Tom Jolliffe presides over a showdown between the cult 1987 vampire flicks The Lost Boys and Near Dark…
The vampire has sucked his merry way through cinema history, from the silent era, to the R-Patz era. We’ve seen many incarnations, many genres, from Christopher Lee to angsty teens, from horror to camp comedy. Perhaps the vintage year for the vampire film could well have been 1987. This was the year with the stylish, MTV inspired double whammy of The Lost Boys and Near Dark.
Both films would prove to be the ultimate launching pad for their respective directors. Joel Schumacher followed up the successful St Elmo’s Fire with The Lost Boys and from then on the rest is history. Similarly, Kathryn Bigelow really made her name with Near Dark.
Style Over Substance: Schumacher vs. Bigelow
The 80’s saw the dawn of MTV. Everything was over the top, larger than life, be it clothes, style, or personalities. It was the era of the pop icon, pop culture and…err…leg warmers. This was reflected in the movies. Good looking people who looked like popstars, filmed lovingly as they stared wistfully at nothing in particular. As the music video exploded, movie directors (some former music video directors) began trying to push the boundaries of film visuals. Films with musical soundtracks a more common occurrence, flashy lighting, flashy camera moves, and not always to the benefit of story telling. For example we had Flashdance, Rocky IV, and in particular Highlander. Highlander was a film well ahead of its time stylistically, which remains unique and charming, despite some flaws. From its imaginative scene transitions, sweeping camera moves, hyper stylised lighting, to its incorporation of a brilliant Queen soundtrack, it really surmises perfectly the 80’s cult movie style, differentiating itself vastly from the stark gritty cinema of the 70’s.
Schumacher, intentionally or not, took many stylistic elements from Highlander and incorporated them into The Lost Boys. The film looks great. On a visual level it’s oozing with hyper-real atmosphere, playing out scenes to fit in the songs and indulge its audience with eye candy.
Bigelow was the same. Perhaps even more so, Bigelow likes to play out her scenes, emphasising the frame’s contents. The mise-en-scene, the lighting, and slick camera moves. The visual storytelling is the major emphasis with Near Dark. There’s not too much dialogue between Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and Mae (Jenny Wright). The romance is developed mostly from infatuated glances. Almost as if it could have been shot to have a love song fit over it, without the need for a dialogue track. But again, like Schumacher, there are shots here that are rogue, that break the rules, as Russell Mulcahy also did a year previously with Highlander. This was against the rules, wanton disregard for the filmmaking text books.
Winner: Kathryn Bigelow
Bad boys, bad girls, the where are they now brigade and cult icons: the cast
Both films feature an eclectic ensemble of characters, and indeed the cast playing them. You have the dangerous elements first of all. For the Boys, is one of Hollywood’s biggest bad boys, Kiefer Sutherland. Renowned for his wild partying and outrageous antics, as well as unpredictability on set, he brings to his role as David an air of cool menace. He’s like the kid at school everyone feared, but also thought was badass. To be secretly admired, but not to fuck with. For the opposition is Lance Henriksen, an actor known for his intensity and propensity for movie villainy as well as being very method. Reportedly, he was original choice to play the Terminator, and even turned up to audition with tin foil on his head to make himself look like a robot and then stayed in character. It’s possible he may have scared the seemingly unscarable James Cameron! Near Dark of course features the James Cameron crew, including Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein.
Both films have the poster boy who falls for the vampire chick. Jason Patric for the Boys, and Adrian Pasdar for the Dark crew. Patric found moderate success through the 90’s, appearing regularly on the big screen, while Pasdar disappeared somewhat to the TV realm. Then of course for The Lost Boys you have the two Corey’s, Haim and Feldman. Haim’s story is a sad one, as well known. Feldman by comparison is still in the mortal realm, but one can’t help feel a sense of pathos towards Haim and how his life transpired following his success in the late 80’s. Perhaps the appalling fashion he wears in this film scarred him deeply. Certainly his hideous bright pastel cardigan would drive any man to drugs.
Winner: The Lost Boys
The forgotten 80’s hot chick
Cast your mind back to Jennifer Beals, Molly Ringwald, Mia Sara, Jennifer Grey, Ione Skye, Kerri Green, Lysette Anthony. Yes, the 80’s were great. Big haired, or questionably fashioned (or both) chicks who seemed to disappear off the stratosphere as soon as 1990 reared his ugly head. Oh how we loved them. For me it’s always been the disappearing acts I look back at with more fondness, over say Demi Moore, Sharon Stone etc.
First up we have Jami Gertz, the stealer of Jason Patric’s heart in The Lost Boys. She was hot, alluring, and looked a little like Teri Hatcher (perhaps the less successful version?). She had a few other films of note in the 80’s, but this remains her most memorable movie role. Sometimes it’s hard to judge why someone’s career just doesn’t take off. She wasn’t a bad actress, she had the looks. She didn’t do something silly like Jennifer Grey, who’s career nosedived (tee-hee) when she decided to fix her memorable hooter. Perhaps it was simply a case of Hatcher stealing all her roles.
Then we have for Near Dark, Jenny Wright. Once again, she did her memorable work in the 80’s, before sailing off the end of the Earth. Her performance stands out in Near Dark, with her alluring and haunting eyes. She offers a sense of tragic vulnerability and helplessness in a performance that stands above her rival’s, though in fairness much due to having the better role.
Winner: Jenny Wright- Two gorgeous piercing green eyes
The legacy: sequels, no-quels, following, scores and soundtracks
Both films belong in the category of cult cinema. Near Dark found its audience after its unremarkable theatrical run. The Lost Boys however was a success at the big screen before becoming a video classic. The Lost Boys has the star power, with 80’s icons like the Corey’s and Sutherland, who found a defining role in TV as Jack Bauer in 24.
The soundtrack for The Lost Boys remains popular, and indeed it’s got the beef in the song department, and the notable theme song Cry Little Sister by Gerald McMahon. In addition is a memorable score by Thomas Newman, who would throughout the 90’s and 00’s, become a Mr Reliable in the scoring department. For Near Dark, the memorable music comes from cult favourites Tangerine Dream (my uncle was a former member, though not in the ND era). It’s a haunting and atmospheric score, and ranking as one of their best movie works alongside Risky Business.
There have since been two sequels to The Lost Boys – Lost Boys: The Tribe in 2008 and Lost Boys: The Thirst in 2010 – and although not particularly well received there w a demasand for them. It would however be safe to say, that in terms of impact on popular culture, The Lost Boys has left a bigger foot print on cinema history than Near Dark.
Winner: The Lost Boys
The overall winner, and world vampire champion of 1987?
For me, Near Dark by a Bigelow inspired shade. The Lost Boys has the cast, the comedy and the more outlandish hair and fashion, but there’s something about the style of Near Dark that seems more honed. The Lost Boys is a little more excessive. The more intense focus on the two romantic leads in Near Dark makes the love story side more believable, and more interesting, while strong performances from Pasdar and Wright, and perhaps the female touch behind the camera, offers a little more character in this one.
Perhaps I just really hated Batman and Robin that much, or I’m being biased towards Tangerine Dream as a fan of their 80’s synth scores (and because of my uncle). or it might be my swooning for Jenny Wright (probably), but Bigelow’s unique and beautifully shot vampire classic narrowly wins this battle royale.