The 13th Floor

Blood is Blood: Queer Subtext in THE LOST BOYS

The first time I saw THE LOST BOYS, I was too young to acknowledge the reasons for its charm over me. It was a fun, subversive vampire movie with a rocking soundtrack. But as I got older, and started figuring things out about myself, the film took on new meanings for me. It was an allegory for… something. Teen rebellion? Alcoholism and drug use? All valid, non-subtle metaphors. Then it hit me: these characters and situations are unconsciously, undeniably queer.

Sure, when this notion first crossed my mind, I dismissed it outright as a personal projection. I used to think I was crazy for finding homoerotic undertones in this movie. It’s just ’80s camp, full of hyper-masculinity and softcore sex and… men seducing other men into drinking their blood. Nope, that’s pretty overt. Hunk-and-a-half Michael falls into a group of pretty punk boys who push him further off the edge of normalcy, until he ends up drinking the darkly charming leader’s blood and beginning to transform into a monster like them. Of course, Michael defeats the evil and returns to “humanity” – but for ninety minutes, he teeters on the borderline. David’s influence over him is powerful. He gives him a beautiful woman, eternal life, and irresistible charm… at the cost of becoming what normal society deems a devil.

Not the most positive message for a young gay person, but the subtext is hard to ignore once you’ve spotted it. It’s also important to acknowledge that Joel Schumacher is an openly gay director, and has never been shy about his influences. This is the man who put nipples on Batman and Robin’s rubber suits. Schumacher populated THE LOST BOYS with a bunch of ultra-babes and gave his characters stereotypically gay traits. I mean, Sam dresses flamboyantly and has a Rob Lowe poster on his wall. The head vampire creates a harem of young men whom he infects and controls. It’s great fun, too, but there are some serious allegations at its core.

There is a history of these themes spread throughout vampire literature. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” depicts a sensual female vampire seducing a young virgin — without the supernatural elements, it’s basically a story of a naive girl mistaking sexual advances for very intimate friendship; it happens all the time. (Seriously — it’s one of growing up gay’s biggest heartbreaks.)

This erotic aura found explicit adaptation in the films of Jean Rollin, which are full of bisexual female creatures who seduce and destroy their hapless male victims… but not before they make out a little first.

THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (Dir. Jean Rollin, 1982)

Bram Stoker drew heavily from his submissive relationship to actor Henry Irving for DRACULA, a novel about a parasitic man who feasts on the vitality of other men — and women, too, but come on, he fights off his brides and claims ownership over Jonathan first. F.W. Murnau, a gay man, directed the first adaptation of this novel as NOSFERATU, which depicts the titular vampire as a hideous ghoul; far from the suave, straight bloodsucker made iconic by Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning’s 1931 adaptation.

Considering the politics of the late 1980s — the AIDS crisis, gay rights protests, and Ronald Reagan turning a blind eye — this analogy becomes far less flippant. Thousands of people were dying from a mysterious blood borne disease that left its victims emaciated, half-human. For those seeking moral comfort, the diseased deserved their fate – they contracted the virus from aberrant sex acts. This type of thinking allowed the nation to close their eyes as people died unnecessarily and without honor. Looking back at THE LOST BOYS, it makes sense to me that I interpreted the film the way I did. In a way, it’s a warning; just as DRACULA promotes rigid Victorian sexuality over wanton lust, Schumacher protects the conventional American family from a clan of blood-poisoning demons.

DRACULA (Dir. Tod Browning, 1931)

Yet it’s those very demons, the others, to whom I find myself relating most. Stories like DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY still hold their power because they explore themes of social rejection, being labelled a freak. In many ways, THE LOST BOYS continues that tradition. It offers a vocal expression of themes, even fantasies, that some people think they must keep a secret. And not all the possibly queer characters are monsters — we can’t forget Sam, after all, whom Schumacher mercifully leaves without a love interest. The campiness is celebrated, and Schumacher makes few efforts to conceal what seems to be his intent: These vampires are super gay.

One day, it would be nice to encounter more horror stories that do not so morally demonize the other, and allow that aberrance to triumph in some way. Just as female filmmakers have started breaking through boundaries and giving horror a fresh, brilliant voice, queer filmmakers should be able to do the same. For now, we have the glorious and well-aged cheese of Schumacher’s classic — crazy hair, flamboyant fashions, and not-so-hidden themes included.