One of my favorite vampire films is a “cult” classic, Joel Schumacher’s 1987 film The Lost Boys. I was therefore pleased to find a paper presented by Jeremy Tirrell at the national convention of the Popular Culture Association that deals with the film titled “The Bloodsucking Brady Bunch: Reforming the Family Unit in the The Lost Boys. The paper is found on Tirrell’s “print archive” section of his website, and he considers it a “work in progress.
Tirrell develops his treatment of the film by placing it in its historical and social context in connection with the country’s debate over the issue of single mothers in relation to more traditional family values. This was exemplified in Dan Quayle’s infamous negative comments about a single mother having a child in the Murphy Brown television program. Despite its commercial success and ongoing “cult” status, while this film can be enjoyed (and casually dismissed) as little more than a vampire and teen angst piece of entertainment, Tirrell points out that the film also explores important issues related to womanhood, motherhood, the single-parent family, and the single mother.
“The images of literal estrangement suggest a metaphorical interpretation of the title in which children are not only physically separated from their homes but become members of a figuratively lost generation. The primary family structure in the film is the single-parent family. The main characters, both human and vampiric, are children who are products of these broken homes and are at risk for corruption. The film’s title implies that these children have become figuratively lost in the sundering of traditional family ties – a fear that was prevalent in the mid-1980s and remains applicable.”
The film explores the issues related to the family not only through the social dynamics and symbolism described above, but also through a number of parallels with J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. As Tirrell points out, not only are their “lost boys” in both stories, but the plots of the works intertwine, and Tirrell also makes an interesting case for “Peter’s youth and the emphatic attention the text pays to the potency of his mouth suggest a form of vampirism.”
Beyond the connection to Peter Pan, Tirrell also contrasts this vampire film with Stoker’s Dracula, but notes that while Dracula perverted the family unit, in a strange way the lead vampire in The Lost Boys, Max, actually seeks to “return to a traditional [family] structure,” even if it is tainted with the vampiric curse of the undead. In this sense, Tirrell notes that Max “emblemizes the film’s portrayal of the shifting concept of fatherhood.”
At one point in the film as Max explains his desires to unite the undead and living teens into “one big happy family,” one of the characters, Edgar Frog, replies, “Great, the bloodsucking Brady Bunch.” Tirrell picks up on this reference to a television program that attempted to reassert traditional family values when the traditional family was fragmenting and culture was experimenting with various forms of non-traditional families and states:
“By the time of The Lost Boys, the traditional values of The Brady Bunch had become antiquated, naive, and nonfunctional. The family simply had changed too much to connect realistically with the ethic of Leave it to Beaver. The family structure proposed by Max in The Lost Boys is similar to that of The Brady Bunch; yet, were The Brady Bunch and its corresponding mythos somewhat revered, Edgar Frog’s remark would cause horror instead of humor. The transformatin of the traditional family for the audience of The Lost Boys was not, as it was for Dracula’s audience, a thing of revulsion, but of comedy. If there is a horror in the bloodsucking Brady Bunch, it is not derived from the pervision of the traditional family but from the realization that the concept of the traditional family has become self-parodic. This notion is crystalized by the fact that a vampire, a figure of presumed corruption, becomes the main proponent of traditional family structure.”
If you haven’t seen The Lost Boys in a while, or if you’ve never seen it, it’s worth picking up and enjoying on a number of levels. Not only is it funny and frightening, it can also give you something to think about in terms of changing family structures that are explored creatively through this great piece of cinema. (And to think that some people think that horror has no redeeming qualities or important social value.)