Face-Off: The Lost Boys vs. Near Dark

Back in 1987, two great vampire movies were released within a couple months of each other - Joel Schumacher's THE LOST BOYS hit at the end of July and Kathryn Bigelow's NEAR DARK followed at the beginning of October. While one had a bigger and more successful theatrical run than the other, both have endured as classic entries in the vampire sub-genre. Both films will soon be celebrating their 30th anniversary, so let's mark the occasion by putting them head-to-head in this week's Face-Off.
The main group of vampires in this film look like "wild child" teenagers who have been hit hard by the '80s, but their features are changed by some creepy makeup effects when they're ready to consume some blood. The standout of the bunch is David, because he's apparently the leader and he's played by Kiefer Sutherland. The rest are mostly there just to laugh their way through the movie - these vampires are having a hell of a lot of fun being immortal and picking off victims at the boardwalk. You'd be hard pressed to find any actual character within David's lackeys Marko, Dwayne, and Paul. (You'd get points just for knowing all three of those names.) Little kid vampire Laddie is memorable, and there's some interesting stuff with the real head vampire.
Drifting around America and racking up nightly kills, the vampires of NEAR DARK are about as down-to-earth as bloodsuckers can get. They don't go through monstrous transformations when they're hungry, they don't even have fangs. They'll bite into a throat now and then, but they're more likely to use a blade to slash open someone's throat so the blood will pour out. The group consists of tough Civil War veteran Jesse; wild man Severen; den mother Diamondback; Homer, a character who has been alive for a very long time but was turned into a vampire as a child - and since vampires don't age, he's stuck looking like a kid forever; and Mae, who has only been a vampire for a few years and is still in touch with her humanity. Mae causes a lot of trouble for the group when she makes her own addition to it.
Not knowing that the town of Santa Carla is infested with vampires, the Emerson family - single mom Lucy and teen sons Michael and Sam - have moved there to live with Lucy's eccentric father, who spends his free time practicing taxidermy and romancing the local widows. The typical brooding teen, Michael gets the family into vampire trouble when a girl named Star, a vampire who still has her humanity intact, catches his eye. Sam has appalling fashion sense, loves comic books (but not horror comics), and is quite a pain, but when his brother starts to become a vampire he steps up to help him out. Quirky and likeable, Lucy has some vampire issues of her own. In the midst of all this, the Emersons meet another family: the Frog brothers, comic store clerks and vampire killers for hire. These fledgling badasses are great fun to watch.
Caleb Colton is a small town guy who's looking for some excitement, and he finds that when he meets the odd, ethereal Mae. We don't spend a great deal of time with Colton's veterinarian father Loy and younger sister Sarah, but it is made very clear that the Coltons are a close family. When Loy and Sarah witness Caleb getting abducted by the vampire clan, Loy takes the search for his son into his own hands and sets out to track the kidnappers down himself. It's a successful endeavor... The Coltons seem like good people, Caleb's father and sister just don't stand out all that much, and this is despite the fact that Loy is played by Tim Thomerson. Fans of the TRANCERS franchise shouldn't get their hopes up about what Thomerson's Loy might bring to the table. Loy and Jack Deth are very different characters.
The term "the lost boys" comes from Peter Pan, and much like Peter Pan THE LOST BOYS' vampires can fly. And they do so often. When they kill someone, we tend to see their victims being attacked from the air, getting snatched off the ground or out of a car and pulled away into the sky. There are some shots of bloody bites and torn out throats mixed in there, but they go by very quickly.
Drinking blood is a nightly necessity for these vampires, so we see all of them have liquid meals over the course of the film. The highlight is a sequence in which the group enters a remote country bar and proceeds to kill everyone inside - slashing throats with knives and spurs, biting into necks, bashing people around. It's a great scene, although the victims are slow to react to what's going on.
The lost boys do well when they're grabbing people from the sky, but when they try to attack the Emersons and Frogs inside a house it doesn't go so well for them. Of course, their intended victims are ready, having set traps and armed themselves with holy water, garlic, stakes, and arrows. Each vampire is taken down in a different way, and their demises are glorious to behold. Holy water meltdown, death by stereo, impalement... The vampire deaths in this film are extremely awesome.
Daylight is the vampires' greatest enemy in this film. Body parts will immediately burst into flames if they're just touched by a stray ray. Within seconds in the sun, the vampires' skin will be charred. If they spend too much time in the sun, they will literally explode. This fact is confirmed repeatedly, as nearly every vampire who dies in NEAR DARK explodes from being outside during the day. Even the one who doesn't still gets blown up. There's not a lot of variety with these deaths.
Aimed squarely at the first generation of MTV kids, THE LOST BOYS is like the '80s distilled into one rock-fueled film. If you're a fan of that decade, watching this movie will send adrenalized nostalgia coursing through you. Even if you're not into the '80s, it should still hold up as a fun ride that's just out to provide some thrills and laughs.
NEAR DARK was born out of Bigelow's desire to make a Western, and that Western influence is very obvious in the finished film. It just happens to have been mixed into a modern setting and given a synth rock score. This film has a dreamy, laid back feeling to it, and thus can sometimes seem a bit slow, but its unique tone also makes for a great viewing experience.
It's easy to see why both of these films are revered as classics, because they both hold up to this day, and when they're put up against each other I find the contest too close to call. Both of these films have had an impact on my movie watching habits - I grew up watching THE LOST BOYS again and again, and as the years have gone by I have moved on to watching NEAR DARK again and again. At this point, I do prefer watching NEAR DARK over watching THE LOST BOYS, but when comparing them category by category I just wasn't able to choose a clear winner. They're both winners in my book.

Would you give one of these films the win over the other one? Let us know your thoughts on THE LOST BOYS and NEAR DARK by leaving a comment below. If you'd like to send in a suggestion for a future Face-Off article, you can contact me at [email protected].



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