Vampires in fiction are never just vampires. They are more than just monsters to us — they represent our fears and our desires. As a creature that looks human despite being an animated corpse — “not truly alive” (Clements 3) — when it corrupts human values and feeds on our blood it becomes “a rich representation of what we fear as a culture” (Clements 5). The reason vampires have repeatedly featured in our stories for more than two centuries is that they are “rich enough a metaphor to adapt to culture’s changing worldview and interests” (Clements 4). These nocturnal creatures have communicated associated themes ranging from sin to alienation, aristocracy to marginalized groups, sex to disease. The motif shared depends on the period in which the vampire story is created. As audiences have changed throughout the centuries, so too have the expected narrative and storytelling contexts (Veale 2).
The vampire was once held up as the “embodiment of evil and temptation” (Clements 2). Yet vampires have evolved to suit their respective time and, according to Nina Auerbach, “every age embraces the vampire it needs” (145). Audiences embraced a new kind of vampire in the 1980s — the ‘teen-vamp’ — as it represented the significant societal and cultural changes the Western world was undergoing at the time. The teenage vampires in the film The Lost Boys illustrated how the decade was enduring the pain of sweeping changes to consumerism, the family unit, and individual decadent behaviour, thus making them the vampire the ’80s needed.
The teen-vamp represented the significant societal and cultural changes of the 1980s.
The first noteworthy transformation of the 1980s that is embodied by The Lost Boys vampires, is that of conspicuous consumption. The increased levels of consumerism followed on from the social turmoil of the 1960s and the energy crisis during the 1970s. When the economy improved in the 1980s, binge buying and credit became a way of life. The newfound extravagance defined the decade (Irons-Georges 249). Enjoying this prosperous period, the baby boomers (post World War II) and their children (Generation X) were described by novelist Tom Wolfe as “the splurge generation” (Irons-Georges 249). Within the narrative of The Lost Boys, the wanton band of teenage vampires emulate voracious consumers. Instead of high-end labels and newly invented electronics, the teen-vamps splurge on enough blood to give their town of Santa Clara the distinction of being ‘murder capital of the world’.
The Lost Boys also uses two of the sparse adult characters to present a dichotomy of the consumer culture. Before he is revealed to be the villainous master vampire, Max stands in his electronics store before an enormous bank of televisions and proclaims “We have it all!” (Max, Quotes). This can be taken as either a boast of modern marketing or the ego of an immortal vampire. Max courts Lucy, the mother of the protagonist, and succeeds in infiltrating the family’s domestic space — just like mass consumption does. Compare that to the character of Grandpa, who ultimately thwarts Max’s efforts to expand his immortal vampire family. Grandpa refuses to own a television — a blatant rejection of the modern consumer society that Max represents.
Fueling this increased consumption during the 1980s was the segmentation of contemporary capitalization. Individual radio stations specialized in broadcasting music and advertising to specific demographics (Latham 64), and television — now a fixture in every American home — featured age-specific programmes such as MTV. Consequently, marketers were able to “access children directly” and youth were “poised to become a large and lucrative consumer market” (Bakan 34). This exploitive attention by adult marketers placed youth in an unfamiliar position: they were now both the consumer (they bought goods to express their individuality, or to fit in with specific social groupings) and the consumed, as the well-defined prey of the burgeoning economy. The vampire biker gang in The Lost Boys mimics these opposing forces: they run rampant over the townsfolk, killing indiscriminately as “insatiable consumer[s] driven by a hunger for perpetual youth” (Latham 1), plus they are consumed by the desire for their independence. This contradiction further illustrates how the tormented teen-vamp was the required vampire for the 1980s.
Departure from the traditional nuclear family dynamic would have resonated with many movie-goers.
The second significant cultural transformation of the 1980s that is evident in The Lost Boys was the breakdown of the family unit. By the 1980s many Americans were growing restless, fearing that “the nation was entering a state of disarray and decline” (Patterson 33). One marker of this increasing uncertainty towards the future was the huge rise in divorce. According to Patterson, this increase reflected the growing cultural attachment to “personal freedom and to individual rights and entitlements” (Patterson 50). It is not surprising therefore that the narrative in The Lost Boys features a fatherless family, permissive child rearing, and ‘latchkey’ children. However, in many instances getting divorced did not improve life for both parties. As Grandpa remarks to his adult daughter, who has returned to her childhood home with her own sons, “Lucy, you’re the only woman I ever knew that didn’t improve her situation by getting divorced” (Grandpa, Quotes). The two boys find themselves in an unfamiliar town without a strong father figure. Grandpa doesn’t fill the role as he is childlike himself; he plays ‘dead’ on the porch, and is territorial over the root-beers and cookies in the refrigerator. As the eldest of the two boys, Michael therefore plays the role of “father in waiting” (Bacon 158), both for his brother Sam and the child half-vampire Laddie. The teenage gang of vampires contrast this by having no mother-figure, and they loathe the fact that Max, as master vampire, is their ‘dad’. However, they too are ‘latchkey’ kids — coming and going as they please, despite what Max instructs them. This departure from the traditional nuclear family dynamic would have resonated with many movie-goers in the 1980s, as they too would be from newly-broken homes.
The third important cultural change that the vampires of The Lost Boys represent is the increase in hedonistic behaviour. Having young vampires on screen behaving in a self-indulgent and irresponsible manner directly reflected the self-absorbed behavior of young adults in the 1980s. The vampire gang are not seen to be going to school or working, instead they spend time making a nuisance of themselves along the shops of the beach-front boardwalk. They relax in their hideout which, as an abandoned swanky hotel, is arguably every cool 80s-kid’s dream, and they spend their nights riding motorbikes and prowling for victims. The promotional poster for The Lost Boys proclaimed to the movie-going audiences of 1987: ‘Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.’ This tagline accurately describes the behavior of the ‘Brat Pack’, a clique of attractive young Hollywood stars who dominated the 1980s movie screens. Infamous for their posturing and spoiled behavior, they also dominated the gossip columns with reports of ongoing substance abuse and promiscuous sexual escapades (Mansour 56). According to David Blum, who coined the Brat Pack term, the actors were “what kids want to see and what kids want to be” (Blum). This example of ‘seeing themselves on screen’ is one reason why audiences embraced the youthful, rebellious vampire of the age.
The teen-vamps appear condemned to stay forever youthful; forever consuming in order to survive.
However, despite their apparent limitless excess and freedom, it can be argued that the leather-clad group of vampires are “depressed creatures”, caught at an age when their potential and aspirations will never be fully realized (Auerbach 165). Unlike earlier versions of vampires, the gang are not seen to soar in exuberant flight — instead they fall from a rail-bridge like motionless statues into anonymous cloud. Just as the original Dracula’s real threat “is not that he might kill you, but that he might damn you” (Veale 3), the teen-vamps appear condemned to stay forever youthful; forever consuming in order to survive. Their frustration with master-vampire Max is illustrated by ignoring his request to stay off the boardwalk, plus they taunt him with a vampire bat-shaped plastic kite. They don’t want to be his immortal ‘children’ yet are fated to remain subservient forever. This contradiction between unlimited potential (mass consumption) and behavioural restriction (parental supervision) would have connected with the teenage audiences, making David and his biker gang the vampires the ’80s required.
In conclusion, the 1980s embraced the teen-vamp as the vampire it needed. This particular version of vampire represented the wide-ranging cultural transformation of the decade. In the western world, and the United States in particular, consumerism was accelerating, the family unit was breaking apart, and self-indulgent behavior was normalised. These societal changes are all characterized by the teenage vampire motorbike gang in the film The Lost Boys.
This piece was crafted in 2017 for my Massey University Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Creative Writing. You’d be right if you guessed I was not the youngest in my class.
Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Print.
Bakan, Joel. Childhood Under Siege. London: Random House, 2011. Print.
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The Lost Boys. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Dianne Wiest. Warner Bros, 1987. Film.
“Quotes” Internet Movie Database (IMDb). IMDb, n.d. Web. Accessed 5/2/16.
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Veale, Kevin. “From Dracula to Hellsing and Twilight.” 139142 Mythology and Fantasy. Massey University, 2015. Study guide.