities. Scared out of his wits, Sam goes to the Frog Brothers (played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to find a way to cure his brother and kill the rest of the vamps.
I’m gonna be upfront here. The Lost Boys is one of my all-time favorite movies.
If you ask me, this is the pinnacle of 80’s teen horror. It’s got a hell of an atmosphere, the practical makeup and gore effects are spectacular, the cast is incredible, it’s actually really funny, the scares are plentiful and effective, and the music, both Thomas Newman’s great synth score and the soundtrack featuring popular 80’s acts like INXS, Lou Gramm, and Echo & The Bunnymen, perfectly fit it. Take the scene where David and the other vampires murder a group of surfers one night, set to Run-DMC’s cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”. You’d think an upbeat rap/rock tune soundtracking a massacre wouldn’t be as effective as it is, but it actually works incredibly well.
Something that I want to bring up now, because it’ll be kind of a recurring thread throughout these articles, is that Joel Schumacher was always ahead of the curve with a lot of his casting choices. The man always seems to know which actors are just about to break out (he cast Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, and Ally Sheedy in St. Elmo’s a few months before The Breakfast Club took the world by storm), and The Lost Boys is probably one of the bigger indicators of that talent. Even when excluding the obvious breakouts of Kiefer Sutherland and Coreys Haim and Feldman, Alex Winter (yes, THAT Alex Winter) has a minor role as one of the vampires, and he manages to show off his skills even as (minor spoilers for a movie that is almost thirty years old ahead) the first one to get offed.
Something else that could be said about The Lost Boys is that you can definitely see its influence on how it portrayed vampires in later works. Vampires have always had a certain air of temptation and sexuality at the center of their lore, but for a long time in the world of movies they were portrayed as middle-aged men in elaborate suits and capes. What this movie does differently is that it makes the bloodsuckers into the dictionary definition of cool in the eighties – leather jackets, big hair, motorcycles, and listening to rock music. In doing so, it ended up really bringing the teenage vampire idea into the mainstream, with some sources taking inspiration from the concept (Twilight), some from the aesthetic (Buffy The Vampire Slayer), and in some cases, both (The Mortal Instruments series).
But what really makes The Lost Boys one of my favorites is the movie’s sense of humor. It’s dark at points, and it’s also plenty cheesy, but there are very few times where I’ve laughed as hard as I have at scenes like when Sam and the Frog Brothers invade a church in the middle of a baptism to steal holy water, or at some of the insanely creative kills, or at the film’s spectacular final line.
And speaking of the kills and the final line, the movie’s climax is one of the most purely satisfying finales of any movie I have ever seen. The pacing is wonderful, the humor is great, the kills are gory, and even with the silliness of the events, it maintains a real sense of horror throughout that most directors probably couldn’t pull off to save their lives. And when it ends with that great final kill and that amazing last line, I was left with the world’s biggest smile and the sense that I had seen something that I would never forget.
The Lost Boys got mixed reception at the time of its release, but was a big financial success and has grown to be a cult favorite, with various rumors of sequels, two direct-to-DVD sequels that I’m not going to bother with, and a recently-announced (as of the time of this writing) Vertigo comic series that will serve as a sequel to the film. Because of this, Schumacher was easily able to find another project, and we’ll talk about that one next time on BEYOND THE BATNIPPLES.
Next time: Cousins, or (Joel Schumacher and the Unexpected Virtue of Remakes).