by Jay Stringer
I’ve done it again. I’ve been surprised by a second sequel.
Earlier in the month I was bowled over by The Exorcist 3, a film that impressed me with its consistency and clarity. But surely that was a one off?
Heading into this last week of the horror season, I decided to turn my attention to one of the oldest staples of horror cinema – Vampires. The final film that I’ll write about is an old favourite of mine, so there’s no mystery what that piece will be like. For today I decided to pick an easy target and went for Lost Boys: The Thirst.
If you’re my age there is a fair chance that you have some strong memories of The Lost Boys. It was bold, it had some loud music and, at the time, it was scary. Time and memory have a way of hiding negatives and accentuating positives, and films can go from being ‘good fun’ to being ‘great.’
For a long time I held The Lost Boys to be a great film. I would tell newcomers that it was a classic, that they would need to watch it straight away and then watch it again straight away because of its magic powers of awesome.
I would remember the POV flight scenes, such as the fairground attack and the approaching vamps as David runs to fetch the dog. I would remember great music and Kiefer Sutherland looking damn cool. The two things I would remember most of all would be the great last line of dialogue and the Frog brothers.
Returning to it as an adult strips away a lot of the nostalgia. It’s still a good film, but it’s now in its correct place. It’s fun. Its dark gothic camp; hammer horror wrapped into the leather and lighting of Joel Schumacher. The POV flight scenes are still very effective, but the music hasn’t aged well, and Sutherland just looks a bit silly. In fact, the silliness is contagious. Not one single person comes out of the film with any style points. This was the 80s’ folks, and unless you’re Marty McFly, Peter Venkman or Indiana Jones, then I’m not cutting you any slack.
(The Frog brothers come close though. Leave me alone, I was young.)
I don’t want to go overboard with the criticisms. It’s still a fun film. There are certain facts that we don’t always like to admit. A great bar band might not be reinventing music, but they’re still a great bar band. And a well-made B movie might not change the way we see the world, but it’s still a well-made movie.
There is a fun struggle at the heart of the film between two very different tones. One the one hand there is the romance and the fetishism of the vampire genre that has become increasingly prevalent again. Young people wanting to dream about being young forever, looking moody, and never outgrowing that leather jacket (oh, and falling in love for ever and ever amen.). On the other hand there is a very animal element to the vampires, and a need to show them as monsters. Maybe that was a riff on the fight between the romance of free love and the harshness of the 80’s AIDS scare, maybe it wasn’t. Also at play was a tug of war between a film that wanted to be hip and violent, and a film that wanted to be fun and corny. Often these things can derail a film, but I think in the case of The Lost Boys it’s those very contradictions that are keeping the film going.
This is all very important to understanding how I ended up having a really good time watching Lost Boys: The Thirst,but first we have to wash out the bad taste left by the first sequel.
Lost Boys: The Tribe was truly awful. It had all of the weaknesses of the first film but none of the strengths. It was poorly scripted, badly directed and missed the point by about 20 years. Lets all agree from this point on that the film never happened, okay?
Without reading any reviews I’m pretty sure that the third film will have taken a mauling. I also don’t think any of it will be fare. If we return to the idea that the original was a well-made B-movie, cheesy and fun, then we have the perfect grounding to enjoy The Thirst. It’s The Lost Boysfor our time, for the here and now, not for 1987. Many of the elements that bubbled away beneath the surface back then are now front and centre in pop culture. The battle between the romanticists and the horror fans has been fought and lost; Vampires are now shiny things that fall in love with us, not creatures that want us for food. That very issue is addressed directly in the plot, with the vampires seeking to exploit the naivety of their new-found popularity.
20 years on, Allan Frog is a vampire and Edgar Frog is a grizzly loner living in a trailer. Halfway through the film I realised the joke; Edgar is now Wolverine. He’s short and hairy and grunts his way through life. The plot is a little rushed, but it just about hangs together, something to do with a kidnap and a best-selling vampire novelist. A few of the plot elements that don’t seem to make sense at first are down to a twist near the end, and they make much more sense watching the film with the twist in mind.
The dialogue is perfect for the film, in that it’s cheesy as hell. The Thirst doesn’t really have the tortured side of the first film, there’s no part of it that wants to be taken seriously as art. The Frog Brothers were one of the cheesiest elements of the original, and so it makes sense that a film centred on them would run with the goofy fun of the whole thing. The opening titles set the tone for the film, a mix of live action and comic-book images. Edgar delivers lines like; “He’s breeding an un-dead army, and the only thing that stands between him and the annihilation of the entire human race- potentially- would be us.” And the whole thing is done with enough of a balanced dead-pan humour to make it work.
And I’m not being an apologist. Aside from such simple things as the actors ‘getting’ the script, the film itself is well put together. Maybe I’m getting old, but this looks a hell of a lot better than straight to DVD films used to. It might be easy to rail on Schumacher with the benefit of hindsight, but I’m going to risk doing it anyway; This film is not directed any worse than the original. In fact, with the formers fetishism stripped out it’s a more consistent film. It never delivers anything in the way of scares but I also don’t think it sets out to. It’s an action movie and a comedy that just happens to have vampires in it.
Along the way it plays with a few conventions of modern horror films. I’ve already discussed the conflict between the Twilight era and the monster movie elements, but the film provides a satisfying full stop to that battle, even of it’s only for this movie. Something I mentioned when I was writing about Jeepers Creepers was the trend to have characters that seem to know they are in a horror film. Here we see two characters making a reality TV show, who both think that the vampires they are hunting don’t really exist. This sets up a fun new idea; characters who thinkthey are in one kind of film but are actually in a completely different genre. I’d hate to see this trick repeated too often, but I enjoyed seeing it here.
The film risks going off the rails in the final act simply because of our own baggage. Once Edgar goes up against the sword wielding big bad, I couldn’t help but think of theBlade movies. But rather than the hard-as-nails looking Blade, who we can believe as a warrior, we have the everyman Edgar Frog, small and worn around the edges. This might be a deal breaker for a lot of people, but it worked for me.
The film doesn’t get a full pass mark though. Whilst it doesn’t have any major problems, it does have a lot of small ones that begin to add up. The acting is uneven and the characterisation is inconsistent. Edgar seems reluctant to take on a case one minute, then gung ho the next. Tanit Phoenix is cast as the novelist and does a decent job of the acting, but her character goes through quite a few changes. When first introduced she is a timid and spectacled novelist. In her next scene she undergoes a transformation in front of us, from a cutesy shy writer to a lingerie-clad femme fatale, as if the filmmakers only just realised they had cast a supermodel. The fact that this happens on screen could suggest the move was deliberate, that it was a clever trick by the director to show how she is manipulating those around her. Or it could be a bit of lazy story telling. I’ll let you decide.
The story telling is a little uneven and lazy in places, scenes exits only to pad out the running time and characters are asked to return to locations they were at just two minutes ago, in order to deliver more exposition. Writers shouldn’t let themselves fall into these traps. If you’re writing a scene that is similar to something that happened one or two scenes ago, take a long hard look at whether they both need to be there. Can the information be distilled? Whether consciously or unconsciously, on some level the audience know when we are phoning it in.
The film plays a little loose with a few of the rules set up in the first film, such as how quickly someone can be turned, but it also gets wildly creative with others. A vampire still can’t enter your home unless you invite them, but what’s to stop them burning you out?
The final vampire death is fun too. I’ve seen it done before, by Grant Morrison in a Vampirella comic, but it was done in a fun way on screen.
Let’s forget that the second film ever happened (“what second film?” “Damn straight.”) The Thirst is a fun film, and a sequel that honours the spirit of the original. This film isn’t strong enough to rise into being a Good Example, but it exists in that gray area in between. One of the basic conceits of this column is that some films are good and some are bad, but between the two lay a lot of films that we enjoy anyway. Sometimes we enjoy then in spite of their flaws, sometimes because of them. If you can’t find the fun in this movie then you must be a vampire. In fact, if you can’t find the fun in this movie, then you probably couldn’t find it in Frank Miller’s Spirit either and you shouldn’t be allowed near a film.
Next up I conclude the horror season with a look at my favourite vampire movie.