Since it started back in December of last year, Final Girl Fashion has stayed true to its name, celebrating the well-dressed women who save the day in films like Night of the Comet, The Shining and, most recently, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But this column was intended to be a celebration of horror fashion of all facets, a chance to elevate the incredible work of the below the line talent that manages to embellish what is already one of the most overtly heightened genres. So, when I was told that this month’s theme was Guilty Pleasures—films/topics that might feel “risky” or “challenging” to pitch—only one movie came to mind. Not only is this film extremely stylish, it is also definitively queer in its approach to the horror hero narrative. I’m, of course, talking about The Lost Boys (1987).
Directed by the late, great and openly gay Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, 2004’s adaptation of Phantom of the Opera), The Lost Boys follows teen brothers Michael and Sam Emerson (Jason Patric and Corey Haim, respectively) and the bloodthirsty bad boys (led by David, a super sultry Kiefer Sutherland) who stalk their new hometown, Santa Carla (a.k.a. the Murder Capital of the World!). With a killer soundtrack (CRYYYY LITTLE SISTER!), scenery-chewing performances, and positively iconic practical effects, The Lost Boys is a true blast from start to finish, the kind of easy, breezy, sleazy horror comedy you want to sink your tired teeth into after a long work week, preferably with a side of pizza—hold the garlic!—or perhaps, more appropriately, Chinese food (after all, they’re only noodles, Michael).
As the title suggests, The Lost Boys is populated by young (or at least seemingly young) men. In fact, there are only two women who have active roles on screen: lonely lady vamp Star (Jami Gertz), and mild-mannered, middle-aged mom Lucy (Dianne Wiest). But behind the scenes, the spotlight belongs to a very talented, and very detailed-oriented, woman: costume designer Susan Becker (Flatliners, True Romance).
” Through Becker’s thoughtful styling […], the men of The Lost Boys manage to be both sexy and subversive. “
Through Becker’s thoughtful styling (and, perhaps, some input from former designer-turned-director Schumacher), the men of The Lost Boys manage to be both sexy and subversive. With notably opposing looks and interests, the film’s male characters represent the opposing sides of the Santa Carla boardwalk: the leather-adorned punks (the vampires and, eventually, Michael) and the lycra-loving pop preps (Sam).
The Lost Boys themselves wear the same outfits every day, spending their waking hours in the dark and moody pieces they were wearing when they were turned. Although each Lost Boy‘s specific outfit is unique to them (likely due to Becker allowing the actors to help pick out their character’s signature look), they are united in their overall aesthetic, which includes heavy eyeliner and assorted anarchistic accessories (see: David‘s singular earring).
While other vampire films rely on dated Gothic garb to clearly communicate who the audience should fear, the villains of this film are able to blend into their surroundings quite seamlessly, thanks to all the cool kids with pierced noses and mohawks hanging out in their beachside town. It also helps that David, their fearless leader, has a particularly trendy haircut, his forever hairdo evoking the bleached blonde mop of ’80s rocker Billy Idol.
The Lost Boys appear to both care too much and not enough, which, by any teen’s standards, is about as cool as you can get. It’s no wonder that after just one visit to the boardwalk, Michael—the older and more bland of the two Emerson brothers—is convinced to dress like David and Co., trading his uninspired brown zip-up and ratty purple sweater for an overpriced leather jacket, Ray-Ban Clubmasters and a single gold earring. Really, the only thing Michael doesn’t change is his shoulder-length hair, which is unsurprising considering how much it evokes the luscious locks of Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS (who appear on the soundtrack).
Later on in the film, Michael will drink blood with the gang, thus completing his literal physical transformation into one of the Boys. Still, the new accessories are what signal to the audience, as well as Sam, that something has changed within him.
Given how quickly he adjusts his look and his sleep schedule to fit in with the Lost Boys, we can assume that Michael was a bit of a lost boy himself before making his way to Santa Carla. David and his group of gorgeously gore-hungry goons offer Michael an opportunity to explore the scary, perhaps even forbidden, parts of himself he’s yet to let out. This exploration extends to his sexuality, which we see through his not-so-subtle verbal flirtation with David (“Now you know what we are, now you know what you are”) and his eventual bedding of the singular Lost Girl, Star.
Then there is Michael’s younger brother and The Lost Boys’ unsung hero, Sam. A dirty blonde comic book nerd with a wardrobe filled with bold printed blouses and an unbridled love for all things MTV, Sam is the polar opposite of his sibling, and not just in terms of taste. Taking after his kooky, weed-growing and Oreo-loving Grandpa (a perfectly cast Barnard Hughes), Sam seems wholly comfortable in his skin, even if means he stands out from the crowd wherever he goes.
“The Lost Boys appear to both care too much and not enough, which, by any teen’s standards, is about as cool as you can get.”
Sam has an obvious passion for fashion, as evidenced by his dozen or so outfit changes throughout the film (Michael, meanwhile, goes through a handful of variations on the t-shirt and jeans look). Sam‘s looks range from casual cool (the “Born to Shop” tee he wears at home) to playfully put-together (the oversized plaid jacket and multi-coloured button-down he wears to the comic shop). He even has an oversized version of one of the biggest fashion icons of the ’80s—a Swatch watch—hanging on his bedroom wall.
Speaking of Sam‘s bedroom, there has been much talk of the character’s choices in interior design over the years, including the seductive Rob Lowe poster that lives on his closet door (a supposed nod to Schumacher‘s St. Elmo’s Fire). While nothing is overtly stated, when you see that picture hanging alongside a giant pic of Molly Ringwald and a Reform School Girls poster, you can’t help but wonder if Sam is canonically queer, or at least comfortably in the process of figuring his preferences out. Either way, it’s clear that Sam doesn’t care what anyone thinks about how he presents himself, willing to broadcast his taste in men, women, movies and time pieces to the world. (And you thought the Lost Boys were the ones to idolize!)
Sam actually initially shuts down Edgar and Allan Frog (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), the vamp-slaying brothers who will eventually become his partners in defeating the Lost Boys. The reason? They insult his outfit, calling his wardrobe “civilian” and even deeming him a “fashion victim” (look who’s talking, guys!). Oh, and they also question his knowledge of Superman (huge mistake!), assuming that Sam isn’t a real fanboy by just looking at him.
What’s cool is that even when Sam does find common ground with the Frog bros after discovering what’s really happening with Michael, he doesn’t change his style to suit them. As they search for the head vampire, Sam still flaunts his collection of standout toppers. Meanwhile, his new pals don fine, but uninspired macho merch (think plaid button-downs, army jackets).
Edgar and Allan may dress like the stereotypical heroes of the action movies of the era (Feldman was apparently directly told to channel Rambo and Chuck Norris), but Sam is the truly heroic force in the film’s climax. Sure, the Frog brothers start the bloodbath at the Lost Boys lair (ICYMI; the already glamorous vamps literally bleed glitter!). But during the final battle at the Emerson house, Sam is a literal guiding light of the group, creatively locating vamps with a standing lamp (while wearing a standout teal pullover windbreaker, natch). This act of obvious leadership results in the iconic “Death by stereo!” sequence, a genius nod to how MTV and the introduction of music videos “killed” the radio stars of the previous era.
Although he has a gender neutral name like some of the most notable horror heroines that came before him (think Jess, Laurie and Ripley of Black Christmas, Halloween and Alien), Sam is an overt subversion of the Final Girl archetype. Aside from the fact that he is a boy, he also makes a concerted effort not to turn down his brightness to battle the forces of darkness. His choices—in fashion and beyond—are made out of preference, not out of perceptions of what a hero should look or act like.
“[The Lost Boys] ultimately has a serious message about gender, sexuality and the damaging expectations we put on both.”
Interestingly, the only other male character who competes with Sam in terms of statement fashion is Lucy‘s suspiciously stylish new beau, Max (Edward Herrmann). When we first meet Max at his workplace (arguably one of the coolest video stores on film), he is wearing clear glasses, a fuchsia blouse and a checkered jacket. He seems like a hip guy, or at very least an uncool guy co-opting the hipster culture of the day. The latter, it turns out, is the truth.
It is eventually revealed that Max is actually the head vampire, the big Daddy to David and all the other Lost Boys. His keen fashion sense is an effort to blend in with humanity, to convince his hopeful new family (Lucy, Michael and Sam) to let him in, literally and figuratively. It’s unsurprising that his style echoes Sam, the most untrusting and pure of the Emerson clan.
Thankfully, the devious Max is no match the Emersons. He, along with the Lost Boys, are defeated by a Sam, the Frog brothers, a changed-for-the-better Michael and, of course, Grandpa. In the end, the Emersons and the Frogs are the only survivors aside from Star and Laddie, both of whom appear to have been innocent victims of circumstance.
While The Lost Boys is well-known for ending on a joke (“One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach: all the damn vampires,” Grandpa quips before the screen fades to black), the film ultimately has a serious message about gender, sexuality and the damaging expectations we put on both. By having only women and self-assured male characters make to the credits, The Lost Boys suggests that toxic masculinity, even in seemingly queer spaces, is evil. We, like Sam, must keep an eye out for those who uphold it for they, much like poorly preserved vintage clothes, are easy to see through and bound to unravel.