‘The Lost Boys’ and Me

The Lost Boys

The first time I saw The Lost Boys, I was 13 years old. I was at home, surfing channels one Saturday evening, absently flicking from commercial to commercial, from TV show to TV show. Then I came upon a scene involving kids hanging from a railroad trestle. I watched them laughing, playfully kicking each other in the darkness while mist hovered beneath them. And I kept watching as a train came around the bend and rode over the top of them, as the bridge shook and rattled, as they laughed and screamed and then dropped one by one into the mist.

I watched the one with bleached blond hair tell the other, “You are one of us, Michael. Let go,” before he fell. I watched the one I presumed to be Michael try desperately to hold on, to lift himself up, left all alone. Then the voices came up toward him from the mist, saying his name: “Michael. Michael.” Then laughter. Then Michael, unable to hold on any longer, finally gives in, finally letting go, falling. 

The film cut to commercials after that. At that age I had adopted a bad habit of my fathers of switching channels whenever the commercials came on, inhabited by some restless energy, but this time I didn’t move. I stayed there and waited until it came back on. I stayed and watched the entire film. 

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The very next day I went with my mother to grab the DVD. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I had no idea if it would be in the store we were going to but, when we got to the counter, the assistant told us that it was. The only thing, he said, was that the two-disc special edition wasn’t officially out until the next day. 

I remember feeling disappointed. “We’ll get it tomorrow,” my mother said. “We’ll just come back.” But tomorrow was Monday, and tomorrow was school. The thought of having to go back home, to ride out the rest of Sunday, to get up and navigate my way through all of school to get back here, seemed impossible. Sundays had always been a hard day for me to negotiate. I would wake up with a sense of dread and spend the rest of the day feeling more tense. I would feel the threat of something hanging over me. Spend Sunday waiting, feeling like something was pending. Sundays always felt less a part of the weekend than an attack on it, something that allowed Monday and school to wrench their way in. 

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Maybe the assistant saw my face. Maybe he could read my thoughts because he reached down under the counter and came out with The Lost Boys. He said we could buy it, a day earlier than we should’ve. I remember holding it and seeing the iconic image of the poster art on the cover, the cast standing behind one another, behind them nothing but red. I cradled it all the way to the car. When we got home I immediately watched it again all the way through from the beginning.

Initially, I responded most to Corey Haim’s character, Sam. We were about the same age and we were both into comic books but I also understood him because we had both been uprooted in our lives. 

The first time we see Sam and his family, they are driving towards their new life in Santa Carla, the murder capital of the world. I saw myself in that scene because something similar had happened to me. A few years earlier, when I was ten years old, I had gone outside to find a FOR SALE sign planted in the front garden. I had stared at it for a while, unable to understand. When I asked my mother about it, she said it was a mistake and then she immediately went outside and pulled it out of the ground. 

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Afterward, I wondered how that was possible. How could something like that happen by mistake? How could reality allow someone to randomly put a FOR SALE sign in your garden where it didn’t belong? Suddenly my life felt precarious, like the reality I had known was off balance. I looked at everyone else’s houses and wondered how any of them could carry on with this hanging over them. I just didn’t understand how someone could randomly put up a sign in your garden when they felt like it. Suddenly take your home away from you, all with the power of a sign. 

But the next day the sign was back. I stared at it, this strange object placed again in my reality. This time I pulled it out of the ground myself. I expected to see my mother congratulating me but instead, I saw my grandparents standing over me, telling me to leave it there, to get away. I didn’t understand. All I remember is my grandfather telling me “All this is down to your bloody father” and I didn’t understand that either. My father was gone at this point, living somewhere in Australia. He was just a voice on the phone, something separate from a person. And still, no one was telling me what the sign meant, or why it was being put back up. No one was telling me anything. 

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Until one day my mother picked my sister and me up from school and drove us to a completely different house, in a completely different neighborhood. I remember my grandparents telling me to go inside. I remember walking from one empty room to another with them behind me and thinking that we were walking through someone else’s house, trespassing. Yet, at the same time, the house seemed so empty that it felt like it had never been occupied previously – a house with no history, no memories. Until eventually I opened the door under the stairs and saw a child’s drawing of a family, two parents, and two children, their faces grinning back at me. 

So I saw a lot of myself reflected in Corey Haim’s Sam and his situation but I also saw someone who I aspired to be. At the start of The Lost Boys, he seems excited for the move, excited for the adventure. There is an ease about him, a playfulness. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to approach things the way he did—with a sense of humor, a sense of adventure—instead of what I felt: uncertainty, confusion, fear. And then, as the film progresses, with the help of the Frog brothers he takes it upon himself to keep his family and friends safe against Max and against the vampires of Santa Carla. His bravery and his courage were also something I wanted in my own life. 

I wanted to be like that. I wanted to behave the way he behaved. 

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Into my later teen years, however, my relationship with The Lost Boys began to change. Though I still saw enough of myself reflected in Sam, I began to see more of myself being reflected in Michael, the older brother played by Jason Patrick. I was now closer to his age and was looking after my little brother as well as my mother. My father was gone at this point, his lack of money finally bringing him back from Australia to live with us, until some years later his violence and his aggression led to the police finally taking him away. 

My brother was 12 years younger than me and, with my father now gone, I was the one trying to fill that role. I was the one who walked him to school, helped him do his homework, and walked him to his friends’ houses. I was the one who worried, who constantly made sure he was okay, who would try and watch out for him against the world. 

And sometimes, just like Michael, I would have to protect him from myself. Not in terms of anger or of anything resembling my father, but from the vague feelings that could rise up in me. Feelings of resentment and displacement, that my life was being lived elsewhere. That my life had somehow shrunk down to the size of a pinprick and become only a role, the role of carer. 

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At this stage, my father’s violence and the toll it had taken on us, and on me specifically, was showing itself in different ways. I felt uncertain, scared, fearful of every minute, every second. I spent my days feeling like I had just arrived in some new town every day—displaced, isolated, alone. 

Then, I began to feel my father’s absence in ways I hadn’t foreseen. I didn’t miss him or his violence but I was very aware of the father-shaped space that he hadn’t been able to inhabit. It reinforced to me every day what I was missing—a father figure, someone to look up to. Perhaps because of this and because my mother was ill, I would, like Michael, sometimes fall into the wrong crowd. I’d try to find things that I lacked—father figures, brother figures—in people who hadn’t earned it, who didn’t deserve it. I found myself attaching myself to different people and different cliques, competing with them.

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When Michael sees Star for the first time, and subsequently gets involved with David and the gang, I saw myself in those situations. I would become overwhelmed with feelings for people I didn’t know but for things that I could see myself feeling. The possibility of a new life, of love, of happiness, existed in the potential meeting of a new person, a new group of friends. And then sometimes I would come to in situations, maybe not as extreme as hanging from a railroad trestle or being provoked into feeding on a group of partygoers, but similar in feeling. I’d realize that this wasn’t made for me, that this wouldn’t benefit me in the short term or the long. 

In these moments I wanted to rebel against the role that had seemingly been preordained for me—the older brother, the rational one, the eldest, the carer. I wanted to throw all the shackles off and be a kid, just let go of myself for a while. I wanted to fall in with a group of people and keep falling.

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That’s how I existed for a while, bouncing from one emotional upheaval to the next. I didn’t know where I was. I was changing but in ways I couldn’t fathom. Like Michael, I would sometimes look in the mirror and be unable to see anything I recognized. I’d be able to see through myself but unsure of what. 

As I grew older, a distance from the film began to emerge. It wasn’t that I loved it any less but, when I did revisit the film, I loved it for its own sake, like I did with a lot of the films I loved – films like Big Trouble in Little China, Dark City, The Game, and Dead Man’s Curve. I would watch it for the 80s vibe—the hairstyles, the clothes—as well as the beach town setting where I wished I lived. I would watch it for the sheer joy that is Gerard McMann’s “Cry Little Sister” and the iconic playing from Tim Cappello on saxophone singing “I Still Believe!”

It planted a seed in me that caused me to seek out other films from the same period that I grew to love, films like Near Dark and Vamp and Fright Night. And I loved the comfort it would bring me, the memories of going to get it on that Sunday after watching it for the first time; memories of those mornings when I would put on the DVD after waking up; memories of staying round my grandparents’ house and watching it in the afternoon. 

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This is where the film lived, how it lived. 

And then, at some point, something else happened. 

Later, now years removed from having watched it for the first time, my relationship with the film changed again. I began to see myself reflected in another character, a character without a reflection. I began to see my parts of myself reflected in Kiefer Sutherland’s David. He seemed less elusive to me now, not quite as much of an enigma while simultaneously not just a “villain”. 

I would watch the scene in the video store when Max tells David and the others “You’re not supposed to come around here anymore” and I would think of the disassociation David has with his old life, his old family. How he is cast off from being human, from the daylight, but also from the boardwalk, the video store, people. I would feel the same, this divide between my own life and my own father. It wasn’t just a generational divide but something that seemed to span lifetimes, centuries, something already in motion before I was born. 

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I would watch the scene near the end of the film when David reverts back to a boy, and feel a deeper sadness for him than I had before. To me, David was stunted, forever trapped in a young man’s body, because I myself felt stunted in some ways. I felt like my friends were moving on without me, I felt like I’d missed out on being a child, felt like I’d missed out on the feelings of safety I should’ve acquired at home. I hadn’t grown up organically, in a safe environment. In some ways, I felt like I had been a scared child forever. 

I would watch Star say to Max that he was the secret David was protecting, watch Max smile and nod seemingly without sympathy or responsibility, and I would be reminded of my own father because my father had done the same. He would blame my mother, he would blame the situation, blame everything else but him. He would never hold himself responsible. When things happened they happened to him, not because of him. 

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But I also understood David protecting the secret of Mac because I had protected my father in my own way for so long. I had kept all the violence and the aggression secret, had kept it all locked inside my own version of Santa Carla. A secret forever threatening to get out until it did.

Because I began to see something else. It wasn’t just the characters I saw myself reflected in the film but the town of Santa Carla itself. I began to see that my childhood had been spent living in my own version of Santa Carla. Like Santa Carla, my house had seemed sunny and lush on the outside, full of merry-go-rounds and boardwalks and video stores. But behind its walls lay something else entirely; a darkness, an evil. It could appear nice, it could appear fun, but underneath it could also be violent. It could reach out and it could hurt you.

A childhood spent living in Santa Carla, and I was in pain all the time. 

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Since that very first time I saw the film, I have followed The Lost Boys on every platform. I’ve had it on DVD, Blu-ray, VHS, and now 4K. I even went to see The Lost Boys with my brother and sister for its 35th anniversary 4K restoration. Seeing it in theaters, I heard Gerard McMann’s “Cry Little Sister” start playing as the camera flew over the waves, and I was there, somehow, in 1987. I was a child in a movie theatre in 1987 watching The Lost Boys for the first time, three years before I had been born. 

The Lost Boys repeatedly allowed me to do this: to change time, to enter a different world, a different period. It has allowed me to be someone else, a different character, a different version of myself. The version of myself at thirteen watching the film for the first time isn’t the version of myself now, but in many ways I am still every one of them; I am still Michael and Sam and David and myself. I am still juggling these different pieces of myself, these boys who are trapped and living in the town of Santa Carla. Boys who are lost but who are aching to be found.



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