CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS
NEAR DARK vs. THE LOST BOYS (Both from 1987)
PART 2 (OF 3)
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Paul McMahon, and Mark Onspaugh
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome back everybody!
Tonight, it’s Part 2 of FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS, NEAR DARK vs. THE LOST BOYS. Once again, L.L. Soares, Paul McMahon, and Mark Onspaugh, and myself, Michael Arruda, are all here on this panel as we try to determine which of these 1987 vampire movies is the better of the two.
Last time, NEAR DARK took Round 1, and so the score after one round, is:
NEAR DARK 1, THE LOST BOYS 0.
On to Round 2. You guys ready?
LS: No, we like just sitting here. Of course we’re ready. Let’s go!
MA: Question 2: Which film has the stronger cast?
L.L., why don’t you start us off?
LS: A lot of the cast of THE LOST BOYS is actually quite good. I’m a big fan of Jason Patric, who plays Michael. He went on to some very good roles after this movie, and he’s a sympathetic hero (although why he still lives with him mom and goes to high school when he looks to be about 25 continues to baffle me). I also like Dianne Wiest as Lucy, the mom. She went on to be in a lot of high-brow flicks.
MA: I’m with you with Wiest, but Jason Patric in this movie is a bore.
LS: As for the vampires. Hey, I have to admit that I dig Keifer. The guy has presence. You believe he leads a gang of vampires. There was a time when I didn’t like him as an actor, but I’ve definitely changed my tune on that.
MA: I definitely agree. Keifer Sutherland makes the most of his scenes here, and I liked him a lot.
LS: And Jamie Gertz is pretty hot. Edward Hermann is kind of goofy as Max. He’s not great, but he’s memorable. And I like Barnard Hughes as Grandpa. I guess he’s supposed to be a comic relief character, although he’s not the only one.
MA: You liked Max and Grandpa? Come on! As much as I like Edward Hermann, Max is an awfully weak character for someone who is supposed to be a vampire leader and a love interest for Weist’s character. I didn’t buy him in either one of these roles. I think Hermann’s miscast.
LS: Max is a dumb character. How can he be miscast? Who would you have chosen, Sir John Gielgud?
MA: Let’s see. It’s 1987. How about Kurt Russell? I would have believed him as a leader of the lost boys!
LS (shaking his head): But he’s not supposed to seem like a leader of the lost boys. He’s supposed to trick you. Wally Cox would have been better than Kurt Russell, but I think he was dead already by then. It’s not really an important role anyway, and Hermann is just fine in it. His overly mannered presence made me laugh, unlike Corey Feldman’s jokes.
And who doesn’t like Grandpa?!!
….but everyone else in the movie?
The other vampires are pretty bland when it comes to personalities, so they didn’t impress me much at all.
And then we get to the true reason why THE LOST BOYS is fatally flawed. The “other” storyline that’s going on here. The one starring the “Two Coreys.”
MA (rolls eyes): Ugh!
LS: It’s like there are two movies going on simultaneously. The real one, where Jason Patric struggles not to become a vampire. And then there’s a second one, starring Corey Haim and Corey Feldman.
Corey Haim plays Sam, Michael’s younger brother, and he’s just another annoying brat. I hated all his scenes. But he’s Laurence Olivier next to Corey Feldman, possibly the worst actor in the history of movies.
MA: I actually liked Haim when I re-watched THE LOST BOYS for this column. Feldman, not so much, but I wouldn’t call him the worst actor ever. Some folks in the TWILIGHT movies have dibs on that distinction.
LS: You liked Corey Haim? Well, there goes your credibility out the window. His performance is just made up of stupid jokes that aren’t funny, him whining all the time, and telling people he has nightmares because of comic books. He’s just a little jerk. As for Feldman. He’s not the worst actor ever? What planet are you from? I don’t like the TWILIGHT movies but even a shirtless (and brainless) Taylor Lautner could act Feldman under the table! Come on!
MA: We’ll see how you feel this November when we review the final TWILIGHT movie.
LS: In THE LOST BOYS, Feldman plays Edgar Frog, who, with his blander and less annoying brother Alan (Jamison Newlander), runs a comic book store and also keeps track of the vampire residents of the seaside town they live in, Santa Clara. They’re supposed to be funny (one is named Edgar and one is Alan, get it?), but they’re just complete assholes. Feldman especially acts if he is in a completely other movie—some lame-ass teen comedy—because he certainly doesn’t take any of this stuff seriously, and personally I think that’s because he can’t. He doesn’t have the acting ability to portray a serious character. He’s a clown.
I can tell these characters are complete idiots the first time Sam goes into the Frog brothers’ comic book store. They have a conversation about Superman comics that is just friggin’ lame and shows that they probably know nothing about real comics books. And then Sam says “I’m looking for a copy of number 14 of Superman, which, if they had one, would be worth thousands of dollars. It’s just asinine.
But I’ll go so far as to say every single time this movie focuses on the two Coreys and their shenanigans, the entire movie comes to screeching halt. You lose any momentum that has been building, any attempts at the movie being scary, and you lose any belief or concern about the other, real, storyline. They just completely ruin the movie for you. And that goes double for Feldman, who is like cinematic poison here.
I don’t know if he’s this bad in every movie he’s in—because I kind of avoid Corey Feldman movies—but I don’t remember him being half as annoying in STAND BY ME (1986).
Director Joel Schumacher (more on him later) should have made up his mind. Did he want to make a good horror movie about a guy struggling to remain human, or did he want to make a crappy teen comedy where Corey Haim and Corey Feldman constantly do things to get middle-school kids to laugh? Because he can’t have both.
MA: Well, he could have had both if he took both storylines seriously. The “Coreys” story is simply too goofy, but if those teens were portrayed as real people rather than as cartoonish vampire hunters, then their scenes would have been better. In FRIGHT NIGHT, for example, the humor in the Roddy McDowall storyline works because McDowall took the role seriously.
LS: Don’t mention Roddy McDowall in the same breath with those two teen twerps! They ruined THE LOST BOYS!
Which brings us to NEAR DARK. I dug every single cast member, except maybe Homer, who got on my nerves most of the time, but nowhere near as much as the Coreys. And Jenette Goldstein as Diamonback either isn’t fleshed out enough or isn’t memorable enough to stand out for me. But everyone else—I don’t’ need to list them all, do I?: —is just really good here. I even like Tim Thomerson (a B-movie veteran) as Caleb’s dad, even though he doesn’t have a lot to do here, and I like Marcie Leeds, who plays his little sister Sarah, a lot. (Marcie is a way better child actor than Joshua John Miller as Homer, by the way).
Hands down, NEAR DARK has the better cast. Even if THE LOST BOYS had even more good actors, it would lose. Because Corey Feldman’s performance is made of anti-matter and negates everything it touches.
MA: I wish you’d tell us what you really think about him.
LS: Sorry, I know I held back a little.
MA: Paul, what about you?
PM: This is a tough call.
THE LOST BOYS had more name recognition with lots of popular Teen Beat pinup stars, multiple Emmy nominee Edward Herrmann and Diane Wiest, coming off her first Oscar win for HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986). Even so, not a whole lot of acting showed up onscreen. Herrmann and Wiest had very little to do, and in the end Corey Haim did the most of the actual acting in the film.
LS: You call that acting?
PM: Yeah. He’s pretty good in his scenes.
MA: I agree with Paul. I liked Haim in this movie.
LS (shakes his head): You guys have gone crackers.
PM: In NEAR DARK, the actors were less well known, with Lance, Bill and Jenette Goldstein (who played Jesse Hooker’s girl Diamondback) all coming off ALIENS the year before.
The relationship between Caleb and Mae (Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright) in NEAR DARK was based on exactly the same set up as the relationship between Michael and Star (Jason Patric and Jami Gertz) in THE LOST BOYS, namely, a horny man thinking: “What a babe! I’m'a get me somma dat!” In NEAR DARK, though, the relationship is far more involved because after Mae bites Caleb, beginning his turn into a vampire, she’s put in charge of getting Caleb to make his first kill and turning him completely, something he is resisting.
LS: I really liked that aspect of the story.
PM: And as for child vampires, Homer would have Laddie for breakfast. The NEAR DARK cast evokes a lot more emotion than the cast of THE LOST BOYS, and is more believable to boot.
My vote for the best cast goes to NEAR DARK.
MA: I agree with Paul that Dianne Wiest and Edward Hermann are fine actors, but neither of them had much to do in THE LOST BOYS. I actually thought Corey Haim did an excellent job as Sam, but I didn’t like the plot he was stuck in at all, involved with those silly juvenile vampire hunters.
But I was most impressed with Kiefer Sutherland as the vampire David. To me, he’s the best part of THE LOST BOYS. I wish he had been the main vampire in the movie, and the story had been built around him. Oh well.
LS: Sutherland is pretty much the main vampire in this movie, and it kinda was built around him, so I don’t know what you’re whining about. Their “big boss” is a secret until the end and certainly the movie isn’t built around him.
MA: If Sutherland were truly the main vampire he’d still be around at the film’s conclusion!
LS: That’s such a minor point. I’m judging the whole movie, not the last two minutes. Why are you so hung up on who ultimately is the “main vampire.” As far as screen time, and the impression he makes on you, Sutherland is the main vampire.
MA: I’m just saying he’s my favorite character in the movie, and for my tastes, he’s not in it enough, nor is the story built around him as much as I wish it were. You obviously disagree.
In NEAR DARK, Adrian Pasdar is okay as Caleb Colton, but he certainly didn’t wow me. But Jenny Wright as the vampire Mae, now she’s a different story! Her quirky beauty in NEAR DARK makes her one hot vampire. Sizzle!
I also really enjoyed Lance Henriksen as lead vampire Jesse Hooker. To me, he’s the presence that is so sorely lacking in THE LOST BOYS. Had Sutherland been in LOST BOYS more, then I think he would have given the movie that presence, but as it stands, he’s not as powerful a character as Henriken’s Jesse. For me, Henriksen is the most memorable part of NEAR DARK.
LS: I can’t praise Henriksen enough. He is terrific in NEAR DARK. One of his best roles.
MA: Surprisingly, I didn’t like Bill Paxton all that much in this one, and this surprises me because usually I enjoy him a lot. I think it’s because it’s the same “Bill Paxton” shtick we’ve seen before in other movies, and I don’t think it works as well when he’s a vampire. I didn’t find him as funny as a vampire, but I also had a hard time taking him seriously as a psycho vampire.
LS: I thought Paxton was annoying at times, but I think that was on purpose. Overall, I loved his performance in NEAR DARK. The guy is a force of nature, and he deserves more roles like this.
MA: Well, I found his portrayal of a vampire too annoying!
But I did enjoy veteran actor Tim Thomerson as Caleb’s devoted dad, Loy, who spends the bulk of the movie trying to save his son from the vampires.
LS: Thomerson is great.
MA: I like Sutherland and Haim in THE LOST BOYS, and I like Henriksen, Wright, and Thomerson in NEAR DARK. Advantage: NEAR DARK.
What did you think, Mark?
MO: I love Dianne Wiest in THE LOST BOYS, and Edward Hermann is good as the bumbling, good-natured head vampire.
(MA& LS groan).
MO: But come on – NEAR DARK has Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein, all from ALIENS (1986), and Jack Deth himself, Tim Thomerson!
Gotta go with NEAR DARK on cast.
MA: Round 2 goes to NEAR DARK as well. After two rounds, it’s:
NEAR DARK – 2, THE LOST BOYS – 0.
On to Round 3.
Question 3: Which film has the more effective screenplay?
Paul, let’s start with you.
PM: I’m not a fan of horror movies that pretend to be comedies. What little threat there is in THE LOST BOYS comes from Michael allowing himself to get pulled steadily into David’s group so that he can be with Star. This tension is offset by Michael’s brother Sam getting pulled into the comic zaniness of the vampire hunting Frog Brothers. The first time I watched them enter the sunken hotel, I expected them to chicken out and run away screaming. That said, the screenplay balances those elements at least as well as a good YA novel would. It keeps the suspense all the way through to the end of the film, with the only real let down being that it ended on a punch line. A punch line, for chrissakes!
MA: You found suspense in THE LOST BOYS? Seriously? I thought THE LOST BOYS completely dropped the ball on anything remotely related to horror.
LS: If it focused on Patric and Sutherland and Gertz as a love triangle, it would have worked.
PM: NEAR DARK is solid, brooding and downright scary in parts, not to mention a whole lot bloodier than THE LOST BOYS. While Michael brazenly ignores that Star is hanging out with some very shady characters, NEAR DARK’S Caleb has been bitten and is forced to remain among her band of rowdies to stay alive. The stakes for him are higher (take the pun as you will).
However, the ending of NEAR DARK didn’t pop like it should’ve, it just kind of fizzed out. The vampires just seem to give up, a huge disappointment which seemed out of character. While that might have been done to keep the running time down, it looked like Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red just plain ran out of ideas.
I give a slight edge to THE LOST BOYS in terms of screenplay.
MA: I completely disagree.
I give the screenplay edge to NEAR DARK, hands down.
The screenplay to NEAR DARK by Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red is a gritty realistic tale that remembers something important, something that THE LOST BOYS forgot: it’s a horror movie, stupid! It also remembers to be scary!
THE LOST BOYS screenplay by Janice Fisher, James Jeremias, and Jeffrey Boam ruins any chance of it being taken seriously by throwing in a silly vampire hunter plot that belongs in a kids’ movie, or at least a PG movie. What’s it doing in an R rated movie? It just doesn’t fit in at all!
And the attempts at humor in THE LOST BOYS all misfire. The humor is nowhere near as sharp or as biting—heh heh—as the humor in its 1980s contemporary, FRIGHT NIGHT (1985).
LS: Hell, FRIGHT NIGHT is a better vampire movie than THE LOST BOYS.
MA: But the worst part of THE LOST BOYS story is that the vampires are not treated seriously. It’s a very superficial screenplay. It comes off as “let’s write a story about vampires without really caring if anyone believes it or not. After all, who believes in vampires?” Sorry, but this is the wrong approach.
This surprised me, because screenwriter Jeffrey Boam, who passed away in 2000, has a lot of screenplay credits, and I like a bunch of movies he wrote: THE DEAD ZONE (1983), INNERSPACE (1987), FUNNY FARM (1988) and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989). Oh well. You can’t strike gold all the time.
LS: Well, I agree about THE DEAD ZONE, but none of those other credits wow me.
Look, I’ve said it before. THE LOST BOYS had potential. If it stuck to the serious aspects of the story, it could have been a classic of its time. But the silly antics of the kids just overshadows everything and ruins the tone, and anything good about the script, and worst of all, those scenes aren’t even funny, so they sacrificed the good stuff for nothing! Watching it again this week, I noticed how good it could have been, and it kind of saddened me. . It was a lost opportunity. With a better script, a different director, and some changes in the cast, it could have been terrific. But as it is, it’s a bad movie.
The screenplay for NEAR DARK is far superior. Sure, it’s dated now in some ways, and it certainly has flaws in logic, but overall, its’ a solid story that holds up very well over 20 years later. Kathryn Bigelow proved this was no fluke. She went on to make more great movies like STRANGE DAYS (1995) and she won the Oscar for THE HURT LOCKER (2008). And Eric Red is another talented writer. He also gave us THE HITCHER (1986, and 2007) and BODY PARTS (1991).
You can’t compare the quality of the scripts. NEAR DARK wins hands down.
MO: I think the bleak, desolate vision of Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red’s NEAR DARK holds up better than the jokey, bright and candy-colored screenplay of THE LOST BOYS, even though I liked some of the latter’s riffs on Peter Pan, including a pirate’s cave and seeking “mother” for those lost boys…
LS: Yeah, and the title of course. The Peter Pan riffs were one of the best things about THE LOST BOYS. And yet another aspect squandered by an otherwise putrid script.
MO: But I found NEAR DARK more intense and less hopeful, because of the lack of one-liners and kooky characters, and that made the triumph of our protagonists all the sweeter, because the film could have gone either way, as opposed to THE LOST BOYS where you just know they’re not going to kill off the two Coreys.
LS: Oh, I wish they had.
MO: So, I’m going with NEAR DARK, too.
LS; The only logical choice, I’d say.
MA: Okay, then. Round 3 goes to NEAR DARK, despite Paul’s misguided vote for THE LOST BOYS.
Which brings the tally up to NEAR DARK – 3, THE LOST BOYS – 0.
And that’s all the time we have for tonight. Join us next Friday for the third and final segment of this debate to see if THE LOST BOYS will ever score a point, or if NEAR DARK will march on towards a decisive win.
Thanks for joining us, everybody. See you next Friday!
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Mark Onspaugh and Paul McMahon